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Obituary: Colin Ward 14 August 1924 - 10 February 2010
Colin Ward was the leading anarchist thinker and writer of post-war Britain. His was an anarchism that was at once constructive, creative and immensely practical. It drew critical, but sympathetic attention from many outside the anarchist movement. It still holds many lessons for the left.
Born in 1924 in London, Colin gravitated to the anarchist movement while serving in the army during the Second World War. Towards the end of the war, the anarchist newspaper Freedom (or War Commentary as it was then) published an article which called on British soldiers to hold on to their guns (implication: so we can make a revolution...)
The editors were prosecuted and Colin was called as a witness, testifying that although he had received the newspaper in question, it had not dissuaded him from his duty as a soldier. (One suspects that Colin had already determined for himself what the limits of his duty were.) This didn’t stop most of the editors being sent to prison. Maria Luisa Berneri escaped prison only because she was the wife of one of the other editors and, as such, could not in sexist law be guilty of a charge of “conspiracy”.
Following the war, Colin moved closer to the Freedom group, becoming a regular contributor to the weekly newspaper. Some of his earliest journalism covered the mass squatters’ movement in 1940s Britain. Colin saw this as an example of what he would later call “anarchy in action”: direct and cooperative self-help.
From 1961-70, Colin edited Anarchy, easily the most interesting anarchist theoretical journal published in the UK and one of the most interesting of any political stripe in that interesting decade. Through the journal, Colin laid out the ideas that would culminate in his 1973 book, Anarchy in Action.
All societies, Colin argued, are pluralistic. They solve problems, meet needs, using a variety of mechanisms.
“Anarchy”, for Colin, is simply any social space in which the techniques of mutuality predominate. It is a social space which people enter (and leave) freely; relate as equals; and do something creative, to solve a problem, meet a need, or just enjoy creativity for its own sake. And the aim of anarchism is to try to push and shove society in the direction of greater anarchy in this sense. Thus, Colin emphasised that anarchy is, in fact, already very much part of our social world. Anarchy is there in the meeting of a 12 Step group, the adventure playground, the Friendly Society, the RNLI, and in thousands upon thousands of other free, egalitarian and cooperative social spaces. And his propaganda - not a word he was ashamed of - was frequently aimed at showing how some outstanding social problem could be better addressed by techniques of free, cooperative self-help.
It is now almost fifty years since Colin first wrote about prospects for the mutualisation of state welfare provision in the pages of Anarchy. And I am sure there is still a huge amount for us to learn from the work of this remarkable man..
A longer version of this tribute appears on Next Left, the Fabian Society blog: