was a British anarchist writer. He has been called "one of the greatest anarchist thinkers of the past half century, and a pioneering social historian
Social history, often called the new social history, is a branch of History that includes history of ordinary people and their strategies of coping with life. In its "golden age" it was a major growth field in the 1960s and 1970s among scholars, and still is well represented in history departments...
Ward was born in Wanstead
Wanstead is a suburban area in the London Borough of Redbridge, North-East London. The main road going through Wanstead is the A12. The name is from the Anglo-Saxon words wænn and stede, meaning "settlement on a small hill"....
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...
. He became an anarchist while in the British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...
during World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...
. As a subscriber to War Commentary
, the war-time equivalent of Freedom
Freedom is a London-based anarchist newspaper published fortnightly by Freedom Press.The paper was started in 1886 by volunteers including Peter Kropotkin and Charlotte Wilson and continues to this day as an unpaid project. Originally, the subtitle was "A Journal of Anarchist Socialism." The title...
, he was called in 1945 from Orkney, where he was serving, to give evidence at the London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...
trial of the editors for publishing an article allegedly intended to seduce soldiers from their duty or allegiance. Ward robustly repudiated any seduction, but the three editors (Philip Sansom, Vernon Richards
Vernon Richards was an Anglo-Italian anarchist, editor, author and companion of Marie-Louise Berneri.He was born Vero Recchioni in London in 1915. He was educated at Emanuel School, and King's College London, where he trained as a civil engineer...
and John Hewetson) were convicted and sentenced to nine months imprisonment.
He was an editor of the British
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...
anarchist newspaper Freedom
from 1947 to 1960, and the founder and editor of the monthly anarchist journal Anarchy
Anarchy was an anarchist monthly magazine produced in London from the early 1960s until the early 1970s. It was published by Freedom Press and edited by its founder, Colin Ward.- External links :...
from 1961 to 1970.
From 1952 to 1961, Ward worked as an architect. In 1971, he became the Education Officer for the Town and Country Planning Association
The Town and Country Planning Association is England's oldest environmental charity. It was founded as the Garden Cities Association in 1899 by Ebenezer Howard, initially to promote the development of Garden Cities...
. He published widely on education, architecture and town planning. His most influential book was The Child In The City
(1978), about children's street culture
Children's street culture refers to the cumulative culture created by young children. Collectively, this body of knowledge is passed down from one generation of urban children to the next, and can also be passed between different groups of children . It is most common in children between the ages...
. From 1995-6, Ward was Centennial Professor of Housing and Social Policy at the London School of Economics
The London School of Economics and Political Science is a public research university specialised in the social sciences located in London, United Kingdom, and a constituent college of the federal University of London...
In 2001, Ward was made an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy at Anglia Ruskin University
Anglia Ruskin University is one of the largest universities in Eastern England, United Kingdom, with a total student population of around 30,000.-History:...
Most of Ward's works deal with the issue of rural housing and the problems of overpopulation and planning regulations in Britain to which he proposed anarchistic solutions. He was a keen admirer of architect Walter Segal
Walter Segal was an architect who developed a system of self-build housing.The Segal method is based on traditional timber frame methods modified to use standard materials available today. It eliminates the need for wet trades such as bricklaying and plastering resulting in a light-weight methods...
who set up a ‘build it yourself’ system in Lewisham meaning that land that was too small or difficult to build on conventionally was given to people who with Segal’s help would build their own homes. Ward was very keen on the idea of ‘build it yourself’ having said in response to the proposition of removing all planning laws, ‘I don't believe in just letting it rip, the rich get away with murder when that happens. But I do want the planning system to be flexible enough to give homeless people a chance’. In his book Cotters and Squatters
, Ward described the historical development of informal customs to appropriate land for housing which frequently grew up in opposition to legally constituted systems of land ownership. Ward described folkways in many cultures which parallel the Welsh tradition of the Tŷ unnos or 'one night house' erected on common land.
Ward included a passage from one of his anarchist forebears, Peter Kropotkin
Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin was a Russian zoologist, evolutionary theorist, philosopher, economist, geographer, author and one of the world's foremost anarcho-communists. Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central government and based on voluntary associations between...
, who said of the empty and overgrown landscape of Surrey and Sussex at the end of the 19th century, ‘in every direction I see abandoned cottages and orchards going to ruin, a whole population has disappeared.’ Ward himself went on to observe: ‘Precisely a century after this account was written, the fields were empty again. Fifty years of subsidies had made the owners of arable land millionaires through mechanised cultivation and, with a crisis of over-production; the European Community was rewarding them for growing no crops on part of their land. However, opportunities for the homeless poor were fewer than ever in history. The grown-up children of local families can’t get on the housing ladder’. Wards solution was that ‘there should be some place in every parish where it's possible for people to build their own homes, and they should be allowed to do it a bit at a time, starting in a simple way and improving the structure as they go along. The idea that a house should be completed in one go before you can get planning permission and a mortgage is ridiculous. Look at the houses in this village. Many of them have developed their character over centuries - a bit of medieval at the back, with Tudor and Georgian add-ons.’
Ward’s philosophy aimed at removing authoritarian forms of social organisation and replacing them with self-managed
Worker self-management is a form of workplace decision-making in which the workers themselves agree on choices instead of an owner or traditional supervisor telling workers what to do, how to do it and where to do it...
, non-hierarchical forms. This form of federalism was put forward in part by Kropotkin and Proudhon and is based upon the principle that, as Ward put it, ‘in small face-to-face groups, the bureaucratising
A bureaucracy is an organization of non-elected officials of a governmental or organization who implement the rules, laws, and functions of their institution, and are occasionally characterized by officialism and red tape.-Weberian bureaucracy:...
and hierarchical tendencies inherent in organisations have least opportunity to develop’. He particularly admired the Swiss system of direct democracy and cantons whereby each canton is run by its members who have control on the laws placed upon them.
‘I believe that the social ideas of anarchism: autonomous groups, spontaneous order, workers’ control, the federative principle, add up to a coherent theory of social organisation which is a valid and realistic alternative to the authoritarian, hierarchical and institutional social philosophy which we see in application all around us. Man will be compelled, Kropotkin declared, ‘to find new forms of organisation for the social functions which the State fulfils through the bureaucracy’ and he insisted that ‘as long as this is not done nothing will be done. I think we have discovered what these new forms of organisation should be. We have now to make the opportunities for putting them into practice’.
‘You may think in describing anarchism as a theory of organisation I am propounding a deliberate paradox: ‘anarchy’ you may consider to be, by definition, the opposite of organisation. In fact, however, ‘anarchy’ means the absence of government, the absence of authority. Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be. They claim that, at the basis of our social problems is the principle of government. It is, after all, governments which prepare for war and wage war, even though you are obliged to fight in them and pay for them; the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense. It is, after all, governments which make and enforce the laws which enable the 'haves' to retain control over social assets rather than share them with the 'have-nots'. It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood.'
‘I said that it is governments which make wars and prepare for wars, but obviously it is not governments alone - the power of a government, even the most absolute dictatorship, depends on the tacit assent of the governed. Why do people consent to be governed? It isn't only fear: what have millions of people to fear from a small group of politicians? It is because they subscribe to the same values as their governors. Rulers and ruled alike believe in the principle of authority, of hierarchy, of power. These are the characteristics of the political principle. The anarchists, who have always distinguished between the state and society, adhere to the social principle, which can be seen wherever men link themselves in an association based on a common need or a common interest. ‘The State’ said the German anarchist Gustav Landauer
Gustav Landauer was one of the leading theorists on anarchism in Germany in the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. He was an advocate of communist anarchism and an avowed pacifist. Landauer is also known for his study and translations of William Shakespeare's works into German...
, ‘is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.’
‘In my experience there are two kinds of Green people. There are philanthropists (lovers of humankind), who see the revolution in communications and the collapse of the city economy as the opportunity for the greening of the dense Victorian city. And there are the misanthropists (haters of humanity), who want to pull up the drawbridge to exclude those urban hordes from ‘rural’ England, which they quaintly equate with a ‘natural’ environment. They want to keep those beastly city-dwellers in the urban ghetto. The rich, of course, know the advantages of both environments and have a country seat and a pad in town.’
Critical work on Colin Ward
- Remembering Colin Ward (Five Leaves Press 2011)
- Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow by David Goodway
David Goodway is a British historian and a respected international authority on anarchism and libertarian socialism. A student of Eric Hobsbawm, Goodway specialised in the history of Chartism in London and his work London Chartism is an acknowledged classic work on the subject...
- Richer Futures. Fashioning A New Politics (Earthscan, 1999)
- Making Anarchism Respectable? The Social Philosophy of Colin Ward (Stuart White, 2007)
- Colin Ward archive at The Anarchist Library
- Ward's Anarchism as a Theory of Organization (1966)
- Daily Telegraph obituary, 29 March 2010
- Guardian obituary, 22 February 2010
- The Good Life of a Gentle Anarchist, Boyd Tonkin, The Independent, 19 February 2010
- Colin Ward, Pioneer of Mutualism
- Obituary at Outrospection.org
- Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility: The Colin Ward Reader
- Center for a Stateless Society on Ward
- Ward and Five Leaves publishers
- Ward and the Essex plotlanders, Guardian, 7 March 2010
- Inveterate anarchist with a plan to put roofs over the rural poor, Guardian, 10 July 2002
- A friendly right-wing view of Colin Ward, by the editor of Reason, 'the magazine of free minds and free markets'