Just finished Ian Bone’s “Bash the Rich’. Bone was the founder of the anarchist group Class War, who produced a newspaper of the same name, which became infamous for its tabloid style and unashamed hatred of the rich. It had an amazing line in agitprop and gallows humour.
I was surprised and heartened to find some mentions of Wilhelm Reich in the book – the political Reich at least. It’s a semi-autobiography, covering Bone’s early life and career as an activist and punk musician in Swansea before he headed to London in the early 80s. It goes on to cover Class War’s greatest hits and misses, the launch of the paper, supporting the miner’s strike, participation in the Brixton riots, disrupting the Henley Regatta and humiliation in Hampstead. It’s a thoroughly entertaining read even though I have mixed feelings about Bone’s strategy. On one hand, it’s great that he is so honest and upfront about his rage. In a world where every gesture is spun and hedged, it’s refreshing to read something uncompromising about challenging your enemies via physical force. On the other, it seems pretty delusional – the idea that a combination of riots and the miner’s strike would overstretch the police and cause Thatcher’s government to fall. I don’t think things are that straightforward. Even if things did go “according to plan”, at the very least there’d be an interim period where the army would shoot a lot of people. Bone seems to have pulled back from the brink himself in the wake of the Broadwater Farm riots and the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, with worries about being had up for incitement. Probably his greatest achievement was Class War’s circulation – 15,000 at its peak, which is unheard of for an anarchist newspaper.
Some of the most interesting chapters for me were at the end of the book where he discusses Class War’s influences – the anarchy and humour of The Beano, the Diggers & Levellers and English tradition of “the mob” as described by EP Thompson, as well as lesser known writers like Jack Common. He’s very astute and sharp when he discusses the total failure of anarchist and Leftist ideas to appeal to a wider public, and his desire to articulate political ideas in a way that speaks about the life of your average working class person. This is part of the appeal of Reich to him – Reich’s political writing articulates why people are complicit in their own oppression, and have an emotional and psychological reasons for allowing it to continue. Maurice Brinton (pen name of Chris Pallis) was a big influence on Bone with his pamphlet The Irrational in Politics which is based on Reich’s sex-pol work in 1930s Berlin. There are some fascinating hints in the book of the importance of sex and the politics that emerge from this influence. Early copies of Class War were funded by sex workers, and apparently debates about sex were apparently central to Class War meetings, more so than violence. He gives a snapshot of striking miners debating porn, abortion policy and contraception in the pub, prompted by copies of the paper.
To quote from an early edition of Class War: Working class people aren’t usually motivated in a revolutionary direction by a handy ready-made ideology available like a packet of Daz, or the sufferings of Third World peasantry. No, the primary motivating factor for many of us is our own individual experiences of oppression and that includes the intimate, personal desires and feelings which affect us in every conceivable manner.
Class War’s trashy, immediate style was a attempt to undercut stultifying deadness of most political writing and to give voice to very real emotions of desire, rage and anger. Shame they aren’t more well known for the desire – it’s more interesting in the long run (they are called “Class War“, I guess). It’s also interesting that Bone didn’t bring his Reichian analysis to bear on his own rage and fascination with violence. Rage is a worthy response to an unjust world but it can also point to the frustration of our primary needs and desires, in childhood and infancy. He may have found the results illuminating.
More here: Ian Bone on Reich