Carissa Honeywell, A British Anarchist Tradition.

Author:Franks, Benjamin
Position:Book review
 
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London: Continuum, 2011, 192pp.; ISBN-13: 978-1441190178

In the post-war period a significant schism arose in British anarchism, which coalesced in the 1970s and 1980s between the syndicalist-inclined Direct Action and Black Flag and their rivals largely based around Freedom Press (publishers of Anarchy and Freedom). Carissa Honeywell's crisply written and entertaining analysis concentrates on the latter, by focussing on three of its most prominent advocates: Colin Ward and Alex Comfort and their predecessor Herbert Read. Honeywell's book treats these three as forming an identifiable tradition with a stable intellectual theoretical perspective embedded in principled political and cultural practice. Honeywell illustrates the influence of this tradition not just on twentieth-century British - and American - anarchism, but its wider, largely unacknowledged, cultural impact.

Of the three, Comfort had the highest public profile largely based on his authorship of the erotic manual, The Joy of Sex. Honeywell contextualises this volume within Comfort's expertise in physiology and biochemistry and his long-standing interest in responsible and pleasurable human social relations. In the wider culture, Comfort's anarchist commitments are now rarely mentioned (for instance they are absent from the current Wikipedia entry on this famous volume). Herbert Read, a notable public intellectual of his time, wrote widely on education, art and literature and was co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. With the prominent exception of David Goodway, Read is largely a forgotten figure inside the anarchist movement, his formal break with anarchism occurring in 1952 when he accepted a knighthood. By contrast, the third member of the triumvirate, Ward, has been far more widely recognised, not least in the special edition of this journal dedicated to him (Anarchist Studies 19.2 (2011)), but also in Richer Futures, Ken Warpole's collections of essays in Ward's honour and the recently produced Colin Ward reader (Autonomy, Solidarity, Possibility).

Read, Comfort and Ward were historically overlapping intellectual figures involved in similar practices and interrelating theoretical concerns. The first significant intersection was in antimilitarism, with engagements with the Peace Pledge Union and the newspaper War Commentary (later to return to its original name of Freedom) and the infamous prosecution of its editors for sedition. The three were similarly hostile...

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