The Hammersmith Branch of the Socialist League, William Morris is fifth from the right in the second row.
By Graham Milner
With some great revolutionary figures in world history, and in international labour history in particular, it has been found necessary for historians or biographers to dig out their subjects from beneath "a load of calumny and oblivion", "a mountain of dead dogs". With others, however, a different problem exists. Lenin pointed to this when he wrote that the ruling classes, following upon the deaths of great revolutionaries, often attempt -- after having met the ideas and actions of such men and women during their lifetimes with "furious hatred ... and slanders" -- to turn them into "harmless saints ... by way of `consolation' to the oppressed ... while at the same time emasculating and vulgarising the real essence of their revolutionary theories and blunting their revolutionary edge".
Where William Morris (1834-96), arguably the greatest revolutionary figure in British labour history, is concerned, the problem indicated by Lenin has been compounded by the fact that Morris was not only a significant political leader and thinker. He was also an artist and craftsperson accomplished in many fields, such as painting, design and printing, and in addition to those accomplishments he was a major poet and creative prose writer. In fact, and this is a point of some historical importance, Morris was, in the words of his biographer E.P. Thompson, the "first creative artist of major stature in the world to take his stand, consciously and without shadow of compromise, with the revolutionary working class".
Partly because of the wide range of his creative activity, it was long possible for the "official" view of Morris to be one that tended to depreciate his involvement in the socialist movement. The first major biography of Morris, published in 1899, consistently downgraded his socialist commitment. Mackail's biography initiated what R. Page Arnot has characterised as the "bourgeois myth" about Morris. It had become possible by 1934 for Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Party leader, to open a Morris centenary exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London with a speech lauding Morris the poet and artist, but totally avoiding the fact that Morris had been a revolutionary.
Another side to the attempt to "canonise" Morris into a harmless establishment figure has come from within the official Labour Party-dominated labour movement in Britain. Page Arnot has described the result of this attempt as the "Menshevik myth", the notion that Morris was a mild, reformist, "ethical" socialist who thus fitted in with the requirements of the labour bureaucracy. Part of the source for this second myth may be traced to a memoir by John Bruce Glasier, a member of the revolutionary Socialist League of Morris's day, who devolved into a sentimental, "ethical" Labourist and confidant of Ramsey MacDonald. Much debate and controversy has surrounded this memoir, but its reliability as a factual record of Morris's views and activity has been effectively brought into disrepute.
The "Menshevik myth" sought to dismember Morris's heritage from any connection with revolutionary Marxism. Three important works published since the Second World War have now gone a long way to deflating the anti-Marxist myths about Morris. These are the works already cited in the notes, by Page Arnot, E.P. Thompson and Paul Meier. Thompson's book, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, in particular, has been an extremely influential text, although it was largely ignored by the academic establishment when it appeared at the most intense phase of the Cold War in 1955. By the 1960s Thompson's book was being cited as the standard work on its subject in general texts on British labour history.
Some writers have claimed that the pendulum has swung the other way and that there is now a new Marxist orthodoxy to contend with in Morris studies. The point is, however, that Thompson's book at least, whatever one may think of Meier's, is in itself a major statement of "unorthodox" Marxism and is, as well as a great biography of William Morris, a considerable historical contribution to the reorientation of post-Stalinist socialist thought.
In his standard history of anarchism, George Woodcock wrote that this movement's ideas were essentially "Protean", as opposed to the allegedly single-faceted orthodoxy of socialism and Marxism. In the light of developments in the decades since Woodcock's book appeared, with the extension of the colonial revolution, the mass youth radicalisation of the 1960s, the further breakup of the Stalinist monolith, and newer developments such as the Green movement, and now 21st century socialism, no one could seriously dispute that Marxism too is as Protean as the libertarian trends examined by Woodcock -- having many different faces. The problem for the historian, where Morris is concerned, is now essentially to try to make an objective analysis of just what kind of Marxism he believed in.
This essay will look at the practice and theory of Morris as a Marxist, by examining briefly the genesis of his world outlook, his involvement as a political activist in the nascent socialist movement of the 1880s and 1890s in Britain, and by attempting to analyse the character of his contribution to Marxist and socialist theory.
Romanticism formed the essential matrix of Morris's early intellectual awareness and of his initial rebellion against the strictures of a Victorian upper middle-class upbringing. From childhood Morris was steeped in the novels of Walter Scott and the poetry of Keats, Shelley and Byron. Romanticism has been variously chartacterised, but few could disagree with E.J. Hobsbawm's comment that once bourgeois industrialism had established itself by the early 19th century, "romanticism unquestionably became its instinctive enemy". In fact a tradition of social criticism developed in England, basing itself on romanticism, which struck at the foundations of utilitarianism and liberal capitalism. Two central figures in this tradition at mid-century were Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin: both of these men were cited by Morris as having influenced his intellectual development.
Carlyle's excoriating attacks on the evils of Victorian industrial civilisation were enthusiastically received by the young Frederick Engels, which shows to some extent the creative confluence of "Morrisian" and Marxist thought. Later, Carlyle's denunciation of the "cash nexus" at the heart of capitalist society, in Past and Present, was to appear, slightly rephrased, in the Communist Manifesto of 1847.
Ruskin's influence on Morris was evidently profound, and the latter described Ruskin as having been at one point "my master". The medievalist slant of Ruskin's social criticism is apparent from a reading of "The Stones of Venice"(1851-53), but the most important point there is the aesthetic attack Ruskin makes on the capitalist division of labour, which he saw as having been initiated by the Renaissance. There is an authoritarian, hierarchical element in Ruskin's outlook, which is typical of the "feudal socialism" criticised by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto, but it should be remembered that the positive side of this form of socialism was also presented there.
By the 1870s Morris was an established poet, whose "Earthly Paradise" (1868-70) had been received with great critical acclaim. He was known, through the activities and products of his "Firm", as a designer and craftsman of originality and strength. Yet he was not satisfied with these achievements; he disliked the middle-class clientele of the Firm and regarded his poetry as a spare-time occupation. His move towards political involvement stemmed, in large part, from disillusionment with the prospects of art under capitalism. As he later wrote to a friend:
...practical conflict with the philistinism of modern society...forced on me the conviction that art cannot have a real life and growth under the present system of commercialism and profit-mongering.
Morris's first political experience was gained through his involvement in the "Bulgarian Agitation" of 1876-78. One of the great radical agitations of the 19th century, the movement against Turkish atrocities in the Balkans and against British support for the Ottoman Empire drew in broad layers of middle-class and working-class support behind an essentially anti-imperialist program. Morris became treasurer of the Eastern Question Association and issued a famous manifesto "To the Working-Men of England", in May 1877:
Working men of England, one word of warning yet: I doubt if you know the bitterness of hatred against freedom and progress that lies at the hearts of a certain part of the richer classes in this country.... These men cannot speak of your order, of its aims, of its leaders, without a sneer or an insult: these men, if they had the power...would thwart your just aspirations, would silence you, would deliver you bound hand and foot for ever to irresponsible capital.
Morris quickly became disillusioned with the Liberal Party leadership and its Radical allies as they manoeuvred to contain the outburst of mass energy around the Turkish question. When Gladstone's return to government in 1880 was followed by an Irish Coercion Act and a naval and military assault on Egypt, Morris began to look for a solution beyond bourgeois radicalism. About this time, in the Fortnightly Review, appeared a series of articles on the subject of socialism by John Stuart Mill, which persuaded Morris, probably against the author's intentions, of the efficacy of basic socialist doctrine.
Morris began looking for a socialist organisation to join. He had reached the point cited by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of 1847, where "a section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands".
His commitment was to be wholehearted, and to permit of no backsliding.
What sort of movement was Morris joining when, in January 1883, he became a member of the Democratic Federation? Although it has been claimed that the socialism that emerged in Britain in the 1880s was "wholly new", more considered studies have traced the origins of the movement back into the radicalism of earlier Victorian politics. This is not to suggest that there was no qualitative leap: there was unquestionably a hiatus between the collapse of Chartism after 1848, and the emergence of socialism in the 1880s. But in any case the Chartists had never been socialists. Karl Marx, the great leader of international socialism, had lived for decades in England virtually as an unknown exile. His books were treated with patronage by complacent bourgeois critics, and his death in 1883 went all but unnoticed in the British press.
Engels regarded the quiescence of the British working class in the period after the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the prevalence of Liberal politics within its trade union leadership, to be essentially a function of British international economic dominance, and he saw the appearance of a new socialist movement there in the light of the ending of British absolute supremacy in the world market, under the pressure of growing competition from Germany and the USA. The relative decline of British industrial predominance was compounded by conjunctural slumps in the trade cycle which led to increased unemployment and hardship, expecially for unorganised working people. The "Great Depression" of 1873-96 tended to undermine to some degree the position of the labour aristocracy, which underpinned the "Lib-Lab" alliance, and the crisis stimulated some new layers of workers into industrial organisation and political activity.
Although the original program and perspectives of the Democratic Federation had reflected the influence of radicalism, secularism and positivism, the organisation had by 1883, largely under the influence of its moving spirit, H.M. Hyndman, adopted a socialist program derived from the central ideas of Marx. Indeed, Hyndman had written and circulated a short book, England for All, which drew extensively on Marx's Capital, although this was not acknowledged.
Hyndman was one of the central leaders of the socialist agitation in its early days, and remained an important figure in the movement until the First World War. An ex-Tory stockbroker, Hyndman was described by Lenin in 1911 as a "bourgeois philistine who, being the pick of his class, finally makes his way to socialism, but never completely throws off bourgeois traditions, bourgeois views and prejudices". Hyndman was the first major indigenous Marxist theoretician in Britain and, although his work undoubtedly shows a doctrinaire slant, as critics have pointed out, it nevertheless reveals, as with the Historical Basis of Socialism in England (1883) considerable analytical powers and a wide acquaintance with the international socialist movement.
The fact that the Democratic Federation, or Social Democratic Federation (SDF), as it later became known, adhered so quickly to revolutionary ideas, is partly an indication of the state of play in the international labour movement in the early 1880s. For one thing it showed the influence of the growing Social Democratic Party in Germany, as well as the influence of German exiles living in England. Two Germans, who had been former members of the First International, Weiler and Jung, steered Ernest Belfort Bax, who became a collaborator of Morris in the Socialist League, in the direction of Marxism.
But of course not all socialists of the 1880s and 1890s period were Marxists, or even revolutionaries, and some of them came together in the Fabian Society, founded about the same time as the SDF. The Fabians, whose ideas had coalesced into a doctrinal form by the end of the 1880s, with the publication of the Fabian Essays, promoted a frankly reformist perspective, strongly influenced by utilitarian philosophy. This grouping was, however, essentially restricted to a core of "bourgeois intellectuals", removed from the working-class movement, and its influence on the latter has often been greatly overestimated. It has been pointed out that there were in any case at this early stage no hard and fast divisions between the different tendencies on the socialist left, and sometimes individuals could straddle more than one current.
Morris rapidly emerged as a leader of the SDF, having soon steeped himself in the theory and practice of revolutionary socialism. Far from being a dilettante, as have so many of his class who have attempted to cross the "river of fire" and join the proletarian movement, Morris threw himself into all spheres of movement work, including regular street selling of the party newspaper Justice, and an arduous round of public lecturing and open-air speaking. In 1884 he co-authored, with Hyndman, a pamphlet entitled A Summary of the Principles of Socialism.
A leadership crisis emerged almost immediately in the SDF. The fundamental problem was the character of Hyndman. It has been said that "... there never was a more arbitrary leader of a democratic movement". But the differences that emerged within the SDF and led to the split of 1884-85 also turned around a programmatic question. It was the old problem of the maximum and minimum program -- how to bridge the gulf between the day-to-day struggle for "palliatives" and reforms, and the ultimate goal of the overturn of capitalist society and the construction of socialism. This was no minor problem and was never really resolved by any of the socialist parties of this era.
Hyndman was accused of political opportunism by a growing tendency within the SDF and with harbouring personal political ambitions. His evident jingoism and heavy emphasis on electoral politics lent support to these accusations. Hyndman's later career, his parliamentary bloc of 1885 with the Tory party, and his support for British naval supremacy and the First World War, to some extent proves that his critics were correct. But the SDF leaders who split to form the Socialist League, among whom Morris was the most prominent, although they cannot be accused of opportunism, exhibited some degree the ultra-leftist errors criticised later by Lenin in his pamphlet Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder.
In fact the group that split actually had a majority of the SDF executive and by breaking away in the fashion that they did this group confused the membership and prevented a full airing of the differences. Their conduct can be contrasted with that of Lenin's faction at the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. Lenin's faction also had a narrow majority at this congress. In the Russian case the Bolshevik faction, as it became known, insisted on its right to lead the party, and it was the minority that split away. Morris himself claimed that a drawn-out brawl "would [have been] a sorry spectacle to offer the bourgeois world", but such a view avoids the obvious questions concerning the rights of the membership.
The split's damaging effect on the socialist movement can be overemphasised. Tom Mann, later to become a great industrial union leader, stayed with the Hyndman faction, and characterised relations between the SDF and what became the Socialist League as "friendly rivalry".
The SDF executive members who split thus reconstituted themselves, and Morris drafted a "Manifesto of the Socialist League", adopted at a general conference in July 1885, which declared for the principles of "Revolutionary International Socialism". The strategic concepts expressed in this manifesto focus around a theme that Morris was always to adhere to in his Socialist League period -- the belief that the purpose of a revolutionary organisation is fundamentally an educational, or "propagandist", one. New members will be recruited to the party, "made" into socialist cadres and then, when the masses move, the body of revolutionaries will be "ready to step into their due places and deal with and direct the irresistible movement". In this schema, the dialectic between party and class is essentially absent. As Jack Lindsay has written, "The concept of educating the workers through struggle through a succession of interlinked struggles aimed at raising their standards of living and giving them confidence, was nowhere present."
The Socialist League contained many talented men and women among its members, including Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling and Belfort Bax. In its initial period the Socialist League received the patronage of Engels, but his correspondence reveals an at times aloof attitude to the nascent British socialist movement, and his remarks about Morris in particular -- "untalented politician", "sentimental socialist" -- suggest only a grudging tolerance. Engels has often come under criticism for some of the formulations of his later years, but his positive contribution to the international socialist movement far outweighs any shortcomings.
The evolution of the Socialist League, in which Morris himself played the central role, was characterised essentially by a dialectic of conflict between its parliamentarist "right" wing and its anarchist "left". This conflict eventually led to splits and then disintegration. Morris attempted to hold the league together, though his strong anti-parliamentarist position pushed him, at times, close to the anarchist wing. Eleanor Marx criticised him for this. Opposition on principle to participation in bourgeois parliaments was rejected by Karl Marx, and criticised in classic terms by Lenin during the early years of the Comintern.
It would be too easy to catalogue Morris's errors in the field of political organisation and tactics during his period as central leader of the Socialist League. But it should be pointed out that, for instance, he did not know how to fight on two fronts in his position as "mediator" of the Socialist League's conflicts. Yet strengths are evident, as well as weaknesses. His actual record as a party organiser has not perhaps been brought out sufficiently in the research to date, but the correspondence with J.L. Mahan, the Northern SL leader, gives a good indication that he was conscientious and sensitive in relations with the branches. In any case his public presentation of the socialist message was indefatigable; he toured up and down the country relentlessly, addressing gatherings large and small, both in and outdoors, and the drafts of many of his talks and lectures have been preserved.
Regrettably, the major struggles of the decade found the league often tailending other forces. The "Free Speech Fight" (1885-86) and the Unemployed Agitation (1886) are to some extent exceptions. But when major opportunities emerged at the end of the decade, with the rise of a militant new industrial unionism, the league leadership responded with only a lukewarm commitment, repeating sectarian and ultimatist errors made in the Northumberland miners' strike of 1886-87. The dock strike of 1889 was assessed by Engels as a major step forward for the British working class, and for the previously unorganised workers of the East End of London in particular. But the Socialist League and the Social Democratic Federation looked upon the strike with suspicion, and Mann, Tillet and Burns, the socialist strike leaders, had to act more or less as independents.
Perhaps the finest achievement of the Socialist League was the publication and distribution of Commonweal, one of the best quality journals ever produced in the history of the British labour movement. Most commentators have agreed that the paper set a high standard while under the editorial control of Morris. Yet it has to be faced that Commonweal was not really a "combination" paper, as a revolutionary newspaper should strive to be: it was more a theoretical journal than a newspaper.
In 1888 the Socialist League's trajectory lurched to the left, following the defeat and resignation of the tendency around Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling, which had been advocating a more positive attitude towards participation in the mass movements, and use of the electoral tactic. The anarchist influence grew and Morris was compelled to give combat. He wrote in Commonweal:
Freedom from authority means the assertion of the advisability or possibility of an individual man doing what he pleases, always and under all circumstances; this is an absolute negation of society, and makes Communism as the highest expression of society impossible.
But the anarchist influence in the Socialist League grew strong enough to have Morris removed from editorial control of the paper. By 1890 his branch in Hammersmith, London, had decided to form itself into a separate society and leave the Socialist League to the anarchists.
It has been said of the Social Democratic Federation and, by extension, of the Socialist League that, despite their shortcomings, the major positive contribution to the labour movement in Britain of these organisations was the training of cadres in socialist ideas. Even though the "bearers" of these ideas often quickly passed through the organisations, they could take the ideas and any organisational skills into the broader working-class movement, or the general community. Some Socialist League cadres in the provinces in particular played an important role in the broad labour movement. Tom Maguire, for example, was instrumental in guiding the formation of the Independent Labour Party in West Yorkshire.
In his last years Morris reconciled himself with the Social Democratic Federation. While his stance on the question of parliamentarism matured, his basic outlook on strategy and tactics remained fairly similar to the one he had had during his Socialist League days. But a trenchant passage from a lecture he delivered in March 1893 anticipates arguments later developed by Rosa Luxemburg in the fight against Eduard Bernstein's revisionism: "Most anti-socialists and even some socialists are apt to confuse ... the cooperative machinery towards which modern life is tending with the essence of socialism itself".
As a socialist he was always firmly committed to the road of revolution, rather than reform.
One of Morris's last public speeches, occasioned by the Jameson Raid of 1895-96, attacked the machinations of British imperialism in southern Africa. Anti-imperialism continued to be a strong point with him until the end.
Contribution to socialist theory
Having looked at Morris's political record, we now turn to the question of his contribution to socialist theory. In my view the central preoccupation of Morris, a theme that runs like a red thread through all his writings and lectures, is the problem of the degradation of work (or labour activity) under the capitalist mode of production, and the urgent requirement for a socialist transformation of society to remedy this situation. Ultimately Morris's aim was the birth of a communist world, where the division of labour is superseded and replaced with authentic human relations based on free interchange. Closely related to this vision of the future was his belief that art, in the broadest understanding of the concept, should be reintegrated with life activity in general and with labour activity in particular.
These themes are absolutely central to the Marxist tradition. The concept of "alienated labour" is crucial for an understanding of Marxism. Morris, writing and thinking to a certain extent in a different tradition from the one that formed the matrix of Marx's own intellectual development, reached conclusions essentially similar to those of the early Marx, the Marx of the Grundrisse, and the Marx of the chapters on commodity fetishism in volume 1 of Capital, and indeed of the whole of that work.
The appearance of E.P. Thompson's biography of Morris in 1955 reflected to some degree the beginning of the rediscovery of the early Marx in post-war Europe, particularly the Marx of the "Paris Manuscripts", and The German Ideology, texts that were unknown even to Lenin. The theme of alienation that runs through these works has been at the basis of at least the two major strands in post-war philosophy and social thought. Important critical works, such as Istvan Meszaros' Marx's Theory of Alienation have firmly established the importance of the concept in Marxist theory despite attempts by Althusserian structuralists to place an intellectual ban on it.
Morris undoubtedly made major contributions to the Marxist theory of alienation, particularly in its aesthetic dimension. The concepts he developed were enriched by a profound grasp of history, which is clear from a reading of such works as the lecture Art and Labour (1884) and the book he co-authored with Belfort Bax: Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (1893).
Morris admitted that he had little aptitude for pure economic studies, yet his writings indicate a firm grasp of some central Marxist economic concepts, such as the division of labour and surplus value. He certainly did tend to underestimate the importance of the national aspirations of oppressed peoples in cases like Ireland, although he was far from unusual among European socialists in this respect; even Marx and Engels themselves showed inconsistencies of this question.
Morris' vision, and he was a visionary, is best seen in the utopian romance News from Nowhere (1891). Paul Meier, the French scholar, has written an important book establishing the firm links between Morris' outlook in that book, and the perspective of the communist future developed by Marx in The Critique of the Gotha Programme. Originally inspired by the negative example of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, a regimented "state socialist" utopia set in the 21st century, Morris's book has been described aptly as a "scientific Utopia" and the "first utopia which is not utopian".
Apart from its vision of a future communist society, which depicts the Thames Valley 200 years hence, when the restraints of the division of labour have largely been overcome and where a totally new attitude to work and leisure prevails, the most striking feature of News from Nowhere is its historical realism -- the detailed description in it of the transition from the old society. A class struggle view is sharply in evidence here.
In conclusion we could briefly look at Morris's historical status with the traditions of the British and international labour movements. Historians have unhesitatingly considered that Morris was "admitted to be the most influential socialist of his day in Britain", and "the greatest of English socialists". His influence on the Independent Labour Party and the labour movement as a whole in Britain is well established, but even today one can read accounts that tie in Morris as a "father figure" of reformist Labourism, which is something else again. Individual socialist leaders of the pre-World War I working-class movement in Britain have testified to the great influence Morris had on them. Morris's influence has been detected in currents as diverse as the Guild Socialists and the ultra-sectarian Socialist Party of Great Britain. But Morris's central significance lies in the direct inspiration he gave to the broad revolutionary left of the labour movement in Britain, from the Social Democratic Federation, through the early Communist Party, and down to the anti-Stalinist left of the post-World War II period.
Morris's international stature is in some ways an open question. Perry Anderson has maintained, in a footnote in his Considerations on Western Marxism, that Morris "unjustly remained without much influence even within his own country, and was unknown outside it". This is a surprising judgement. We have seen that Morris had a quite definite influence on the British labour tradition. But internationally as well, he was far from being "unknown". For one thing he had attended the founding congress of the Socialist International in Paris in 1889, and was received there as the "most distinguished British representative". He was elected to the International Executive Committee. And News from Nowhere has been described, in a major work on the history of international socialism, as "a classic of the movement".
The currency and influence of William Morris's ideas and example will no doubt extend, both within the international labour movement and in society at large, as major interpretative works such as those by E.P. Thompson and Paul Meier continue to be discussed and subjected to critical appraisal. Study of the contribution of this outstanding socialist should be among the priorities of those who are seeking a road to the full emancipation of humankind.
1. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky: 1921-1929 (Oxford, 1959) p. v.
2. The State and Revolution, Collected Works, vol. 24 (Moscow, 1965).
3. William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (London, 2nd ed., 1977) p. 727.
4. This point is put strongly by Paul Meier, William Morris: the Marxist Dreamer (Hassocks, Sussex, 1978), 2 vols., vol. 1, p. x.
5. J.W. Mackail, The Life of William Morris (London, 1912), 2 vols.
6. William Morris: the Man and the Myth (London, 1964) ch. 1.
7. Ibid., pp. 10-11.
8. Ibid., pp. 11-14.
9. William Morris and the Early Days of the Socialist Movement (London, 1921). See the famous passage that has Morris disavowing Marxist political economy: p. 32. Laurence Thompson, in The Enthusiasts: a Biography of John and Katherine Bruce Glasier (London, 1971), holds that Glasier's memoir "should perhaps be taken as impressionist in its detail rather than strictly factual", p. 244.
10. See Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, Appendix 2. John Y. LeBourgeois, "William Morris and the Marxist Myth", Durham University Journal, vol. 39 (1976-77), pp. 76-82, has attempted to refute some of Thompson's arguments and defend Glasier's memoir as a source.
11. See Thompson's comments in the postscript of the 1977 edition of William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 769-70.
12. See, for example, J.N. Evans, Great Figures in the Labour Movement (Oxford, 1966), ch. 1.
13. For example, James Hulse, Revolutionists in London (Oxford, 1970), p. 78.
14. Anarchism (Harmondsworth, 1963), p. 15
15. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, part 1, ch. 1. See also Philip Henderson, William Morris (Harmondsworth, 1973), ch. 1.
16. J.L. Talmon, in Romanticism and Revolt (London, 1967), comments on romanticism's "dual" character; its reactionary as well as its progressive strains: p. 157. Bertrand Russel, in his History of Western Philosophy
(London, 1961), marks out the romantic movement as an enemy of Whiggery: Book 3, ch. 16.
17. The Age of Revolution (London, 1962), p. 259. It is of some significance to note that the young Marx was profoundly influenced by romanticism, as his earliest literary efforts demonstrate. See David McLellan, Karl Marx: His Life and Thought (New York, 1973), p. 22. As Alvin Gouldner notes, however, in his essay "Romanticism and Classicism: Deep Structures in Social Science", For Sociology (Harmondsworth, 1975), part 2, ch. 11, Marx later rejected it as essentially "ineffectual": p. 340.
18. See Raymond Williams, Culture and Society: 1780-1950 (Harmondsworth, 1963). Williams situates Morris as a pivotal figure in the tradition he discusses.
19. See "How I Became a Socialist" (1894), in A.L. Morton (ed.), William Morris: Political Writings (London, 1973), pp. 243-44, and also the letter to Andreas Scheu: September 5, 1883; Henderson (ed.), The Letters of William Morris (London, 1950) p. 185.
20. "The Condition of England", "Past and Present by Thomas Carlyle, London, 1843", Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works (London, 1975), vol. 3, pp. 444-69.
21. (Oxford, 1909; originally published, 1843) p. 192.
22. Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Collected Works, vol. 6 (London, 1976), pp. 486-87.
23. "How I became a Socialist", p. 243. See also Alasdair Clayre, Work and Play (London, 1974).
24. The Works of John Ruskin (London, 1904-12), vol. 10: see, in particular, ch. 6, "The Nature of Gothic". On the medieval orientation in 19th century thought in general and its influence on Morris, see Margaret Grennan, William Morris: Medievalist and Revolutionary (New York, 1945).
25. Ruskin's "Unto This Last", The Works of John Ruskin, Vol. 17, pp. 5-119, contains passages extolling the "paternal" authority of employers. See the comments in Williams, Culture and Society, pp. 145-46.
26. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, part 2, ch. 2.
27. Ibid., ch. 1.
28. Letter to Scheu, p. 187.
29. For a good account of the agitation see Richard Shannon, The Crisis of Imperialism: 1865-1915 (St. Albans, Herts., 1976), pp. 123-33.
30. Asa Briggs (ed.), William Morris: Selected Writings and Designs (Harmondsworth, 1962), p. 80. The Eastern Question Association contained a contingent of active trade unionists, including Henry Broadhurst, secretary of the Trades Union Congress Parliamentary Committee. See Henry Pelling, A History of British Trade Unionism (Harmondsworth, 1963), p. 84.
31. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 223-25.
32. Ibid., p. 266. See also the letter to Scheu, p. 188.
33. "Chapters on Socialism" (1879), Geraint L. Williams (ed.), John Stuart Mill on Politics and Society (Glasgow, 1976), pp. 335-38. In his article "How I Became a Socialist", Morris wrote that these writings of Mill "put the finishing touch to my conversion to Socialism". p. 242.
34. p. 494.
35. Raymond Postgate, Pocket History of the British Working Class (Tillicoultry, Scotland, 1964), p. 57.
36. See, for example, G.D.H. Cole, "A History of Socialist Thought", Marxism and Anarchism: 1850-1890 (London, 1964) ch. 14.
37. This point is made by Thompson, "At the Point of Decay", Out of Apathy (London, 1960), p. 3. There are those who have claimed that no socialist upturn of any kind took place in this period. Theodore Rothstein, From Chartism to Labourism (London, 1983: originally published 1929) holds that "the [1880s and 1890s] ... represent the lowest point in the class consciousness of the English workers... The last quarter of the last century stands out in the history of the labour movement, not only of England but of the whole world, as a period of unparallelled stagnation, decay, and complete absence of any vitality". Thus the whole of the period that gave rise to the first mass socialist international is written off as a dead loss.
38. See Hobsbawm, "Dr. Marx and the Victorian Critics", Labouring Men
(London, 1964) pp. 239-50.
39. Philip S. Foner (ed.), When Karl Marx Died: Comments in 1883 (New York,
1973). The Times only reported Marx's death at all as a result of receiving a memo from its Paris correspondent.
40. See "England in 1845 and 1885", Marx and Engels, Articles on Britain (Moscow, 1971), pp. 388-94.
41. Ernest Mandel has situated the period 1874-93 within a historical presentation of "long waves" in capitalist development, describing the period as one of "decelerated growth", where a first technological revolution (based on the machine-made steam engine) would down. See Late Capitalism (London, 1978), ch. 4.
42. See Cole and Postgate, The Common People 1746-1946 (London, 1961) ch. 36. Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire (Harmondsworth, 1969), links the "Great Depression" to the rise of mass socialist parties in Europe; p. 129.
43. See S. Maccoby, English Radicalism 1853-1886 (London, 1938). Among other items the early program demanded adult suffrage, triennial parliaments, equal electoral districts, payment of MPs, abolition of the House of Lords as a legislative chamber, independence for Ireland and land nationalisation: pp. 329-30. See also Paul Thompson, "Liberals, Radicals and Labour in London, 1880-1900", Past and Present, No. 27 (April 1964), p. 77.
44. The link here is established by Edward Royle, Radical Politics 1790-1900: Religion and Unbelief (London, 1971), ch. 5-7.
45. On the significance of Professor Beesly and British positivism for the labour and radical movements see Royden Harrison, Before the Socialists: Studies in Labour and Politics 1861-1881 (London, 1965).
46. The importance of Hyndman in steering the Democratic Federation in the direction of revolutionary socialism is emphasised by M.S. Wilkins, "The Non-Socialist Origins of England's First Important Socialist Organization", International Review of Social History, vol. 4 (1959), pp. 199-207.
47. England for All (London, 1973: originally published 1881). See Marx's hostile comments in his letter to F.A. Sorge, December 15, 1881; Labour Monthly, vol. 15 (September 1933), pp. 580-81.
48. See Hobsbawm, "Hyndman and the SDF", Labouring Men, pp. 231-39.
49. "Hyndman on Marx", Collected Works, vol. 27 (Moscow, 1963), p. 309.
50. For example Henry Collins, "The Marxism of the Social Democratic Federation", Briggs and John Saville (eds.), Essays in Labour History 1886-1923 (London, 1971), pp. 47-70.
51. The Historical Basis of Socialism in England (London, 1883).
52. Pelling, The Origins of the Labour Party 1880-1900 (Oxford, 1966), p. 13.
53. John Quail, The Slow Burning Fuse: the Lost History of the British Anarchists (London, 1978) gives a good account of this process.
54. Collins, "The English Branches of the First International", Briggs and Saville (eds.), Essays in Labour History (London, 1960), p. 275.
55. One of these essays, George Bernard Shaw's "The Economic Basis of Socialism", was reprinted in that author's Essays in Fabian Socialism (London, 1932). The essay shows the strong influence of marginalist economic theory. Fabian ideology by the late 1880s was articulate enough to have influence on continental socialists, for example Eduard Bernstein: see Peter Gay, The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism (New York, 1952), pp. 55-57. H.G. Wells makes some interesting comments on the relative strengths of the socialist tendencies in London by the late 1880s. See his Experiment in Autobiography, vol. 1 (London, 1934), p. 247.
56. Mary Peter Mack, "The Fabians and Utilitarianism", Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 16, no. 1 (January 1955), pp. 76-88.
57. This phrase is A.M. Macbriar's, Fabian Socialism and English Politics (Cambridge, 1966), p. 6.
58. See the caustic essay by Hobsbawm, "The Fabians Reconsidered", Labouring Men, pp. 250-72, and the even more caustic remarks by Leon Trotsky in "Where Is Britain Going?"; George Novack (ed.), Leon Trotsky On Britain (New York, 1973), ch. 3, 4.
59. A good example is, of course, Bernard Shaw, who appeared on many platforms, including those of Morris' Socialist League. See Joseph O. Baylen, "George Bernard Shaw and the Socialist League: Some Unpublished Letters", International Review of Social History, vol. 7 (1962), pp. 426-29. Edward Carpenter was another, and Carpenter is in some ways typical of disaffiliated intellectuals: see Sheila Rowbotham and Jeffrey Weeks, Socialism and the New Life (London, 1977).
60. See "How I Became a Socialist", where Morris describes his encounter with Marx's Capital: p. 242.
61. The phrase is Morris'. See E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, p. 244.
62. Ibid., part 3, ch. 2.
63. (London, 1884).
64. Joseph Clayton, The Rise and Decline of Socialism in Great Britain 1884-1924 (London, 1928), p. 12.
65. E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 334-42.
66. For a discussion of the problem see Trotsky, The Transitional Programme for Socialist Revolution (New York, 1972).
67. See Morris's comments in the letter to John Carruthers, December 28, 1884, May Morris (ed.), William Morris, Artist, Writer, Socialist, vol. 2 (London, 1936) p. 593.
68. Pelling, Origins of the Labour Party, pp. 40-41.
69. Hobsbawm, "Hyndman and the SDF", passim.
70. Collected Works, vol. 31 (Moscow, 1966), pp. 13-118.
71. It was thus, as E.P. Thompson puts it, "an ugly, ragged split, rather than a clean break... It prepared the way for further splits and secessions in both bodies", William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, p. 365.
72. See Lenin's account and analysis in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Collected Works, vol. 7 (Moscow, 1961), pp. 205-425. the split in the Russian movement took place in 1903.
73. Letter to Carruthers, p. 595.
74. Willard Wolfe, for instance, in his From Radicalism to Socialism (New Haven, 1975), holds that the split inflicted "irreparable damage ... on the image and morale of the Socialist movement", p. 108.
75. Memoirs (London, 1976; originally published 1923), p. 32.
76. "The Manifesto of the Socialist League", E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, appendix 1.
77. Ibid., p. 737.
78. William Morris: His Life and Work (London, 1975), pp. 285-86.
79. Bax was something of an oddity in the movement, as he combined membership of the SDF (he rejoined after the demise of the SL) with membership in the Men's Anti-Suffrage League: see Rowbotham, Hidden from History (Harmondsworth, 1975), p. 95. On Bax's theoretical outlook see Stanley Pierson, "Ernest Belfort Bax 1854-1926: the Encounter of Marxism and Late Victorian Culture", Journal of British Studies, vol. 12, no. 1 (November 1972), pp. 39-61.
80. See the letters to Bernstein, December 29, 1884, Labour Monthly, vol. 15 (October 1933), p. 649, and Sorge, January 29, 1885, Ibid., (November 1933), p. 708.
81. Letter to Kautsky, June 22, 1884, Ibid., (October 1933), p. 645.
82. Letter to Laura Lafargue, September 13, 1886: Engels, Paul and Laura Lafargue, Correspondence, vol. 1, 1868-1886 (Moscow, 1959), p. 370.
83. Gustav Mayer, in Friedrich Engels: a Biography (London, 1936), observes: "Although he recognised the good will of a man like William Morris, he kept away from the League...", p. 251.
84. See, for example, Jeff Coulter, "Marxism and the Engels Paradox", The Socialist Register (London, 1971), pp. 129-56.
85. See Novack's well-argued essay, "In Defense of Engels", Polemics in Marxist Philosophy (New York, 1978), pp. 85-115.
86. James Hinton, in Labour and Socialism: a History of the British Labour Movement (Brighton, 1983), has argued that the SL was kept together "only by the force of Morris's personality", p. 41.
87. Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx, vol. 2 (New York, 1976), p. 44. Morris's anti-parliamentarism is evident from the article "socialism and Politics", Commonweal (July, 1885). The poet W.B. Yeats, in his Autobiographies
(London, 1956), mentions that Morris tried to persuade him as a Socialist League "contact" to have nothing to do with the "parliamentary socialists", p. 147.
88. Robin Blackburn, "Marxism: Theory of Proletarian Revolution", Blackburn (ed.), Revolution and Class Struggle: a Reader in Marxist Politics (Glasgow, 1977), p. 47.
89. Left-Wing Communism, ch. 7.
90. Max Beer's comment, in his A History of British Socialism (London, 1929), vol. 2, that "it would be hard to find a socialist organisation which exhibited so much talent and self-sacrifice and at the same time so little organising and executive capacity, as the Socialist League", p. 255, seems a bit hard.
91. This point is made by Page Arnot, op. cit., p. 37.
92. Ibid., pp. 41-77.
93. The pace of his activity may be discerened from the diary he kept from January to April 1887. See Florence Boos (ed.), "William Morris's Socialist Diary", History Workshop, no. 13 (Spring 1982), pp. 1-75.
94. On this subject see E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 393-412.
95. Ibid., pp. 483-503. The agitation culminated in major clashes with the state, and several deaths.
96. On the New Unionism see Pelling, British Trade Unionism, pp. 97-103.
97. E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 435-45.
98. "[On the Dock Strike]", Marx and Engels, Articles on Britain, p. 401. See also Gareth Stedman Jones, Outcast London (Harmondsworth, 1976), especially ch. 17, and Ben Tillet, Memories and Reflections (London, 1931), ch. 14-16.
99. See, for example, Paul Thompson, The Work of William Morris (London, 1967), pp. 205-06, and Trevor Lloyd, "Morris versus Hyndman: Commonweal and Justice", Victorian Periodicals Newsletter, vol. 9, no. 4 (December 1976), p. 125. Hulse, Revolutionists in London, is an exception. Hulse's claim, on pp. 16-17, that the socialist groups of the 1880s "filled the columns of their respective periodicals with criticisms of the other organisations" is patently untrue of Commonweal, and it is quite clear that Hulse cannot have looked through the files.
100. The concept of a weekly revolutionary paper "combining" the tasks of news organ and theoretical journal was developed in the Leninist tradition by James P. Cannon, editor for many years last century of the US weekly The Militant.
101. E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 503-11.
102. May 5, 1889.
103. E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, pp. 559-80. Compare this account with Quail, The Slow-Burning Fuse, ch. 5.
104. This point is strongly made by Tony Lane, The Union Makes Us Strong (London, 1974), p. 96.
105. E.P. Thompson, "Homage to Tom Maguire", Briggs and Saville (eds.), Essays in Labour History, pp. 276-316. The influence of the Socialist League in Yorkshire and on the Clyde is emphasised in Cole, A Short History of the British Working Class Movement (London, 1948), p. 235.
106. Hyndman, in The Record of an Adventurous Life (London, 1911), claims that Morris accepted the blame for the split; p. 362.
107. "Communism", Political Writings, p. 239.
108. See Chushichi Tzuzuki, H.M. Hyndman and British Socialism (London, 1961), p. 125.
109. See "Useful Work versus Useless Toil" (1884), Political Writings, pp. 86-108; "Art and Labour" (1884, Eugene D. Lemire (ed.), The Unpublished Lectures of William Morris (Detroit, 1969), pp. 94-118; "Attractive Labour", Commonweal, June, 1885; "Artist and Artisan", ibid., September 10, 1887; "The Hopes of Civilisation" (1885), Political Writings, pp. 159-81.
110. "`How Shall We Live Then?': an Unpublished Lecture of William Morris", International Review of Social History, vol. 16 (1971), pp. 217-40; "How We Live and How We Might Live" (1884), Political Writings, pp. 134-58; "The Society of the Future" n.d., ibid., pp. 188-204; "True and False Society"
(1887), Lectures on Socialism, Collected Works, vol. 23 (London, 1915), pp. 215-37.
111. See "The Socialist Ideal", Holbrook Jackson (ed.), William Morris on Art and Socialism (London, 1947), pp. 317-24; "The Worker's Share of Art", Commonweal, April 1885. For a more recent amplification of some of Morris's ideas see Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art: a Marxist Approach (Harmondsworth, 1963).
112. This point is well developed by Pierson, Marxism and the Origins of British Socialism: the Struggle for a New Consciousness (New York, 1973), but the author's claim that in Morris's case Marxism was "superimposed on his earlier ideas rather than integrated with them", p. 80, has been challenged by E.P. Thompson, who argues forcefully that a successful fusion between the romantic tradition and Marxism took place with Morris; William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, p. 779.
113. Two critics who have identified the theme of alienation as central in Morris are John Goode, "William Morris and the Dream of Revolution", in John Lucas (ed.), Literature and Politics in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1971), p. 236, and Lionel Trilling, "Aggression and Utopia: a Note on William Morris's `News from Nowhere'", Psychoanalytic Quarterly, vol. 42 (1973), p. 219.
114. See some of the comments in Novack, "The Problem of Alienation", in Ernest Mandel and George Novack, The Marxist Theory of Alienation (New York, 1973), pp. 54-57.
115. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, ed. Dirk Struik (New York, 1964).
116. This book contains a famous passage briefly outlining what life might be like in communist society, where the division of labour has been transcended. See Marx and Engels, The German Ideology (extracts), Lloyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat (eds.), Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society (New York, 1967), pp. 424-25. The passage has been dismissed as "romantic" and "utopian" by at least one leading Marx scholar, Shlomo Avineri: "Marx's Vision of Future Society and the Problem of Utopianism", Dissent, vol. 20, no. 3 (Summer, 1973), pp. 323-31. But Engels, in his classic pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific certainly never held that believing in the communist future and attempting to visualise it is the same thing as utopianism.
117. See Novack, "Marxism and Existentialism", in Polemics in Marxist Philosophy, pp. 59-85.
118. Meszaros' study owes a great deal to Georg Lukacs' book History and Class Consciousness, which appeared in the early 1920s.
119. Louis Althusser, in For Marx (London, 1971; originally published 1964) attempted to read the concept of alienation out of the Marxist corpus. The structuralist system that Althusser attempted to erect in the name of Marx has been effectively dismantled by E.P. Thompson, The Poverty of Theory and other Essays (London, 1978), pp. 193-399.
120. This book answers the charge laid by Raphael Samuel in his essay "British Marxist Historians 1880-1980" part 1, New Left Review, no. 120 (march-April, 1980), that Morris was excessively "medieval", as it specifically includes a chapter entitled "The Rough Side of the Middle Ages".
121. "How I Became a Socialist", p. 242.
122. See, for example, "Monopoly: or How Labour is Robbed", On Art and Socialism, pp. 194-207, and "Dawn of a New Epoch" (1886), Signs of Change, Collected Works, vol. 33, pp. 121-40.
123. See Morris's article "Ireland and Italy", which opposes Irish nationalism, Commonweal, October 1885. The broader theoretical issues involved here are covered by Michael Lowy, "Marxists and the National Question", New Left Review (March-April, 1976), pp. 81-100.
124. Meier, William Morris: the Marxist Dreamer, passim. Marx, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, developed the famous notion of a two-stage transition to communist society, the first stage of which (socialism) would be based on the principle of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work". Only with the supersession of "bourgeois right" and the full reintegration of the individual and the community, would it become possible for society to inscribe on its banners the slogan "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs". See Marx, Selected Works vol. 2 (London, 1942), pp. 564-66. The latter section of the German Marxist August Bebel's book Woman Under Socialism, dealing with future society, has much in common with Morris's News from Nowhere, and appeared at about the same time. See Society of the Future (Moscow, 1971).
125. See Morris's review of the book, Looking Backward, Commonweal, June 22, 1889.
126. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, p. 693.
127. Morton, The English Utopia (London, 1952), p. 164.
128. As Patrick Brantlinger writes in his article "`News from Nowhere': Morris's Socialist Anti-Novel", Victorian Studies, vol. 19, no. 1 (September 1975), the book "is the best fictional version of the future according to Marxism in English", p. 39.
129. This occurs in ch. 17: "How the Change Came": "It was war from beginning to end, bitter war, till hope and pleasure put an end to it", Collected Works, vol. 16 (London, 1912), p. 104.
130. It is possibly of interest to note in passing the extremely ignorant comment made by the critic Northrop Frye, in his article "The Meeting of Past and Future in William Morris", Studies in Romanticism, vol. 21, no. 3 (Autumn, 1982). Frye considers that "the later Morris was, perhaps, that very rare bird, a Marxist uncorrupted by Leninism", p. 311. Not only is this statement chronologically absurd, it betrays a total lack of knowledge of Lenin's politics, particularly the politics of Lenin's The State and Revolution. As a matter of fact, as Meier points out in William Morris: the Marxist Dreamer, a copy of News from Nowhere was found among Lenin's books at his death: p. 577.
131. John Bowle, Politics and Opinion in the 19th Century (London, 1963), p. 431.
132. Morton and George Tate, The British Labour Movement 1770-1920 (London, 1956), p. 168.
133. See, for example, Peter Stansky, William Morris (Oxford, 1983), p. 60.
134. For example Will Thorne, My Life's Battles (London, n.d.), p. 47. See also Dona Torr, Tom Mann and His Times, vol. 1 (London, 1956), p. 187.
135. See Cole's article "Collectivism, Syndicalism and Guilds" (1917), reprinted in Ken Coates and Tony Topham (eds.), Workers' Control (London, 1970), ch. 2, pp. 40-42. See also Russell, Roads to Freedom (London, 1970), pp. 64-66, and Beer, A History of British Socialism, p. 258.
136. Robert Barltrop, The Monument: the Story of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (London, 1975), pp. 12-13. This group originally split from the SDF in the early 1900s.
137. On the latter developments see, in particular, the two articles by Peter Sedgwick, "The Two New Lefts", David Widgery (ed.), The Left in Britain 1956-1968 (Harmondsworth, 1976), pp. 131-53, and "Varieties of Socialist Thought", Bernard Crick and W.A. Robson (eds.), Protest and Discontent (Harmondsworth, 1970), pp. 49-53.
138. (London, 1976) p. 5n.
139. See Morris's "Impressions of the Paris Congress", Commonweal, July 27, 1889.
140. James Joll, The Second International 1889-1914 (London, 1974), p. 37.
141. Kapp, Eleanor Marx, p. 315.
142. Julius Braunthal, History of the International 1864-1914 (London, 1966), p. 202.