This highly readable autobiography outlines some of the adventures and misadventures one of Britain’s highest profile and most influential anarchists. From his upbringing as the son of a socialist butler, to his first tentative engagement with anarchist groups, to his passionate involvement in the student protests, anti-apartheid direct actions, and punk movements, to his most infamous production the ‘unruly tabloid’ Class War, Ian Bone has never lacked in imagination or guts. The book gives the impression that wherever Bone goes, a riotous good time seems to follow. So it was an endearing, almost reassuring, feature of Bone’s autobiography to read him lamenting that he too felt that the action always seemed to be elsewhere. Indeed he abandoned the highly successful local newssheet Alarm based in Swansea, whose campaigning style not only lead to corrupt councillors serving time, but helped produce a lively anarchic subculture (66-70), to come to London to set up Class War because he was frustrated that the South Wales city had failed to rise up during the ‘81 riots (271).
The autobiography shares many of the same brilliant features of the early editions of Class War, as well as many of the faults. It is hugely entertaining, easy to read and deliberately provocative. It is also slightly chaotic, and occasionally a little cliquey, there are often huge rafts of names, with little fleshing out of who they are so there is a slight sense of exclusion if you, like me, aren’t amongst Bone’s coterie.
There are also a number of surprises. Bone and Class War‘s image was largely unapologetic and anti-intellectual. However the autobiography indicates that there were occasional moments of regret, although even those are tinged with a malicious humour. One example is the mistimed disruption of a middle class CND rally in which rather than the pompous leader of her majesty’s loyal opposition, Neil Kinnock, being bottled off stage, the elderly historian (and a hero of Ian’s) E. P. Thompson was accidentally targeted instead (139). He also indicates a highly sophisticated political brain (rejecting the elitist division between the ‘intellectual’ and ‘non-intellectual’ by no means requires endorsing ignorance instead). There are critical appraisals of the different factions within Class War, and unexpectedly, Bone suggests that an autonomist version of the paper, which had been side-lined for being too theoretical, should have been given more attention, and could have helped shape future Class War tactics (151).
The problem which Bone and his various propaganda tools such as Alarm and Class War and the bands Page Three and The Living Legends attempted to counterbalance was that within the anarchist movement dry anonymous theorising often took precedence over practical action and personal fulfilment. As Bone rightly notes: ‘If you where to build a revolutionary movement people want to relate to real, living, vibrant, exciting human beings not anonymous balaclava wearers or people too scared to give their views a public hearing’ (176). This lively first volume of his autobiography presents just such an effervescent, personable and anti-elitist account of anarchism. There should be should be more books like this, and more activists like Bone (but not, perhaps, too many).
Benjamin Franks, March, 2008
Bash the Rich: True-life confessions of an Anarchist in the UK by Ian Bone (Bath: Tangent, 2006) ISBN: 0954417771 £9.99