Book review: ‘Bash the Rich’ by Ian Bone

WHEN I clocked this paperback in the remainders section of the Economists’ Bookshop, I did briefly consider nicking it. That, after all, is surely what the author would have done in my shoes.

But such is my deeply unanarchist internalisation of bourgeois property norms that I shelled out the £2.99 asking price anyway, and was rewarded with a read that brought me at least as much enjoyment as one of the numerous pints of beer that Ian Bone stresses his habit of consuming.

There is much here to delight leftwing anoraks, a category of person who cannot know enough details regarding the factional divisions surrounding the October 1968 Vietnam demo, or the nuances of radical Welsh republicanism in the following decade.

Now, I am in no position to judge the health of the contemporary anarchist milieu. It does appear to have a growing number of young people around it; on the other hand, I was surprised to learn recently that Freedom magazine has a subscriber base of just 300, giving it only one-third of the minute readership of Labour Briefing.

But in its hey-day, Class War – the journal that earned Bone his ‘most evil man in Britain’ tabloid notoriety – had a five-figure circulation. Coming up with a lefty publication that people actually wanted to read was, in retrospect, a stroke of genius. If Socialist Worker once briefly saw itself as ‘the punk paper’, CW was the real deal.

Among those that sold it – or at least, so I am told by his contemporaries at Hull University – was none other than ‘Red Tory’ philosopher Phillip Blond, then just plain Phil and reportedly the possessor of an impressive Mohican.

While the rest of the left were given to chanting ‘kick the Tories out’, Bone was openly calling for people to ‘kick the Tories in’. And not only Conservatives were targets of CW’s ire; the group behind it also disrupted meetings addressed by the likes of Tony Benn and Ted Knight, presumably on the grounds that ‘Labour are just as bad’. There is a certain undeniable ultraleftist ugliness in that.

The (somewhat brief) references to the theoretical basis underpinning Bone’s project are fascinating, too. Bone lays claim to the Leveller/Digger tradition in much the same way as recent inheritors of upper class radicalism such as the Foot family, and surprisingly to me, even maintains that Orwell was more of an influence on him than Bakunin.

But if CW really was, as Bone insists, an attempt to marry Gramsci and Reich – two guys one assumes would rather cohabit in polyamorous sin, anyway – then lobbing half bricks at toffs frequenting Henley Regatta does strike one as a somewhat unsophisticated way to go about it.

Either happily or regrettably, the younger me was throughout this period too engulfed in Bennite activism to get high on glue and go out and lump a copper, and too much of a wuss to have been handy in a scrap, anyway.

But 30 years later, we can make a provisional judgement on how constructive any of the contending strategies of the period were, and the hard truth is that none of them worked.

Thatcher did go, and yes it was the poll tax riot that did for her. But the Tories stayed in office, and were replaced by a Labour government well to the right of anything the early 1980s left would have believed possible. The revolution, or whatever it was that we all thought we wanted then, is further away than ever.

Hence these memoirs of a middle-aged man, with almost no coverage of the last three decades. But say what you like about Ian Bone, at least he took the lyrics of White Riot to heart. A little bit of me admires him for that.