Book Reviews: ‘Bash the Rich’, & ‘Make Capitalism History – Poems and Other Communications’
Bone of contention
by Ian Bone, Tangent Books, £9.99. 2006, ISBN : 0-9544177- 7-1
Like the notorious Class War journal he founded and edited, Ian Bone’s autobiography is a rather mixed bag; chaotic, energetic, full of aggro and humour a-plenty, and containing some sharp but sometimes ‘prole-ier than thou’ political observations. Subtitled True-Life Confessions of An Anarchist in the UK, this honest and entertaining book details up to 1986 the political adventures of the man dubbed “the most dangerous … in Britain” by the excitable Sunday People newspaper. This was at a time when Class War, the paper founded by Bone, was at its peak, baring its political arse at the establishment and urging fellow activists to ‘bash the rich’.
Before arriving at this point, the book explores Bone’s family background and the formative years of his political activity. An early success came when he launched a local paper where he was based in Swansea. After writing a pamphlet detailing the corruption of the local council, Bone and his allies produced Alarm, a paper which reached sales of up to 5000 a week. Having built up impressive momentum, Bone and three comrades stood in local council elections, but it’s a surprising omission of the book that the results are not mentioned here. Bone describes the paper as “an organ of organised class hatred;” one which focused on corruption, gossip and scandal, and made a virtue of its lack of political theory.
Whilst in some ways a welcome antidote to the convoluted and often po-faced theoretical treatises beloved of the Left, this lack of political oversight was a weakness, and one which was only partly overcome by Bone’s most successful project, Class War. He had come to recognise the limits of localised activities, and Class War was launched with the specific aim of putting “class and violence back at the top of the agenda.” The idea was to link up those who were prepared to physically confront the State, from innercity rioters and miners’ ‘hit squads’ to animal rights activists and the occasional football hooligan.
In case it all seems to be about the (understandable) politics of revenge, Bone suggests that Class War was merely following in the hallowed tradition of popular mob violence. Aggressive direct action was not just intended to unnerve the well-to do, but to act as a rallying cry to a largely disinterested majority. However, the book isn’t really explicit enough on what kind of society the author wants direct action to lead to. It’s obvious what he’s ‘anti’, but the ‘pro’ bit needs fleshing out. This links to the issue of how such a society can be brought about, and what social force is necessary to achieve this.
One of the most thoughtful chapters comes near the end when Bone discusses the problems revolutionaries face in getting our fellow workers to take an interest in noncapitalist politics. He asserts that groups like the Anarchist Federation and the SWP seem to think that rational explanations of what’s wrong with capitalism are all that’s needed to effect revolutionary consciousness. “The truth, of course, is that people do not respond in a rational way, so painstakingly explaining injustice in rational terms gets you nowhere.” He then quotes with approval Wilhelm Reich’s view that revolutionaries, “must find the connection with the petty, banal, primitive, simple everyday life of the broadest mass of the people…” .For Class War, a good old scrap was as good a method as any to achieve this.
Such methods, however, can backfire and alienate. If a classless, moneyless, stateless society is to be attained, it surely needs the conscious understanding and desire of a large majority. To be fair, the author does state that “violence wasn’t the answer to every question…” In fact Bone cites the 1985 riots of Broadwater Farm and the death of P.C. Keith Blacklock as a turning point for Class War, although the organisation wasn’t involved there. “We needed to embrace our class not marginalise ourselves by walking into the ‘loonie category’ noose being dangled before us.” According to Bone, Class War’s scabrous column, Hospitalised Copper “was funny. ‘Dead Copper’ wasn’t funny.”
Unfortunately, the book ends rather suddenly, on the eve of the Wapping Dispute in early 1986. Questions of tactics and direction were exercising the Class War collective, but it had some years yet to run before eventually coming to a halt. Maybe a volume two is in the pipeline, and if so it will hopefully also combine this refreshing mix of humour and politics. Bone has certainly had a great deal of fun along the way, and made sure that such enjoyment was reflected in the various projects he was involved in. To end with an example, the first two Class War conferences are said to have been preoccupied with sexual politics, and Bone recounts with wry discomfort how one contributor earnestly proposed ‘forced bisexuality’ as a way of breaking with bourgeois convention.
Bob Dixon: Make Capitalism History: Poems and Other Communications, Artery Publications £4.50. (available from 38 Pembroke Road, Bromley, Kent, BR1 2RU)
Socialists have made rather little use of poetry as a way of putting our ideas over, so a book of poems (and a few prose pieces) with such a title is at least eye-catching. Dixon is in fact an old hand at political poetry, and one of his previous books was reviewed in the Socialist Standard for May 2000.
The present volume contains some decent stuff: ‘War is of widows, of woe and of weeping . . . war is not glory, not glinting gold medals.’ A nice deceit depicts ‘colladeral’ as a disease which originated in a US military establishment. A poem titled ‘Demockracy’ contrasts anti-war demonstrators with the lack of those with banners saying ‘WE WANT WAR!’ or ‘POLLUTION IS FUN!’.
Yet there are a couple of problems. One may be gleaned from the title: there is no vision at all of what to replace capitalism with. Another is a tendency to apportion blame in the wrong quarters. The final poem in the book is called ‘To the parents of British soldiers killed in Iraq’, castigating them for not stopping their children from enlisting, and concluding, ‘I cannot extend my sympathy to you.’ This is misplaced — British generals, politicians and rulers more generally should be criticised, not the victims and their relatives.