Review: Revolution as Merchandise - "Unfinished Business-The Politics of Class War" - a British road to Anarchism

A photograph of the book "Unfinished Business" by the Class War Federation

A review by "Nat Turner" of Class War's book Unfinished Business from Here & Now issue 13 (1992).

The review covers autonomist currents in London in the early 80s as well as a discussion of "identity politics".

Submitted by Fozzie on November 12, 2018

"The Class War Federation is not another party seeking to gain power or a new way of telling you what to do. Class war is what happens when ordinary people have had enough of being pushed around and decide to fight back,"

So starts Unfinished Business, the book produced by Class War as a definitive statement of their politics following their stocking filler, Class War: A Decade of Disorder. This statement of populism is followed by a list of “working class” resistance in Britain, ranging from the 1381 peasants revolt up to the poll tax and prison revolts of 1990. Finally there is a call for the destruction of wage labour, capitalism and the state rounded off with a denunciation of middle class intellectuals of the Left and Right.

Whereas Left wing populism has rooted itself in admiration for the old 'Soviet Union', and the Right has cultivated a nostalgia for Nazi Germany, Class War centre their populism on a British sense of identity. Rather than relying on an imported ideology (which always gives the intellectuals undue predominance) they are trying to rekindle a radical ordinariness drawing on a sense of working class identity rather than on formulae for saving the world. Very nineties.

In the revolts of the sixties and early seventies, the very process of struggle opened up a series of problems which have shattered the universalism of eurocentric socialism. The radical subjectivity of Black Power, the Women's Liberation Movement and the Gay Liberation Front erupted through the workerist gloss which dominated all discussion of Revolution. Of course, this lead to a counter-offensive by the state and its cultural organs — universities offered courses in Women's Studies, Black Studies, the New Left then participated in the promulgation of insidious “identity politics” — a veritable perestroika of the political subject manifest both at the level of the introduction of professional advertising to political campaigning and the organisation of radical conferences. Increased individualisation is shown in both areas — the advertisers with their careful analysis of the voting population based on analysis of consumption patterns developed for target adverts at distinct segments of the population. and amongst radicals a recognition of distinct interests within an increasingly fragmented opposition.

This was directed by the state’s cultural organs. Television viewing was fragmented with an increasing variety of channels. The local state funded a variety of community groups stressing ethnicity. The Greater London Council offered sine¬cures particularly from the Women's Committee to ensure that welt paid middle class women dominated the discussion about gender. Meanwhile Gay capitalists from the Pink Economy increasingly dominated such events as Gay Pride.

In the eighties the Leftist sects lost a lot of ground. Key cadres left, sometimes taking leftists business with them (e.g. Pluto books cut its links with the Socialist Workers Party and published a book about Princess Diana), others preferred a state sinecure to unpaid party work. Despite the "Beyond the Fragments" conference and the Debate of the Decade at the end of the seventies, the left has been unable to contain the disparate interests. This should come as no surprise as within its ranks are those who have been championing identity politics, using all manner of post-modern theorisation to bamboozle the casual reader with a list of continental writers who can only be read in the original foreign.

It was in this context that the proletarian fundamentalism of British autonomism emerged in distinction from the Left. From the mid-seventies a boisterous anarchist fringe used to gather at the tail end of demonstrations using bad language and such slogans as "Two, Four, Six, Eight, Masturbate and drown the state!” Not content with ideological positions drawn from Kronstadt and the Spanish Revolution, we saw it as essential to see the Left as counter-revolutionary in the here and now. This meant confrontation with the Left.


Unfinished Business is peppered with quotes from Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement by Jean Barrot and Francois Martin. This book, published in 1974 by Black and Red, became a source book. It offered a critique that was rooted in a close reading of Marx, it offered a Marx uncontaminated by Lenin or Trotsky:

"Communism is not a program one puts into practice or makes others put into practice, but a social movement"

This book also gave a theoretical basis to a rejection of democracy and anti-fascism.

After the battle of Lewisham in 1977, where a demonstration against the National Front led to riotous assaults on the police, the Anti Nazi League was set up. Those of us who had seen the Left in action that day knew exactly what they were up to. At Lewisham they had called on people to stop fighting the police with crap like the police are not the real enemy, and we should not alienate (middle class) support. For many Black youth it was a good opportunity to strike back at a form of organised thuggery much more significant than the Hitler groupies. The Anti Nazi League wanted to control opposition to the Nazis and funnel this opposition into voting Labour ('without illusions' in the case of the SWP). The autonomist wing emerging from anarchism saw clearly that the Left was the first line of defence of the state and had to be treated as such.

Things came to head when the Anti Nazi League staged a meeting in Friends Meeting House featuring a French 'anti-racist' cop, and the Mayor of Bologna (in fact only his deputy turned up). Tony Benn was also there. He had been active in developing links with the Italian Communist Party during the period of the Historic Compromise between the Italian CP and the Christian Democrats. This was a declaration of war, in that the Mayor of Bologna had called out tanks to attack workers and students on the streets of Bologna.

A contingent of forty occupied a corner at the hall, to the dismay of the stewards. Malicious rumours were circulated about the autonomists being fascists — an old technique favoured by the CP during the Spanish civil war. The meeting was heckled, but when four women went to the toilet (in a group for protection) they were physically attacked by some leftist men. Word got through to the body of autonomists still in the hall, who then joined the fracas In the corridor. Having thus been manipulated out of the hall the leftists made a desultory attempt to attack us. There were fights in the street later that night.

From then the spirit of confrontation with left continued. The annual CND rally always offered a good occasion. Sometimes we would take the head of the march, we would never go where political groups were meant to be. The CND was simply a leftist front building up electoral support for the Labour Party as the ANL was used before. We knew that the Labour leader Clement Attlee sanctioned the dropping of nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945 and at each rally we wanted to attack the current Labour leader, who then had to be protected by the police. At other meetings such leftist politicians as former energy minister Tony Benn came under attack, This hypocritical scumbag who was personally involved in importing Namibian Uranium called us a product of Thatcherism.

This was the background for the emergence of Class War. As the autonomist wing of anarchism sharpened its attack on the Left, more traditional wings of anarchism did not know what to do, They found that their ideological grip was being weakened over the influx of post-punk youth. Sometimes they joined in the fascist smears organised by the media and the left, sometimes they treated [us?] as irrelevant councilists. However faced with the increasing irrelevance of syndicalism particularly amongst unemployed youth who had no great desire to become industrial workers, they tried to go with the flow. But they always kept most of their ideological baggage even if it was kept for Sunday best. Class War however developed through a process of innovation — taking up Lucy Parsons’ slogans to hold the Rich personally responsible:

“Now is the time for every dirty lousy tramp to arm himself with a revolver or a knife and lie in wait outside the palaces of the rich and shoot or stab them to death as they come out.”

This was rhetorical and no rich people were assassinated.

This first phase of Class War reached a crunch in the crisis of autumn 1985. First off there was a riot in Handsworth, Birmingham. When Douglas Hurd, the current Home secretary visited the area next day he was attacked and had to scurry away. A week later Brixton erupted in riots after the police had bust into a Black woman's house and shot her in the back (she has not walked since). Class War produced its next issue with a Black man carrying a petrol bomb with the slogan "The Working Class Strikes Back". This was a challenge to identity politics echoed by the Tory election poster in 1987 picturing a Black Person — 'Labour say he's Black, We say he's British'. The paper appeared on News at Ten. The media were ready to set Class War up, with the Guardian publishing lies that Class War was sat up by former leading NF-ers. Plans to organise a march in Brixton the next weekend were sabotaged by the Left. The state was scared that a new wave of riots would spread the country as in 1981.

Then a week later still, the cops barged their way into another Black family’s house and pushed a woman to the ground. She died, The Broadwater Farm Estate, Tottenham became the scene of one of the most important uprisings. Guns were used on the police, and a police officer was stabbed to death. This created an ideological necessity for the police. Their day to day operations are based on maintaining a myth of police invulnerability. In the sixties when Harry Roberts killed to policemen a national hunt was mounted tor him with his face spread over the front of the newspapers for several weeks. He was eventually cornered camping in a wood. Here again the police had to reassert themselves with a campaign of terror on Broadwater Farm which exceeded anything they did against the miners during the previous miners’ strike.

The police stole people's clothes ('for analysis') and prevented Giro cheques reaching those on benefit. Children were kidnapped and kept incommunicado, their parents not knowing where they were. The truth was that despite the rhetoric Class War could not deal with the new state offensive. Suddenly the state was going to take everything a lot more seriously. Having kicked its way into the headlines, Class War discovered its position was exposed.

“A revolutionary organisation is like a bank.”

It is from this point that Class War became succeeded by the Class War Federation, a retreat. Unfinished Business represents a summation of that retreat. Under the guise of fostering a positive working class identity they attempt to resolve a problem -the destruction of the original English culture and identity- and its recreation in the late nineteenth century around the Royal family. This is seen at the heart of the British nationalism. Their book is careful to avoid dealing with the changes being wrought by the development of the European Community, in particular that a unified Germany must seek a disunited Kingdom if it is to succeed in uniting Europe as a continental empire. It is this which underlies the growth of Scottish nationalism, and such things as the readiness of the government to ban the Ulster Defence Association and the normalisation of Northern Ireland. Class War simply see this as increasing 'resistance from within'. Class war put forward the view that while racism and sexism are used to divide the working class, "Other People's Nationalism" is equated with identity... and they do not want to limit or deny this.

In the appendix, there is evidence of some contusion in the section about Ireland. They 'quote' themselves from Chapter 1, — but as it happens this paragraph is not in Chapter 1. Perhaps it was edited out of the main text. They say:

“What we must understand is that in the face of often brutal oppression nationalism gives working people something. This ‘something’ is identity, pride, a feeling of community and solidarity and of course physical self defence. We need to combat capitalism and its nationalism with something as strong i.e. with our identity, pride, community, solidarity, history, culture and inspiration of the international working class's. To achieve this effectively will require courage, imagination and determination. To challenge nationalist ideas means doing more than saying they are bad, we must prove that fighting for our class is better than fighting for a country."

This occurs in the middle of a muddled apology for Republicanism. CW suggest that:

“The situation is similar to what we expect to find in a revolutionary situation in Britain and elsewhere, a shifting set of political, military and social alliances.”

In fact the situation is as far from being revolutionary as Yugoslavia or the Lebanon. What is remarkable is that Ireland has shown a maturity of class struggle despite loyalism and republicanism. E.g. during the seamen's strike Belfast seamen occupied the ferries and were only removed when cops with machine guns turned up.

Republicanism is as 'revolutionary' as social democracy was in Europe during the forties when it organised underground armed cells to fight the Nazis/German occupation forces - i.e. not revolutionary at all. A willingness to use violence is a poor guide to political soundness. In Britain an illusion has been fostered of an effete middle-class preventing a 'virile' working class from expressing itself. From this the question of violence has been tied to the assertion of masculinity. This is of course bollocks as regards revolutionary strategy. O.K., organisations like the British National Party offer white working class male youth the opportunity to 'be real men' and this is symptomatic of the self-contempt which this society induces in working class boys. But whether such youth are manipulated to defending 'their' country, or defending their 'class', neither is revolutionary.

What is needed is to overcome the self-contempt which means unravelling the mish-mash of conditioning and breaking free of identity politics. Identity politics appeared from women-identified women, Black and Gay identities. It [is] based on a liberal pluralism which offers alternatives. But these alternatives turn into ghettos, with an implicit demand for the re-assertion of white, male, heterosexual identities. This has been the outcome of twenty years of reaction. Such newspapers as The Sunday Times can popularise an attack on Political Correctness, and this is readily picked up by so-called revolutionaries. This is not a call for a return to navel-gazing consciousness raising, but a call to action e.g. actually dealing with gender issues instead of talking about them.

CW's reactionary views on class are most adequately illustrated when they talk about two Irish working classes, one catholic and one protestant. When this is compared with the anti-religious actions performed by anarchists during the Spanish revolution, which are held up as a model for dealing with religion, it is obvious that Class War are just taking the piss. In a largely secular society like England it is easy to slag off religion. It is a different story in Ireland (where presumably they haven't lost their original culture or identity). People there are killed for their religion — which is not so much the pious piece of interior consciousness as it is presented in English society — but a social fact around which identity is organised. As Class War are only interested in Brits and not 'Other People', this is an irrelevancy. Faced with an earthquake in terms of national identity stemming from European integration Class War have produced an ideology of class around an unstated nationalism. Thus in Heavy Stuff 5 in an article they say:

"If a united Europe is inevitable, it at least offers the potential to develop a European working class with a genuine internationalist outlook… More than ever the struggles of other workers within Europe really will be our struggles." (page 6).

So presumably the struggles of workers outside this new superstate will remain secondary and unimportant. Thus despite all their calls to set the agenda they still tail end the state, only this time a Euro-state instead of a Brit-state.

Communities of Resistance

At the end of September, CW organised the Communities of Resistance Rally in that familiar venue, the Friends' Meeting House. From the chair they made it clear that they did not want an ideological debate but wanted to concentrate on practical struggles. This fitted in with their general policy of exercising hegemony over the other various anarchist movements. Having abandoned a central ideological structure they have been able to link up with activists involved in a range of spark off points where riots and the like have erupted across Britain. Much to their chagrin the other Anarchist groups are obliged by their ideology to turn up, but have little say. As the guiding hand behind the rally, CW can take the credit for any ideas that come up and work, and also distance themselves from less successful ideas.

It was certainly useful to hear people talk about the struggles they were involved in up and down the country. And the calls for less thought and more action are certainly worth consideration. The speeches from chair however reflected a shift from sociology to business studies. There was less talk about getting across to those alleged 'ordinary people', and more about 'product'. For a moment lulled into sleep by the dull melody of the speaker’s voice I drifted into a reverie—I was at a quality circle meeting with some low grade manager giving us a pep talk about how we must work harder. The illusion was shattered by a burst of applause and as I regained consciousness it was the exceedingly long beard of the man across the room which reminded me of where I was…

Nat Turner