I wanted to find out more about Class War, a bunch of misfits who started a war against gentrification, the rich, the elite and social cleansing . Last January, I met some of them on an unusual football pitch by the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey…
It’s a grey winter afternoon, the kind of day you feel like going to the museum but there is no way you can get to the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey. Multimillionaire collector Jay Joplin’s latest creation is closed for safety reasons: a few Class War activists are playing football in front of the gallery and a fire-breather is heating the place!
“That’s fucking art!” yells Ian Bone, the founder of Class War. While four activists are holding a banner: “We must devastate the avenues where the wealthy live”. Ian is continuing his harangue: “This fucking gallery was built on the ashes of workers of sugar and biscuits factories. Look at this site, it’s huge and it’s private! We are here to make it a playground and we will come back! “.
Gentrification is Class War’s enemy and so are its orchestrators. Created in 1983 by Ian Bone, Class War was originally a left-wing tabloid which evolved into an anarchist movement against the rich. Through operations like “Bash the Rich” – demonstrations intended to disrupt bourgeois-neighborhoods-, anti-poll tax protests, the release of the punk album “Better Dead than Wed”- coinciding with the royal wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson – Class War had its ups and downs and dissolved in 1997 …
Only to rise again in 2013 with the creation of the Class War Party, with at its head the tireless Ian Bone, son of a butler and a housekeeper. “I always hated the rich, period,” he confesses before adding there is no equivalent to Class War anywhere in the world. ”The British class system is too particular. Have you already seen 19 prime ministers who went to the same school?”.
Who are the Class War members? “A bunch of misfits. They are undefinable, they all have got a high level of intelligence, they are the opposite to what people want to see and hear in the present culture. They want to arise working class culture”, explains Adam Clifford, Class War member and “protesting poet”.
Everyone can be part of Class War, there is no membership. “We meet from time to time, we discuss, we decide of an action, we do it. There is a hard core of people who do get on very well,” adds Ian.
Armed with his cane, he shoots the ball towards the front of the gallery. It’s a symbolic act. The surrounding housing estates are full of “no ball games” signs. Activists are trying to get the security guards and the police officers involved in the game. A policewoman answers with a timid pass but gives up after the ball hits her head by accident… “Our target is not the White Cube itself but what it represents: gentrification. We want to develop a contagion, inspire others to carry out similar actions and hope the movement will widen within the Working Class, “ explains Ian. He does not believe in traditional targets, like unions attacking the government or employers. “It’s boring and they do not even believe in what they are doing.”
Ian only believes in actions like the White Cube’s one. “Maybe it will not work. Maybe it will. You only need one! “Ian adds. Since Class War reunited, there were a few different actions, and particularly one,in September 2015, which received international media coverage: the “attack” of the very hipster “Cereal Killer Café” on Brick Lane in Shoreditch.
“The aim was not to go to the caff, the idea was just to go along Brick Lane, to party or whatever in Shoreditch as the area is a symbol of gentrification”, says Dr Lisa McKenzie, a sociologist and researcher at the London School of Economics.
“When we got to the caff, there were 4 to 5 people who threw paint balls and cheap cereals at the window. That’s all what happened really!” The owners locked themselves inside the café. The “attack” made the headlines of most papers the day after. “They paid a PR company to keep the story in the news”, adds Lisa.
The owners – the Keery brothers – who sell bowls of cereals for around £4 – positioned themselves as victims: Why were they attacked although they were not even a chain and also taking part into the regeneration of the area ? Well, for Lisa, the Cereal Killer Café is a chain (branches opened Camden and Vancouver). “I don’t care about the café. I do really think it’s stupid. I think the people who are doing it are stupid, I think the people who are going there are stupid. I don’t understand it. But I am not 21 and living in that neighbourhood. They see other 21 years old coming to the area, spend money in that café. Meanwhile their family is struggling and there is nothing for them there”, she concludes.
Who is working-class today? “They are the same people they have always been: the ones who fail badly in the competition for resources”, says Lisa. “It’s like when you can’t pay your rent, when you’ve got no savings, no family to help you out, you are on state benefits, low paid jobs, basic education”, Adam adds. In May 2015, the 36 years-old voluntarily shocked the public by appearing dressed as a drag queen when he stood as Class War’s parliamentary candidate for the Cities of London and Westminster in the General Election. Adam is not elected but gets what he wants: being noticed as well as Class War’s actions like the “Poor Doors” campaign fighting the multimillion pound housing developments in London that are segregating less well-off tenants from wealthy homebuyers by forcing them to use separate entrances. “This is social apartheid, social apartheid, class inequality, class division, social cleansing!”, protests Lisa.
But who says war says violence. Besides raising awareness through anti-gentrification demos, Class War advocates violence. “People think we are much more organised than we are.: there is a lot of shameless language, taking the piss, being pranksters. Ultimately I think we need a big all revolution. I don’t care about the violence thing. Of course, I am not saying let’s go and kill people but people always talk about being peaceful but the system is not peaceful. Capitalism doesn’t work. People are being exploited. It’s violent already and abusive”, comments Adam. But where is the limit? Does the end justify the means? And which end? For Lisa, it’s about communities, preserving and promoting them, rather than profit. But Class War has no program. “It’s more a concept”, says Lisa.
Back to the White Cube, the football game is over. The reactions among the public are mixed: there are some supporters as well as detractors. “Those stupid anarchists painted on the wall of the building next door. It belongs to my friend Celia. She grew up here, she worked hard to buy and develop the place, “James exclaims, very angry … Activists are tired. it’s time to go to the pub, still one of the only places where classes can mix over a pint… and watch football together.
Find out about Class War’s next action: a pub crawl in Notting Hill