I’m reading EP Thompson’s fantastic book on William Morris and at the moment I’m enjoying the chapters on Morris’ conversion from a romantic to a revolutionary. It’s full of great slabs from some of Thompson’s lectures on art and socialism. Shiela Rowbotham rightly calls this 800+ epic one of her books ‘of a lifetime’.
But what’s most energising about the section on Morris’ coming to socialism is his commitment to actually building an organisation. He absolutely understands the need to propagandise and he regularly stood out on the streets selling his party’s newspaper.
Morris was not an armchair comrade. He recognised the need for discipline and leadership. And this was at a time (1880-84) when most of Marx’ writings were not translated into English. This is a fragment of a speech made by Morris in 1883 or 1884. Thompson says it is from “Art and the People”, but I can’t find it in the Marxists archive copy of that speech.
“I say it is the plain duty of those who believe in the necessity of social revolution, quite irrespectively of any date they may give to the event, first to express their own discontent and hope when and where they can, striving to impress it on others; secondly to learn from books and from living people who are willing…to teach them, in as much detail as possible waht are the ends and the hopes of the Social Revolution; and thirdly to join any body of men [sic] which is honestly striving to give means of expression to that discontent and hope, and to teach people the details of the aim of Constructive Socialism.”
[I would be grateful if anyone can find an online reference that confirms the source of this quote / or can send me a PDF of the pages and a bibliographic reference to a book or pamphlet]
Not only could Morris design fantastic furniture and wallpaper, he was a pioneer of the communist movement in Britain.
The other observation I would make is very relevant to the current discussion about Gillard v. Rudd and the wash up of that sordid little shit fight.
Have you noticed that Gillard ‘retires’ on a ‘pension‘ of $200,000 a year; that she gets a car and driver, free air travel an office and staff.
Gillard represented one of the most working class electorates in the country and workers in her seat are losing their jobs hand over fist. Holden workers are being pressured to take a pay cut and a year ago Toyota workers were marched out of their jobs by hired goons.
All Gillard could do was offer the fucking car companies extra welfare payments.
The link between Gillard and Morris in the 1880s is what was known in the late 19th century as the “Lib Lab” movement. The electoral politics of the day meant that many union leaders were riding on the coat tails of the so-called radical Liberal party and they agitated to get more ‘workingmen’ [sic] into the Palace of Westminster.
At the end of the day these ‘leaders’ of the working class were sell-out merchants who supported British imperialism abroad and a cross-class alliance at home that was a barrier to workers coming to proletarian consciousness.
We have to view the Labor party today in such a light.
Gillard and Rudd (and all the rest, including “Albo” (WTFx3 is that awful nickname about?) are a million miles from the working class today, despite the hoary legends of their meagre childhoods.
Neither Gillard nor Rudd nor Albo has the interests of Australian workers at heart; they are more intent on “Lib Lab” alliances with big business and not scaring the conservative horses(arses).
This is how Thompson described the “Lib Lab” faction of the 1880s. It still rings true today.
“Crazed faces, incendiary torches, dynamiters and assassins—there were men within the [late 19th century] Socialist movement as well as without who could not shake off the bourgeois caricature of the proletarian revolution.” (Thompson, 1976, p. 292)