Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Social Anarchism, Lifestyle Anarchism, and the Anarchism of Colin Ward

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Social Anarchism, Lifestyle Anarchism, and the Anarchism of Colin Ward

Article excerpt


In a famous polemical article, Murray Bookchin contrasts social and lifestyle anarchisms and argues that there is an 'unbridgeable chasm' between them. This article traces a parallel debate in British anarchism at the start of the 1960s and explains how Colin Ward sought to endorse elements of both views in developing his nonutopian, pragmatic anarchism. It shows how social and lifestyle anarchist themes find expression in Ward's work more generally, and argues that Ward's work in this way implicitly and persuasively challenges the thesis that they are incompatible (without denying they can be in tension).

Keywords Social Anarchism, Lifestyle Anarchism, Permanent Protest


In a famous polemic, Murray Bookchin distinguishes between what he terms 'social anarchism' and 'lifestyle anarchism' (Bookchin 201 1 (1995)). As presented by Bookchin, social anarchism remains within the socialist tradition and accordingly seeks a transformation of society towards a more egalitarian, post-capitalist order. Lifestyle anarchism, by contrast, presents anarchy as a state of being which can and should be seized by the individual here and now. Bookchin is insistent that there is, as he puts it, 'an unbridgeable chasm' between the two perspectives. One cannot mix the two in an integrated anarchist theory or practice. However, a number of recent works have questioned this claim, arguing that some integration of the two perspectives is possible (Bowen 2004: 8-9; Day 2005: 21). The purpose of this paper is to explore this possibility by looking at how the two perspectives which Bookchin sees as irreconcilable are arguably blended in the thinking of the post-war British anarchist, Colin Ward.


Let us begin by elaborating Bookchin's distinction between social and lifestyle anarchism.

Social anarchism stands in the socialist tradition. It aims to establish a postcapitalist, egalitarian social order. The content of this post-capitalist order is something on which different schools of social anarchist thought disagree. But there are some basic points of agreement. First, decision-making must be decentralized. In the syndicalist variant of social anarchism, the workplace or local occupational group is the primary unit of decision-making. In the anarcho-communist variant, it is the self-governing neighbourhood or 'commune'. Local units federate to handle issues that require coordination. Second, economic distribution must be strongly egalitarian, ideally attaining the standard of 'from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her need'. Bookchin's own version of social anarchism, social ecology, is communalist in orientation (Bookchin 197 Ia, 2007). Freedom, Bookchin argues, should not be understood primarily as a matter of the 'autonomy' of the individual to do her own thing without regard to the community. Rather, it is primarily a matter of the local community having real democratic control over its affairs and of the individual being able to participate in this democratic control on a 'face-to-face' basis and on a footing of equality (Bookchin: 1971a, 2007, 2011)..

Bookchin's social anarchism is also distinguished, of course, by the relative emphasis that he places on the ecological argument for a communalist social order as an alternative to capitalism. To satisfy tightening ecological constraints, economic organization must be substantially decentralized to the regional and communal level. Today's massive urban conglomerations must give way to smaller communities that are more widely dispersed. Agriculture must be decentralized so that local people produce food primarily for local consumption. Energy supply, using new technologies of solar, wind and tidal power, must similarly be decentralized (Bookchin 197Ib). Other economic activity must go the same way. Ecology and freedom necessarily come as a package, finding their mutual realization in communalism. …

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