Colin Ward: Writer and social theorist who espoused a gentle brand of anarchy

Colin Ward was an anarchist without a sinister cloak and fizzing bomb and without a penchant for rioting and street-fighting. His methods were his intellect, vast research, and above all words. He turned out well-written books and articles in which he argued against big government and in favour of initiatives by individuals and small communities. He was described by Paul Barker, in his 1989 review of the book Ward wrote with Ruth Rendell, Country Life Force, as a man who made "gentle attempts to educate us into a freer, kinder society."

Ward was on the less extreme shores of anarchy, advocating revolutionary ideas in a non-revolutionary way. Some might say he was a peculiarly English type of non-militant anarchist – committed, radical, but not fanatic. He thought and wrote much about subjects such as town planning, housing and transport, advocating the abandonment of centralised authority, which he regarded as suffocating. He wrote of schools, holiday camps and, endearingly, the value of allotments. His version of an anarchist plot, in other words, was not a violent conspiracy but a peaceful piece of land.

His approach was summarised in another review of one of his many books: "It is a pragmatic form of anarchism, a theory of organisation, a combination of self-help and mutual aid, of do-it-yourself and do-it-together. Ward is calling not so much for a political revolution as for social transformation – though not all that much of one, since he sees anarchism all around us, and likes to find examples wherever ordinary people put freedom into practice in their daily lives."

Born in Essex, the son of a teacher and a shorthand typist who were both Labour supporters, Colin Ward worked in an architect's office before being conscripted in 1942. Posted to Glasgow, he was transfixed by the city's contrasts of wealth and poverty, marvelling at its "monumental buildings clad in velvety soot, its short, stocky men, bent be-shawled women and barefoot children."

Impressed by open-air political oratory, he gravitated towards an anarchist bookshop and attended meetings where he listened to "comrades who were responsible for sowing the seeds of anarchy in my thoughts." Those seeds led him to spend two months behind bars for what he recalled as "some act of bloody-mindedness."

During the Second World War Scottish activists such as anarchists often found themselves in trouble with the law, facing charges such as refusing to carry out fire-watching duty and inciting others to evade military service. Ward gave evidence in the trial of a group who produced an anarchist magazine, many of whom received prison sentences. He visited Glasgow's Barlinnie prison to persuade the anarchist prisoner Frank Leech, whom he particularly admired as a "gentle giant," to end his hunger strike. The military authorities acted quickly, Ward relating: "My visit to Barlinnie had evidently been noted. I was immediately posted to Orkney and Shetland for the rest of the war."

The decades after the war saw him combining anarchy with architecture. In the 1970s his day job was as education officer for the Town and Country Planning Association. He also worked for the journals Freedom and Anarchy as writer and editor. Fellow contributors included individuals such as the broadcaster Ray Gosling, who was in the news recently over a reported case of euthanasia.

Ward was at odds with post-war socialism, complaining: "How sad that in Britain socialists should have been so intoxicated with power and bureaucracy and the mystique of the state. It's their own fault, of course, for rejecting their history and origins for the sake of a version of socialism which is governmental, authoritarian, paternalistic and unloved."

He later lamented: "It was the political left that opened the door to primeval Thatcherism. Socialists have to unburden themselves of all that Fabian and Marxist baggage, and rediscover their roots in the tradition of fraternal and autonomous associations springing up from below."

Although occasional Tories voiced a sentimental regard for his approach, Ward had no reciprocal fondness for them, saying of the libertarian right: "Freedom for the pike means death for the minnow."

In one pamphlet he set out his dream of how the East Anglia village where he lived would ideally be organised by the year 2051. All public finance would come from a tithe, with locals taking part in intense discussions about how to allocate the revenue "in the village hall, the church, the Shoulder of Mutton and Cock taverns, and on the green." In this rural utopia, "the local schools have reopened, the mill now generates local electricity, the village shop thrives again. Trains run again, revived by the Democratic Railway Movement."

It might be thought that none of the brands of anarchy, of which Ward's was one of the least abrasive, have accomplished much either in practical or theoretical terms. But he insisted: "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, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism."

He himself has been described as one of those seeds. One admirer wrote: "He has acted like a yeast, fermenting ideas in the minds of countless others. His influence in areas from housing to teaching and planning has been immense, and will continue to grow." More ironically, Ward himself wrote in 1973 that utopia "is already here, apart from a few little local difficulties like exploitation, war, dictatorship and starvation."

His decades of work led to one description of him as the most prominent and interesting English anarchist writer, while another observer called him "a lifelong anarchist of the sweetest, gentlest kind."

David McKittrick

Colin Ward, writer and anarchist: born 14 August 1924; married 1966 Harriet (one son, two stepchildren); died 11 February 2010.

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?