An autobiographical statement written at the request of Bollettino Archivio G. Pinelli
I was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, 1942, and received my formal education in the town (winning a scholarship to the famous Rugby School, home of Rugby football), at Corpus Christi College, Oxford (taking a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics) and Birkbeck College, London (converting to History and taking my doctorate). I then spent my entire professional career at the University of Leeds, working in its continuing (or adult) education department and teaching social, political and cultural history, sociology and Victorian Studies.
My PhD – on the Chartist movement in London – was supervised by the great Communist historian, Eric Hobsbawm; and from the mid-1960s I was – and still am – deeply impressed by Marxism. As a schoolboy I was a founder subscriber to the New Left Review and it needs to emphasized how creative, undoctrinaire and humanistic this first British New Left was with Hobsbawm himself, E.P. Thompson (who had worked for many years in my department at Leeds), Raymond Williams, Doris Lessing and Raphael Samuel (a particular friend).
Yet anarchism had priority. Like so many of my generation I was shaped politically by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (founded in 1958) and especially, in my case, its direct-action wing, the Committee of 100 (1960). In 1961 I was arrested in the mass ‘sit-down’ in Trafalgar Square, for calling which Bertrand Russell, Alex Comfort and others had been imprisoned. Herbert Read and A.S. Neill were among the demonstrators, although not arrested. In London several weeks later to appear in court, I bought my first copy of Colin Ward’s brilliant monthly, Anarchy. I spent the following winter in London (between school and university), attended the Sunday-night meetings of the London Anarchist Group and became a lifelong reader of Freedom, which Freedom Press published three times a month alongside Anarchy. When I arrived in Oxford in 1962 I co-founded the Oxford Anarchist Group, our speakers including not only Isaiah Berlin but Colin Ward.
Another speaker was Chris Pallis (one of whose pseudonyms was ‘Maurice Brinton’), translator of Cornelius Castoriadis and the principal writer of the innovative Solidarity group, whose co-thinkers in Paris were Socialisme ou Barbarie. I attended meetings in Chris’s house during 1965-6, but while Solidarity’s libertarian socialism appealed to me greatly (and continued to do), I was unimpressed by their having already ditched Marxism although refusing to call themselves anarchists.
I have always been very engaged with most of the arts: painting, architecture, many kinds of music, film, but above all fiction. I first read books by the extraordinary but neglected English novelist John Cowper Powys in the early 1960s and immediately saw they related in some way to anarchism. I consider him a major writer and helped to launch the Powys Society in 1969 as vice-chair. Are any of his works available in Italian?
It can therefore be seen that my publications of the last twenty years have grown, belatedly, out of these early influences, contacts and experiences. I have edited collections of writings by Herbert Read, Alex Comfort, ‘Maurice Brinton’ as well as Nicolas Walter, edited the correspondence between Powys and Emma Goldman and a booklet of his, written on Colin Ward with whom I worked on the Conversazioni for Elèuthera, and brought much together in an ambitious overview, Anarchist Seeds beneath the Snow.