Ian Bone: Sound and Fury – Andy Brown

Ian Bone: Sound and Fury – Andy Brown

Today Ian Bone is a leading activist of Class War, the group he helped to found. But surprisingly, or not, he was once a member of Swansea Solidarity. Andy Brown gets the man the 'Sunday People' says has “a degree in sociology... and a heart overflowing with hate” to tell the story of what happened in between.

Could you tell us how you first became an anarchist, socialist or whatever label you would apply to yourself? How did you become politicised?

IAN: All sorts of reasons. My old man was a socialist and he was a butler, and I inherited my class hatred from seeing the way the upper class lives. But as regards why I became an anarchist I don't know really.

How did you first come into contact with anarchist ideas?

IAN: Funnily enough I went on a CND demonstration when I was about fourteen. It was the last phase of the first wave of CND, this would be about 1962. I was living in a small town in Hampshire and I went up with the local Quakers to the Aldermaston march. On the second day of the march, whilst we were having a really boring time marching along singing 'peace' songs and being ever so wholesome, about forty people waving red and black flags raced past and started fucking the police about, holding things up and generally messing CND about. I remember asking the famous question "Who are those guys?" and the Quakers told me they were anarchists. So then when I got back home I looked up anarchy in the dictionary and decided I was an anarchist because at the time I actually did think that I believed in chaos.

Then by sheer chance I found Freedom's address in a copy of Punch in a dentist's waiting room and wrote off to them and they sent me back a copy of Anarchy which was a special issue on some American educationalist called Homer Lane. It was totally incomprehensible to a fourteen year old! Eventually they sent me a copy of Freedom as well and then I think I got into anarchism through that and started calling myself an anarchist.

At Swansea you began a magazine called 'Alarm'. Could you tell us something about it and why it was successful?

IAN: It was just a local paper but I think it was successful because it basically dealt with council corruption and it named names. In other words, it didn't just say that Swansea Council was corrupt, it said Gerald Murphy (the then chairman) is corrupt and he took a backhander of £200 in the Townsman Club last night, and it came out every week with similar allegations. People were astounded; they knew a lot of this stuff, but they were astonished to see it written down. It was a paper which working class people wanted to read because it dealt with their everyday lives and also it was funny. It sold five thousand copies a week, so that ten to fifteen thousand people were reading it in a city of 180,000 people.

What eventually happened to Murphy?

IAN: Murphy went to jail for a couple of years as did the next council leader in Swansea, but I don't think that's particularly important. We weren't saying that what we want is a load of non-corrupt Labour councillors, we were basically saying that the whole practice of business and the way councils are run is corrupt. In the end we did have problems with Alarm, because people agreed with what we were saying but where did we go from there? We had big problems and we ended up standing for the council ourselves, which I think was a mistake. We got so far and then we didn't have the answers as to where to go with that amount of popular support. I think we can learn from that mistake.

What would you do now if you were in similar circumstances?

IAN: We should have been exploring ways of by-passing the council and getting communities running things for themselves. To give an example of the kind of thing we should have developed more, I remember that one day a woman wrote us a letter saying she had a handicapped kid who was playing in the garden and the wall of the garden, which led onto a main road, was knocked down in an accident. She'd been ages trying to get the council to do something about rebuilding it and we simply made contact with some people involved in Alarm who worked for the council's direct-labour organisation and the following week the first thing on their job sheet was to go up there and build the wall. We'd achieved direct contact between what needs to be done and the workforce.

What was the result when the 'Alarm' candidates stood for the council?

IAN: The four Alarm candidates who stood polled an average of 28 per cent of the vote in the wards where we stood1, which, when you consider that the usual poll by lefty groups is minimal, was pretty high. I actually received the lowest vote of the four. In one of the wards, Mayhill, which is a big working class ward, the Labour councillor got 1200 votes, The Alarm candidate got 850, and the Tories, Plaid Cymru and the Liberals were all in the region of 300 votes. So basically the popular support was there but we didn't know what to do with it, and standing for the council was the wrong thing.

Do you think the fact that you didn't know what to do with that support is why 'Alarm' fell away?

IAN: We had no political solutions as to where to go.

Do you feel any danger that Class War might go the same way?

IAN: Class War could have gone the same way, in that we had a popular paper which people liked, and if we had been content to do that then it would have. That's why we've had to have a good rethink of our politics lately. As opposed to just putting our ideas over to estates and local communities, we should be trying to help those estates and communities to run things for themselves. In our latest issue there's an article about what's been happening on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, where again the tenants and the direct-labour organisation got together and started running repairs for themselves. We've got to start seizing control of territory and start running that territory for ourselves. I don't mean a bunch of anarchists should be doing this, but the working class people in that community. While you were in Swansea you were also involved in a project called 'Dole Express'.

Could you tell us something about that?

IAN: Dole Express was a Claimants' Union broadsheet which was given away outside the local dole office and people simply made voluntary contributions. I think we used to ask for one old penny, and quite frequently got more, so that money was never a problem. It used to deal with what happened at Box 7 last week, and how long people had to wait. It was really popular, and we used to get rid of a thousand of those each week.

Do you think that's generally what was wrong with Claimants' Unions?

IAN: I think most Claimants' Unions, whether they wanted to or not, ended up as a form of alternative social work. You got people's claim for them, which was fine, because after all it's better to have your giro than not having it, but that was the limit to it. As regards raising generalised class consciousness rather than a particular issue it's a dead end.

After 'Alarm' I believe you got involved in Welsh nationalism, even going so far as to translate your name into Welsh. Do you still have any faith in nationalist movements?

IAN: I was involved in something called the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement, because I was living in Swansea at the time and there was nothing else going on, and I knew a lot of people in it who were revolutionary socialists. I don't think I had any faith in nationalism at the time, I was in the anarchist wing of the WSR. It was not something I would involve myself in again.

You were also involved in a band called Page Three. Could you tell us the story behind that?

IAN: I put my musical career down to the folly of youth, but the Sun treated it seriously and took us to court for using the name Page Three. Apparently, we brought their name into disrepute. The judge found that we infringed the Sun's copyright but didn't make any award against us, presumably because he didn't think much of the Sun either. We ended up having to pay our own costs, which were minimal, while the Sun got landed with expensive legal fees.

Actually, that leads me to the final question. How would you respond to those who would say that Class War is a good joke, but not to be taken seriously?

IAN: Maybe they're right, maybe not, we'll have to wait and see, but I believe that the fundamental problem with the British Left is that they've got a 'holier than thou' attitude. The Left believes that it got all the right answers and that ordinary people are a bunch of mugs for not realising it. Working class people quite rightly resent that, and also being preached to about what they should be interested in rather than what they are interested in.

  • 1. Libcom note: A detailed letter from Swansea resident Howard Moss is publised in Solidarity Journal issue 20 in which it is suggested that the figures were more like 5%.