Warriors with a sense of humour

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The Independent Online
'INSIDE: Di . . . The Truth, New Gossip, Slander and more.' shouted the front page of the tabloid, beside a large picture of a mournful-looking Princess of Wales, holding a bottle of pills. 'JUST DO IT]'

For once, the cover of Class War seemed remarkably tame. The biggest problem members of the Class War Federation have these days in laying out their paper is differentiating themselves from the mass-market tabloids, which seem to have taken over the job of attacking the rich. Their most extreme skits on the Royal Family are being outclassed by real events. In the Anchor Pub in a Birmingham backstreet, Russ, a contributor to Class War, self-styled 'Britain's most unruly tabloid', sighed. 'We're trend-setters, in Class War one year, in the Daily Mail the next.'

All in all, it has not been a bad year for this small, largely anarchist, group, whose declared objective is the destruction of the ruling class by the working class through mass, open violence. The Yuppie is dead. The City has proved, as the 'Stop the City' march once claimed, to contain major criminals. The Docklands and the Duchess of York are acknowledged disaster areas. Riots are continuing. Indeed, in setting up a 'Summer of Discontent' speaking tour, Class War managed to pick no fewer than four of this summer's riot zones in advance, including Hartcliffe in Bristol, Blackburn and Burnley, leading to accusations that they had instigated them.

As a result, Class War is said to be the object of close attention from the Special Branch - especially over this weekend at the Notting Hill Carnival in London. At a time of high unemployment, trouble is always probable there. A recession is a happy, busy time - at least, for the warriors of class.

Russ, now 34, is one of those. He got involved in Class War in the mid-Eighties, soon after the publication of the first issue, swapping from political activity in CND. CND was lower-middle class and complacent: Class War, by contrast, offered answers that made sense of his own experiences on a council estate in Lichfield, Staffordshire. His father had been a miner, his mother a worker on Tesco's tills.

'You identified - your problems had a cause.' he said. 'I was told things like, 'you get back into the gutter'. I passed my 11-plus, went to the local grammar school. I used to get pulled out in front of the maths lesson, get given a once up and once down, about whether my fingernails were clean and my boots polished. And the way I speak, because I say 'uz. Give uz' instead of 'Give me'. I remember being shouted at by the teacher, and he had a broad Yorkshire accent himself: 'What do you bloody mean, uz?'.'

His fellow contributors to Class War laughed. On his forearm, Dave, 22, bore a tattoo of Garfield carrying a bomb. 'Garfield's a real anarchist,' said Dave. His father was a vicar, but he counted himself as working class.

'We never had any of the luxuries that went along with being a middle- class family - everyone had to skimp and save.' As a teenager, he had been attracted to anarchist politics through music, picking up Class War at gigs and vegan cafes. 'The working class is being shat on every day by the rich, and something should be done about it,' he said. Deliberately crude and outrageous language is part of the Class War style. One of the few groups of the extremes of politics that has a sense of humour, its paper has some elements in common with Viz. Some of its past stories, 'Britain's real Queen locked in lunatic asylum - only the Queen Mother knows the truth', could well appear any day in the wilder parts of the popular press. In September, it plans a 'Rope up the Royals' demonstration, claiming our royal highnesses have become so effete that they are incapable even of hanging themselves without help. Angry, alienated, talented and full of black comedy, it is no surprise that Class War, during the revolt against the poll tax, reached a peak of 20,000 sales.

How much its angry words are translated into action is another question. Dave had to confess that the highlight of his career as a class warrior came when he had attended an open-air concert by Jose Carreras at Bath in June. 'It was, like, a celebration of being rich. There were loads of people with dicky bow ties and bloody boaters on - sickening,' he said.

'But the police were ready for us,' he said. 'They arrested us straight away. They verbally abused some of us.'

'Terrible,' said Russ, sarcastically shaking his head at his troubles.

'In the cells I wasn't given a cup of tea. I was called scum and rabble,' Dave went on.

To be taken seriously, by the police or enraged Conservative MPs, seems the greatest compliment Class War can be paid. It does not always happen. 'When we disrupted a college ball in Oxford,' said Dave, 'some girl came out and said: 'Oh] It must be those chaps from Balliol]' She couldn't even imagine it might be the working class]'

But neither Dave nor Russ, nor their friend Maff, had met a member of the aristocracy or the very rich. They racked their brains for a while over vegetarian crisp packets for encounters with the enemy. 'Yes]' said Dave at last. 'I've met one - Ted Heath]'

Far from looking for a riot this weekend, they were seeking a good time with rave music. 'Class War's not a party, but we have a lot]' they chorused. It is easy to see the attractions of Class War: the talk is rebellious, the company amusing, and having fun as well as stirring up trouble is one of its declared aims. In another incarnation, and with a good deal more money, they could easily have been chaps at Balliol, fitting in perfectly at the Bullingdon Club.

The violence the group advocates is deplorable. But the likelihood that it is at the bottom of riots across the country is small. It has little cash: many of the members, including Dave, Russ and Maff, are unemployed. Despite its striking newspaper and the publicity it attracts, Class War is a small group - Tim Scargill, a spokesman, says it has between 100 and 150 active members. The few, however dedicated, cannot make a riot unless conditions for a riot already exist.

But Class War is not unhappy with its reputation. Blame means status. 'They've stopped worrying abut the Eastern bloc,' said Russ. 'Communism isn't seen as a problem any more. The Establishment is looking at internal subversion now. Basically, it's down to uz.'