Freedom News

Ian Bone and the people’s republic of Hackney

Best known as a founder of Class War and lifelong irreverent troublemaker against the Establishment, Ian Bone has been an anarchist since the late 1960s, with particular highlights including the time he was designated “the most dangerous man in Britain” by The Sunday People and his role in organising legendary festival Anarchy in The UK in 1994. He was also active during the 1990 anti-Poll Tax campaign, and talked to Rob Ray about his memories of Hackney at the time …

So you were in London when things started kicking off?

Yeah I used to live on Brook Road — a little estate near Clapton Pond, one of my kids was born there. It has changed a lot.

There was Stamford Hill squatters, just loads and tonnes of stuff happening, housing issues with all sorts of different groups. Class War was going really full pelt in Hackney, loads of graffiti everywhere. occupations of Mare Street Town Hall, all sorts of stuff, a big squatting movement.

The Pembury (pub) was like a sort of red base, with squatters, red actionists and class warriors, also a palpable anarchist community, like maybe there’d been in Brixton in the early ’80s, lots of anarchists per head of the population and a lot of little magazines like Hackney Heckler, loads of other stuff, a very vibrant scene. There was the music scene, then we’d do stuff like chase the housing manager down the road. Yeah, people were declaring it the People’s Republic of Hackney.

What was driving that?

Well in Hackney at the time … quite a few people actually lived there. It works best within a sizeable squatting infrastructure, so we got a lot of people squatting. It gives you a solid base for action.

There was a lot of empty accommodation, a lot of big squats from Stamford Hill down to the Pembury and others, there were a lot of people who lived cheek by jowl, big music scenes, parties, there was a whole heap of punk, squat gigs, a lot more than normal you know? There were a lot of easy to access squats along Mare Street. And there were a lot of just quite imaginative squatters who put a lot of time in.

I can’t recall any massive sectarianism among the anarchists in Hackney, even the ones that were reflected nationally they got stuck in for the Poll Tax, people worked together really well. I mean there was a lot of them, a lot of people who were identifiable as anarchists just from the clothes they were wearing, loads of slogans everywhere.

And yeah, we’d seen this amount of corruption in the Labour Party which had been there for years and years and years, housing was going down the swanny. The council’s probably been more corrupt round about then than it was before, there’s jobs for the boys and also some of the unions played a pretty active role.

I worked in Holly Estate as a tenant worker for a bit and our chair, Harry Shaw made a complaint, some cleaner wasn’t cleaning the roads, he was in the office and these three blokes get out of the car, like mafioso faces, so he goes and hides in the back room til they find him. And they just tell him, you know, don’t make any other complaints about our brother comrade thankyou. A lot of those areas where hacks, where Labour’s been in for a long time, they’re totally corrupt.

And you can’t underestimate the influence of Crass on the younger generation. Crass, to a lot of people, they liked Crass at the time, like you know they come into anarchist politics through Crass without a doubt.

The movement in Hackney, apart from people in Class War or older, was mostly 16 to 28, something like that. No, no, we’re not talking about a well-balanced movement.

I guess if you wanted to you know, leave home to go somewhere else in the country, wearing those sorts of Crass clothes and such then Hackney was the obvious place to move to, probably you knew people there. There weren’t kind of other struggles going on which they gave support to in terms of industrial strikes or this that and the other, it was all over housing and occupation, see who was in control of housing.

So the sort of political philosophy of ours and I think a lot of the squatters was to make no-go areas, you gain control of estates like in Stamford Hill, which they did for a bit, and then develop from there.

So there wasn’t a strong link between university activism and that squatting based movement?

There wasn’t, no. I mean, it was fine. There wasn’t that crossover, it was very much the young music scene and just housing, housing, there were squats fucking everywhere you know.

How do you reckon that bigger scene impacted when the Poll Tax was announced, how it gelled in organising terms?

To be honest, the kind of hard work, which Militant Tendency did in Scotland patiently building up anti-Poll Tax unions, you know, building up this setting, that didn’t exist in Hackney. There was a Hackney anti-Poll Tax union, Haringey and that, but no-one did the kind of hard work, we were all too fucking lazy, we wanted to go straight to rioting. Even the strikers were not so patient with just not paying.

So there wasn’t a lot of “don’t pay the Poll Tax” apart from demos. The patient work was totally bypassed, which irked Militant even more later on I’m sure. And it was much more than we won’t pay — that we’ll have a riot.

But it was interesting that riot, because you know the later one, in 2011, people were stealing stuff, smashing in windows. When the Poll Tax riots went up Mare Street to the Pembury they were just smashing stuff, I walked onto the pavement and someone’s just sitting on three colour television boxes. And it hadn’t become acquisitive, you know, pick something up and leg it, it was very communal and very non-runawayish.

Mind you, I think all these places have their time and then they move on, you know, like Tower Hamlets a few years ago was the place to be.

There’s like, four or five years, they can be good years, right, but then we get fed up and move somewhere else.

There were some leftover arguments and such, Crass and non-Crass, peaceful and not, but it didn’t really inhibit people working together. There was obviously some arguments with Class War but mostly we worked really well with everyone. Even people like the Hackney Hell Crew, Eat Shit and legendary bands like that.

So I guess the question there is, the Poll Tax obviously has an impact on the people paying it, but if you’re a squatter that’s not necessarily you …

Well there’s other issues come up, I mean the key issues come up all the way to the Poll Tax riots, like the defeat of the miners, Stonehenge, Battle of the Beanfield, Wapping Strike again, anti-Traveller legislation, this that and the other, so people were antagonistic to Thatcherism all the way through.

So jumping to the Poll Tax, it’s basically revenge for all those people. The miners, the printers, the Travellers, that was when they all got back together to get her back. So they might not have been affected by the Poll Tax, but they were certainly politicised throughout the ’80s. And it was also substantial, the Traveller communities who would overwinter in Hackney as well, and there was music and other things coming out of that.

Yeah, I think the miners strike, the daily images coming on your screen and that, meant we were continually being politicised through the ’80s and still plenty were class conscious around the time of the riot and that would have been seen as a major event, Thatcher was defeated, playing the major role in her resignation. So that was an amazing victory, but unfortunately it was the last.

Trying to organise in Hackney now is more of an uphill struggle because of the whole transition to a precarious, transient renting population, but also because the class composition has gentrified.

Well yeah that’s it, the achievement of Thatcher is she completely destroyed class consciousness. The victory over the miners changed … I mean now who identifies as her class enemy, you and me, now there’s people voting Tory in the North, she’s still winning you know, getting rid of class consciousness was her major fucking achievement.

Like we’ve done a lot of work with the UVW (grassroots union), that’s one very hopeful new phenomena, that way of radical industrial organising going after Sotherbys, Harrods and all that kind of stuff and that was really good. It was nice that “we want Class War here” they said.

I still think that politically you’ve not got enough people in certain areas. Even the old German autonomists had Red bases where you can control things and operate out of, I mean Thatcher deliberately dispersed the working class out to Basildon, every area you can think of — Notting Hill was designed out of existence, people have all moved away and there’s no class consciousness. And that’s still, that’s the problem.

I think the left and everyone sort of didn’t cotton on to the depth of Thatcher’s picture in ideological terms. That time when she’d just won the election again, she whispered something, “we must do something about the inner cities.” Yeah, destroy them. The old frontline in Hackney and all over the country. It’d be Chapel Town in Leeds or All Saints Road in Notting Hill, and she deliberately policed all those out you know by putting in art galleries, this that and the other, all those sites don’t exist anymore.

Instead you got street gangs, kids killing each other, as opposed to you know, there isn’t that class consciousness. But certainly up to the Poll Tax riot we still had that level of class consciousness back then.

Pic: Ian Bone at an anti-poor doors protest, by Guy Smallman

This article first appeared in the Winter 2022/23 edition of Freedom journal, available at our online shop for the cost of postage.

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