the Disillusioned kid: Beer Not Bombs
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Friday, June 01, 2007

Beer Not Bombs

Ian Bone, Bash The Rich: True-Life Confessions of an Anarchist in the UK, Tangent Books, Bath, 2006, 281 pp

I've always had a soft-spot for Class War. Nobody makes political propaganda quite like them. One of their recent stickers, for instance, consists of a picture of a scalpel with the message, "Mess with out NHS and we'll mess with you." Of course, not everybody's so keen on the unrepentantly anatgonistic stylings or the group's sense of humour. They also get considerable kudos for their decision in 1997 to wind themselves up (a decision they consciously made themselves, something wwhich is virtually unheard of in political circles) which led to issue 73 of their eponymous paper, an explanation of their decision and a critique of themselves and the wider Left and anarchist movements. (Incidentally, if you haven't read this, you really should, it's quite brilliant.) Of course, the fact that they're still producing paraphernalia testifies to the fact that the organisation was promptly restarted by former members, but that's by the by. Anyone wanting an insight into the politics which guided and the context which gave rise to Class War could do a whole lot worse than pick up a copy of founding member Ian Bone's memoirs.

The book starts with a perusal of the Bone family's radical heritage heritage. While his grandfather had been a miner his dad became a butler and his mother a housekeeper. Despite this apparently servile position, both were solid Labour (not merely Labour voters, Bone stresses). Campaigning for the party in constituencies which had previously been dyed-in-the-wool Tory strongholds.

While Bone inherited this commitment to working-class politics, he became an anarchist and was heavily involved in the movement while at Swansea University. His accounts of participation in the anti-Vietnam movement are particularly interesting and he still holds a grudge against Tariq Ali for bottling a march on the US Embassy and acquiescing in its redirection to Hyde Park, where it was obviously less likely lead to a serious riot.

Remaining in Wales for some years after finishing uni, Bone became peripherally involved in the nascent Welsh Republican movement. While I don't want to question the sincerity of those involved in this movement, the sheer ridiculousness of so much of its campaigning contribute to some of the funniest moments in what is a consistently funny book. In one incident, a number of activists discuss "retaking" Hereford, apparently in some detail, noting that the local police force are unlikely to put up much resistance. These plans are only abandoned when Bone points out that Hereford is where the SAS are based.

While Bone's early political life is intriguing and amusing, often in equal measures, the book's real draw is inevitably his formative role in Class War. The movement grew out of a single paper Bone and a number of others knocked together in the hope of shaking things up in the anarchist movement which they considered to be moribund. They never thought about making this a regular publication, but it proved to be hugely popular and was soon followed up. Beginning in April 1983, the paper would grow to reach a readership of 15,000 at the height of the Miners' Strike, at least according to Bone.

Class War the group would grow out of the paper, but despite the publication's huge success, the organisation itself never grew much beyond 50 people. Bone makes no attempt to cover-up the very real differences which existed amongst this group. Debates appear to have been lengthy and often forceful, something which is unlikely to have been helped by the extensive intake of alcohol which took place in the course of most meeting. What is particularly surprising given the accusations of "macho" posturing levelled at Class War is quite how much time seems to have been spent discussing sexual politics: prostitution, porn, monogamy and even compulsory bisexuality.

In the early days, Class War focused on intervening in other campaigns, hoping to radicalise the participants. In October 1983 they turned up at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) demonstration and tried to storm the stage when Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock ("Kinnockio") was invited to speak. Later they turned up at an animal rights demo organised by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) demo against a company called Biorex where they hoped to build links with the nascent animal liberation movement. After a sit-down protest led to a riot, Class War crashed the post-march rally BUAV were holding in a nearby Town Hall to protest the organisation's failure to support the rioters. They demanded and were granted a speaker. On this basis, one of their number was sent on-stage only to ignore what he had been told to say by the rest of the group and drunkenly assert, "Hitler was a fucking vegetarian," before stumbling off-stage.

In fact, riots play a central role in the book, as they did in Class War's politics. Bone had, after all, set the organisation up with the hope of building links with those who had launched riots in inner-city areas in 1981. For this reason, I suspect it's unlikely to go down with your average pacifist, although they aren't really the target market. What is perhaps surprising is Bone's openness about his participation in various riots and disturbances. Perhaps he figures the cops know it all already? Or don't care? Whatever, it certainly makes for an engaging, action packed read.

The focus on violence (a word which, appears repeatedly throughout the book), brings to mind Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey's No Retreat, an account of militant anti-fascism in the UK in the 70s-90s and one of the few other political memoirs I've ever read. Unlike Hann and Tilzey, however, Bone doesn't underplay the more mundane aspects of political campaigning: meetings, paper sales, political discussions etc. Then again, it's possible that this simply reflects the fact that Class War meetings (often drunken affairs) were just more exciting than those held by Red Action and hence easier to fit into a book without risking losing half the readers.

This is certainly not a boring, self-aggrandising tome and it's quite the page-turner. It's also very funny (or, as Bone would no doubt have it, "fucking funny as fuck"). If I had one complaint it would be the way it seems to grind to a halt with the narrative located in late-1985, shortly before the Wapping strike. Perhaps this is indicative of a second volume, although I've seen nothing else to suggest this. If there is going to be another one, I'll definitely try and lay my hands on a copy. Which is another way of saying you should get hold of a copy of this one.

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