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Mark Luetchford and Peter Burns, 'Waging the war on Want: An authorised History'

War on Want 2003, ISBN 0 905990 40 4, 192pp, £8 plus £1.50 UK P&P

One of the hardest tasks for a writer to do well is to write an authorised history of an organisation devoted to social justice. It is easy to write a public relations puff piece, avoiding mention of internal divisions and crisis that hurt the organisation and potentially affect its image. The authors avoided this trap.

It felt strange to read about the origins and struggles of an organisation that seems to have always been around. In my more than 30 years of activism there has been a prod to effective action arising from War on Want that wasn't tied to the headlines or the fashions of activism but was rather a sustained and sustainable pressure that crossed the Atlantic and entered into debates of church-based social justice organisations, community global education centres and other efforts that linked education with action.

I found that some of the most effective writing was in describing in frank and open ways the internal crises that lead to transformation in War on Want. Neither glossing over problems or being bogged down in the intimate details of conflict, the authors looked at each crisis as an opportunity to show what was learned and how it impacted on the future of the organisation.

There is a history of organisational risk-taking here that other organisations could do well to emulate. Supporting struggles locally that parallel struggles in other countries is rarely found in organisations involved in development and global solidarity efforts. Publishing material that reveals some of the hypocrisy of one's supporters is even rarer. War On Want has certainly done both of these several times in its history. Also, change seems to have been built within the culture of the organisation, helping it to continue when other organisations have folded, and not to continue as a narrow and rigid relic but as a responsive and living participant in the work for a better world for all.

Waging the War on Want: An Authorised History is an important part of documenting movements for social change rooted in pre-Cold War visions, that struggled for justice in periods of mass movements and other times of quiet persistence, and that have found a way to be a fresh voice in times of post-September 11 trauma and the US/Britain-led wars of invasion.