Monday, 20 July 2015

Colin Ward and Five Leaves

I started reading Colin Ward in, I think, 1973, at Aberdeen People's Press. APP was a magazine with its own print-shop, one of many such papers throughout the country such as Leeds Other Paper and Rochdale Alternative Paper. One table at APP was devoted to “swaps”, magazines exchanged with APP, and some national magazines for sale or reference. It was there I came across Peace News, which I hooked up with for many years, and Freedom. The latter listed many local anarchist groups across the country and, tantalisingly, its appeal fund often listed significant donations collected at anarchist picnics in America, sometimes from groups with foreign language names. For a young man living in the north east of Scotland in those pre-internet days this was heady stuff.
Freedom was respected (and criticised) for being the journal of record of the anarchist movement, the paper of “official anarchism”. There were brasher papers, with more exciting layout, but often with only brief lives. With Freedom you got tradition and continuity and you had access to the work of Vernon Richards, the scarily pedantic historian Nicolas Walter and, the subject of this magazine, Colin Ward. I found some copies of Colin Ward's Anarchy which, though it closed in 1970, was still thought relevant, certainly more so than the second series produced by the group that succeeded him as editor. I've spent years trying to complete the set of 116 issues he edited.
Over the years I got to know Colin's work, starting with a wonderful series of books on work, on vandalism and on utopia for Penguin Education and of course his Anarchy in Action. This is still the book I recommend to people wanting to understand what anarchism is all about. Anarchy in Action remains in print from Freedom Press, even if the Freedom empire no longer really reflects Colin's view of anarchism.
I got to know Colin – he spoke at one or two meetings in my later and current hometown in Nottingham - and found him as good company in person as his books were to read. The long defunct Old Hammond Press published pamphlets by him on housing and on William Morris and, in 1995, I became a “proper” publisher when Mushroom Bookshop published his Allotment: its landscape and culture (jointly written with David Crouch), buying paperback rights from Faber. Typically, Colin said he did not want any royalties, simply being glad the book was again available. The Allotment kept Five Leaves Publications afloat for many years after we took over Mushroom's publishing side. We reissued several of his other books including Arcadia for All, a new title Cotters and Squatters and a selection of his essays, Talking Green. Colin preferred to emphasise the positive, with no time for “tittle tattle” about the anarchist movement. The nearest he came to that was the extended interview with David Goodway, Talking Anarchy, which we published and is now with PM Press.
Unfortunately the last few years of Colin's life were not kind to him. He was unable to complete his last commission, to edit a set of essays by other writers whose ideas chimed with his. I last saw Colin at the relaunch of Anarchy in Action at Housmans Bookshop in London. I'd been asked to speak and was proud to do so. My guess is that everyone at the launch already had the book, but everyone wanted to see Colin again and to honour one of British anarchism's most influential figures. It was, I think, his last public appearance.
Our last Colin Ward publication was Colin Ward Remembered, a collection of the speeches given at his memorial meeting – funded by those who generously chipped in to hire Conway Hall for the event. People sent so much money we were able to publish the memorial volume from the surplus.

The meeting was attended by hundreds of people Colin had influenced. In my own case the Five Leaves publishing firm and the more recent Five Leaves Bookshop would not have happened without his early encouragement and his infectious belief in doing positive things, not just damning what is wrong with the world.
This article first appeared in Anarchist Voices Volume 9 number 1