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Class War is a UK far-left politics group and newspaper originally set up by Ian Bone and others in 1983. It subsequently became specifically anarchist. In February 2014, a reforged incarnation of Class War registered as a political party.
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 focused 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, including followers of the anarcho-punk band Crass.
Class War's skull logo was copied from the logo of the Welsh punk band the Soldier Dolls. The band gave their permission for Class War to use it, but it was copied by anarchist groups all over the world and is still in use.
The articles in Class War, issued bi-monthly when its profile was at its highest, criticised pacifism and the Peace movement, arguing the idea that violence is a necessary part of the class struggle. This stance was further justified with the statement that "democratic systems are all supported on a basis of coercion sanctioned by the use of force", and "the ruling class are never more dangerous than when they are doing impressions of human beings".
Class War's attitude to violence was summed up in 'Britain's most unruly tabloid' : "While not giving unqualified support to the IRA you don't have to be an Einstein to realise that a victory for the armed struggle in Ireland would be a crushing blow to the ruling class and to the authority of the British state." 1992 (Class War No.52).
The group maintained that the vast majority of people in Britain remained exploited by the ruling class and their official literature has long stated that about 75% of the country is working-class. Most other estimates put a much lower figure on the proportion (although it should be remembered that other estimates may not use the same definition of 'working class' as Class War).
Class War newspaper
The numerous titles released by Class War were eventually to be replaced by a national paper just called Class War. This paper declared that the enemy was not just a system-wide abstraction, but each and every person who belonged to the ruling class. It advocated active violence against the wealthy, and the paper used colloquial language and gallows humour. One early cover was of a cemetery, with the caption, "We have found new homes for the rich." Another in 1986 suggested that recently married royal couple TRH The Duke and Duchess of York were "Better Dead than Wed". This cover was reproduced as a poster, which was banned by the Ramsgate Police. Anarchists were required to remove the posters they had put up on a McDonalds fast food retail outlet and on the front of a W.H. Smith Bookstore. The flyposting of the poster in Durham also resulted in three teenagers being arrested and (unsuccessfully) prosecuted under the Public Order Act 1936.
Shortly after September 1984, a front cover showed a picture of The Prince and Princess of Wales with the new born Prince William under the headline, "Another Fucking Royal Parasite".
Class War also collaborated with anarchist band Conflict in releasing a 'commemorative' royal wedding single of the same title. Much of the organisation's propaganda is intentionally provocative or illegal.
The paper also featured pictures of injured policemen, "Hospitalised Copper" appeared on page three of every edition (a nod to The Sun's Page Three girls). 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"
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 invited to march through and disrupt wealthier areas of London such as Kensington, and Henley-on-Thames (during the annual Regatta), bearing banners and placards with slogans such as "Behold your future executioners!" (a phrase coined by the anarchist Lucy Parsons).
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. This event was seen by many as a major setback for the group, and many members left to form other groups or drifted away.
In 1986, Class War released a 7" EP single entitled "Better Dead Than Wed" on the Mortorhate label. The single coincided with the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and the rear of the sleeve featured a picture of the changing of the guard overlaid with a black and white image of an inner city riot. The EP contained an insert giving Class War's stance on the wedding along with full contact details for regional Class War groups and the paper, along with three tracks:
- Class War - Spoken word over a piano background.
- Better Dead Than Wed - A punk track about the royal wedding.
- Rap 'n' Durge - A powerful angry monologue over a funky backbeat featuring brass and bass. Rap 'n' Durge was about Class War's attitude to the Royal Family as a whole rather than just the Royal Wedding.
The run out groove of the record has messages scratched in both the A and B sides:
- A side: "EAT THE RICH!"
- B side: "July 23. You know what to do."
The title track was updated and re-released in 2005 as a free online soundtrack. The cover was an image of The Prince of Wales riding a horse bearing a striking resemblance to Camilla Parker-Bowles.
Class War Federation
A national conference was in held Manchester in 1986 and 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'.
A 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 the Trafalgar Square Poll Tax Riots as "working class heroes", Class War gained wider media exposure, including a 'tea time' interview with Ian Bone on the Jonathan Ross Show (see Poll Tax Riots). 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, key activist Tim Scargill left Class War in 1989, to be followed by founder Ian Bone.
Class War was then 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 be perceived by many anarchists as moving in a more reformist 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.
There were a number of groups in other countries inspired by Class War, all of whom appear to be defunct. Groups in Germany and the United States were formally linked with the British group and used the name Class War. Angry People was an occasional Australian magazine that appeared throughout the 1990s. A group in New Zealand also called Class War was active as recently as December 2005.
"No War But The Class War"
During the 1990s many Class War activists took up the slogan "No War But The Class War", and formed a group of that name, along with other left communists and class struggle anarchists. The first NWBTCW group appeared in London during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The group dissolved after the war stopped.
A third NWBTCW group appeared in London following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. Efforts, particularly by the Communist Workers' Organisation, to turn this into a network of groups across England failed. A split in the group which was characterised as between theory and practice lead to the 'actionists' leaving to attempt a copy of the Italian "Disobedients", which eventually disbanded. The 'theorist' section transmuting itself into the No War But The Class War Discussion Group, which eventually also dissolved.
Decline and split
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. This resulted in a rejection of Class War's perceived violent image. 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".
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 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.
The intended London conference eventually had to be abandoned, as London Class War had decided to carry on producing Class War.[contradiction]
London Class War
A newspaper and website continued to be produced by a new group of activists involved with Reclaim the Streets, animal rights (especially hunt saboteur activities), cooperating with anti-fascists and founders of Movement against the Monarchy, including original CW organisers Ian Bone and Martin Wright. Class War also supported libertine movements such as the sexual freedom coalition and was involved in many of the anti-capitalist demonstrations of the late 90s and 00s, including J18.
London Class War has been critical of leftist groups, such as the Socialist Workers Party, for their co-operation with groups perceived as reactionary, such as the Muslim Association of Britain, and also for their alleged authoritarian tendencies.
On 3 November 2007, Class War were involved in a new 'Bash the Rich' event - marching on the home of the leader of the Conservative Party - David Cameron. Around 80-100 people turned out the event, which was heavily policed.
In 2011 the remaining Class War group announced their dissolution.
Class War Party
In 2013, with Ian Bone back in a leading role, a reforged Class War announced plans to stand a number of candidates at the forthcoming general election. The group registered as a political party in February 2014. The group has been active around social housing issues, and writer, academic and housing activist Lisa McKenzie stood as an election candidate. In the event, seven candidates stood for election, gaining a total of 526 votes.
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- Home, Stewart (1988). The Assault on Culture: Utopian Currents from Lettrisme to Class War. London: Aporia Press & Unpopular Books. ISBN 9780948518881.
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- "Election 2015: Meet Class War, the party standing 'because all other candidates are scum'". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
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- McKenzie, Lisa (21 January 2015). "The estate we’re in: how working class people became the ‘problem’". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- ""Getting By: Estates, class and culture in austerity Britain" (Paperback)". The Policy Press. 2015. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- "Dr Lisa Mckenzie". London School of Economics and Political Science. 2015. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- Glanvill, Natalie (22 April 2015). "Five reasons why Class War's Lisa McKenzie thinks you should vote for her". East London and West Essex Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2015.
- McKenzie, Lisa (8 April 2015). "Why I have to stand against Iain Duncan Smith in the general election". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 June 2015.