"There are many thousands of us soldiers who have ventured our lives, who have little property in this kingdom. But it seems now that unless a man has property he has not rights."
"Sir, I see that it is impossible to have liberty but all property must be taken away. It must be so."
The Levellers - from the Putney debate with Cromwell, 17th century.
"The Levelution has begun, So I'll go home and get my gun, And shoot the Duke of Wellington."
A 19th century street song From "The Making of the English Working Class" - E.P. Thompson.
In this chapter it is the struggle of the working class against the rest of 'society' that we are interested in.
Why Working Class Fightback?
The first question is why? Why do we bother? The answer must be that we find this kind of society lacking and that we cannot get what we want in this world. And for many of us to have any self-esteem in this sick society we have to feel we are fighting back in some way.
At times we have no choice anyway but to fight back. When the ruling class decide to attack us because of an economic crisis and our backs are against the wall many of us decide to have a go. This is where the role of the British Left is crucial to the ruling class. As long as they can divert us into stupid campaigns like getting Labour elected, the ruling class are safe.
What Do We Want?
Housing of the kind we want with enough space to have some peace to ourselves if we want it, enough good food and drink, worthwhile work, a world that is not polluted, the healthcare we need and want, the time to do 'our own thing', education that is not brainwashing, leisure and freedom to enjoy ourselves as we see fit without taking away other individual's freedom in the process. In short, to be free and live in solidarity and peace with each other. This is worth fighting for.
Most of us don't have these things and only a few of us can have some of these things if we work hard, behave ourselves or are very lucky, like winning the pools! It follows that capitalism always exists in a fairly precarious state because the desires of the working class will always be in direct conflict with those of the ruling class. Capitalism's 'accounts books' are constantly having to be balanced by wars, famine, depression, unemployment, etc. Those that maintain capitalism; capitalists, industrialists, financiers, governments, bureaucrats, managers and economists, etc. spend their days working out where they can rip off sectors of society with the minimum of social unrest.
Bad Dreams for the Ruling Class
In an advanced capitalist country like the UK, the ruling class will try to avoid the use of armed force if at all possible, because once they have done so the delicate 'balance' of their society will be broken and people will start to take sides. An advanced capitalist economy cannot function if a significant part of the working class do not identify with their ruler's values anymore (Northern Ireland is running at a loss). France in 1968 and in the late 1960's the radical black movement in the USA, are good examples of this, and they were only starting to be a threat before they were crushed. This is the nightmare lurking around the corner that 'our' ruling class face in the UK.
To avoid this they use economic force, political isolation and the police against rebellious groups like strikers and the unemployed. For this to work they have to persuade the working class that they have something in common with their rulers. Nationalism, religion, racism, history, education and most recently ecology are being used against us. Crucial to tying all this together is encouraging a respect for the legal framework of the State.
Class Struggle in the UK After 1945
It's a two-way street here in the UK. We have seen many ups and downs in the class war between the working class and their enemies.
After World War Two the deal that was reached by the leaders of the labour movement with the rest of the ruling class enabled the working class to rapidly advance their living standards. A national health service, education and housing all resulted from this period. This was possible because the expansion and reconstruction after the war caused an international boom that the UK benefited from as one of the victors of the war. The empire that Britain still possessed after the war acted as a captive market and added to the boom in the British economy. This situation led to a drastic shortage of labour that resulted in the British capitalist class bringing in migrant workers from the Caribbean, Ireland, Asia and elsewhere.
This situation strengthened the hand of the working class and their labour movement representatives who entered the ruling class on the basis of their control of the working class. The UK working class advanced a great deal economically in this period but politically they went into reverse. This period was the high point of the labour movements incorporation into the ruling class. They acted as the left hand of capitalism and the ruling class in this period. But even under capitalism nothing lasts forever and by the early 1970's the boom was coming to an end as international capitalism adjusted its workings to meet the crisis.
The 1979 General Election and the Thatcher years marked the end of the influence of the labour movement in the ruling class. The crisis British capitalism had got into needed a much more radical treatment than the labour movement could deliver. Hence Thatcher. The union leaders were not invited to Downing Street for chats over beer and sandwiches to figure out the best way of shafting the working class. Instead they were out on their arses! Since then the labour movement has got its act together and is now effectively the left-wing of the Tory party.
Class Struggle in the UK Since the 1960s
In Britain as in other similar countries the boom was largely built on a surge of manufacturing for the home market and other countries expanding their economies after the war. By the end of the 1960's our captive empire that fuelled the boom was largely gone, and our manufacturing industries had started to transfer to Second and Third World countries where the labour costs were cheaper. This was accompanied by an increase in the finance industry in areas such as banking and insurance and also in specialised hi-tech manufacturing, especially armaments. It is these changes that are at the heart of the social changes and conflicts in Britain during the 1970's and 80's.
The 1970's saw both the Labour and Tory governments attacking our social services with cuts in healthcare, unemployment benefit and housing. Cuts in wages, also known as inflation, were rife as was industrial unrest. At one point inflation was running at nearly 30%.
Racism and fascism were sponsored by the Establishment as an attempt to divert working class anger away from the ruling class and their policies to the migrant workers who settled here during the postwar boom. The idea was simply to whip up the sleeping racism of the British working class and 'blame' the blacks and the Asians for unemployment. It nearly worked, the National Front were getting thousands of votes at by-elections.
There followed the election in 1979 of a right-wing government that carried on and intensified the attacks begun by earlier Labour and Tory governments. The methods used had been well thought out. Here's an example - the intense publicity and propaganda campaigns with dirty tricks aimed at discrediting socialist ideas in the working class, many of the techniques refined in the war in Northern Ireland were used, e.g. Pys-ops; psychological warfare aimed at us with lots of scare stories in the press about 'looney lefties', etc. the use of 'black', 'grey' and 'white' propaganda; spies, agent provocateurs, sabotage, blackmail and disinformation about prominent left-wing personalities.
The industrial campaign was carried out by following the infamous "Ridley Plan", named after Sir Nicholas Ridley one of its chief architects. Against the backdrop of the dirty tricks of the mid 1970's they came up with a strategic plan to destroy the power of the unions in the workplace. Secondary to this main assault was a campaign against the Labour Party in local and national government carried out through the media. The industrial plan consisted of deliberately precipitating strikes in chosen industries and defeating each workforce one by one. The 1980s were to be a decade of class war with our side getting a hammering. A right-wing journalist expressed well the attitude of the ruling class.
"Old fashioned Tories say that there isn't a class war. New Tories make no bones about it: we are class warriors and we expect to be victorious."
- Peregrine Worsthome.
The plan was to pick off individual unions and industries one by one, leaving the hardest, the coal miners, until the last when they would be on their own. It worked. This was helped by the fact that unions were organised by trade and industry and would not come to each others help, a fact that the plan took account of.
The social part of the plan was more exotic, central to it was a series of attacks on the Labour Party. Ridley, Keith Joseph, and other Establishment figures had realised that the Labour Party activists were mainly out of touch with the working class and followed a pretty abstract and elitist political strategy. This was used to portray the Party as being full of 'loony lefties'. More importantly this was used to weaken the hold of basic socialist ideas in the working class such as solidarity, by ridiculing those who claimed guardianship of these ideas. This worked. Alongside this the ruling class encouraged a resurgence of right-wing and fascist movements. This did not just 'happen'. The rise of the National Front was the most visible aspect of this with its considerable success at local elections. Various ruling class individuals and groups were involved in links with European and world right-wing and fascist groups. Another element in the 'social plan' was what we call 'social engineering'. This had two main strategies. Firstly to create a large pool of poor, unemployed people with which to terrify the rest of the working class. Second, to involve the rest of the working class as much as possible in the workings of capitalism. Obviously the aim was to divide the working class enough to prevent us attacking the ruling class.
Mass unemployment (caused by restructuring) for which we were blamed and removal of social security benefits created a pool of poor and desperate people that is still growing today. The deliberate creation of a housing shortage by stopping the council housing building programme was to have a profound effect on our class, and of course resulted in a dramatic rise in house prices. To the rest of us was offered the carrot of buying a council house, going self-employed or getting involved in the service industries. A short economic boom based on credit, (much of it secured against inflated house prices), was used to give credibility to the 'mini-capitalist' dream. The aim was (and is) to mould a generation to right-wing ideas. It is fair enough to say that the ruling class started preparing, in this form, for the coming civil war in Britain at least as early as 1974.
This brings us to the present. We face further attacks but at least the decks are clear for a face to face conflict between our class and the ruling class. The Labour Party and the union leaders have finally identified themselves with the bosses, and the British Left are collapsing, or disowning the working class and denying our existence.
Now it is us and them, with nothing in between.
Us - Our Hall of Fame!
The 1970's saw many anti-racist and anti-fascist actions carried out with many bitter fights and working class involvement. The industrial unrest of the 1970s culminated in the "winter of discontent" that practically crippled the nation. The early 1970s saw mass power black-outs and the public humiliation of the Tory Heath government by a wave of industrial action. The 1980s too, saw many strikes and amidst the defeat of 'traditional' union methods were some particularly heartening developments. Instead of strikers remaining on the defensive in the face of; new union legislation, military style police, and media lies, they went on the offensive. Their attacks on employers and the police met with considerable success. The imagination displayed was particularly impressive. Of course the labour movement leaders were appalled at this display of working class courage and initiative and condemned these 'criminal elements'.
In our communities the traditional dislike of the police was replaced with a fierce hatred and resistance to arrests that developed into pre-planned attacks. Now every city has at least one 'no-go' area where the rule of law is only partly maintained. In these areas there is an awful lot to be done politically to improve solidarity and awareness in our class but there has been encouraging developments in places like Salford in Manchester, and some communities affected by strikes such as those of the miners, printers and health workers. Particularly encouraging in the 1980's were the re-emergence of 'sympathy strikes', such as the actions of Ford car workers, Kent miners and others in support of the health workers' disputes.
Our communities have also seen a whole new series of violent riots against the police starting in 1980 in Bristol and continuing up to the present, which themselves are part of a much older tradition. The 'no-go' areas that were defining themselves in these earlier riots were often the poorest and the most pressurised of the working class. Many but not all, were black working class areas, yet white youth travelled miles to join in the fun, a fine example of solidarity in action! It is this fear of provoking all out resistance by a large portion of the working class that guides government and capitalist plans for this country. For instance the miners strike stretched them to the limit. The Tories virtually stated that publicly. It is fairly well known that troops were put in police uniform for picket duty, (miners often met their sons on different sides of the picket lines!) MI5 could not handle the load and army security was pressed into service. They had plenty of experience of dealing with a hostile civilian population from Northern Ireland.
The British working class is angry and pissed off. They have seen their post-war gains taken away and a drop in their standards of living. They are also as split as ever between those who are 'doing well' and full of patriotic pride and those who feel nothing in common with the system. Our class is boiling with hatred and frustration. Our task is to help direct this anger and energy in the right direction. The situation is very volatile and that is why the present government is treading carefully. Nevertheless our class does not inevitably take the revolutionary option. They can jump the other way into the arms of fascism, this is the final 'insurance policy' for the ruling class and is maintained in the UK Europe and elsewhere for that purpose.
The Present and the Future
"I don't pretend to be a prophet, but know this, and lots of my mates know too, that we're not treated as we ought to be, and a great philosopher says to get knowledge is to know we're ignorant. But we've just begun to find that out, and you masters and owners may look out, for you're not going to get so much your own way, we're going to have some of ours now..."
Anonymous letter from Geordie miner to mine owner - 1831.
We feel that for our class to move forwards we need; pride, identity, solidarity, a sense of history etc. Obviously we see the function of organisations like the Class War Federation as encouraging the taking up of such ideas and attitudes in our class. These have to be defined and spread, especially in the face of opposition from the ruling class, the media, police, Labour Party, unions etc. This will present new challenges. Assuming some of our class are successful in maintaining and advancing a real culture of resistance and solidarity that picks up on older traditions, then they are going to come into conflict with the interests of the ruling class. At this point they will have to overcome a tough set of problems. We think our approach will have an advantage here because the organisations we want to create see their main role to make the working class conscious and self managing. This is what is required for our class to advance its struggle and is far more efficient than all the 'vanguard' parties of Lenin and Co. put together.
Winding Things Up
At the moment there are two parts of our life that are kept artificially divided; work (or the lack of it) and the community (or lack of it). At the moment one has little to do with the other and this split really represents the way control of our society is divided up between capitalism (work) and the State (community). We would say that we want to remove the divide between life at work and life at 'home', and decide what we do with our lives ourselves.
We are caught between the bosses, the unions, and the Left parties. We will probably by-pass them altogether. The London Underground strikes, oil workers actions and the miners and printers hit-squads give an indication of possible future tactics. We realise for practical reasons that such tactics and groups tend to appear suddenly to do their job and then disappear, often leaving the unions, semi-official groups and opportunists to tidy up the loose ends. We anticipate more similar independent actions in the workplace. The question is how could such groups and movements communicate with each other and help each other? What we imagine is the forming of 'networks' of people and groups in industry, who besides being active in industrial organisation against employers are also 'political', and blend the two together. Politics as opposed to just economic demands would be necessary for such networks to survive the reformists pressures of the outer defences of capitalism i.e. the unions, Labour Party and Left parties. Of course the increasingly aggressive manager class and the cops would be immediate problems as well!
These different network groups would have to get the resources to produce propaganda and pay for practical work. There would be differences in their approach and politics. The need for tactical unity is obvious but we envisage a lot of debate and change at this point, as is usual when working class people are involved in struggles. On past experience in such situations one of the main occupations is 'talking politics' this tends to have a snowball effect on awareness. In these situations mutual education can become a reality. There would definitely be a need to break down the divisions between different sections of industry as at present maintained by the trade union system. The split between work and the community would also have to be broken down. The miner's and printer's support groups were a step in this direction. The geographical separation between work and where we live is a growing factor and will present some problems.
In the Community
The social engineering and push to fragmentation in our communities by the ruling class would have to be countered. To do this it would need to be identified as such. This would form a continuing part of our theoretical work. Basic work on identity and solidarity needs to be done using local issues such as housing, policing, crime, hard drugs, the environment etc. Separate communities would need to reach out to others in the area and in the region for support and resources. The use of existing organisations might be possible; football teams, clubs, pubs, schools, workplaces etc. The local culture and pride should be utilised. Local history is always popular, folk and music traditions where they still exist; and rebuilding them where they are weak. Media attention grabbing celebrations and commemorations of past local events e.g. the destruction of Bristol Jail, the burning down of Luton Town Hall (1919), the Peterloo Massacre, the Invergordon and Spithead naval mutinies, the Glasgow George Square riot, the Highland Clearances etc. Erecting plaques (even temporary ones) to such local working class heroes and heroines and their actions e.g. Trafalgar Square 1990, could be excellent publicity exercises and be very useful at retrieving our history. These types of methods have all been used successfully elsewhere (Ireland, Europe, South America etc.). We can't see why they would not work here.
The growth of independent community groups in different areas with different emphasis is highly likely e.g., 'families against smack', women's groups, black groups, prisoners and their support groups etc. Encouraging these groups to get in touch with each other would be very valuable for breaking down divisions in our class and building a class struggle based movement which took account of diversity and different origins. To help make this a reality the following list gives a shorthand version of what our class is going to need; identity, pride, solidarity, self management, internationalism and the emergence of a genuine working class culture (also called the 'culture of resistance') that has these things at its centre. This should also form part of the basic objectives of organisations like the Class War Federation.
A very real bonus of this growth of solidarity and defiance will be a big improvement in the quality of life in our communities. What we see happening is the emergence of a real community from the present nonsense of capitalist social relations. A divided and isolated community is weak and petty crime and bigotry are all too common. With a little growth of self-confidence and solidarity these problems could be overcome with a very small amount of effort. People who are used to seeing off the police, bailiffs, bosses and other such scum are much less likely to put up with anti-social behaviour from their own kind. This was remarked on by those involved in the miners and printers strikes of the 1980s. Their solutions are likely to be simple and effective.
The following chapter deals with the next phase of destroying capitalism and the State - moving from struggle to the offensive, and on to revolution. We hope to show that in this process of struggle the outlines of the coming new world are beginning to become clear and that a better way of life for us all is far from being a daydream, but is within our grasp now.