The Anarchist Federation on the 1997 disbanding of Class War Federation, and their analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation.
Most active anarchists will surely have heard by now of the dissolving of Class War Federation, and publication of the 'last ever' paper: "Class War is dead... long live the class war - an open letter to the revolutionary movement". In the aftermath of this, the October 1997 Anarchist Bookfair revealed a trinity of approaches: the handing out of a discussion document "Smash Hits" produced by those looking for a new direction, a new issue of Class War, "Get Rid of the Posh", by those determined to hang on to the paper, and those promoting an anti-monarchy movement. The latter two factions also appear to be involved with the paper Animal. The sentiments expressed in the open letter have been broadly welcomed for their openness and honesty. The Bookfair meeting, organised by the 'new direction' faction, which took place straight after the ACF's meeting on revolutionary organisation, was well attended. The need to look to the future, not at past failures, was put forward strongly and passionately.
So what happened to Class War? Class War Federation was launched around the same time as the ACF, in the early-to-mid 80's, bringing together groups and individuals who were coming from a class struggle perspective, some of who were already selling the existing Class War paper, and many who were in active local anarchist groups. This was a very positive step for the anarchist movement, greatly helping the break away of serious class struggle anarchism from lifestylism and do-gooding liberalism, typified by the anti-nuclear movement of the time. The CW approach justified class violence against an atmosphere of pacifism. It supported riots and rejoiced in anti-trades union activities in favour of independent working class action. This helped draw in a number of working class activists from the Left, and earned respect for anarchism in disputes like that of the Wapping printers. Class War also injected a badly needed humour into revolutionary politics.
There's not much point going on about the often quoted problem of Class War's idealisation of the male street fighter. In reality, there was much more going on in Class War than they are often given credit for. This has much to do with the fact that there was a hell of a lot of politics in Class War that was excluded from the paper. Individual members of Class War were influenced by anarchism, autonomist Marxism and the situationists, and these views greatly influenced the politics of CWF, especially in the early days.
And therein lies the serious problem. How do you reconcile those different theoretical viewpoints in a overtly populist organisation? One method would have been to become more platformist, encouraging theoretical unity. Instead Class War took a conscious decision towards the alternative approach of allowing differences to co-exist, an almost synthesist approach (see article on European Anarchist Movement in this issue for a further discussion of this tendency). Putting aside the ACF's strong disagreements with CW's bias towards supporting national liberation struggles and their ambiguity over the unions, there was much agreement with ACF positions, and several times in the past decade there were moves to bring the two organisations closer together, even as far as a series of 'merger talks'. But the lack of desire for theoretical unity in Class War was always the stumbling block. In the early days, there was the dropping of the circled-A from the Class War logo, which ran much deeper than the cosmetic change it appeared, and many at the time argued against it. None of the theoretical publications (The Heavy Stuff, A Decade of Disorder, Unfinished Business) seemed to reflect the organisation as a whole, even when they said they did, but more importantly they did not seem to influence the organisational direction of CWF in any way, even though much of the theory was classic anarchism. Unfinished Business, their most developed exposé of theory, is littered with quotes from influential anarchists, and the book as a whole endorses the Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists. But the paper carried on seemingly regardless, pumping out the often changing simplified lines, determined not to be labelled anarchist, whilst CWF experimented with organisational forms, some libertarian, some quite dubious. For example, there was the two-tier membership policy of members and supporters, the 'Rigorous Approach' promoting the idea of getting the 'best brains' together to develop CWF's theory, and the support for an election candidate in London.
The lack of an organisation wide approach to theory helped to create and justify intellectual hierarchy, often, ironically, disguised as anti-intellectualism. Furthermore the lack of theoretical unity allowed intellectuals to come in and cause mayhem. First there was Andy Anderson's destructive two class theory (Middle Class, Working Class, no Ruling Class which he is still pushing), then there was the almost leadership cult of Tim Scargill. Both of these caused splits. Some would argue that Ian Bone's influence in CW's activities was also a symptom of this, yet another ego being allowed to dominate. Instead of a sixth Heavy Stuff magazine, a pamphlet written entirely by trades union maverick Dave Douglass was offered.
Unfortunately, for all their honesty, the ex-CWF membership seem unwilling to discuss this past, to learn something from it, or share it with the revolutionary movement. There is still the arrogance that if Class War has failed at least it was bigger and better than any of the other anarchist organisations. In the light of the wind up of CWF, they would do well to reconsider the positions of ex-members who were in the past critical of its approach to organisation and theory. Discussion will no doubt continue, but at present the main idea seems be that of promoting solidarity groups as widely as possible. In terms of creation of a 'culture of resistance', which the ACF agrees with whole-heartedly, this appears to be a positive start, although the old problem of London dominance should not be overlooked. But at some point the same questions of how revolutionaries organise will arise. Even if a decision is made not to create structures with worked out policies, in a desire to involve as many people and groups as possible, some agreements will have to be reached, and also a method of dealing with the disagreements. The criticism usually levelled at the ACF (and groups like Subversion) is that we would rather sit down and discuss theory than go out and do it. But the reality is we've all been 'doing it' for more than 10 years. We haven't built the mass revolutionary movement we want to see, yet. That's a fact. But simply desiring something better in an almost desperate manner, without some analysis of past failure, is not enough.
It is hoped that these criticisms will be taken in the comradely way they are intended, and that something positive and vibrant will emerge, as least from the 'new direction' faction of ex-CWF. We aren't sitting and criticising from the sidelines either. The ACF, more than any other group, has had close dealing with Class War. Some current members of ACF have previously been in CW, and many others have attended conferences as observers, and of course there's the aforementioned experience of the merger talks. And we've often worked together practically over the years, so let's hope that will continue.
As for the faction (which some have called 'provisional CW') who are producing the new London Class War paper, they don't seem up to much with their sexist "Lock up your daughters" sloganeering and a Leftist approach to Ireland which makes out that the Sinn Fein election victories were a victory for the working class. To Movement Against the Monarchy we say please give it a rest ma'am and do something useful! In any case, don't take our word for it, the addresses to contact are below. [Defunct addresses removed]
From Organise #47, taken from www.afed.org.uk