Anarchism in England

Anarchism in England

Anarchism in England initially developed within the context of radical Whiggery and Protestant religious dissent. During the English Civil War and the industrialisation English anarchist thought developed in the context of revolutionary working class politics.

Early development

Like much of the rest of Europe, Medieval England was ruled by a limited monarch in coalition with a parliament of wealthy aristocrats and landowners. Unlike continental Europe, the parliament of the rich maintained its rights and privileges. When the English monarchy sought to establish absolute monarchy, the English parliament rebelled. During this civil war dissenting Protestants and rural workers began forming utopian communities based on common ownership of the tools of production. This revolts can be distinguished from medieval revolts like Wat Tyler's on the basis that they occurred inside a commodified production system. (See Christopher Hill, "Century of Revolution"). As a result of this Civil War, the English aristocratic and capitalist ruling classes united behind Parliament. The Civil War, however, established many civil liberties.

Gerrard Winstanley, who published a pamphlet calling for communal ownership and social and economic organization in small agrarian communities in the 17th century, is considered another of the forerunners of modern anarchism. The first modern author to have published a treatise explicitly advocating the absence of government was William Godwin in "An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice" (1793); though he did not use the word "anarchism", some today regard him as the "founder of philosophical anarchism". [sep entry|godwin|William Godwin]

Liberals were often labeled "anarchists" by monarchists, even though they did not call for the abolition of hierarchy. Still, they did promote the idea of human equality, individual rights, and the responsibility of the people to judge their governments, which provided a groundwork for the development of anarchist thought.

Nineteenth century to World War II

In the latter nineteenth century, opposition to the existing order of society and a feeling that one could do without it, was not uncommon. It varies from the gradualist support for the English republic of Charles Bradlaugh to the revolutionary republicanism of Algernon Charles Swinburne, to the anarcho-socialism of William Morris and Oscar Wilde to the full-blown anarchism of Peter Kropotkin and his sympathisers. Herbert Read provided intellectual stimulus during this period, with key works such as "Anarchy & Order; Poetry & Anarchism" (1938), "Philosophy of Anarchism" (1940), "Existentialism, Marxism and Anarchism" (1949), "Revolution & Reason" (1953), "Icon and Idea" (1955) and "My Anarchism" (1966), the latter shortly before his death.

1960s Revival

A surge of popular interest in anarchism occurred during the 1960s and 1970s. In the UK this was associated with the punk rock movement; the band Crass is celebrated for its anarchist and pacifist ideas. Since the turn of the millennium, UK anarchists have expressed their beliefs through the medium of film, rave music, and live theatre, especially the satire practised by the Komedy Kollective, from the North of England.

A rejection of industrial technology is also prominent in the views of many green anarchists, with Colin Ward acting as theorist for this national current. This worldview was associated with the growth of the anti-roads movement in the UK (Reclaim The Streets), and the Earth Liberation Front.


*Anarchist Federation
*Class War
*Movement Against the Monarchy
*Reclaim The Streets
*Solidarity Federation


Further reading

* John Quail (1978) "The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British Anarchists" London: Paladin
* Murray Bookchin (1995) "." Edinburgh: AK Press.
* George McKay (1996) "Senseless Acts of Beauty: Cultures of Resistance since the Sixties". London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-260-7.
* George McKay, ed. (1998) "DiY Culture: Party & Protest in Nineties Britain." London: Verso. ISBN 1-85984-028-0.

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