Nicolas Walter (ed. David Goodway), The Anarchist Past and Other Essays.

Author:Hodgson, Keith
Position:Book review

Nicolas Walter (ed. David Goodway), The Anarchist Past and Other Essays

Nottingham: Five Leaves Publications, 2007

254pp., [pounds sterling]9.99

Nicolas Walter's death in 1999 ended a long involvement with British anarchism. Walter had been a member of the Labour Party in the early 1950s, but Suez and the Soviet invasion of Hungary radicalised him. He became active in CND and the Committee of 100, and was a part of the 'Spies for Peace' group which in 1963 exposed government plans for the aftermath of a nuclear war. He made his first contribution to Freedom in 1959, becoming a mainstay of the paper for the rest of his life. He also contributed to the influential Anarchy magazine.

Walter wrote for Freedom in the years that it was accused by class-struggle anarchists of being 'quietist', 'philosophical', 'pacifist' and 'evolutionary'. He argued against those who took a more class-based view of anarchism, not least Albert Meltzer, a committed anarcho-syndicalist, with whom he conducted lengthy polemics. Meltzer said of Walter that 'He seemed to have the idea that he was the official spokesperson of the anarchist movement [...] He had carried on a seemingly endless feud with me [...] I suppose it was because I refuted his revisions of our history and distortions of our ideas'. (1) Yet after Meltzer's death in 1996, Walter generously recalled that 'He subjected me to a stream of abuse for over thirty years. But it takes all sorts to make a revolution.' (2)

That sentiment summed up Walter's view of the movement as a broad church and is reflected in The Anarchist Past and Other Essays, a collection of his writings edited by David Goodway. As well as discussing recognisably anarchist figures like Bakunin and Kropotkin, the book includes observations on libertarian elements in the thought of Gerrard Winstanley, William Godwin, Tom Paine and even the Marquis de Sade.

The work highlights Walter's expertise in the early history of British anarchism. Amongst the reviews, essays...

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