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Colin Ward, RIP

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo http://reason.com/blog/2010/02/17/colin-ward-rip Colin Ward, RIP by Jesse Walker
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 19, 2010
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Colin Ward, RIP
      by Jesse Walker
      February 17, 2010
      Colin Ward, 1924-2010

      My favorite left-anarchist writer, Colin Ward, has passed away at age
      85. Ward was the most practical radical I've ever read: Rather than
      sketching out utopian blueprints of a society without a state, he
      searched for empirical examples of everyday people organizing to solve
      their own problems. Once he started looking, he found that voluntary,
      non-authoritarian cooperation was everywhere. Utopia, he wrote in his
      1973 book Anarchy in Action, is "already here, apart from a few little,
      local difficulties like exploitation, war, dictatorship and starvation."

      Because he took his ideals seriously, Ward butted heads regularly with
      both the conventional left and the conventional right. In the '80s and
      early '90s, his column for New Statesman & Society was peppered with
      examples of the Tory government failing to live up to its rhetoric of
      liberty and decentralized power. At the same time, he was harshly
      critical of the social democratic left. In one of his most famous
      passages, he pointed out that

      "When we compare the Victorian antecedents of our public institutions
      with the organs of working-class mutual aid in the same period the very
      names speak volumes. On the one side the Workhouse, the Poor Law
      Infirmary, the National Society for the Education of the Poor in
      Accordance with the Principles of the Established Church; and, on the
      other, the Friendly Society, the Sick Club, the Cooperative Society, the
      Trade Union. One represents the tradition of fraternal and autonomous
      association springing up from below, the other that of authoritarian
      institutions directed from above."

      As Stuart White notes in his tribute to Ward, the writer was

      "a formidible and dedicated opponent of what is often understood as the
      Fabian tradition. This comes across very clearly in his work on housing
      where he was always highly critical of state-heavy efforts, led by
      middle-class housing professionals, to provide housing for the
      working-classes. In this context, he argued for the alternative left
      tradition of cooperative self-help in the form of tenant cooperatives,
      self-build projects and squatting. He pointed repeatedly to the
      illogicality of local governments - often Labour-controlled - who would
      rather destroy unused council housing stock than allow it to be occupied
      by squatters."

      These squatters, to be clear, were not self-righteous trustafarians
      seizing a private home while the owner took a holiday. They were
      ordinary families finding uses for resources the state had left fallow.
      Such self-organization was a longtime theme in Ward's work. Quoting
      White again: "Much to the consternation of the [postwar] Labour
      government, many thousands of working-class people responded to acute
      housing shortage by taking over and adapting disused military bases.
      While his comrades in the anarchist movement struggled to see the point,
      Colin saw this as an example of what he would later call 'anarchy in
      action': direct and cooperative self-help." Ward's interest in the
      institutions that people build from below took him to areas that radical
      writers rarely touched: He wrote appreciative histories and sociologies
      of holiday camps, allotment gardens, amateur music-making, even the
      street culture of urban children.

      Ward had an eye for the creativity of ordinary people and the ways we
      use that inventive energy to transform our environments. He didn't have
      trouble imagining a society immersed in liberty and spontaneous order,
      because he knew that liberty and spontaneous order were what sustained
      society in the first place, even if they sometimes had to take a stunted

      Dan Clore

      New book: _Weird Words: A Lovecraftian Lexicon_:
      My collected fiction: _The Unspeakable and Others_
      Lord We├┐rdgliffe & Necronomicon Page:
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:

      Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
      in charge on this island?
      Professor: Why, no one.
      Skipper: No one?
      Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
      -- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"
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