A reply from a Class War member to "Intakes: Death of a Paper Tiger... Reflections on Class War" in Aufheben #6.
Demanding Critical Thought,
or Still Born Aufheben
This is a reply to "Intakes: Death of a Paper Tiger... Reflections on Class War" found on the Aufheben website on Feb. 21st 2000, but printed in 1997, Autumn no.6, in their magazine.
I chose the title above to reflect antagonism back to and as a political judgement on the state of Aufheben. Their hostility towards Class War was misplaced when in their article (Aufheben No. 4, page 17, summer 1995) about the struggle against the Criminal Justice Act (when Class War was going strong) they say 'Class War were busy selling papers rather than fighting with the police'. The reality of that day for those who were involved in Class War at the time was that several groups were involved in a lot of the main violence in Hyde Park and the looting down Oxford Street. But then when did intellectuals know anything?
Aufheben's method of critique was one of unjustly abstracting and isolating elements of the Class War package in order to criticise. This is not the imminent critique of Marxism (autonomist or otherwise) Nor is it actually aimed at the politics of the organisation. A consistent approach would critique Class War initiatives in the class struggle. The tone of the piece tries to take apart the POPULAR newspaper Class War to point out its supposed failure to grasp the essence of class, an unfair criticism. No newspaper, tabloid or broadsheet could do that, and one Class War never claimed to define. Perhaps we should have produced an 'unpopular' paper to make them happy?
In my judgement 'Intakes' lost the plot so badly that the entire article needs dismantling. It is pain fully obvious that throughout the entire article there was felt a need to denigrate the entire existence of Class War and what it stood for, a hatchet job from the same stables as the right wing media that Aufheben weakly try to analyse. It's really sad that the 'intellectuals' could only selectively find criticisms, and talk about something they never really understood or participated in. Basically the criticisms of Class War were not reciprocally applied. But now, to the article.
'Intakes' make several suppositions which need taking apart. Firstly, when they said "on those occasions when the group orthodoxy became an obstacle to action" they do not give an example or the supposed context. Also, Class War is an organisation notorious for wanting action and organising it which they contradictorily note later on in the article. Basically all the way through their article they misjudge what it was possible to do in particular times and places by the organisation Class War. Getting the political timing right, the right time and place is essential for the political 'moment'.
When 'Intakes' says "On the level of appearances, which was always their main form of existence. Class War was essentially a marketing concept of the '80s" it is asserting rather than proving its point. A fault throughout the entire article, which consisted of a lot of vague assertions and little real proof or analysis (for example there are no examples of the "boring arrogance" Class War is meant to have displayed, nor is there any real evidence of Class Wars' supposed "elitist motive"! So Class War when it organised events and took part in the fighting during industrial disputes and riots is only an appearance? So our question to Aufheben is where did we 'appear', why, and how was it our main form of existence? Then 'Intakes' say any event Class War organised was of various kinds of 'opportunism'. If by 'opportunism' (a phrase which is left unexplained) you mean that Class War as an organisation substituted itself for the working class this is clearly nonsense, but if by 'opportunism' you mean that we reject having to wait until the whole class is ready to act then we're guilty. As working class people we seek to confront oppression whenever we face it. In the context of class struggle, its urgency etc. things have to be done. In this case do all working class people have to digest the complete works of Marx (or Aufheben) before they are deemed fit enough to have conducted any sort of class struggle?
By calling the Bash the Rich Marches media spectacles designed merely to publicise the organisation and keep its personnel occupied Aufhehen miss the point. A Bash the Rich march was and is a good idea at the right time, publicising the organisation and keeping the personnel occupied are the effects of Class War organising a Bash the Rich march. Class War in the face of inertia by all groups on the Left was being radical by doing this, putting it's head above the barricade unlike Aufheben ever. By saying that "Publicising a Bash the Rich march in advance is like informing the law beforehand of your intention to hold up a bank" Aufheben show how completely they have lost the plot. Their ideas really are defeatist logic. So do you think we can organise large events with no publicity? Do you really think you can organise anything effectively without publicising it? So 'revolutionaries' cannot publicise any activities ever because we might fail.
Then when they get onto criticising the use of working class language they reveal their theoretical poverty. By calling for a Yorkshire or patois Class War so that we would have been truly populist is missing the point. Class War was passed on by people with Yorkshire and other accents to similar people. Single copies of Class War would be passed round large working men's and Labour clubs in the North and be understood by scores of people. Aufheben also seem to be painfully unaware of their own contradictions and weak analysis. Another example is where they talk about the "withering of a combative proletarian culture" and then slag off Class War for saying young working class men swear a lot. A real combative working class movement WILL swear a lot (so you'd better get used to it). There is NO contradiction, nor is it patronising, in 'educated' working class people spreading the good word in a working class manner in the streets of Britain.
Because Aufheben never participated in Class War and seldom read it, their only meeting with Class War appears to have been from the media. One of the reasons for the existence of Class War was to provide an antidote to the populist media as 'Intakes' notes. But where the analysis is wrong is where they say the "desired effect of all populist journalism (of whatever creed) is to suspend critical thought on the part of the reader and to reduce choices of opinion down to a simple duality good/bad, black/white through a simplistic representation of reality. Constant repetition of this tends to numb thought and encourage predictable (Pavlovian) responses". This analysis puts the cart before the horse, firstly it implies that people are already capable of critical thought which is gradually closed down (can younger people immediately read well?) and it overlooks the fact that millions of people already don't necessarily believe what's in the papers anyway. Sometimes as well - reality is that simple, to become a class for itself the working class has to have concrete enemies as Marx realised. Therefore the police are always to be laughed at and attacked, the rich are always greedy selfish gits and so on, and Class War did this.
By asserting that Class War was part of the repression of 'critical thought cretinization process' "influencing the whole of society" is just absurd. Class War was at its best in class struggle and encouraged working class people (me included) to realise who its enemies were and what was needed to do was fight back and go on the offensive if possible.
Aufheben seem to be under the illusion that the masses want to read Aufheben, if only they would realise it. It is correct from a working class point of view to state that insisting on reading or promoting theory to people is 'elitist' and 'middle class' at certain times. The working class generally has little formal education and to insist people like this (from prisons for example) can read and understand some articles in Aufheben is ludicrous. I can picture an activist trying to interest my mother in the Aufheben magazine, and she would politely say "take it back to your University where it belongs". Aufheben unjustly abstract the notion of tabloid populism as if there was no working class political content in the Class War newspaper. When of course working class people even today reflect on reading the Class War newspaper in a positive light, e.g. characters from Sunderland South Labour Club.
Aufheben accuse us of dishonesty as well when we produce a popular newspaper because we apparently are denying the proletariat theory when Class War ourselves understand a lot of theory. Aufheben seem to have no concept of learning and assume that everybody is immediately capable of theory from birth. It's obvious to us that when we still have illiteracy, that as recently as the late 1980s 50% of children left school with no qualifications that there has to be @/left material which is easy to read and understand. Class War is seen to separate theory from propaganda by theorists because we realise that building a movement takes all different kinds of people. As if you could street sell copies of Aufheben in the rougher areas of Britain...
Aufheben state with glee that proles really do like theory and used to conduct street meetings by the 100. But street meetings aren't necessarily educational, and when did Aufheben do a street meeting anyway? I could imagine them trying to explain the meaning of the word (Aufheben) to the one bloke who would turn up to a public meeting called "Aufheben" in Easterhouse. And contrary to the left, Class War actually did do street meetings. The street meeting in Gravesend in 1992 had around 100 people gathered to hear Tim Scargill speak and it was monitored by Paul Condon - then head of Kent Police... One in the last year in Glasgow was vibrant and very well attended.
To say we are 'insulting the historical efforts of the working class to educate itself' is just false and middle class bullshit, with no basis in reality. What Class War does is in the same league as Paulo Freire and the "Pedagogy of the Oppressed". The following quotes are taken extensively to give a feel and meaning to our argument, and are taken from Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire [Continuum, New York; 1999].
Class War like Freire has worked on the premise that:
every human being, no matter how 'ignorant' or submerged in the 'culture of silence' he or she may be, is capable of looking critically at the world in a dialogical encounter with others. Provided with the proper tools for such encounter, the individual can gradually perceive personal and social reality as well as the contradictions in it, become conscious of his or her own perception of that reality, and deal critically with it. In this process, the old. paternalistic teacher-student relationship is overcome. A peasant can facilitate this process for a neighbour more effectively than a 'teacher' brought in from outside. 'People educate each other through mediation of the world.'
As this happens, the [good] word takes on new power. It is no longer an abstraction or magic but a means by which people discover themselves and their potential as they give names to things around them. As Freire puts it, each individual wins back the right to say his or her own word, to name the world.
When an illiterate peasant participates in this sort of educational experience, he or she comes to a new awareness of self, has a new sense of dignity, and is stirred by a new hope. Time and again, peasants have expressed these discoveries in striking ways after a few hours of class: "I now realise I am a person, an educated person." "We were blind, now our eyes have been opened." "Before tins, words meant nothing to me; now they speak to me and I can make them speak." "Now we will no longer be a dead weight on the cooperative farm." When this happens in the process of learning to read, men and women discover that they are creators of culture, and that all their work can be creative. "I work, and working I transform the world." And as those who have been completely marginalised are so radically transformed, they are no longer willing to be mere objects, responding to changes occurring around them; they are more likely to decide to take upon themselves the struggle to change the structures of society, which until now have served to oppress them." [Introduction pages 14 and 15]
he or she comes to a new awareness of self. a new sense of dignity... "We were blind, now our eyes have been opened." "Before this, words meant nothing to me; now they speak to me and I can make them speak"... This radical self awareness is not only the task of workers in the Third World, but of people in this country as well, including those who in our advanced technological society have been or are being programmed into conformity and thus are part of the 'culture of silence'. [Back page]
Class War has many examples of how it did this, but the best ones were from prisoner work, copies of which are available from the London Class War address for an SAE. Spelling and grammar have been left as they are in the originals, and copies were sent to Aufheben. This is a very small selection from letters in the Class War Prisoners archive of around 600 letters. The prisoners' names have been omitted for security reasons:
"Greetings C.W. First let me congradulate yous for all the Work and Truth That goes into every issue of Class War especially issue 69 September October 19-95 page 4 prisoners of War Special feature The War inside Thanks for everything yous Do for prisoners "Cheers" This prisoner appreciates it and So Do many others Keep up The good Work".
Prisoner 1, HMP Glenochil, Clackmanshire (north of Edinburgh)
Class War issued a number of prisoner membership cards and the membership form is reproduced below.
"I recently read your Dec/Jan 95/96 issue while sitting In this shithole. And I would Just like you to know I thought it was absolutely fucking brilliant. Its hard hitting, funny and most of all its straight to the point truthful. I can honestly say it is the best paper I have ever picked up. I would be very grateful if you could send me more info on what you do!"
HMP Saughton, Edinburgh
Class War; "what do you think of the Class War newspaper?"
Prisoner 2 "it's OK at times, but a littol Soft for my likeing, so to speak!"
[So Class War - dubbed the "Rottweiler of the Left" and an "hate group" - is too soft for prisoners!!?!]
"Today was the day! I've read and seen my first Class War (Queen Muther: Scrounger) excellent, would make a remarkable t-shirt, poster etc. Felt good reading the paper, felt right. Wished I'd of come across it a few years earlier, better late than never".
HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire
"Many thanks for the swift reply... I am from the worst part of Toxteth in Liverpool called the Dingle. I am 35 years old and was an active member of the Toxteth riots which made me politically aware of the power of mass Rebbelion... I was delighted to see the Class War banners in the Poll Tax Riots, as you are truly a broad based group who tries to unite the working classes... And I really want a Class War prisoner ID card as well, as it is something to be proud of."
Her Majesties Prison Woodhill, Milton Keynes
(The author of this piece has visited prisoners in 6 prisons in England and Scotland.)
When Aufheban says Class War avoided dealing with real contradictions within the working class, it is a thing we could direct back at them and ask what has Aufheben done. Furthermore Class War did make attempts to do this, such as articles like "what do we do when the cops fuck off' about working class people looking after ourselves when the cops have been kicked out of our areas after the 1985 riots.
The endpiece of their article was trying to use a quote from a Class War drunk saying that we'll turn the place into rubble in 5 years, well we did. Class War did take part in the Poll Tax riot and many others besides making lots of good propaganda as we went. The brick in one hand and a biro in the other is still a reality today as well. Class War did have a messy split but now we are free of 'repressed contradictions and repressed self doubt' and Class War continues in the progressive working class attitude it always has had. For people who should know the meaning of the phrase "From A Working Class Point Of View" you really should have known better. The task we set ourselves then is the same one as is necessary now - the creation of a combative working class movement which can begin to mould our destiny under no control by intellectual leaders where the raw, brutal and vengeful nature of the beast is released upon its enemies.
The Logic of Marx's Capital - Tony Smith, State University of New York Press. 1990.
Making Histories: Studies in History Writing and Politics edited by R. Johnson, G. McLennan, B. Schwarz and D. Sutton. Especially Chapter 5 - "Reading for the Best Marx: History Writing and Historial Abstraction", University of Minnesota Press. 1982.