Talking Anarchy

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Talking Anarchy

Review of :

Talking Anarchy by Colin Ward and David Goodway
 Five Leaves Publications, 2004.   

Colin Ward is a modest, softly spoken man who hardly fits the anarchist stereotype invented by the media, and an occasional contributor to New Humanist. He is also a prolific writer who has managed to explain the increasing relevance of anarchist ideas to the solution of contemporary social problems.

For many people, their initial encounter with Ward's ideas were two books on Violence and Work commissioned by Richard Mabey, for the innovative Connexions series published by Penguin in the early 70s. Since then he has written more than 30 books. The titles provide a quick guide to the breadth of his interest: The Child In the City, The Child in the Country, Talking School, Talking to Architects, Tenants Take Over, Cotters and Squatters, Sociable Cities (with Peter Hall), The Allotment: Its Landscape and Culture (with David Crouch) Arcadia for All (with Dennis Hardy), Streetwork: the Exploding School, and Anarchy in Action. Running through all these books is the deceptively simple idea that generally speaking people are able to resolve their own problems, providing they have access to and control over society's resources. 

Talking Anarchy explores Ward's ideas in detail through the form of an extended interview conducted by historian David Goodway. This interview is preceded by a twenty-page overview of Ward's life. As a young war-time conscript Ward was stationed in Glasgow, where he encountered the city's working class anarchists, and began contributing to the London based anarchist paper War Commentary. After visiting an anarchist in Barlinnie prison for opposition to the war, the Army transferred him to Orkney and Shetland for the rest of the war. He spent VE Day in prison, for minor misdemeanours and later became a witness for the defence when the editors of War Commentary (later to become Freedom) were prosecuted for sedition in 1945.

After the war he resumed his interrupted training as an architect, and became a member of the Freedom Press group. In 1961 he founded and edited Anarchy magazine, to "put anarchist ideas back into the intellectual bloodstream" by promoting a sociological approach to anarchism. Anarchy ran until 1970 and attracted powerful and original contributions prefiguring many of the concerns of the new politics of sustainability in our own decade.

For a short time Colin Ward became a teacher, and then the Education Officer of the Town & Country Planning Association, editing their Bulletin of Environmental Education (BEE) for 8 years. In 1979 he resigned from the TCPA to become a full time writer, contributing regular articles to New Society and the New Statesman, while continuing to write for the anarchist and socialist press, including occasional pieces in Red Pepper. Although the focus of Ward's writing is on contemporary society his anarchism is strongly rooted in the ideas and principles of classical anarchism - especially direct action, and mutual aid.

He dismisses the idea that anarchism is a speculative vision of a utopian society. It is "a mode of human organisation, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with and in spite of the dominant authoritarian trends in our society." It is not necessary for people to consciously adopt anarchist political ideas before they act in a co-operative manner. What is important (as he argued in Red Pepper) is that if people have faith in their capacity to make decisions then society itself would be changed by an upsurge of popular self-organisation and inventiveness:
 "An anarchist society; a society which organises itself without authority is always in existence, like a seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the State and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and injustice, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separation."
Martyn Everett

(originally published in New Humanist Update 66, June 2006)









       Colin Ward