Class War - still going five years on

In 1997, some members of the Class War Federation tried to wind the organisation up. They intended issue 73 of Class War to be the last. On 19th October this year, Freedom published an article called 'The murky message of '97'.

Written by M.H., one of the people involved in this attempt, it analysed what happened and developments in the anarchist movement since.

Not all M.H.'s ex-comrades agreed with him in 1997 (the federation and paper still exist), and they don't now. Here, Paul Marsh of London Class War gives an altogether different account.

As a Class War member for some ten years, I was interested to read M.H.'s article. What made it all the more fascinating was that sightings of the people behind issue 73 have become as rare in recent years as red squirrels on Hampstead Heath (but, it has to be said, not nearly so welcome). In analysing the world today, and the anarchist movement in particular, it's essential to look at how we got to where we are. Here M.H. is guilty of some sorry dishonesty. It's no surprise that he chooses not to put his full name on the article.

The Class War Federation split at its national conference in Nottingham in March 1997. The division was between those who wanted to carry on as Class War and those who wished to disband (the minutes are available from London Class War, please send SAE). The split occurred, in part, due to the extremely dubious methods used to produce issue 73.

When it was discovered that some of those producing the paper were holding secret meetings for a hand-picked cadre of members and guests, a parting of the ways became inevitable. I doubt M.H. is proud of the fact that a meeting was scheduled in London on 'Women and Class War' with none of the female members of London Class War invited - but it would be nice if M.H. at least said he regretted it.

The original intention of the 'final issue' of Class War was to re-forge the anarchist and libertarian movements, by way of a mass conference planned for London in 1997. Utterly isolated in the capital and the south east because of their own behaviour, M.H. and his comrades were left with nobody to organise this conference. They had little option but to attach themselves to an already existing event - Mayday in Bradford the next year - and tailor it to suit their needs.

Issue 73 reflected the partial nature of its authors. In what was supposed to be a painfully honest assessment of the history, theory and practice of Class War, readers instead received edited highlights. A history with no analysis of the Anti-Election Alliance campaigns of 1992 and 1997, nothing about the federation's concept of Communities of Resistance, nothing about Class War Prisoners or about the group's brief dabble in electoral politics at the North Kensington by-election, and nothing on its attempts to work in the industrial field through groups like Class War Colliers or Class War Posties.

These were edited highlights, not of the Premiership but of the Vauxhall Conference. M.H. and co. sold people a pup. It would've been easier, if less dramatic, had they simply left Class War to those who agreed with its politics and retired quietly to tend their gardens.

By May 1998 many of the authors of issue 73 had had their say and hung up their boots. Many of the Bristol lot, who'd arguably initiated the whole process, couldn't even be bothered to travel to Bradford. Rather than re-forging the anarchist movement, this shower failed even to re-forge themselves.

Class War was pretty skint in the mid 1990s. After the split, M.H. and co. were unable to honour commitments they'd made to supply London Class War with a computer, but they had the finance to produce a theoretical magazine, Smash Hits (which was initially free). Enthusiastically distributed by well-meaning organisations like AK Press and Active Distribution, this sank without trace after just three issues. Curiously, M.H. doesn't mention Smash Hits once.

M.H. shows uncharacteristic honesty in recognising that the sum achievements of the Bradford event were tiny, while grossly over-stating the event's influence over subsequent actions like Mayday 2000.

There now appears to be a growing recognition in the movement that the huge amount of time and effort put into Mayday is probably unwise. Freedom has contained some interesting articles suggesting that Mayday, far from being reclaimed, has been hijacked by those who see it merely as an opportunity to wear silly costumes once a year.

The working class has never been as shafted as it is today. With New Labour not even pretending to represent us, a real vacuum exists in working class communities. Much of the anarchist response to this appears to be to ignore it, while concentrating harder on counter-cultural, anti-war and environmental issues. As an ideology, anarchism doesn't lack adherents (the Anarchist Bookfair gets bigger every year), but anarchism in the UK lacks focus and clarity, and worse, at times it lacks relevance.

We badly need to work together on areas that directly affect our lives - anti-social crime, the behaviour of local authorities, the policing of our communities and the prison-industrial state that's being built up all around us. Those of us in employment are working harder than ever, are taxed as highly as ever and are paid as poorly as ever. For many of us, our working lives will be five or ten years longer than those of our parents. These are issues that matter.

A core mistake runs through M.H.'s article, and through the thinking of his comrades. They seem to be unaware that there's no point in theory without practice. Get everybody together, pose lots of questions, keep out the oiks from Class War and they think everything will be tickety boo. It hasn't worked so far, and it won't work in the future.

While the authors of Class War 73 have largely faded from the scene, the various national federations haven't. There are good articles, and I believe good ideas, knocking around the publications of the Anarchist Federation, Solidarity Federation and Class War. Freedom has improved considerably, while the Anarchist Youth Network has added a burst of energy. Elsewhere, the demise of the Anarchist Black Cross and Anti-Fascist Action has been damaging and, in some cases, disastrous. The scandalous lack of support given to jailed activists like Mark Barnsley, and the way fascists were able to swan around with virtual impunity in Oldham last year, illustrates some of the dangers of the movement not getting its act together.

For activists to work together, trust and honesty are essential. Activists I talk to and see posting on email lists clearly recognise this. Perhaps if M.H. wants to come to the party, he could start by honestly assessing his own work and actions over the last five or six years and beyond. To paraphrase M.H., if the ideas of the people behind issue 73 were so brilliant, why did their new direction amount to so little and have so little influence?

Paul Marsh
London Class War

London Class War, PO Box 467, London E8 3QX. Issue 84 of Class War is now out, available from Freedom Press at £1 (plus 50p p&p in the UK, £1 elsewhere).