Thursday 8 July 2010

Colin Ward: a celebration

Feeling in need of a bit of inspiration in these depressing political times?

Then come along this Saturday, July 10, to a celebration of the life and work of one of the great activists and writers of the post-war left: the anarchist, Colin Ward.

The event is from 2-5 pm in Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London (nearest tube: Holborn). Tea and coffee will be served from 1.30 pm.

Colin died in February, and Next Left acknowledged then the important contribution he made, making anarchist ideas accessible and credible to a wider audience. Over at OurKingdom, Ken Worpole has recently added his own, fine appreciation of Colin and his work.

Writing in the Fabian Journal in 1954, G.D.H. Cole commented that: ‘Everywhere the great task that lies ahead of us is that of passing beyond the Welfare State, in which people get given things, to the kind of society in which they find satisfaction in doing things for themselves and for one another.’

I doubt that Colin ever read this article. But he certainly shared Cole's sentiments and, in a sense, it was his life work to try to combat what he saw as state paternalism on the left (as well as the 'free market' philosophy of the right) in favour of cooperative self-help.

The celebration on Saturday will include a number of speakers. There will also be a short film, an exhibition, bookstalls and - very important - lots of music (featuring Ben Ward and Tom Unwin). And lots of tea.

I'll be speaking very briefly on Colin's anarchism. One of the issues I want to consider is how a Wardian anarchist might look at the new Coalition government. After all, 'Big society not big government', the Coalition's slogan, might also be taken as a succinct summary of the kind of anarchism that Colin Ward stood for.

I will argue that Colin Ward's work suggests a number of searching questions for the Coalition's 'big society' agenda: How far does the idea of the 'big society' apply to the economy? How far does the 'big society' take the existing distribution of wealth as legitimate? How far does it amount to a celebration of top-down philanthropy rather than mutuality and cooperation?

It is because it throws out searching questions of this kind - to right and left - that Colin Ward's anarchism cannot be easily assimilated into the common-sense of any of the mainstream political parties. In this way, I think, he succeeded in making anarchism respectable without making it too respectable.

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