Ken Worpole on Colin Ward

by Chris Bertram on February 23, 2010

Further to last week’s brief mention of Colin Ward’s death, Ken Worpole now has an obituary in the Guardian . A brief excerpt:

Colin saw all distant goals as a form of tyranny and believed that anarchist principles could be ­discerned in everyday human relations and impulses. Within this perspective, politics was about strengthening ­co-operative ­relations and supporting human ingenuity in its myriad vernacular and everyday forms. One of Colin’s favourite metaphors – adopted from a novel by Ignazio Silone – was the image of the seed beneath the snow, which suggested to him that anarchist principles were ever alive and prescient. He thought it was the work of politics to nurture such beliefs and to support them through small-scale initiatives, avoiding the temptation to replicate or scale them up to a level beyond which professional bureaucracies take over.

I’d also note Daniel Trilling’s brief note at the New Statesman blog (which contains a link to an online pdf reader of Ward’s writings), Boyd Tonkin’s appreciation in the Independent, and Ross Bradshaw at the Five Leaves Publications blog.

Reading around Ward’s work in the few days since his death I kept coming across one of his favourite quotes, from the German anarchist Gustav Landauer:

The State 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.

Material there, I think, for further meditation on Jerry Cohen’s critique of Rawls, the socialism of the the camping trip , the importance of “ethos” and the inadequacy of a conception of human emancipation based around law and citizenship. (The “the seed beneath the snow” metaphor even finds echoes in the cover design for Cohen’s Why not Socialism? ) But speculation about these convergences should form the matter of another post.

Update: Roman Krznaric’s appreciation , and the Times obituary .

{ 31 comments }

1

Russell Arben Fox 02.23.10 at 12:40 pm

I agree with Matt that Cohen’s attempt to describe sozialist ideals via the supposed natural logic of how the ideal camping trip would operate revealed nothing so much as the likely fact that Cohen himself probably almost never actually went camping. Still, I take the more important insight of the metaphor to be that sozialism carries an almost entirely different—and, to most Westerners anyway, much more positive—set of expectations and implications when it is not associated with the state, but rather associated with a small, informal community. In other words, Cohen towards the end of his life, with his talk of the importance of a sozialist ethos, was in one sense re-opening the long-standing argument between sozialists, localists, and anarchists, with him implicitly acknowledging the force of the claim that real sozialist equality and community will have to happen either absent or aside from the modern technocratic state.

2

Matt 02.23.10 at 1:13 pm

I’d posted something about Cohen (that Russel mentions) but it wasn’t really in line with the subject of the post so I asked Christ to take it down, which he kindly did. I’m not very sympathetic towards most anarchist ideas, but some of them are worth taking seriously. For this post, especially given the context, we should focus on those ideas and on Ward, whom I wasn’t familiar with before Chris’s first post but who seems like an interesting person worth giving some thought to. I’m sorry to have gotten things off to the wrong track here but hope they’ll get back on the right one.

3

JK 02.23.10 at 2:02 pm

What do you make of the appreciative note from libertarian Reason magazine?

http://reason.com/blog/2010/02/17/colin-ward-rip

4

marcel 02.23.10 at 2:05 pm

Re: Russell Arben Foxabove: Of course Cohen never went camping. Jews (at least us Diaspora Jews) don’t camp. As Steve Lubet put it years ago in an invited rant on All Things Considered (paraphrasing from memory):

Why would anyone want to camp [for vacation] and forego many of the things that make life worth living: comfortable beds, electricity, hot water and gourmet meals? My people’s national history began with a 40 year camping trip, and we vowed, “Never Again.”

5

Harry 02.23.10 at 2:45 pm

Interestingly, in his forthcoming book on real utopias, Erik Wright is strongly influenced by Ward (largely via an essay Stuart White wrote about Ward a few years ago) — and also, obviously, by Cohen.

marcel — excellent stuff. Regardless of one’s people’s history, the reasoning is as sound as could be.

6

alex 02.23.10 at 2:51 pm

Reading the comments on that Reason piece, I am horrified and disgusted to see that some people think that ‘left’ and ‘anarchist’ are in any way naturally contradictory. But then no doubt they are stupid right-wing schmibertarian fuckers whose reading never went beyond Ron Paul.

7

Barry 02.23.10 at 3:00 pm

JK 02.23.10 at 2:02 pm

“What do you make of the appreciative note from libertarian Reason magazine?”

Meh. Just because the Reason guys are not 100% crap doesn’t mean that one should be impressed by them.

8

Barry Freed 02.23.10 at 3:06 pm

Here’s Kevin Carson’s post: http://c4ss.org/content/1900

9

JoB 02.23.10 at 4:15 pm

Hey Chris,

Thanks for that. In particular the ‘pdf on-line reader’ is helpful (it quoted my compatriot Louis-Paul Boon, one of those writers that would have been a universal household name if he had not been born as a Flemish guy writing in Dutch).

I had not realized the link of anarchism with optimism enough, as in: ” As a political ideology, anarchism was formulated in the 19th century by its founding fathers who, like those of other varieties of soc1alism (..) had an optimistic view of inevitable progress towards their goal.”

There is a lack of optimism on the left. Most leftist are cultural pessimists nowadays, afaik – at least when they ‘look at reality’. They also tend to be moralizing which seems rather related as tendency. That’s what’s wrong with the camping trip and ethos and all that stuff: it’s moralizing like hell. I am much too anarchistic to be told I need to adhere to some ethical standards and it is one of the most annoying things in the ‘green movement’ as well, I feel it rather as something anti-anarchistic. A bit like this: “Don’ t mourn, Organise!” as a rallying cry for anarchists ;-(

PS: really, can’t you do anything against this sozialism block? it is way past ridiculous.

10

Russell Arben Fox 02.23.10 at 4:18 pm

Interestingly, in his forthcoming book on real utopias, Erik Wright is strongly influenced by Ward (largely via an essay Stuart White wrote about Ward a few years ago)—and also, obviously, by Cohen.

Do you have any more information about Wright’s book, Harry? I’ve never really paid any attention to “utopian studies” (what a terrible name) before, but for a recent presentation of mine on Cohen’s book, I found myself encountering some interesting critical essays on sozialist, localist, and anarchist utopianism, and now I’m wondering if there is a lot there that I’ve missed.

I’ve also never really given anarchist thinking the attention it deserves; perhaps because–as exemplified by the comments to the Reason piece which Alex notes above–in the U.S., anarchist terminology has been often appropriated into a particular style of libertarianism, leaving the mutualist and communitarian aspects of anarchist thought either completely aside or buried under the same opprobrium which all leftist critiques receive. To the extent that the liberal-communitarian argument of the 80s and 90s played out along thoroughly American Rawlsian-Sandelian lines (and of course, it didn’t entirely, but those two made the biggest splash), those of us who were schooled and took sides in that debate perhaps often thought anarchism either irrelevant or just another species of libertarianism; unfortunately, I know I did, anyway.

11

jacob 02.23.10 at 4:32 pm

Do you have any more information about Wright’s book, Harry?

The full text of the manuscript seems to be online at http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~wright/ERU.htm

12

Russell Arben Fox 02.23.10 at 4:39 pm

Fantastic, Jacob; thank you.

13

Natilo Paennim 02.23.10 at 5:02 pm

Huh, I’m sorry to read that Colin Ward is dead. I own a couple of his books, but I’ve never made any kind of serious study of his ideas, unfortunately. To the best of my knowledge, he never received the kind of approbation (or opprobrium) in the US that Chomsky, Bookchin, Zerzan and other anarchist writers of similar stature have. My very casual inference was always that there was something a little too English about his outlook, that perhaps his vision of a truly local and decentralized communal economy seemed a bit too utopian even for anarchists here. Which is unfortunate, given that we, as a community and as an ideology, are often shown to our best advantage when we are pursuing precisely that vision. I had an opportunity recently to hover around the fringes of a conference of independent, community bike-repair shops, and what I heard and saw there would have, I think, done Ward proud: An anarchist response to an actual bread-and-butter issue that is functional and sustainable. Unfortunately, that sort of thing, as well as Food Not Bombs, the Common Ground project in post-Katrina New Orleans, and of course our long history of publishing, printing, literacy work and the like is overshadowed by the corporate media’s portrayal of us as 50 kids in balaclavas who summit-hop and burn dumpsters. (Not that we don’t often encourage such portrayals, but there is a counter-discourse, and it never sees the light of day.)

14

alex 02.23.10 at 5:56 pm

JoB, the problem with a view like “I am much too anarchistic to be told I need to adhere to some ethical standards and it is one of the most annoying things in the ‘green movement’ as well, I feel it rather as something anti-anarchistic” is that no form of anarchistic community/society/existence will ever work without people exercising the kind of self-moderation and concern for others that such comments suggest that you are not interested in. Therefore you are not anarchistic at all. If I were feeling rude I would say that you are just selfish.

15

JoB 02.23.10 at 6:14 pm

alex, It’s a bit rash to condemn me like that. After all: whether I’m selfish or not is a bit more depending on what I do in real life than what I blog-comment. My wife, children, and friends are probably better placed to be judgmental about little old me.

I believe – and that was the interesting part of Chris’ link – that we will be able to have a good agreement based on reason for the environmental challenges. That’s what we are in need of, not somebody pointing fingers and being moralistic. That is where we need optimism – and a bit of good faith in our fellow human beings to come up with the good agreements.

I can assure you by the way that many people would be jealous of my carbon footprint and that is not by chance but by choice (chiefly because I live in the city where I work, where my wife works and where my children go to school).

16

alex 02.23.10 at 6:40 pm

I don’t think what I said was rash. You made a set of statements which quite directly associated your own asserted ‘anarchistic’ nature with an unwillingness to consider ethical priorities. Maybe you didn’t mean it to come across like that, but hey, language is a bitch. Either way, statements like that reflect a complete disconnection from any appreciation of what it would mean to be genuinely ‘anarchistic’ within a functional society, but they are all too common amongst those who take the name of ‘anarchism’ in vain as a mask for their unwillingness to ‘conform’ – by which they seem to mean to consider the needs of others as at least equal to their own. If people can’t do that last thing, they aren’t anarchists, no matter how many black flags and ski-masks they have.

17

JoB 02.23.10 at 7:49 pm

Hey alex, whatever, I guess.

(for the record: no ski-masks or black flags here; not even long hair)

18

alex 02.23.10 at 7:55 pm

Good, if there’s one thing I really hate it’s a pseudo-anarchist who doesn’t even have the decency to get his hair cut. Grrrrrr.

19

Henri Vieuxtemps 02.23.10 at 8:16 pm

JoB, you may want to read some sort of introduction. George Woodcock’s Anarchism is a good one.

20

JoB 02.23.10 at 8:34 pm

Henri, thanks. I added it to my amazon wish list. is that available on-line? But you have to promise me to find a translation of LP Boon and read that.

21

daelm 02.24.10 at 8:48 am

I second the George Woodcock intro, though he’s accused of being too narrow sometimes. Chomsky on Anarchism is also good, for the underlying ideas expressed. It’s a collection of his essays, notes and interviews on the subject, not a formally worked out tome. I like this format a lot, and it decomposes even more in his Understanding Power, which I recommend to a lot of people, mainly because it’s so meandering and discursive. It’s (mostly) transcribed conversations with (mostly) leftist groups, ranging from lectures to coffee table discussions, to informal question-and-answer sessions. Among the issues that surface in these discussions, along with the kind of practical questions that so involved Colin Ward, are issues of left and right libertariansim.

Also, The Spanish Labyrinth, while dated, is thought to be the best account of the background to the Spanish Civil War and covers a lot of ground on anarchism and the workers’ communes it emerged in.

d

22

novakant 02.24.10 at 10:54 am

“self-moderation and concern for others” is fine by me, it’s part of my nature even. But what I really, really loathe is smug people who think they’ve seen the light telling me how to behave ethically, especially when they’re hypocritical, biased or just plain wrong. And I fear that people who relish telling others what to would enjoy the “self-regulating” aspect of anarchism immensely…

23

novakant 02.24.10 at 10:55 am

telling others what to do

24

alex 02.24.10 at 12:05 pm

What I really, really loathe is people using the excuse of supposedly Left political principle for behaviour that is no different to that of the most odious sociopathic capitalist, merely restrained to a smaller scale by their own idleness. But obviously I’m not talking about anyone here.

I wasn’t aware of any meaningful stream of politics on the Left that thought “acting like a selfish c**t” was a good idea, and didn’t think that stopping people acting that way ought to be one of its first priorities. I remain to be enlightened on that point, though I would have thought that, assuming such a goal, pointing out the consequences of people’s behaviour was the mildest of measures that might be expected in such circumstances.

25

JoB 02.24.10 at 12:43 pm

As you’re obviously not talking about anyone here, we won’t take offence at your strawman ;-)

26

chris y 02.24.10 at 2:32 pm

I wasn’t aware of any meaningful stream of politics on the Left that thought “acting like a selfish c**t” was a good idea

I can think of one or two that appear to, but they think it’s only a good idea when applied to members of their Central Committees or whatever. You may think that these people lie outside the boundaries of ‘meaningful’ and I wouldn’t argue.

27

Platonist 02.24.10 at 4:24 pm

“JoB, the problem with a view like ‘I am much too anarchistic to be told I need to adhere to some ethical standards and it is one of the most annoying things in the ‘green movement’ as well, I feel it rather as something anti-anarchistic’ is that no form of anarchistic community/society/existence will ever work without people exercising the kind of self-moderation and concern for others that such comments suggest that you are not interested in. Therefore you are not anarchistic at all.”

I hate to quibble with definitions (since, after all every language game is, qua game, always the same one: russian roulette or, more charitably, a game of shoot one’s foot), but why should the proper usage of anarchism be a _workable_ one? Why would the criterion of being “anarchistic at all” be concern for others or moderation or ethics, which would distinguish anarchism from — well, which competing political theories, exactly?

That restriction seems particularly question-begging if, as might be plausibly claimed, the principle problem of anarchism is practical not theoretical.

Moreover, if the right conception takes ethical standards or social rules to be a given in any workable political theory, why on earth would one want not to discard the word anarchism. A, to the N, to the ARCH, to the ism? Sure, it comes from “ruler” — but that comes from freakin’ “rule.” I happen to like rules, but I don’t have the gall to call myself an anarchist–a _proper_ one even. The first rule of anarchy club is don’t talk about anarchy club. Or talk to anarchists.

28

novakant 02.24.10 at 7:28 pm

The funny thing is alex’ assumption that if people do what they want, they necessarily act like “selfish c@nts”, a world view that is rather self-defeating if you want to propose any form of anarchism – or any ethical/political system not primarily based on repression.

29

Mario 02.25.10 at 5:36 am

Platonist, the answer to your question is that anomie and anarchy are not the same thing.

30

JoB 02.25.10 at 8:24 am

28- yeah, optimism is certainly ‘out’ on the left. It is about the only thing I am really pessimistic about.

31

Sam C 02.25.10 at 8:53 pm

Platonist: the objection to ‘anarchism’ which consists of saying ‘F**k you I won’t tidy my bedroom’ is not that it’s a wrong definition – as distinguished from my (or Alex’s, or anyone’s) right one – it’s that it’s historically inept. Actually-existing left-anarchists – from Godwin to Proudhon to Bakunin to Kropotkin to Colin Ward – have never been about mere rejection of any reason to do or not do X which isn’t ‘because I want to’. Anarchism – where it has meant anything at all – has been an ethical doctrine for as long as it has existed.

Generally: those wanting a primer on anarchism could do a lot worse than Ward’s own Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction. Woodcock is highly readable but a bit outdated. Colin Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible is huge and perhaps a bit too comprehensive, although skipping through it and slowing down for chapters that sound interesting is worthwhile. But I’d be tempted to go straight to primary material, and read some Kropotkin, say The Conquest of Bread and Mutual Aid.

Comments on this entry are closed.