Electronic version of the booklet "This Is Class War" - Thanks to Oshan Cook for the missing bits!
NEW - This Is Class War has been revised and reprinted as "21st Century Class War"
Available from London CW for £1 + P&P!
This booklet aims to explain the basic background and politics of the Class War Federation, and is meant as an introduction to the Federation. Obviously, a booklet this short can't say everything we would like, but we hope it gives some idea of who we are and what we stand for.
The first issue of Class war was produced in 1983 by a small group of people based in Swansea. Their background was in the production of a local, populist, agitational paper called the Alarm, which achieved some notoriety by exposing the corruption of local council leaders. The first issues of Class War were aimed at the large, punk, anarchist and pacifist movement of the time, for instance followers of bands like Crass.
The articles in Class War slagged off pacifism and the Peace movement and encouraged the idea that violence is necessary. They put forward a straight forward analysis, identifying the enemy not only as "the system" or the "State", but as the ruling class (not only as a class, but also as individuals within that class)
The miner's strike started in 1984 and the paper and its followers reacted to it swiftly. The writers of Class War had wanted to see the anarchist/punk ghetto take up the rebellion unleashed by the inner-city riots of 1981. Now that anger was taken up by thousands of miners throughout the country. To a large extent the paper dropped its discussion of the inadequacies of the CND and called for direct physical support for the miners. Class War alone supported the direct action of the strikers. Readership soared, not least in mining areas. Miners queued 20 or more for the paper at the big Mansfield demonstration in 1984. Class war was now a paper with readers and supporters well beyond the wildest expectations of its first producers.
The Class War Collective decided that the time was ripe to go beyond the paper and called a Bash. the Rich march in 1985, from Notting Hill to Kensington The Stop the City demonstrations of the early 80's(which were not called by Class War) Had reflected the new mood in the anarchist scene, and around 500 people took part in this first incursion(albeit symbolic) of a hostile working class mob into a rich area since the 19th century.
Another Bash the Rich march took place from Camden to Hampstead (well, yes, we did get stopped halfway) and a very enjoyable day out to Henley Regatta took place in 1986. What was significant about all this was that we went to them, to the areas where they lived, which made them uncomfortable if only for a short time. The First Class war conference of some 50 people took place in 1985, and a rally of over 200 people was held in Holloway. The inner-city riots of late1985 proved to be another boost for Class War (12,000 papers were being sold each issue that Autumn)but following the end of the Bash The Rich campaign, an increasing number of people around the country wanted to consolidate the gains of the last three years.
A national conference in Manchester supported their proposal that the groups and individuals who wrote and sold the paper should form "Class War" groups as part of a National Federation with common 'aims and principles'. The reason we chose to federate was that it is the most democratic form of organisation, whereby groups within the federation have a large degree of freedom within an agreed set of politics and strategy. Some people could not accept the idea of such a degree of organisation and left - whoops! The end of the miners strike was the last straw for the British Left. They had failed dismally to come o terms with the changing political climate and the strongest Tory government since the war. The Labour Party went to the right, and groups like the Communist Party and the Workers Revolutionary Party faded into obscurity. The traditional areas of class conflict had all but disappeared (e.g. the work-place) The new battles were taking places in the streets and the communities of our towns and cities, like the yuppification of traditional working class areas. This is where Class War politics came into the forefront. We thrived!
In 1988 we launched an ambitious national tour called "Rock Against the Rich" with ex-Clash singer Joe Strummer. This was to promote Class War's politics and name far and wide. It was the biggest event or campaign ever put on by an Anarchist/libertarian organisation in this country. Spring 1989 saw the production and distribution of Class War start to improve. From being an eight page bi-monthly we went to being a six-weekly, sixteen page, full colour tabloid.
The Federation shot to prominence after the 1990 poll tax riot in Trafalgar Square where the Metropolitan Police got a well deserved beating at the hands of thousands of people from all over the country. In stark contrast to the Left, particularly Militant, who all rushed to condemn the rioters, a Federation spokesman said they were "working class heroes" on national TV and radio. The Media was gobsmacked, questions were asked in parliament and Class War was read out in the House of Commons and Lords.
At the Autumn 1990 National Conference in Manchester the Federation voted to become a membership organisation, with membership fees, and a straightforward constitution. We decided to do this to pull together, more efficiently, the Federation's resources, to make us a more effective national organisation and to bring in increased democracy with the proper election of officials and delegates.
At the Victory March in late March 1991,celebrating the repeal of the Poll Tax, the Class War Federation contingent was by far the biggest, with thousands of people marching with us. Much to the annoyance of Militant and the Police, who thought they were going to have it all their own way! In association with grass roots anti-Poll Tax groups and prisoners support organisations the Federation organised a successful Bailiff Day of Action, in July 1991,which saw poll tax bailiffs intimidated and harassed all over the country, turning the tables on these scum who profit out of misery and poverty. Class war has also taken off internationally in the early 1990's with new Class War groups springing up in Europe and the USA and an international conference in London in 1991.
Class War is not just another party seeking to gain power or a new way of telling people what to do. Class war is what happens when ordinary people have had enough of being pushed around and decide to fight back. If you're one of the people who've swallowed the crap about "we're all middle class now" or "we live in a classless society" this is the time to stop reading! We live in a society severely split along the lines of class, where capitalism, the State and the ruling class dominate us. So what do we mean by this?
Capitalism is an economic system run purely for profit in the interests of a small class - the capitalists - at the expense of a larger class - the working class. The whole of our present society is geared to the needs of capitalism. It is the mechanism whereby we sell our labour, in exchange for money, to purchase the goods and services we need, which we also happen to have produced in the first place! However, we only get a proportion of the wealth that our labour produces, the rest goes to the capitalists in profit.
This is fundamental to capitalism - in order for it to work the many must produce wealth for the few. Western style capitalism is often hailed as being the free market, all it means is that they are "free" to exploit us.
The situation is exactly the same in the so-called "planned economies" of the "Communist" countries. Karl Marx suggested that capitalism is a machine governed by natural laws - it isn't. It's an economic system run by a group of people who compete fiercely with each other for the right to rip us off. Capitalism has nothing to offer us except an endless cycle of war, famine, recession and unemployment. It is not inevitable that it will die of it's own accord, it could linger on for centuries yet, lurching from crisis to crisis, therefore it must be destroyed.
Although capitalism is the major form of social organisation in terms of production, there are things that it can't do. Broadly speaking it cannot supply the `social' organisation of society, this hole is filled by something else - the State.
The State is the means by which a tiny minority control and dominate the rest of us, in the interests of the ruling power in our society - the capitalists. To give you an idea of how small a minority we are talking about, the often quoted figures are still true - that 7% of the population owns 84% of the wealth. The state is a set of institutions and bodies through which government is exercised e.g. parliament, local government, ministries, civil service, police, law, education, and the church. The aim of government is to keep the lid on class conflict, and to control competition between the capitalist, to make sure of the smooth running of society. It does this by enforcing the laws of private property, and the right of capitalists to buy and sell it. It doesn't matter whether that property is land, food, health, sex, factories, houses or anything else that takes their fancy.
But the State came before capitalism, and it has always been a form of control and oppression in the interests of whatever ruling class is in power, and whatever economic system they choose to use. In Britain we are given the `choice', every five years or so, of what Party we'd like to govern us. This, like many other `choices', is a false on, a con trick to fool us into thinking we can change things through the vote. It also gives us politicians, as figureheads, to blame for our difficulties.
But the reality is that the power of the state lies with the capitalists, and the states own officials - they pull the strings. With power concentrated like it is there is always the risk that a small group can mount an attempt to gain control of the state, for example Fascists or Lenin-inspired communists. This would be nothing more than swapping one set of bosses for another - we want to sweep the lot of them away.
Because capitalism represents exploitation, and the State represents domination, it isn't surprising that the society they have produced is split into different categories, or classes, of people who hold a position directly in relation to capitalism and the state.
It is important that we stress here that we have to generalise when defining class, there are always exceptions to the rule, there are also sub-sections within classes that can confuse the picture.
The Ruling Class
About 5% of the population.
Some examples: Owners of major companies, landowners judges ,top cops, church leaders and the aristocracy including the Royal Family.
The Middle Class
About 20% of the population
Some examples :professionals e.g. journalists, doctors, teachers, management, social workers Also priests, officers in the armed forces and the owners of small businesses
The Working Class
About 75% of the population
Some examples: Factory shop and office workers, nurses, technicians agricultural workers, soldiers up to NCO level and the unemployed
The above figures are not the invention of Class War - they come from the State's own figures and were updated after the 1981 census.
In general there are two main factors that give you your place in the class system : wealth and power. The ruling class rule but they don't actually govern - that is left to the State's politicians and officials They don't all sit around in smoke filled rooms conspiring to oppress us, they don't need to most of the time. So how do they keep us in our place? By the old trick of divide and rule - setting white against black, men against women and worker against worker. This breaks down any sense of class solidarity, identity and unity - without which a revolution is an impossible dream.
Contact between the ruling class and the working class is very rare Most inter-class contact comes between the working and middle classes. The middle class is made up of many sub-sections and layers, all performing different roles and functions necessary for capitalist society to run. Basically speaking they manage us in the interests of the ruling class.
The most recognisable role for the middle class is the economic management of business and industry e.g. work/factory managers, and accountants. These are the top dogs, the highest earners in the middle class, because Without their services capitalism would rapidly collapse.
By it's very nature capitalism is filled with brutality and inequality. If left to it's devices it would end in either barbarism or class revolution. Neither is any good to the ruling class, so this must be prevented by capitalism putting on a `human face` - the caring side of capitalism! a large section of the middle class provide this function. Mopping up the casualties of class society, and providing a `buffer' for class anger, and sometime channeling it into minor tinkering with social conditions. they also provide the vital services we need, but at a cost to us - they have virtual control over whole areas of our lives.
A not so obvious role of the middle class is to provide and intellectual and cultural framework in which ideas that serve the interests of the ruling class become part of our everyday thoughts. The endless repeating of certain ideas, stereotypes and myths try to stifle our class consciousness and turn us into `model citizens'. These can be the crude lies like ` all blacks are lazy and thick' or the more sophisticated crap about the so-called `classless society'. Examples would be the media and advertising industry, education and religion.
Capitalism must have a constant supply of new ideas to create new markets to sustain its profits. It must also evolve in order to survive. Middle class researchers and intellectuals provide the information necessary to make this possible. This is true right from university professors to the new so-called `green' entrepreneurs.
Because of the varied roles of the middle classes there is often conflict and contradictions within its ranks. When the class struggle comes to a head it would split them, forcing them to take sides. As a general rule those near the top would side with the bosses, having the most to lose. Those who come on our side can only do so on our terms. Whish is to join us as equals, and not in their usual role as leaders.
The briefest way of describing our class is to say we are everyone who is not in the middle and ruling class! This is not just a smart arse remark. In general the working class are people who live by their labour, the ownership of property that generates wealth is the dividing line - if you have enough property or money not to work then you are not working class.
The other part of class identity is `social power'. The working classes do not have the power, we are the ones who are told what to do. We are defined not by what we do, but by what is done to us. But this does not mean that we are powerless - far from it. The state spends vast amounts of money and energy to keep us in our place. Also, because our work is at the very centre of everyday practical economic activity it is fair to say that everything hinges around whether we want to `play the game' or not .
Class is a much disputed topic. the ruling class need to confuse the issue in order to survive. If the majority of people have a clear idea of the workings of a class society, social control would be impossible and the ruling class would be toppled from their positions of wealth privilege and power.
As capitalism developed and class society became a feature of people's lives , the ruling class found it necessary to stifle class consciousness, and even to get working class people to identify with capitalism. Myths like ` we're all middle class now' or ` we live in a classless society' , are laughable and contradictory. These are the rantings of middle class journalists, ad-men and politicians, who want to wish away class conflict and try to create a false idea of equality.
With the rise of the `Consumer Society' and the easy availability of credit, more and more working class people can afford things like their own house, car, holidays abroad etc, But this increase of personal wealth does in no way increase your social power. At the end of the day these extra goods all rely on your ability to work. The day you lose your job and can't keep up the payments, they all go out the window along with the easy credit that made them available. and at the same time when we can afford a few extra goodies, the wealth of the already rich and powerful rises fantastically. What counds is not token improvements in our life-styles but the gross inequality in the overall distribution of wealth and power.
With the running down of the traditional heavy industries, the old image of the working class has dramatically changed - massively so during the 1980's. In its place are more white collar workers, and the rise in service industry, high tech and part time employment. But it's ridiculous to say that just because there is a more diverse labour market the working class has disappeared! It hasn't, it's just that to the middle class politicians, media people and journalists if you don't wear overalls, a cloth cap, and get your hands dirty at work you aren't working class. That's how thick they really are!
The end of class society can only come about through working class revolution. This is because the working class is the only social group capable of this massive transformation of society, by virtue of the fact that we are the overwhelming majority and because we have the interest, motivation and ability to do so. History has shown us many examples of the working class's revolutionary ability, there is no good reason for thinking that this will be any different in the future.
As we said earlier, once you are aware of how crap this society is you either:
1) Do nothing about it because you belong to the ruling class or middle class and have a lot to lose through a revolution
2) Take a cynical `why bother' attitude, believe that this is the way it will always be and go back to sticking your head in the sand
3) Or you believe that things should change and that we have to organise and fight back to do so.
How you go about doing number three depends on how much `change'
you actually want, and what exactly you are prepared to do. Some
people feel they are changing society by voting Labour, joining
CND, becoming a vegetarian or joining the Green party. There's
nothing wrong with being a Green, vegetarian member of CND, but
it is being criminally naive if you think it will really change
the overall structure of society. The same goes for those who
think that by `dropping out' and living some sort of `alternative
lifestyle' they are doing something to change society. They aren't.
The State can tolerate millions of it's citizens wandering off
and living in teepees. and would probably prefer them to do so
since they would then be not harmless , and no threat to the
State. Others think that by voting Labour they'll achieve change.
We don't. Class War doesn't prattle on about `waiting for a
Labour Government" or electing Socialist Councils because
the Labour Party is about as revolutionary as a pond full of
ducks! It's political aims and ideas are just a `soft' version of
capitalism. It also has a negative and destructive influence
because it pretends to be the political voice of the working
class. The reality is that it' s run by a motley collection of
bloated, corrupt union officials and trendy-lefty social worker
types who are nothing more than a load of parasitical, careerist
bureaucrats, easing their `radical consciousness' by naming tower
blocks after obscure Latin American freedom fighters and drinking
Nicaraguan coffee at their smart parties, in their smart houses
in Hampstead and Holland Park.
Some people join Left-wing groups like the Socialist Workers Party, or Militant. They do want to change society and realise (well some do) that it will only change through a revolution. Class War believers this too ,but how these groups see the coming about of a revolution, and what type of society will be formed and by who, is fundamentally different to what we think and want.
Firstly Class War is not another `Party" trying to gain power. We don't want to swap one set of bosses for another, no matter how `radical and progressive 'they pretend to be. They talk about `democratic centralism' and how the working class needs `their leadership' - What a joke! We don't need them anymore than we need the Tories or Labour - THEY NEED US! We have no intention of destroying capitalism just so that it can be replaced by a NEW state, and new laws. Quite apart from anything else, the very nature of these tiny bands of `revolutionaries' who seem to form new groups, and splinter groups, at the drop of a hat means they usually have an exclusively middle class membership. The working class members soon leave. As a result they launch endless new `front organisations' to try to recruit members. Based around issues such as the war in Ireland, anti racism and sexism and gay rights etc. The damage that has been done by their guilt-ridden brands of anti-racism and anti-sexism, in particular, is a disgrace to see. In reality though, these obscure left wing groups are little more than a talking shop where their members prattle away to their hearts content about `the political relevance of one-legged tea pickers in Tibet'. While the real world passes them by...
Unlike the Left we see the community as of crucial importance to our class. It is obvious no what any major industrial battles will not succeed without massive community support, such as during the Miners Strike. Crime and other anti-social behavior, racism and sexism must be fought from within our communities, we can't sit back waiting for someone to do it for us. This is what the Left want us to do, leave everything to them and they will sort it our for us. But what usually happens is that as soon as something else appears on the horizon they're off like a shot! A good example of this is the Poll Tax - as soon as it was announced that it was going to be scrapped they dropped it like a hot potato, probably relieved that their would be no more riots in Trafalgar Square that would threaten their cozy lifestyles.
To the Left the working class are there to be ordered about because we are too thick to think for ourselves. The new concerns of the Left in this country reflect the political, economic and cultural hopes of the middle class more than ever before. Tragically any decent revolutionaries within these groups usually become burnt out, disillusioned and are wasted. Class War makes no `revolutionary demands' on behalf for the working class. But we do see the need to play up the revolutionary elements within our struggles, towards an objective of creating a popular `culture of resistance'. This is the popularisation of the ideas of class struggle, class pride and identity, and the values of solidarity, self-management and internationalism. Fundamentally this is about bringing politics into all areas of peoples lives. At present the capitalists invade all areas of our lives - in turn we will have to retrieve every part of them.
Class War makes no "revolutionary demands" on behalf of the working class. But we do see the need to play up the revolutionary elements within our struggles, towards an objective of creating a popular "culture of resistance". This is the popularisation of the ideas of class struggle, class pride and identity, and the values of solidarity ,self management and internationalism. Fundamentally this is about bringing politics into all areas of peoples lives. At present the capitalists invade all areas of our lives - in turn we will have to retrieve every part of them. This development will become the foundation and energy behind any possible revolutionary movement. In areas of the world where this has happened, like Spain, Italy and Russia, the traditions have lingered on generations after the original movements were crushed - it's powerful stuff!
As we have said before, the Class War Federation doesn't have all the answers, neither do we pretend to. We are not a new "party", or leaders in waiting. Unlike the rest of the Left we don't see ordinary working class people as mindless, moronic sheep with no political brain of their own who we must seek out and educate with our "superior" political beliefs. We believe that ordinary people have our basic politics already - that of suspicion of authority, and a hatred for the privileged elite. The role of our propaganda is to champion and develop these ideas.
Our propaganda is fundamentally different from all the other political groups. While the Left whine and moan about the power of the State, injustice, write garbled theory and copy the dated writings of obscure 19th century intellectuals or concentrate on "building the part", Class War tries to increase the confidence, autonomy, initiative and solidarity of working class people.
Moaning on and on about how terrible everything is, is depressing and boring and encourages reformism (Green politics for example). We know that however many reforms are made, the ruling class will be in direct, or indirect (e.g. culturally) control of our lives. They will still control where and how we live and work, and to a large extent what we think. Apart from sheer physical force, the ruling class controls us by demoralisation, pacification, creating apathy, robbing us of our identity as a class and fostering and encouraging prejudice of every possible kind to divide us. Through our propaganda, we try to combat this.
There are three ideas central to Class War, humour, populism and violence. Some people have said that writing a paper in this style is patronising - well that's crap, of course many working class people are very capable of reading intellectual material - and Class War is aimed at them as much as those who aren't. Humour is essential to the paper, firstly because is makes people want to read it, and secondly because it is the best way we have of making our point. People remember witty one-liners, and repeat them to their mates, taking with it the political content. Humour is a very powerful weapon. It makes our enemies seem ridiculous and less powerful.
Politics is not separate from everyday life, it is life. The idea that politics must be boring and serious encourages us to forget this. The trouble with most lefty papers is that they are difficult and boring to read. There is a reason why people like to read The Sun. It's not because they're stupid and ignorant, it's because a lot of the time is a light entertaining read. This isn't saying that The Sun doesn't talk crap. It just means that there is a lot to be said for a paper that is simple, entertaining and easy to read, and that's what Class War should be like if we want people to read it. The idea that if you enjoy reading a paper like that, or watching soaps or sitcoms on the telly, means you're thick, is just intellectual bullshit.
Class War doesn't shy away from violence, it promotes open class violence - the idea of a lot of people fighting a common enemy. We feature people fighting back in the paper to show that it happens all the time (it's ignored or marginalised by everyone else), and to show that it works, giving people the confidence they need to take on capitalism and the State. After all the ruling class aren't just going to roll over and give up their power - it will have to be taken from them.
We also produce a range of propaganda for people who have read Class War and want to know more about what we believe - you're reading some now! Our theoretical journal, The Heavy Stuff, comes out regularly and goes into current issues and affairs with more depth than Class War does. We also have Unfinished Business, a 200 page book which goes into the present situation that our class is in, how we got there, and how we can learn from the past to change the present. All of the ideas you have read here are gone into in more detail, and it's highly recommended reading.
The Class War Federation is made up of normal people, we are not weirdoes or loony lefties! Our politics are common sense and straightforward not the intellectual ranting of university professors. We strongly believe that everyday life and politics are the same thing. If your politics aren't part of everyday life then they are worthless. Our political activity must be as open to a 30 year old housewife, as to a 40 year old miner as to an OAP.
We do not demand 6am paper sales outside factories in the freezing cold, or 24 hour activity (endless rounds of meetings etc). Class War is not arrogant like the Left, or your everyday politician. Yes, we do have ideas and we do stand firm behind our views, but we don't think we are perfect, we don't put forward a theory and say that if everyone followed it to the letter then everything would be fine and the sun would always shine! Our politics come from our lives and the real world; they are a necessity, not a theory.
Class War are not the only "Left wing" group who recognise that working class people are political (because they have to be) - it's just that it's couched in different terms from the intellectual claptrap of the Left. We believe that it is right, and a necessity, that there should be similar groups to our own, and that there should always be debate within our Federation. Because we are a working class group, and because our politics come from there, we are able to respect and work with working class people who are not yet political, or who may have different views than our own.
We work on a federal system - each group, and individual members, come together to achieve commonly agreed objectives. The Federation is a membership organisation with membership fees and certain obligations, like the understanding and promotion of the Federation's politics and propaganda. We have a straightforward constitution and members are expected to abide by it. The Federation contains people who may describe themselves as Anarchists, Communists and Socialists. But what is more important than these labels is what people really think and what brings them together.
As we have said earlier, federalism is a method of organising that provides a large degree of freedom for groups and members within a broadly agreed set of politics and strategy. The only limit to this freedom is that what every individual does will have an effect on the rest of the members.
When the Federation as a whole takes decisions affecting the whole membership, it is done through the six monthly National Conferences. Every member has a vote, no-one has more say than anyone else - we are all equals, there are no "secret" leaders. Decisions may be hotly debated but at the end of the day the conference decision is final. Then the members are expected to comply, if they don't they are free to leave - we are not dreamy liberals! This is called tactical and theoretical unity, it's what binds us into an effective force, and stops us drifting off along different lines that might be in opposition to each other and end up with the Federation self-destructing.
The National Conferences are the prime decision-making bodies of the Federation. Between them the day to day business is handled by a regular meeting of a National Delegate Committee, members and groups either represent themselves or send delegates. All delegates are instantly recallable by those who they represent and are directly accountable to them. Nobody occupies a permanent post within the Federation, the positions such as secretaries, editors, organisers etc are open to election at least twice a year at the National Conferences. The Federation also holds regular weekend schools for discussion and education.
The Federation is divided into geographic regions where the groups and members are encouraged, and given the freedom, to form their own regional organisation with their own campaigns, conferences, bulletins etc. As you can see we put the emphasis on groups and members acting on their own steam as much as possible. The central control of the Left is neither politically healthy or indeed capable of waging the struggle required to help form a working class movement that will destroy capitalism.
Everywhere, as capitalism once again nose dives into another cycle of recession and unemployment, more and more working class people are fighting back. Fighting off the dead weight of Labourism and the Left, fighting against the Tories and the rest of the ruling class. We are one of the more dynamic, popular and ambitious groups in this fightback. We ask you to join the resistance and join with us! Don't sit on the sidelines - join the winning side!
Last updated 1/11/99
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