Colin Ward (1924-2010).
Brought up in suburban East London, he was a 'failure' at school, leaving at fifteen to take jobs in building, municipal housing and then a series of architects' offices, thereby generating the expertise for the bulk of his output as a writer. In the mid-sixties he retrained as a teacher but for most of the seventies was education officer for the Town and Country Planning Association, resigning in 1979 to become a full-time author.
It was conscription into the British Army during the Second World War that radicalized him, since, posted to Glasgow, he admired its anarchist orators, attended their weekly meetings and began to write for Freedom Press's periodicals. On demobilization in 1947 and back in London he was invited to join Freedom's editorial collective, thus beginning intimate association with the people who were to become, in his description, his 'closest and dearest friends'.
His spare-time journalistic apprenticeship was daunting, writing articles for Freedom, a weekly throughout the fifties. He was enabled to break from this treadmill when his fellow editors gave him his head from 1961 to 1970 with the monthly Anarchy (while they continued to bring out Freedom for the other three weeks of the month). Anarchy exuded vitality, was in touch with the trends of the decade, and appealed to the young--and it continues to excite. Its preoccupations centred on housing and squatting, progressive education, workers' control, and crime and punishment. It showcased Ward's distinctive anarchism, already apparent in his articles for Freedom, but now standing alone or supported by like-minded contributors.
It was the editorship of Anarchy that released him from the obscurity of Freedom and Freedom Press and made his name. During the sixties he began to be asked to write for other journals, not only in the realm of dissident politics but also for such titles as the recently established New Society. From 1978 he became a regular contributor to New Society's full-page 'Stand' column; and when ten years later New Society was merged with the New Statesman he was retained as a columnist for the resultant New Statesman and Society, with the shorter, but weekly, 'Fringe Benefits'. He also wrote a long-running column for Town and Country Planning and an 'Anarchist Notebook' for Freedom, and in addition contributed columns to the Architects' Journal. Through his columns many unsuspecting readers were exposed to anarchist ideas, for, whatever he might be doing, he always saw himself first and foremost as an anarchist propagandist.
His first books came as late as 1970-72, but these were intended for teenagers and published by Penguin Education. His third book, Anarchy in Action (1973), was his only work on the theory of anarchism, and indeed the only one 'directly and specifically about anarchism' until his final publication, Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction (2004). In Anarchy in Action he makes entirely explicit his highly original anarchism (even if, as he always acknowledged, much indebted to Kropotkin and Landauer). The opening words have been much quoted: 'The argument of this book is that an anarchist society, a society which organizes 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'. His kind of anarchism, 'far from being a speculative vision of a future society ... is a description of a mode of human organization, rooted in the experience of everyday life, which operates side by side with, and in spite of, the dominant authoritarian trends of our society'.
It is Ward's vision of anarchism, along with his many years of working in architecture and planning, that account for his concentration on 'anarchist applications' or 'anarchist solutions' to 'immediate issues in which people are actually likely to get involved ...'. Although he claimed in 1997 that 'all my books hang together as an exploration of the relations between people and their environment' (by which he means the built, rather than the 'natural', environment), and while this clearly covers nine-tenths of his oeuvre, it seems, rather (as he had put it earlier), that all his publications are 'looking at life from an anarchist point of view'. So the 'anarchist applications' concern housing: Tenants Take Over (1974), Housing: An Anarchist Approach (1976), When We Build Again Let's Have Housing That Works! (1985) and Talking Houses (1990); architecture and planning:Welcome, Thinner City: Urban Survival in the 1990s (1989), New Town, Home Town: The Lessons of Experience (1993), Talking to Architects (1996) and (with Peter Hall) Sociable Cities: The Legacy of Ebenezer Howard (1998); education: Talking Schools (1995); education and the environment: (with Anthony Fyson) Streetwork: The Exploding School (1973), The Child in the City (1978) and The Child in the Country (1988); education, work and housing: Havens and Springboards: The Foyer Movement in Context (1997); transport: (with Ruth Rendell) Undermining the Central Line (1989) and Freedom to Go: After the Motor Age (1991); and water: Reflected in Water: A Crisis of Social Responsibility (1997). A surprisingly large number of his books were written in collaboration, something he particularly enjoyed, for he was an exceptionally friendly as well as generous man.
Ward was scornful of most other anarchists' obsession with the history of their tradition: 'I think the besetting sin of anarchism has been its preoccupation with its own past ...' Still, despite his own emphasis on the here-and-now and the future, he wrote four important historical works, the first two with Dennis Hardy and the third with David Crouch: Arcadia for All: The Legacy of a Makeshift Landscape (1984); Goodnight Campers! The History of the British Holiday Camp (1986); The Allotment: Its Landscape and Culture (1988); and Cotters and Squatters: Housing's Hidden History (2002). The masterly Arcadia for All, a history of the 'plotlands' of south-east England, is simply a natural extension back into the recent past of his major interest in self-build and squatting in the present, while Cotters and Squatters draws from their entire historical record in England and Wales. In Goodnight Campers!, the entrepreneurial holiday camps are traced to their origins in the early twentieth century and the 'pioneer camps', in which a key role was played by major organizations of working-class self-help and mutual aid: the co-operative movement and trade unions. The historic importance of such institutions in the provision of welfare and the maintenance of social solidarity was to become a theme of increasing significance in Ward's work; and he is currently being identified as a 'pioneer of mutualism'.
His wife, Harriet, was the daughter of Dora Russell, the feminist advocate of birth control and libertarian schooling.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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