Scene 4: Nineteen years and seven months ago.
Along with John Cooper, a student from Manchester itself, older than everyone else in the group, who had left school at 15 and worked in a factory. I am putting up posters advertising a forthcoming meeting entitled “Is Socialism Dead?”
Me: Don’t you feel patronised by them?
John: (pause, a sense of relief) All the time.
Me: I am not sure which of us they patronise more – me because I’m Irish and working class, or you because you are local and working class.
John: Waste of time, isn’t it? All these meetings and handing out leaflets.
Me: The thing is, they don’t really get that I’m working class, because I’m Irish, and they couldn’t tell a working class Irishman if he bit them on the nose. Whereas with you, well, they know.
John: I know what you mean. They are a load of public school boys playing at pandering to the working class., secure in that they can go back to Daddy’s money if need be.
Me: Sure, that’s it.
Scene 5. Two months after the scene immediately previous.
Myself and John Cooper are on the roof of a block of flats in Moss Side. We are here to meet a man called The Man With No Name.
The Man With No Name: The Sons of Captain Swing are not anarchists. We believe in liberating the working man, whether in wage slavery or in the servitude of unemployment or in the paid army. We do this by carrying out acts of sabotage. However unlike other groups which are more interested in publicity than liberating the working man. We have sabotaged a few military technology research facilities and bases, and we take a lot of care not to get any ordinary soldiers, or working men who happened to be doing security work, into trouble.
Me: That sounds great. Barry told us about you, in general terms. We’re both tired of these armchair anarchists who really couldn’t care less about the working man. We want action
John: And we also don’t want to make any working man’s life any harder than it is. A lot of lads my age went into the army, and got sent to the Gulf, or to Belfast, and they were ordinary decent lads, who don’t deserve to be screwed any more than they are already.
The Man With No Name: Well, we’ll see how you get on. We have no names. We are the Sons of Captain Swing. That’s it. If you listen to Barry, he’ll tell you where we are meeting each week. We go to parks, public places, and we don’t congregate. You two stay together. Someone will come up to you, say a phrase that Barry will tell you, and then tell you what we are up to.
Scene 6. A place and time I was instructed to forget, but between the scene above and the one that follows.
I am walking along the perimeter fence of a factory. I have been given a package by a man at a railway station about ten miles away, and I have to leave it at a particular corner of the fence. Then I am to walk away. This is all I know. It is twilight. There are crows roosting in a clump of trees in the distance. I am nervous. I wonder if I will get caught. I know that I know nothing, not even what this factory makes. I leave the package where I have been instructed. The noise from the crows is tremendous. I walk back to the road and, as instructed, cross. I walk a few hundred feet before recrossing the road to wait at a bus stop. I never hear of any incident in this factory.
Scene 7. Sometime after the scene above, but before the one that follows.
A factory in Belfast where drive shafts for tanks (which are assembled in the Czech Republic and exported to many African nations) are produced.
Myself and John Cooper have been working here for a year now. We have been working in quality control, which has allowed us to let through a reasonably high proportion of substandard drive shafts that will wear out after a relatively short time. We also ensure that this will not be readily traceable back to this plant, without an extensive and expensive enquiry. We work and live in Belfast for two years, model members of the workforce, and then move on – three months apart, to avoid any suspicion – and go back to England.
Pause. Cut the cards, reshuffle.
The split was not far away – some, or rather most, of the group felt that we should court publicity, and cause as much disruption as possible, and to hell with the working man or the ordinary soldier. I, and a smaller faction, believed we should move from sabotage of physical infrastructure and ongoing research projects to trying to prevent these projects from being undertaken in the first place. From this, it was a short leap to realise that the only way to prevent these projects beginning was to prevent them being conceived at all. We rejected as a useless chimera the showy and vulgar propaganda of the deed that our former comrades indulged in, and as equally indulgent the self-righteous propaganda of the idea that more sedate campaigners engaged in. We were engaged in work more fundamental than either, aiming to intervene in certain key areas before an idea with the potential to destroy and disfigure lives can even germinate.
We discussed the factors that had alienated and dehumanised not only the proletariat, but all humanity. We identified what we called “the Sect” – the nexus of science, technology, big business, certain philosophers – and declared it our enemy. We realised that this meant not a war on the majority of individual scientists, plutocrats, technologists, philosophers, but only a few. But let me be clear, we saw it as a war, and not against an abstraction, but on people. Ideas do not come from nowhere, but from people.
Or from computers. We identified the burgeoning area of artificial intelligence as the most profoundly dehumanising. And in this field, we identified the move to artificially simulate creativity as the most profoundly dangerous. We worked in ordinary jobs, in the support structure of academia, or some of us with the relevant background sought lower-level posts as researchers in relevant fields.