Diaries and Essays

Essays/Speeches:

Fragment of speech describing socialism in England, given at international conference of socialists, Inv. nr. 611_4, ARCH00496, International Institute of Socialist History, Amsterdam.
[These manuscripts were removed from a shredder by Max Nettlau, and the remaining fragments have been collated insofar as was possible.]

[page 1]

611/4

. . . a delegate of

You will I doubt

working classes

I say something about the state

here.

there was no socialism in England except

of the old Chartist movement and of the

so-called Communism blended with a reflexion from continental

Socialism. The Middle classes triumphant in

commercial successes were ignorant of any discontent

amidst the workers; Liberalism or Whiggery was

victorious and seemed to many the furthest political

goal to be arrived at

All this is changed; Socialism is becoming a hope to the

workers and a fear to the Middle classes. Athough indeed

will talk about it as much as you please, and

a few of them are prepared to declare themselves Socialists

they are not compelled to recognize the great fact of the

class-war. A sort of Conscience is waking up amongst

these persons, stimulated by the extreme hideousness and

obviousness of poverty in England. All kinds of schemes

for the qualification of the lot of the workmen are set on

foot by them: state aided emigration to get rid of the incon-

veniently many: feeble attempts at turning back the hands

of the clock by establishing peasant proprietorship, or village

industries; insurance of workers a la Bismark; the slightly

improved form of joint-stockery called cooperation, many things

down to mere philanthropy and the preachment of Malthusianism

and thrift are tried in turn by these bourgeois beginning to

conscious of the volcano on which their society rests.

It is true that in England up till quite lately the movement

Has been mainly an intellectual one:

though it has not been confined to those whom we call

65

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classes . . . has attracted the

ready to admit the

intellectual proletariat to it. But this is now changing.

of the last decade has made the work

of socialism on those who have most

much easier, and the class struggle

other Countries is becoming clear to the

and they are learning to connect the misery and privation

of their lives with their position as part of the

machinery of Capitalistic production; they are feeling the

impetus towards a change in the basis of society, and there

are not wanting signs that this is the case. E.g. from the

start we have used street-corner preaching as a means of

propaganda, and it forms a large part of our work.

some years ago, say some 3 or 4 years ago there were

places where our speakers were liable to interruption

by working men themselves; whereas today the audiences

listen quietly, and are generally in accord with what our

speakers say. Again in the London radical clubs it is

almost impossible to get opposition for our speakers, where

once they were scarcely listened to. And I say confidently

that whatever political life there is in those clubs

(I am not thinking of the wire pulling at election times)

rests with those of their members who are declared socialists.

The main difficulty that meets us is the apathy of

the men of the more consolidated trades; England having

been the first community that fell completely under the influences

of the Great Industries; the men in the great manufacturing

towns have been drilled for generations into dependency

into looking upon themselves as a part of the factory,

and their employer as a paymaster with whom they may

wrangle at times, but who is necessary to their livelihood:

On the other hand we have none of the opposition in feeling

between the peasant and the town workmen which

exists in France and some other Continental Countries.

66

[page 3]

face to face as they are with

for what form of compulsion,

slaves of the farmers are by no

they may be forced to vote Conservative

of flammable material.

politics has favoured our Cause

Irish affair (in which by the way all

at home have taken part heartily) has quite broken

the old parties; so that the workers, who once trusted

in parliament for dealing with their grievances,

are losing confidence in it; and that the more as the

political group of the Socialist Radicals, (who may

be said to be represented in the press by the London ‘Star’)

have but little power in Parliament, and will have

none when the Irish question is solved or shelved.

This we think good, because in our opinion (I speak here

for the Socialist League) the workers will only waste

time and energies by trying to get their members

in parliament, so that I repeat we are free from the

regretting the extreme feebleness of the attempts that have

been made in this direction.

On the other hand the County Councils (newly established)

in the great towns and especially in London are showing

signs of life and a tendency towards Socialism

which were certainly never looked for by the Tory party who

brought in the bill which created them; and it may be

well hoped that they will form a rallying point

for the people against the Centralizing bureaucratic Parliament

which in England is sure to be reactionary up to its last

days. For indeed what is that parliament but a

Committee defending on behalf of the Capitalists those sacred

rights of property which it is the business of Socialists to

attack. This Committee is not sorry to have amongst it

members of the exploited classes; partly because their presence

there acts as a safety valve for discontent; and partly

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so that the workers

can carry their

of the party in England

the growth of the public opinion is steady,

the organization of the party is bad, and when

has reached a certain point of organization will

from out of it in such a way as to be irresistible.

I should mention that in Australia Socialism

is in a hopeful way and that there it is not be expected a

reflection of American socialism, but is of the English type.

For the rest the very fact that modern Socialism in England began

on the intellectual side gives us special hope that its growth

will be steady, and that the idealism which still forms

so large a part of the movement there is a necessary portion

of the general movement. Surely it is dangerous for us to

rest our hope on economic fatalism, on the continued and

steadily growing decrepitude of the bourgeois power; the

logical development of production & society no doubt

leads us to look for this; but then the historical development

may interrupt it and give a new lease of life to the

middle-class supremacy. England may yet go through

a period of exuberant commercial prosperity; although

it may well be that, owing to the new impetus that

it will give to the invention and improvement of machinery, the workers will

not profit by it in the same proportion as they did by

the last one. But in any case shall we cease to be

Socialists because we are better fed slaves, more prosperous

parasites than of old? No, the intellectual movement

will save us from that, and will not allow us to be content

with anything short of the realization of our ideal. We

have learned that what we have to claim is complete equality

of condition for all men and that this claim can be made

good, and we cannot unlearn the lesson once learned.

We know also that however the lot of some of the

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however that residuum

with complacency, until

freedom of work and life; and that

well off will still

the will of their masters, or at bottom

masters, the World market

which the English workers are

learning to make will not stop short will not stop short

of complete independance and the responsibility

which goes with it, in place of a slave? rations and

irresponsibility with it. But there is a danger

of our going through a period of blunders and disappointments,

and drifting into a mere political party to be played on

by political adventurers and dealers in votes for their own

purposes, which party may think it necessary to feed

the workers’ hopes by agitating for a few palliative measures,

which the Bourgeois Parliament will only grant them if

it believes that they will be ineffective, and which

then if effective, would leave the great mass of the workers

free to vote – and to starve.

Two things I wish to claim on behalf of the English

Socialists; first that however they may differ in opinion

they are (with a very few exceptions) thoroughly inter

national. They condemn jingoism and chauvinism to the

utmost extent; for them the word ‘nation’ expresses a

mere geographical idea; and they have so completely

thrown off the old prejudices of the Englishman that to

them the British empire is not a thing to love or to be

proud of, but a disgrace and a nuisance, as a domination com-

pounded of fraud injustice and violence to be scorned

by all honest men wherever possible.

Again in virtue probably of their idealism English

Socialists have undertaken the guardian-ship of the

aesthetic side of Socialism, and have become the inheritors

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to ideas of a Charles

labourer pleasant to

though of course they have not

for carrying out this

not think unimportant. We

to get all men now to share in

the success of our

will be one enormous blessing for the

but shall we be content when we have reached

that point? Surely not, the next step of men who have

will be such power that they are no longer

by the fear of starvation will be to abolish the pain

of labour, so that we may as happy as we should be.

I claim therefore that the English movement in spite

of all its shortcomings has done good service to the Socialist

cause if only by putting before the workers the ideal of

a beautiful and complete life which will be realized

along with socialism, but which cannot be realized

so long as the workers are in a dependent position

remains to be said that a great deal of literature

has come out of the Socialist movement in England.

Besides several labour sheets we have two weekly papers

Justice representing the Social Democratic Federation, and

the Commonweal representing the Socialist League. We

also publish many pamphlets and leaflets (specimens of

which are laid on the table) and larger works on

socialism are not lacking. Besides which it

maybe mentioned as a sign of the times that it has

become a sort of fashion amongst our modern novel

writers to spice their books, so to say, with a certain

amount of Socialism.

Socialism then is in England a plant healthy

and of steady growth though it is young, and its blossom

and fruit are long delayed.

William Morris

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H39

Morris


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