Colin Ward (1924-2010)

Colin Ward, one of the most interesting anarchist writers of the post-Spanish Revolution/Second World War time period, died on February 11, 2010 at the age of 85. I included excerpts from his 1966 article, “Anarchy as a Theory of Organization,” in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. His three best known anarchist books were Anarchy in Action (1973),  Talking Anarchy (2003) and Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction (2004). A selection of his writings is available online at the Anarchy is Order website. He wrote many books and articles on a wide variety of topics, from children, education and social policy to water resources, transportation and housing. The following paragraphs from the Introduction to Anarchy in Action aptly summarize Ward’s approach:

How would you feel if you discovered that the society in which you would really like to live was already here, apart from a few little, local difficulties like exploitation, war, dictatorship and starvation? The argument of this book is that 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 its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism.

Of the many possible interpretations of anarchism the one presented here suggests that, far from being a speculative vision of a future society, it is a description of 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 of our society. This is not a new version of anarchism. Gustav Landauer saw it, not as the founding of something new, ‘but as the actualisation and reconstitution of something that has always been present, which exists alongside the state, albeit buried and laid waste.’ And a modern anarchist, Paul Goodman, declared that: ‘A free society cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life.’

One of Ward’s favourite quotes was Landauer’s comment that the “state is a relationship between human beings, a way by which people relate to one another… one destroys it by entering into other relationships, by behaving differently to one another” (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939), page 165). Goodman’s statement that a free society is the extension of spheres of free action is taken from his 1945 publication, The May Pamphlet, included in Volume Two of Anarchism, The Emergence of the New Anarchism (1939-1977), Selection 11, under the heading, “Reflections on Drawing the Line.”

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  1. [...] And some late additions to my Colin Ward obituaries: from Peter Marshall, author of Demanding the Impossible, from Critical Chatting, and from Robert Graham. [...]


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