THE ASSAULT ON CULTURE CHAPTER 17 (pages 95-101)
To many observers Class War appeared as if from nowhere. In the two years between the appearance of the first "Class War" newspaper in 1983 and the 'hot autumn' of '85, the British media began to write of an 'anarchist menace' which was the equal of any 'red scare'. For the first time since the Angry Brigade bombings of the early seventies, anarchism was perceived as a threat to the British establishment.
Class War very quickly became news, (1) and as usual journalistic investigation served to mystify - rather than shed light on - the social, cultural, and political origins of the group. This was not simply a case of deliberate misrepresentation on the part of Fleet Street; despite the booze hound image of cynicism they like to project, most journalists are actually extremely naive and ignorant.
The first issue of the Class War paper featured a couple of 'toffs' on the cover, and beneath them the slogan: "Now is the time for every dirty lousy tramp to arm himself with a revolver or a knife and lie in wait outside the palaces of the rich and shoot or s tab them to death as they come out". This is a paraphrase from part of a speech given by the nineteenth-century anarchist Lucy Parsons to the poor of Chicago. The Class War collective was made up of long-time anarchists who, being versed in the movement's history, were able to apply this knowledge to the production of propaganda.
Ian Bone, destined to become the movement's 'leader', had previously been lead singer for the punk band Living Legends, as well as the 'brains' behind "The Scorcher', a South Wales agitational paper. Assorted headbangers from South Wales and London made up the rest of the Class War collective. They were later joined by a group of nutters who lived together in a large house in Islington (North London). The latter .faction's involvement in the anarchist movement stretched back more than a decade and spanned numerous projects. A number of them had been involved with the satirical magazine "Authority", two issues of which had appeared in the late seventies. The back cover of the first issue featured a picture of a fascist rally and the words "The National Front love Britain... almost as much as the anarchists love Spain". With Class War this brand of black humour would reach new heights.
In its early days, Class War did not seek a base in the traditional workers' movement, rather it saw disaffected youth as its most likely recruits; and its propaganda was designed to attract the extreme fringe of the punk movement. A feature entitled "Never Mind The... BOLLOCKS TO THAT!" from an early issue of the group's paper, will serve to illustrate this tendency:
"Dylan got rich on the fuck-ups and misery of sixties middle class youth.
MacLaren and Punk got rich on the fuck-ups and misery of working class youth. Punk saved the record industry and the music hacks... Emphasising energy and aggression punk kicked the arse of the flabby supergroups of the '70' s. But for the working class the laughs at the expense of boring old farts and the British establishment must be put in focus. God Save The Queen, Anarchy In The U.K. at No.1 - rock industry moguls getting knighted for their services to profit - it's a joke and a revelation of the sickness of the rich bastards who run the show. But the joke's on us... Music trends and the music papers and industry are just the raciest example of how the modem market works according to the principle of 'if it moves sell it'. Working class anger, via MacLaren's rehash of old 60's politics... is good for business.
Old punks say that the Clash, Stranglers etc 'sold out' to the Big Record companies like the Lefties say that the trade unions sell out strikes... but they would, 'cos making it as anti-heroes or heroes don't matter as long as you keep the industry ticking over. Oi rejected this by getting back to the roots but it got lost.
Though founded on a real element of class culture Oi has lapsed into adoration of the armed forces and voting Labour.
The only band (sic) to carry the musical-politics line forward was Crass.
They have done more to spread anarchist ideas than Kropotkin, but like him their politics are up shit creek. Putting the stress on pacifism and rural escapism they refuse the truth that in the cities opposition means confrontation and violence if it were to get anywhere.
At last bands are emerging that reject the rock music/celebrity/wealth escape route from working class boredom as much as they do the normal political escape route of the Trade Union/Labour party. Not interested in making it without smashing up the show and those who run it they mark a real departure from Oi that has declined into glassing each other (rather than the rich) pledging support to our boys in the S. Atlantic and voting Labour. The Apostles and the Anti-Social Workers link with the war against the rich and make for the real possibility of taking the anger and frustration away from the gig and out onto the streets and once and for all saying 'Fuck that' to the shitty rituals that pass for pleasure."
The article ends by quoting a song lyric by the Apostles. This feature reads like something from a punk fanzine, except that its political analysis - and the residues of specto-situationist theory - mark it out as 'over sussed'. Its polemical style clearly indicates that it was written by someone who has more experience of agitating against authority than the average street punk.
In 1984, Class War launched their "Spring Offensive" against the rich. The cover of the paper that announced this project featured a picture of a fox hunter and the caption: "You Rich Fucking Scumbag We're Gonna Get You". Class War had jumped on the Animal Liberation bandwagon, popular among anarcho-punks, and the ploy resulted in a circulation boost for their paper. As well as 'tail-ending' left-wing demonstrations and anarchist inspired actions such as Stop The City, Class War were now initiating campaigns of their own. In an article entitled "Advance To Mayfair", the group reports on the progression of this campaign:
"The first action of the CLASS WAR spring offensive took place on March 1st at the Grosvenor House hotel. The occasion was the Horse and Hound Ball... a must for all budding debutantes and local squire or huntmaster. Well, as it was the place to be seen, us intrepid bunch of anarchists decided to be there as well... Some friendly faces began appearing and our numbers swelled to around forty people. We considered this a large enough group to make a loud noise. This was only intended as a demonstration and not a fight, so it was on with the balaclavas and outside the main entrance. As the scum stepped from their limos they realised the antis had turned up in force. Our protest began in earnest when we unfurled a large banner reading BEHOLD YOUR FUTURE EXECUTIONERS. We're not people who play about with words. Soon the rich filth began arriving in droves with their top hats and their 'pinks' with their high society cinderellas on their arms. Jostling, well placed kicks, spitting and an outstandingly well placed smack in the gob contrived to ruin many an evening... The CLASS WAR spring offensive had got off to a flying start."
Despite the sloganeering - inciting readers to "Join The Anarchist Mob" the actions of '84 were all low-key events. Nevertheless, sales of the Class War paper climbed as high as ten thousand on some issues, and the group's reputation grew out of all proportion to this. The back cover of 'Angry 1', a magazine produced by a school-aged Class War supporter in Scotland, reproduced some of the media coverage:
"...a group of political nutters who preach a dangerous new creed of anarchist violence.
And they are trying to spread their evil message among striking miners, peace marchers - even school kids. They can be seen on picket lines, at CND demos and at animal rights rallies peddling a foul mouthed propaganda sheet called Class War.
It is a publication whose symbol is a skull and crossbones and whose message is murderous... it boasts "We've blocked motorways, smashed up scabs's houses and beaten up press reporters..." Class War's favourite hate targets are the meeting places of "rich scumbags".
It urges supporters to attend events like Henley Regatta and polo matches dressed in balaclavas and Doc Marten bovver boots and "make the bastards choke on their picnic hampers".
The group has already alarmed Labour supporters at a meeting addressed by Tony Benn... Last week the Labour journal Tribune appealed for information about Class War"
- From the Sunday People, cutting not dated. And:
"...Class War... Under a headline "Rich Bastards Beware", it advised readers, next time they saw a rich bastard to jostle them, gob at them, spray paint on their walls, and hang around in large enough numbers to make them feel uneasy.
"Fuck getting 250,000 people to tramp like sheep through London to listen to middle-class CNO wankers like Joan Ruddock and Bruce Kent telling them to go home and do nothing. Lets just get 5,000 to turn up at Ascot.. and turn our class anger loose on them... Make them afraid to go out on the streets alone, too scared to show off any signs of their wealth, make them live under siege conditions behind locked doors in their own areas and homes." ' And so on, four pages of it. A clever parody? I have no idea..."
- From The Guardian, cutting not dated.
In 1985, Class War launched its "Bash The Rich" campaign. The back-page feature they devoted to promoting the fIrst March in London also informed readers of where the idea had come from:
"The idea of bash the rich marches is nothing new. Exactly I00 years ago on April 28th 1885 they were doing exactly the same thing in Chicago... The anarchist Lucy Parsons told people who were on the verge of killing themselves to "take a few rich people with you", let their eyes be opened to what was going on "by the red glare of destruction". Anarchists would hold huge meetings attended by up to 20,000 people... The anarchists led huge marches from the working class ghettos into the rich neighbourhoods. They would gather in thousands outside restaurants or the homes of the wealthy displaying a huge banner on which was written "Behold your future executioners", the terrified rich would summon the police and huge riots would take place. The working class of Chicago were determined to take their struggle into the heart of the enemies territory - so are we, a hundred years later."
The "Bash The Rich" march of May 11th '85 was guerilla theatre worthy of the Berlin dadaists. It received a full report in the Class War paper:
"The police threatened to arrest us all under the public order act for marching in para-military uniform (balaclavas and DMs!). The police and Westminster council got Meanwhile Gardens Community Association to take out a court injunction against us to stop us having the rally. The police did everything possible to stop the march taking place at all. But despite all this intimidation we had the biggest anarchist march for years. Over 500 of us marched to swanky Kensington chanting "rich scum" and "We'll be back" as they peered bewildered at us from behind drawn curtains. We were at last bringing the reality of rising class anger into their cosy, protected lives. It was fucking great to be on an anarchist march for once instead of tail ending along on a leftie demonstration listening to labour party speakers. As we turned into Holland Park Avenue all you could see down Ladbroke Grove were black flags. The police were gutted that they had to escort us into one of the plushest parts of London hurling abuse at its rich inhabitants and there was fuck all that they could do about it. There was not one arrest despite the fact that the police were frothing at the mouth as we chanted "rich bastard" at another bloated example of the local vermin... Now we must prepare for the next Henley Regatta on July 6th. If we work hard we can get over a thousand people at Henley that day to make the rich bastards choke over their picnic hampers on the banks of the Thames. FORWARD TO HENLEY."
As well as providing one of the most ludicrous sights in London for many years, the march revealed the social composition of the Class War movement. At its head were the ten or so anarchist militants - dressed in standard street clothes and with a late twenties to mid-thirties age range - who produced the Class War paper, while behind them were several hundred teenage punks.
Due to a massive police presence very little disruption was caused at Henley Regatta, but the media coverage was sufficient that Class War could hail it as a victory in their paper. The same could not be said of the "March On Hampstead" held on 21st September '85. The demonstrators, again consisting of approximately 500 punks and the Class War leadership, were utterly humiliated by the cops. The police, who outnumbered demonstrators by more than two to one, forced the marchers off their route and onto back streets. The march was completely halted for more than a hour, while the cops created a bottle neck at its head and forced the demonstrators closer and closer together. As a final humiliation the marchers were made to run - in single file - down two rows of uniformed cops (who taunted them with chants of "We've arrested your leaders") before being dispersed.
This failure led to considerable discussion within the group about how the campaign should be continued. The more extreme element suggested a "Bash The Rich" march through West Belfast and a "Harry Roberts Memorial March" in West London. Both proposals would have entailed serious risk. A Belfast action would have infuriated all sides participating in the civil war, and participation would have carried with it a very real threat of a serious beating, if not death. While to march in celebration of a cop-killer was an open invitation for police repression. Both options were rejected. The "Bash The Rich" campaign came to an inglorious end after a march in Bristol on November 30th '85.
As a group posing a serious political threat, Class War's credibility was on the point of collapse. However, as luck would have it, the media credited the group with a major role in the Brixton and Tottenham riots that Autumn. In fact, the group had less than twenty London based members at this time and exerted absolutely no influence on these events - although a handful of their supporters did make it into the riot zones once the trouble had started Despite this boost to Class War's flagging credibility, the Islington crew left soon afterward, leaving Ian Bone free to take charge as undisputed leader.
After this Class War lost their edge and were soon indistinguishable from any other anarchist group. Despite the media coverage, their anti-gentrification campaign in London's East End was completely ineffectual. The group tried to broaden its appeal from punks to ordinary working class people. The revamped "Class War" paper lacked the style of earlier issues and failed miserably in its attempts to gain a broader audience. The new look paper, with special sections devoted to 'Scandal', 'Pop', 'Sex', 'Sport' , &c., came across as patronising. Meanwhile, the media ignored Class War's change of direction and continued to feature shock features about its terrorist tactics (see for example the article in the "News Of The World Sunday Magazine" July 5th 1987).
After the first flush of success with its agitational campaign, Class War lapsed into all the traditional errors of the anarchist milieu. Those who remained in the group had beaten themselves at their own game. Class War had manipulated the media and got the most extreme anarchist ideas across to the general public, but having done so the group rejected proposals which would present the public with something even more disturbing. Having found itself unwilling to organise marches in Belfast and in celebration of a cop killer, the group should have disbanded. Instead it unsuccessfully attempted to broaden its appeal - something the media was bound to inhibit, even if the group had been capable of carrying out such a project. At this point Class War abandoned the tradition I've been attempting to chronicle. The satirical rage which had animated the dadaist, situationist and punk movements, at their peak, was dropped. The popularist approach with which it was replaced was often so sentimental that it made soap operas look tasteful.
1. As a tiny group, Class War realised that the best way of getting its views across to the general public was by drawing on cultural stereo-types and - once they'd been suitably altered - feeding them back into the media. For these reasons, Class War was as concerned with culture (in its broad sense) as much as politics. Inspiration was drawn chiefly from three sources - British working class culture, punk and the anarchist/left-communist tradition. Class War was designed to wind up journalists and succeeded admirably! The tactics used were copied from punk and anarchist history. Basically, whatever the media said was evil, Class War glorified. The media portrayed the working class as violent, and so Class War - following in the footsteps of punk - exaggerated this image (albeit with the qualification that this violence was always directed against the cops or the rich). Media coverage of both punk and Class War focused on their abusive attitude towards the rich and the establishment (particularly the royal family). When Class War issued their "Better Dead Than Wed" EP (Mortarhate Records, London 1986) to mark the wedding of Prince Andrew, it was like the Sex Pistols anti-Jubilee record all over again (except of course that Class War's brand of proletarian entertainment wasn't as popular as punk). It's also interesting to note that the Dutch Provo action which received the most media coverage was their 1966 smoke bomb attack on a Dutch royal wedding procession.
Both punk and. Class War emphasised energy and aggression as virtues of straightforward working class culture. This was contrasted to the polite backstabbing of the middle and upper classes, who said one thing and invariably meant another. Of all the tendencies dealt with in this text, punk and Class War made the broadest assault on culture. Other movements have tended to aim their invective against high culture (art), or put their energy into the creation of alternative (often meaning parallel) - and hence less directly threatening - lifestyles (communes &c.). Very few movements have had a (working class) culture as fully articulated and consciously oppositional as that of punk and Class War.
Anarchist Integralism (analysis and critique of anarchist ideology)
Green Anarchist (critiques, analysis and condemnations of eco-fascist front)
Assault On Culture contents page