Saturday, 30 January 2016

Steve Platt on Colin Ward & John Rety

In the 2010 April / May issue of Red Pepper
Steve Platt wrote in his column 'PLATTITUDES'
a feature on the deaths of Colin Ward, aged 85, and
John Rety, 79.  He said that this 'had deprived the
British anarchist movement of two of its most
original and influential thinkers.' 
He added:

'I first came across them through squatting campaigns in the 1970s, by which time they were already veterans of the pre-1960s generation of political activists who kept a left libertarian flag flying before it became fashionable to do so.
'Both men helped with Squatting-the Real story (Bay Leaf Books, 1980), a book for which I was the main writer.  Colin wrote a chapter on the post-war seizure of army camps, hotels and other buildings, when tens of thousands od ex-servicemen and their families laid down a challenge to the 1945 Labour government to deliver on its promise of decent homes for all. 
'John, who was a key squatting activist in Camden Town, gave generously of his time, knowledge and activist energy in helping me to assemble the history of the later squatting movement that emerged in Britain from the late 1960s.
'Indeed, the survival of Camden Town as we know it today owes much to the resistance initiated by John and his partner Susan Johns in 1973 to their eviction by a property developer from the shop they ran at 220, Camden High Street.  At the time, companies associated with Cromdale Holdings owned a quarter of the properties in the area;  50 shops were empty pending redevelopment.
John and Susan's squatting of their old shp acted as a catalyst for the fight to save the high street, which was eventually won...
'For me, Colin and John were key communicators of the message that there was life on the left beyond state socialism.  From housing cooperatives to allotments, from holiday chalets to garden sheds, Colin's approach to "anarchy" in action ( the title he chose for what is still the best - and certainly most readable - book on the subject around) was rooted in the practice and everyday in a manner that made his most utopian of visions seem no more than ordinary common sense. 
John's anarchism sparkled most fully in his love of poetry and commitment to live performance, notably at Torriano Meeting House.  First squatted as a arts centre, which provided early platforms for artists as diverse as Emma Thompson and John Hegley.  There was delicious irony, that one-time bastion of the British Communist Party.
'I was too young to enjoy Colin's editorship of the journal Anarchy and John's of the paper  Freedom at the time they were published.  But the back issues I saw later helped to inspire in me a belief in the potential of small-circulation publications with often esoteric interests to have an influence way beyond their immediate readerships.  That's one reason why I'm associated with the magazine I'm writing for here.'

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