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Anarchy In Action by Colin Ward


This book is not intended for people who have spent a lifetime pondering the problems of anarchism, but for those who either had no idea of what the word implied or knew exactly what it implied and rejected it, considering that it had no relevance for the modern world. It is about the many ways in which people organise themselves in any kind of human society.

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This book introduces the anarchism of Britain’s leading anarchist sociologist. Ward is an “evolutionary anarchist” who associates anarchism with the practical, everyday pursuit of alternatives to domination – this is not a book about insurrection, or breaking windows. Ward’s basic thesis is that anarchy as a form of organisation (as distinct from hierarchy or the state) emerges wherever social relations occur directly, as forms of cooperation or mutual aid to satisfy needs and desires directly. In this sense, anarchy constantly operates below the surface of supposedly state societies such as Britain, creating the density of everyday life so beloved of sociologists, and providing alternatives to the state’s way of dealing with social problems. This short book is practically focused, showing examples of anarchist or horizontal practices in a number of areas, and provides an excellent introduction to the anarchist critique of hierarchy, a way into critical scholarship in a number of fields, and a rich empirical counterpoint to the claim that there is no alternative to hierarchic organisation. 

Six of the chapters, about half the total, set out Ward’s general argument, and explore general issues about anarchic versus hierarchic social organisation. Ward argues that social complexity requires the emergence of complex, networked social forms as opposed to the simplistic forms of hierarchy. Spontaneous order and self-organisation are traced across social experiments, decentralised state systems such as those in Switzerland, insurrectionary situations such as Hungary in 1956, and stateless indigenous societies in these chapters as part of a general argument that hierarchy stunts social life and is inferior in many ways to networks and self-organisation. The argument is then specified in terms of a range of sociological or “social policy” issues setting out objections to hierarchy and examples of anarchic/non-hierarchic practice in a number of areas: planning, employment, play, education, housing, welfare institutions, the family and deviance. These short chapters cover a huge amount of material in a very short space and in a very accessible way, linking classical anarchist theories to modern sociological critiques, social experiments and alternative approaches (with an emphasis on alternatives within industrial societies). The chapter on education for example criticises compulsory education for its links to nationalism and social conformity and for anti-educational effects, and also discusses Rousseau, Godwin and Bakunin on education, Goodman, Illich, Freire, deschooling, Free Schools, itinerant pedagogues, alternative schools in historic Spain, Ruskin College, and the student revolts of 1968, all in a mere eight pages. The chapters are short, accessible pieces replete with empirical examples and attempts to capture the imagination of the reader; they read almost like newspaper editorials or commentaries. 

For its accessibility, empirical richness, constant relevance and detailed argument, this book cannot be faulted. It is in many respects prophetic, prefiguring more recent turns to horizontalism, post-representation and complexity. It reads like a Mutual Aid for the welfare state society. It serves several distinct functions. It can be read as a detailed case for anarchism today based on its relevance to practical problems of social welfare. It can be read as an application of anarchism to sociology, a kind of supplement to introductions to sociological approaches giving a distinct anarchist perspective on these issues. It can be read as an argument within anarchism for a focus on building everyday alternatives to social hierarchies. Or it can be read as a series of essays on contemporary social problems, bringing specialist critiques to a more general audience. It manages to do an awful lot in a very short space and has the potential to really open minds to the possibility of other ways of living.


Please note some of the books we have been getting from Freedom Press (including this title) are the best of the fire damaged stock. The books may be slightly discoloured on the outside and smell a bit burnt but we believe they should not be wasted or purely cosmetic reasons and we want to help Freedom survive the arson attack by fascists. Consider such copies as special “solidarity copies” as opposed to “soiled”!

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Weight 0.375000 kg