It’s definitely true that anarchists prefer their democracy to be direct, as opposed representative or parliamentary. But anarchists are also proponents of direct action, and maybe taking part in The Election could be a way to create change? Ian Bone takes us through the Class War election campaign, and why their motto has become “by the brick and by the ballot”.
An Anarchist Guide to… Electioneering.
By the Brick and by the Ballot – by Ian Bone
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): “In supporting what has been said, both by my senior colleagues and by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, I should like to give a brief illustration, which goes back to south Wales in the 1960s and 1970s. In Swansea, an active anarchist, Mr. Ian David Bone, used to describe himself on the ballot paper as the ‘Community control, yo ho ho!’ candidate. That was an effective way of his getting a message across. I do not recall seeing him distribute any literature, probably because he was too anarchic to raise the funds to print any. I favour his having had the latitude so to describe himself. It could have been said that belonging to a political party was against his political principles as an anarchist. I see no disadvantage in allowing independent candidates the extra self-description that the modest amendment would permit them. If the Government intend to resist the amendment, I urge them to be a little more liberal.”
Yes, indeed, this excerpt from Hansard in 1999 shows my candidacy in the Ffynone ward of Swansea Council in 1969 was not the apparent flop of only getting ten votes that it seemed at the time, but instead played a pivotal role in changing electoral law.
My second electoral tilt was as one of four ‘ALARM’ candidates in Swansea in 1978 where we polled around 20% of the vote. No one dare accuse us of surrendering our anarchist principles, because John Barker – ex- Angry Brigade – was our campaign manager and we flour-bombed a council meeting as part of our campaign.
For many years I had dutifully followed the anarchist line on elections: DON’T VOTE! Then one day I realised the absurdity of handing out DON’T VOTE leaflets to people who were not going to vote. Incredibly our DON’T VOTE flyers were being dismissed with a shake of the head the same way as the political parties. ‘Don’t these people realise we’re agreeing with them’, I thought as I pursued a reluctant leaflet-taker down the street.
Anarchists optimistically see not voting as a rejection of the political system, and for a few it is just that. I used to write ‘SMASH THE STATE – ALL POWER TO THE WORKERS COUNCILS’ on my ballot papers. The long squeaking of the stubby pencil would alert the poll staff that you were not voting in the usual way but I braved their suspicious looks.
I no longer think this to be the case. I believe that 90% of non-voters wouldn’t save you from drowning either. They can’t be arsed… with anything. The difference between the millions of non-voters and the numbers of people active in anarchist groups is so great that the case would seem overwhelming, but after every by-election record low turnout we are told it’s a rejection of the system. It’s painful to say comrades… but it aint. A radical act requires some arse-movement.
Just before the last election Adam Curtis re-introduced to us Joseph Strick’s brilliant film on heckling politicians in the UK. There’s a wonderful moment where a lone protestor is waving a placard in Sir Alec Douglas-Homes’ face. At first you cannot read the placard, but when it turns it reads ‘Who exhumed you?’
Heckling at elections is more difficult now. Politicians are kept away from human contact by an army of minders determined to prevent any embarrassment and stick to the soundbite agenda with a slogan that will be pumped throughout the day. Paradoxically though – the harder it is to intrude into the election circus the more seismic is the effect when it does happen. Think Gordon Brown’s ‘that awful woman’ or the rictus look of terror on the politician’s face when confronted by a lone individual in front of the cameras. These lone individuals are modern propagandists by the deed – much feared and liable to blow the election apart with a few dogged words.
A few of us in Class War have been heckling politicians on St. Stephens Green on important parliamentary days when the media set up camp. There, in front of you, are your enemies. You can be political or puerile: “I thought you were dead” has been said to David Steele, and the very wonderful “You made Peter Andre cry” to Kay Burley when interviewing Alastair Darling. We lamented in the pub afterwards that such occasions weren’t more frequent.
But they are at election time, and to give it a national focus rather than a series of chance heckles we decided to stand candidates. By any means necessary means by any means necessary – not by any means necessary apart from voting.
DOUBLE DOLE! DOUBLE PENSIONS! DOUBLE ALL BENEFITS! 50% MANSION TAX! ABOLISH THE MONARCHY! ABOLISH ALL PUBLIC SCHOOLS! SEIZE THE LANDED ESTATES!
So we went for it. We’ll be on the prowl searching for politicians in hiding – sticking the pitchforks into their hay bales – a CLASS WAR ROOM running 24 hours a day. Instant response units, rebuttal units, death brigades, hit squads – an army of hecklers – shouts of ‘Is Biggin Hill up yet?’
Because there is a class war waging and we are losing it. The rich are getting richer and the gilded elite who have ruled us since Norman times remain in power and dominate land ownership, just as they did when they first robbed it. We live in a feudal society dominated by an oligarchy of privately- and Oxbridge-educated toffs who run not just the government, banks and diplomacy, but the media, music, comedy and even the opposition. We see no difference between any of the parties: we oppose Tristram Hunt with the same venom we hate Zac Goldsmith. We don’t want to kick the tories out to replace them with Labour or any variety of failed Trots. We don’t want to kick them out at all – we want to kick them in!
Started in 1982 Class War was first a combative, funny, populist anarchist newspaper that mutated into a similar political organisation. We are proud of our past. But 30 years later the same approaches do not work. Endless photos of overseas riots and balaclaved anarchists bring no movement here. The same old same old is getting us nowhere. Time to think and do the unthinkable, to cross the rubicon.
We are standing Class War candidates in the general election on May 7th 2015. We are doing this to launch a furious and co-ordinated political offensive against the ruling class with the opportunity an election gives us to talk politics to our class. We in no way see the election as an alternative to direct action: by the brick and the ballot, is our slogan. We are not talking community politics here. It’s too late for a patient slow-build like the Independent Working Class Association. The ruling class have us by the throat – they need a short sharp kick in the bollocks. Our election campaign will use any means necessary. We won’t be ushered away by PR minders – we will make ourselves central to the campaign in a funny, rumbustious, combative and imaginative way. We will be on the streets and in their faces.
Comrades, whatever our yesterdays, you are welcome now. Join in. Reject cynicism. Have fun.
FULL STEAM AHEAD THROUGH THE SHIT!
Ian Bone is an editor of Class War newspaper.