'The Man Who Knows His Village' Colin Ward and Freedom Press

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

It was during the Second World War that Colin Ward came into contact with the anarchist movement and started his long lasting activity as an 'anarchist columnist'. From 1943, he became involved in the Freedom Press Group. This article will analyse his major contributions to War Commentary and then Freedom. It will examine the role that Ward played in the resurgence of anarchist journalism, from the late 1940s to the late 1960s, by investigating the relationship and the mutual influences between Ward and the other activists in Freedom Press. Ward's books addressed the world outside anarchism and used ordinary real world facts to discuss anarchist arguments. This article will analyse how these innovative characteristics developed in his journalism.

Keywords Colin Ward, Freedom Press, War Commentary, British Anarchism

Every couple of years or so I write an article under the ride The Man who Knows his Village ... I have forgotten how the quotation ends but the inference is clear. The phrase is a sort of shorthand for the series of ideas which to me are fundamental. For the idea that the man who knows his village understands the world, that everything important starts in small ways in small places, that the only real politics are those of the parish pump. For the idea of small communities, dispersal, fragmentation, the human scale, anarchy.1

1. INTRODUCTION

During the thirteen years of his association with the editorial board of War Commentary and Freedom, from 1947 to I960, Ward elaborated his own idea of anarchism, developed his reflections about the application of libertarian principles to day-to-day life, and promoted them in the pages oí Freedom. In his articles he addressed a broad range of topics and issues: squatting; housing and urban planning; workers' control in industries; environment and education. These writings laid the foundations for his later publications, not only with respect to discussing his favourite subjects and themes, but especially in the perspective and the methodologies adopted in approaching them. His experience on the editorial board oí Freedom, the recurrent discussions on the purposes of an anarchist journal, and the role and limits of anarchist-written propaganda, as well as the feedback received from the readers over the years, shaped his views about the way in which anarchist ideas should be promoted to a wider public.

When Ward joined Freedom Press in 1947 he was introduced to a vibrant and intellectually-stimulating environment. As he later recalled, during the latter years of the Second World War and the beginning of the 1950s, 'the English anarchist paper Freedom experienced one of those outstanding periods when the editors work as a creative group sparking off each others' talents in a periodical which speaks to its time with a coherent and apposite voice'. 2 The two central figures of the Freedom Press Group were Vernon Richards and Marie Louise Berneri, both children of Italian anarchist expatriates. They 'reacted on each-other and [...] formed a very good working partnership'.3 In 1936, Richards 'as a very young man [...] blew new life into what little smouldering fire that was left over by Tom Keele'.4 The same year Richards published Spain and the World and Revolt and, at the start of the Second World War, War Commentary which later became Freedom. From the beginning it was a collaborative project: 'M.L. Berneri's personality and spirit infused every activity undertaken by Freedom Press since 1936';5 another member, John Hewetson, was a general practitioner and 'a pioneer of advocacy of freely available contraception and abortion and of enlightened attitude to drug users'. George Woodcock, 'by far the most prolific of the new pamphleteers', joined the Freedom Press Group in 1942. His pamphlets on railways, housing and the land and his pioneering biographies on Godwin, Herzen, and Kropotkin had an enormous influence on Ward.6 Among other members of Freedom Press were John Olday who contributed his cartoons, Philip Sansom, 'industrial editor and a sharply witty cartoonist', and Rita Milton, 'a marvellous orator'. …