William Morris

Order and Anarchy

The Plutocratic Society which we Socialists are attacking, though an anarchy, is nevertheless an organised anarchy; an anarchy, too, which is sustained even by the efforts towards reform of those who are contented with it; as for instance the preachment of high morality and disinterested philanthropy among the well-to-do classes; the struggle of the Trades' Unions to keep up the wages of skilled artizans, while they admit the right of the masters to the sweating of labour, and are therefore still the slaves of the competitive market; the efforts of radical politicians to extend the franchise and improve the system of representation (?) while they are resolute to hand over the general welfare of the people to the tender mercies of laissez-faire: all the so-called progress, in short, which is so be-hymned in the plutocratic press of to-day, and the result of which will be but a bitter disappointment to the honest among the middle-classes themselves, since it means nothing but a widening of the basis of tyranny: all this is just the instinctive effort of the organisation of commercial war; an insurance for the system of plutocracy, which perpetually strives to make good the prophecy, "The poor ye have always with you."

What kind of organisation, then, have we Socialists to oppose to this terrible, this apparently inexpugnable organisation, which is not only sustained by the greatest mass of material riches which the world has ever seen, but even makes use for its evil and destructive purposes of men's very virtues, of their aspirations towards freedom and social welfare?

Surely it is useless to meet it with the dignified measured efforts for redress which would befit free citizens living together with some approach to equality; for men living under such conditions, the electoral arrangements which they themselves had agreed to might suffice for the expression of their opinions: how far we are from such a condition may be seen by the fact that in no constituency in England, Wales, or Scotland, has a working man candidate any chance of being returned except by the express leave and license, nay the strenuous efforts, of his capitalist masters, and he must be a sanguine man who thinks that universal suffrage would alter this while general opinion on the relations of capital and labour remains unchanged.

No, it is no use shutting our eyes to facts; we must remember that, in spite of fine words, in spite of the smoothness and varnish of modern life, and all the conveniences so easily obtained by the successful competitors in our hideous system of internecine war, we are not free citizens, but slaves.

Not as free citizens, then, can we organise ourselves; not as men prepared to ally ourselves from time to time with this or that body of politicians as they seem to agree more or less with our views and aims: we can have no allies among the governing classes; we can only have masters; let them bear the responsibility for their acts; do not let us be so tame as to shift any of it on to our shoulders.

Slaves are a necessity to the capitalist organisation. Let the governing committee of capitalists feel that they are ruling discontented slaves, who will make no sign, except as slaves, either of approval or disapproval of any of their acts. Meantime let us set about the great work of organising and educating discontent, teaching the root doctrines of Socialism to every one we can reach, enrolling in the Socialist body every one who genuinely accepts those doctrines; making our voices heard as Socialists on every opportunity, but holding ourselves aloof from every movement which has not the furtherance of Socialism as its direct aim.

Such an organisation would avoid that waste of power on side issues which is the curse of popular movements in England; every member of it would feel that sense of brotherhood and support, that exaltation of soul which the holding of great principles in common with a mass of intelligent men, and their championship among people hostile and indifferent always gives to the initiated, changing doubt and shrinking into certainty and fearlessness.

It is true that this method is that of patience, that it would be pleasanter, and would seem easier to snatch a temporary victory every now and then by allying ourselves with those men to whom our hopes come in the form of fears. But we all know what such victories mean; how they do but breed a fresh set of enemies to revolution, by satisfying the outskirts of discontent on the one hand, and on the other by driving the over-sanguine into the cynicism caused by failure with the face of victory.

Surely it is no wonder if patience is required from those who further a cause whole final end is the happiness of the human race.


Justice, 9th February 1884, p. 2.