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Class War

This article is about the organisation and newspaper Class War. See Class war for general information about this subject.
Class War is a UK based anarchist group and newspaper originally set up by Ian Bone and others in 1983.

Table of contents
1 Origins and stance
2 Bash the Rich marches
3 The Class War Federation

Origins and stance

The organisation had its origins in Swansea, Wales, developing from a group of community activists who produced a local paper called The Alarm, which focussed on issues such as corruption within local government. Following a move to London, the London Autonomists (including Martin Wright and Pete Mastin) soon became involved and a decision was made to produce a tabloid-style newspaper which would reach a wider audience, particular aimed at young anarchists and pacifists, including followers of the anarcho-punk band Crass.

The articles in Class War criticised pacifism and the Peace movement, arguing the idea that violence is a necessary part of the class struggle. Their analysis identified the enemy not only as "the system" or the "State" , but as the "ruling class", both as a social grouping and as individuals. Early issues of the paper were typified by their unsophisticated language and trademark "gallows humour" (one particularly notorious cover depicted a cemetery with the caption "We have found new homes for the rich..."). The paper also gained further notoriety for it's regular and long running column "Hospitalised Copper", which would feature pictures of injured members of the police force, usually in riot situations. Class War explained that their intent here was to show that people could 'fight back' against the 'state' rather than be 'passive victims'.

Bash the Rich marches

Inspired by the Stop The City actions of 1983 and 1984, Class War organised a number of Bash The Rich demonstrations, in which supporters were encouraged to march through and disrupt wealthier areas of London such as Kensington, and Henley (during the annual Regatta) bearing banners and placards with slogans such as "Behold your future executioners!" A third Bash The Rich event, scheduled to march through Hampstead in 1985, was largely prevented by a heavy police presence, and was acknowledged by Class War to have been a failure.

The Class War Federation

A national conference in held Manchester in 1986 proposed that groups and individuals who produced and supported the paper should form "Class War" groups as part of a National Federation with common 'aims and principles'.

From here the Class War Federation developed, gaining particular prominence in the anti-poll tax movement of the late 80s and early 1990s. When Class War spokesman Andy Murphy praised those who had rioted in Trafalgar Square against the tax as "working class heroes", Class War gained wider media exposure (including a 'tea time' interview with Ian Bone on the Jonathon Ross Show. (see also Poll Tax riots). The early 1990s also saw Class War develop the theory of "communities of resistance", in other words, areas of working class towns and cities where resistance to the police, baliffs, politicians and other figures of authority could not only be celebrated but extended. 1992's "Communities of Resistance" speaking tour, organised by Class War's National Organiser Tim Scargill, saw the media clumsily attempt to link Class War to violence that was then occurring in several British cities. It was not all brick-throwing though - 1992 saw the publication of Unfinished Business - The Politics of Class War published jointly with AK Press that set out where Class War came from, and where it wanted to go.

Frustrated at what he saw as "too much dead wood" in the organisation, Scargill left Class War in 1993, to be followed by founder Ian Bone. Class War was now edited by Bristol Class War, and largely assisted by a group of activists from Leeds who had been strongly critical of the "stuntism" of Bone and Scargill, Class War began to move in a more serious political direction. However, riots and disturbances were still linked to the organisation by the British media, and in October 1994 the Class War leaflet Keep it Spikey distributed before a riot in Hyde Park against the Criminal Justice Act, returned the organisation to the front pages. The debate between fluffies and spikies in the Anarchist movement continues to this day.

By 1996, with membership falling, Class War members from Bristol and Leeds launched a "review process" to examine the direction the Federation should now take. What had begun as a rejection of the "stuntism" of Bone or the high media profile of Scargill was now a rejection of Class War's perceived "violent" image which was seen as off-putting to women and ethnic minorities. Although claiming at the start of the process they believed the Federation's politics to be "sound" by summer 1996, Leeds Class War were stating that regardless of whatever the rest of the Federation chose to do, issue 73 of Class War would be the last edition they would be involved in.

Class War voted to produce a special issue of the paper, the aim being to assess its history, role and direction, with a view to disbanding the organisation. This would be followed by a conference in London in 1997 to "reforge the revolutionary movement". Although there was clear concern at this (and some open opposition) from members in London and Doncaster, real differences did not emerge until early in 1997 when a meeting to plan issue 73 was attended by only one Class War member from outside London. When it was discovered a "secret" meeting was being convened in February certain activists, and that a similar meeting had already been held in Bristol that the bulk of the organisation was unaware of, a split became inevitable.

In March 1997, Class War formally split at its Nottingham conference between those who would continue as Class War, and those who wanted to disband the organisation. It was argued that the group that had rejected so much of the failed practice of the revolutionary left, was now replicating it. The "quitters" went on to produce issue 73 of Class War - An open letter to the revolutionary movement. Even its harshest critics accept this was a beautifully produced document, although the intended London conference had to be abandoned as London Class War had decided to carry on producing Class War. Indeed as the revolutionary movement chose to largely ignore the "final" issue of Class War, the rancour and bad feeling between the two factions increased.

With editorship of Class War now passing to London, London CW attempted to return the orgaisation more to its direct action "up and at them" roots. Arguments about the failings of those who had left CW to honour commitments to supply London Class War with computers and mailing lists caused further distraction. By 1999 those who had left Class War had held a conference (May Day in Bradford in 1998) and were producing a theoretical magazine, Smash Hits. Both sank without trace. Class War in London continued to produce a fiery tabloid, and when rioting broke out in the city of London on June 18th 1999, Class War members were again to the fore.

In Yorkshire Class War took a slightly different tack, with prominent member Dave Douglass concentrating on work in the National Union of Mineworkers, and compensation for miners harmed by their time in the pit. His website [1] develops this work onto the international stage. Douglass was also the author of Class War's second book All Power to the Imagination! (Class War,1999) This stressed the need for the working class to struggle to improve its material conditions and strongly rejected "purist" Anarchist criticisms of trades unions per se.

In the early 21st century Class War choose to stress the need to support not only Britain's political prisoners but prisoners in general. The case of Sheffield Anarchist Mark Barnsley, jailed for 12 years for defending himself from attack by drunken students, emphasised this. Class War used the growing attention given to May Day protests in the UK to organise their own actions against companies involved in exploiting prison labour. The supermarket chain Wilkinsons being a preferred target.

By 2003, Class War had one of the more popular anarchist websites in the UK [1] and the group had set up sister branches in the USA, Germany, and Australia. Class War merchandise (including cigarette lighters, driving license holders and car window stickers!) remains one of the most visible signs of the Anarchist movement in Britain today.