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“”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"
Class War was a British self-proclaimed anarchist Marxist organisation active in the 1980s and chiefly known through its newsletter of the same title. It existed mainly to mock the upper classes and occasionally to call for a working class revolt and subsequent anarcho-communist utopia. It was the subject of a tabloid moral panic, but tended to be a rather comical organisation with very limited support, rather than a serious political force or threat to western civilisation.
The organisation has split and reformed several times through its history, and people under the Class War banner have protested against war, taxation of the poor, gentrification, and the rich from the 1980s up to the 2010s. Seven candidates stood for the Class War Party at the 2015 UK general election, receiving an average of 75 votes each.
The movement grew out of an earlier Welsh organisation centred around The Alarm magazine, set up by Ian Bone and others in 1983. Soon afterwards Bone moved to London and resumed his activities there.
Its magazine Class War was first published later in 1983, and mixed humour and rabble-rousing like a Marxist version of Viz. The first issue included the exhortation: "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 stab them to death as they come out.", a quote from American anarchist Lucy Parsons. It celebrated the 1984 birth of Prince William with the headline "Another Fucking Royal Parasite". Regular features included "Hospitalised Copper", a column recording injured policemen.
It developed out of a radical fringe of the punk movement and retained many connections, with members coming from bands, and the magazine's style reminiscent of punk fanzines; many of its early supporters dressed in punk style. It collaborated in the 1980s with anarcho-punk band Conflict, and in 1986 released its own single. However due to its tactics and political beliefs it differed from the 1980s anarcho-punk movement centered around bands like Crass, as Class War focused on the working class as the revolutionary agent while anarcho-punk was more concerned with individual resistance; also, Class War was committed to violent revolt while Crass had a strong pacifist element.
Many of the movements' members lived together in a large house in Islington, North London.
In 1985 it launched a campaign called "Bash the Rich", which it claimed was influenced by late-19th century Chicago anarchist Lucy Parsons. This included a protest on May 11, 1985 when the group marched through London to Kensington dressed in balaclavas and paramilitary outfits; they claimed about 500 people took part though police prevented any serious damage. The following month they attempted to protest at Henley Regatta, a traditional event on London's upper class social circuit. The police took action to contain the marchers and they failed to bring about a revolution.
A few Class War members were involved in the riots in Brixton and Tottenham (both in London) in autumn 1985. They considered more provocative gestures later in 1985 such as marching to celebrate cop-killer criminal Harry Roberts, or through West Belfast, which was then a dangerous place due to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, but didn't follow through.
In the late 1980s, a national Class War Federation was formed, part of a movement towards a more formal organisation. Members took part in the riots protesting against the so-called Poll Tax (Community Charge) in the late 1980s and early 1990s: Margaret Thatcher had decided to replace local property taxation with a single flat-rate tax payable by everybody (although the poor got a partial rebate), and many people were not happy about this regressive tax, leading to widespread protests and civil disobedience.
At its 1997 annual conference, the organisation attempted to split and cease production of the newspaper, but a splinter group in London continued publication. Various splinter groups continued to campaign, march, and split up through the early years of the 21st century, including a protest against David Cameron in 2007.
In 2009 it ran a speed-dating night for anarchists on Valentine's Day, telling the BBC, "To a lot of people, Valentine's Day is commercial love day. We just want to let people have a giggle and meet lots of nice people."
In 2013 the Class War Party was launched, and it stood 7 candidates in the 2015 general election. It called for social security benefits and pensions to be doubled and the British monarchy to be abolished. Across all 7 constituencies they received 526 votes.
In the 2010s elements connected to Class War have been involved in the campaign against "poor doors", i.e. separate entrances for rich and poor people to housing developments that include an "affordable housing" or social housing component alongside flats for the wealthy, and against a Jack the Ripper museum in London which was accused of glamorising or celebrating violence against women.
Bone popped up again in September 2018 getting sympathy for the widely-reviled Jacob Rees-Mogg. Bone and a small group of Class War protestors shouted abuse at Rees-Mogg's children and their nanny, also suggesting that the latter should join a union.
The main figure was Ian Bone, a former punk singer in obscure band Living Legends and previously the publisher of underground pamphlets in South Wales. He has been involved intermittently ever since including in the 2010s Class War Party.
Mckenzie is an academic at the London School of Economics whose research interests include income inequality and social justice. She was involved in Class War actions in the 2010s, including against "poor doors", gentrification, and the Jack the Ripper museum. She stood as a Class War Party candidate for the UK parliament in 2015, in the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency against Conservative minister Ian Duncan Smith, polling 53 votes.
In the 1980s it was condemned by tabloid the Sunday People as "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".
The Daily Mail described it as a "sinister urban revolutionary band dedicated to turning the nation's inner cities into no-go areas for the police".
There was a return to unconvincing tabloid hysteria in 2015 when Class War members including academic Lisa Mckenzie protested against a hipster cafe in East London that sold very expensive bowls of cereal. Anti-gentrification campaigners condemned the cafe as an instance of new businesses selling over-priced goods that were driving out older, much poorer inhabitants; the Daily Mail couldn't really work out why it should be defending a business run by the sort of young trendy it normally despises, but leapt at the chance to attack lefty "middle-class academics". The tabloid published an exposé of Mckenzie's hypocrisy, saying "her Facebook page shows she's enjoyed trips to the likes of Las Vegas, Ibiza, Jamaica and Barbados. The mother-of-one has also visited the likes of the Italian fashion capital Milan, Paris, Barcelona, Nice, New York, Rome, Naples, Athens, New York, California and Chicago, and has posted photos with a pricey Apple computer and expensive SLR-type camera."
Even by those sympathetic to its aims such as Marxist/skinhead/art-provocateur Stewart Home, it has been attacked for its failures: the movement failed to build on its brief moment of notoriety in the mid 1980s, managing neither to carry out its more provocative ideas nor to successfully soften and broaden its appeal to a wider public.
It was criticised by other anarchist groups including the Anarchist Federation and Anarchist Workers Group for its disorganisation, self-obsession, lack of strategy, and absence of theoretical substance. However it was praised by anarchists for taking the movement away from a liberal, lifestyle focus restricted to single-issue campaigns and middle-class do-gooders.
Class War has been critical of Islamic organisations, which otherwise often make common cause with the radical left over opposition to wars in the middle east. Claiming to be opposed to all religion, Class War criticised rival leftist organisation the Socialist Workers Party because of the latter's alliance with Muslim organisations. Because of their opposition to Islam, Class War have been accused of racism and Islamophobia, although an investigation by someone on IndyMedia failed to turn up much evidence other than the group appearing on a list of so-called Islamophobes alongside the National Secular Society and Peter Tatchell.
- "Class War", The Assault on Culture, Stewart Home,
- Against the Grain: The British Far Left from 1956, Evan Smith, Matthew Worley, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp 141-148
- See the Wikipedia article on Class War.
- Accounts of the poll tax riot, 1990, libcom.org, 2009
- See the Wikipedia article on Community Charge.
- Even anarchists like a little romance, BBC, 13 Feb 2009
- Election 2015 smaller parties: Class War Party, BBC, 28 Apr 2015
- See the Wikipedia article on United Kingdom general election, 2015.
- Class War versus Jack the Ripper, James Fielding, Daily Express, Oct 4, 2015
- Jacob Rees-Mogg and his family harassed by activists, The Guardian, 12 Sep 2018
- See the Wikipedia article on Lisa Mckenzie.
- Revealed: Class War hate mob that attacked East London hipster cereal cafe included LSE academic and others from prominent universities, Daily Mail, 29 Sep 2015
- Class War .. Racist and Proud, Indymedia, Jun 2006