William Morris

An Appeal to Genuine Radicals

There are doubtless many sincere Radicals outside the party phalanx whose war-cry is "Our Leaders, Right or Wrong!" It behoves these sincere men to look round and consider their position, which they will and to be a sufficiently curious one; for as far as they have any power to carry out those reforms, the expectation of which gives the party its claim to existence, they are allied, whether they like it or not, first of all to the Whigs, that is to say to a kind of Liberals, who by virtue of their position among the privileged class are necessarily fossils, and next to the moderate Liberals, or Liberals simply, which ever you please to call them; that is to say, men possessed of property, but not of principles, whose consciences are just strong enough for them to dislike being called Conservatives, so long as they believe their property to be safe; but who will have to put up with being called reactionists about the time when their property seems to be in any danger. These politicians, who in fact are just hanging on till they see which way the cat is going to jump, are, of course, much the strongest party in our middle-class state, and since 1880 have had a good time indeed in dragging the conscientious Radicals who brought them into power though some of the dirtiest puddles in English history.

What is likely to be the fate of the Radical between these two allies? Well, first let us consider what sort of a Radical he is: he may be a mere Parliamentary Radical pinning his faith on shufflings of the electoral system, and as wide an extension of free contract as humanity can stand, for the heal-all of every evil; or he may mix with his Parliamentarism real disgust at our social short comings, and a sincere desire to amend them. In the first case he tends towards the Whig party or group, and will be sucked into it or rather, putting names apart, he is really but a new Whig himself, and has no real aim in any direction. Well, as among the whole so-called Liberal party, the moderate Liberals are the strongest, so among the Radicals these Whig-Radicals or new Whigs are strongest: and they will find themselves, we may suppose, in a very dignified position; for the Whig party, since they are fossils, cannot die as long as the bourgeois constitution lasts.

One may say that each of these sections of the Liberal party has some power, and some prospects; but what is to be said of the conscientious social-reform Radical; what is his position among them all? Alas, he is the leavings of Liberalism, and will be used by all sections of it, and thrown aside by all as soon as he is no longer needed for party purposes: on all occasions when he brings his principles forward he will find that he is no longer a "practical politician;" his feeble protests against sword-bible-and-shoddy policy, against Austrian Police Government in Ireland, and safe little stock-jobbers' wars, and the rest of it, will be quietly thrust aside, and he will be bidden to know his place and keep it.

So let him bethink himself what his Radicalism means to him more than. that new Whiggery above mentioned; he may find that it means the hope of an intelligent and conscientious middle-class government for the benefit of - the middle class in other words that in common with many worthy and moral people, he can see no other except the middle-class; which fact would seem as if he had brought about in a dream what we Socialists wish to bring about in reality, the extinction of classes; in that case, if what is bred in the bone won't come out of the flesh, let him make his dream as long as he can; only he may chance to have a rude awakening from it some day.

On the other hand he may, and I hope he will find his Radicalism means a real sympathy with democracy; perhaps he thought before the advent to power of this last Liberal government that things were tending toward democracy, if only the Tories could be muzzled, slowly perhaps, but surely, under the guidance of such leaders as could be got, not over good leaders in themselves doubtless, nay not leaders at all, but fuglemen shoved on by a serious body of Radicals who were determined to obtain government by the people for the good of the people.

In that case what is he to do now that he is disillusionised of his Radical ideal, now that he finds that nothing of that kind was meant either by the fuglemen or their shovers on? One thing he can do, and only one, he can clear his eyes and see whither that democratic ideal of his must lead him if he is true to it; he can already see that there is another class below the fuglemen of the upper, and the shovers on of the middle class; if he looks he will see that this class is in matters political treated as a voting machine, to be manipulated for the convenience of the players in the political game; and in social matters as a profit-grinding machine to be greased by palliatives into smooth working; if he looks a little closer he will see that the machine is wearing thin in places, and that it is not going to last; he will find out that the people will not endure for ever to be played upon, and exploited, or rather that they cannot endure it, but by mere necessity are being pushed on to the conflict with the now triumphant middle-class; he will see that all the old political parties have become mere names, and that the real aim of all of them is the same, insurance against a change of basis (or radical change) in our Society. This used to be called the Tory aim; let the conscientious Radical call it so now and call those who aim at it Tories; the name so used will include most of his old friends and leaders.

The upshot of it will be that the conscientious Radical will see when his eyes are cleared from the mist of words and names that there are but two camps; one is the camp of those who are the exponents of the change which is taking place; the other of those who are striving to insure Society against that inevitable change; if he chooses this latter he may remain a Radical in name to-day, but to-morrow will be called by his right name "reactionist"; but if be chooses the former camp he will keep his Radical principles though he will have to undergo the shame of being called a Socialist.

My Radical friends, which will you keep, the name or the thing?


Justice, 1st March 1884, p. 4.