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A LECTURE BY
PUBLISHED AND SOLD BY
THE FABIAN SOCIETY.
PRICE ONE PENNY.
LONDON: THE FABIAN SOCIETY, 3 CLEMENT'S INN, STRAND, W.C.
PUBLISHED MARCH 1903. REPRINT OCTOBER 1907.
The Fabian Society is indebted to the Trustees of William Morris for permission to include the following paper in its series of Tracts. It was written for delivery as a spoken address to the members of the Hammersmith Socialist Society in 1893. By that time Morris had acquired an intimate knowledge of the attempt to organize Socialism in this country which began in the early eighties. He had himself undertaken and conducted that part of the experiment which nobody else would face: namely, the discovery and combination, without distinction of class, of all those who were capable of understanding Equality and Communism as he understood it, and their organization as an effective force for the overthrow of the existing order of property and privilege. In doing so he had been brought into contact, and often into conflict, with every other section of the movement. He knew all its men and knew all their methods. He knew that the agitation was exhausted, and that the time had come to deal with the new policy which the agitation had shaken into existence. Accordingly, we find him in this paper doing what he could to economize the strength of the movement by making peace between its jarring sections, and recalling them from their disputes over tactics and programs to the essentials of their cause.
The Socialist agitation in Morris's time had divided itself into three clearly defined sections. His own section, organized as The Socialist League, broke down because there was only one William Morris. Those who combined any real understanding of his aims or his view of our commercial civilization with high personal character and practical ability were too few and far between to effect a political revolution. The other two sections survived. One of them, the Social-Democratic Federation, concerned itself very little with Morris's fundamental conceptions of Equality, Communism, and the rediscovery under Communism of Art as "workpleasure. It set itself frankly to organize the proletariat as a single class for the purpose of wresting the material sources of production from the hands of the proprietary class ; or, in the well worn phrases of the older Social Democrats, to make the workers "class-conscious" of themselves, and to organize" the class war." The third section was the Fabian Society, which aimed simply at the reduction of Socialism to a constitutional political policy which, like Free Trade or Imperial Federation or any other accepted parliamentary movement, could be adopted either as a whole or by instalments by any ordinary respectable citizen without committing himself tó any revolutionary association or detaching himself in any way from the normal course of English life.
The Fabian project was, of course, enormously more acceptable to a timidly Conservative nation than its two rivals. It also called for a good deal of administrative knowledge and parliamentary ingenuity, and so selected automatically for its membership the politically clever and officially experienced Socialists. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Fabians alone made any headway; that the Socialist League was abandoned by. Morris as a failure after a patient and laborious trial ; that the Independent Labor Party, a later formation, adopted parliamentary methods; and that the SocialDemocratic Federation, after keeping up the struggle for a declara. tion of the class war for years, had finally to choose between assimilating its methods to those of the Independent Labor Party and being crowded out of the field of Labor agitation.
It is unnecessary to say that Morris was from the first impatient of Fabianism as an essentially superficial movement. But he was fundamentally the most practical of all the Socialists. When he quarrelled with facts, he set to work at once to alter them. He was quite accustomed to be laughed at and explained away in a superior manner, both from the popular and the academic point of view. In all the arts and crafts which he had touched with his own hands, the laughter and the superior explanations had been hastily checked by the discovery that he had effected a revolution whilst his critics were idly chattering. But the same qualities which enabled him to alter unpleasant facts when he could, enabled him to face them when he could not. When he found after trying his hardest that the English people would not join the Socialist League or allow the Social-Democratic Federation to convince them that they belonged to an ungentlemanly class, he accepted the situation and considered how to make the best of it. His inevitable isolation as a man of genius was of course not less among avowed Socialists than elsewhere; but it compelled all the sections to listen to him when they would not listen to one another ; and the Hammersmith Socialist Society, a faithful bodyguard surviving from the extinct Socialist League, provided for him within his own curtilage a platform on which every Socialist was proud to speak.
What he himself said to the sections from this platform will be found in the following pages. It gives his reasons for advising the other Socialists not to quarrel with the Fabians. And it gives his warning to the Fabians that it is one thing to formulate on paper a constitutional policy, and another thing to induce people to carry it out when the Equality and Communism to which it leads are abhorred instead of desired by them.
I must add a word of editorial explanation. It was Morris's habit, fortunately for posterity, to write his lectures at full length instead of trusting to extemporization. How he found time to write so many, even when he was reviving the lost art of fine printing in his spare time, I cannot imagine. He certainly did not find time to revise them. Besides, he seems to have had the Shakespearian habit of never blotting a line, perhaps as part of his general rule not to waste time in cobbling a bad job, but to do it over again. The manuscript consists of fourteen pages of white foolscap. There are words scored through and replaced by others before the ink was dry, but no reconstructions made on revision, a ceremony which was clearly never gone through. The last half of the paper must have been written against time in great haste : more words are left out than in the earlier pages; and occasionally a sentence becomes a hopeless no-thoroughfare. The grammar, too, is hasty: the verb agrees with the nearest noun, which is not always its subject. The ands are sometimes written at full length, and sometimes indicated by anpersands, just as we have printed them. The spelling is for the most part conventional; but the s is always doubled in disappear and disappoint, and there is never more than one g in aggressive. The italics represent Morris's own underscoring. The punctuation is very hasty ; but as the sense never depends on the position of a stop, Í have altered or supplemented it freely for the sake of clearness. I have been very reluctant to meddle with the words; but on page 10, line 48, I have changed "anything" to "like everything"; the footnote on page 11 occurs in the manuscript as a rather obstructive parenthesis; on page 12, line 48, I have been Vandal enough to alter the characteristic phrase "their wealth-nay their riches" into "their wealth-or rather their riches” because I found that the “nay" in this passage conveyed to a typical reader the impression that Morris thought more of riches than of wealth (a misunderstanding which would almost bring him back from the grave to protest) ;* on page 14, line 4, I have altered “which doesn't involve" into “which will then no longer involve"; and on page 15, line 4, I have changed “ as they are now and probably must be to be successful under the guidance of one man to “as they are now (and, to be successful, must probably remain) under the guidance of one man.' To Morris's friends, as to myself
, these changes will seem mere impertinences; but others will find the meaning made clearer by the changes. At all events, those who are offended can correct their copies. The rest of the very few departures from the manuscript are only replacements of obviously dropped articles or prepositions, and need no apology. I believe that the words “of making” on page 11, line 5, should be “to make"; but I have not altered them, as such a change would affect the meaning. Finally, I may say that the back of the manuscript, which lay before Morris as he sat listening to the debate on the platform after his lecture, is adorned with decorations in pencil, which began, schoolboy fashion, with several arrows-not, it must be confessed, the clothyard shafts he describes in A Dream of John Ball, but fat, short, heavy-headed bolts for a medieval machine gun. Then comes a sort of fishing rod with Gothic crockets-or perhaps it is a conventionalized lily leaf. The rest is the familiar decoration of Aower and scroll and leaf with which his hand was so often busy in idle moments. His notes of the discussion run as follows : “old age pensions—Mordhurst one road-means_luxury or necessity-opponent-come BradlaughBullock-workman.'
Morris bibliographers should note that the title Communism is not distinctive of this lecture, as he used it on other occasions on the Hammersmith platform and elsewhere.
G. B. S. * See the paper on “Art, Wealth and Riches" in the volume of Morris's essays entitled Architecture, Industry and Wealth (London, 1903 : Longmans ; 6s. net).