William Morris

A Factory As It Might Be

We Socialists are often reproached with giving no details of the state of things which would follow on the destruction of that system of waste and war which is sometimes dignified by the lying title of the harmonious combination of capital and labour: many worthy people say, "We admit that the present system has produced unsatisfactory results, but at least it is a system; you ought to be able to give us some definite idea of the results of that reconstruction which you call Socialism."

To this Socialists answer, and rightly, that we have not set ourselves to build up a system to please our tastes; nor are we seeking to impose it on the world in a mechanical manner, but that we are assisting in bringing about a development of history which would take place without our help, but which nevertheless compels us to help it: and that under these circumstances it would be futile to map out the details of life in a condition of things so different from that in which we have been born and bred. Those details will be taken care of by the men who will be so lucky as to be born into a society relieved of the oppression which crushes us, and who surely will be, not less, but more prudent and reasonable than we are. Nevertheless it seems clear that the economical changes which are in progress must be accompanied by corresponding developments of men's aspirations; and the knowledge of their progress cannot fail to rouse our imaginations into picturing for ourselves that life at once happy and manly which we know social revolution will put within the reach of all men.

Of course the pictures so drawn will vary according to the turn of mind of the picturer, but I have already tried to show in Justice that healthy and undomineering individuality will be fostered and not crushed out by Socialism. I will therefore as an artist and handicraftsman venture to develope a little the hint contained in this journal of April 12th on the conditions of pleasant work in the days when we shall work for livelihood and pleasure and not for "profit."

Our factory then, is in a pleasant place: no very difficult matter, when as I have said before it is no longer necessary to gather people into able sweltering hordes for profit's sake: for all the country is in itself pleasant or is capable of being made pleasant with very little pains and forethought. Next, our factory stands amidst gardens as beautiful (climate apart) as those of Alcinous, since there is no need of stinting it of ground, profit rents being a thing of the past and the labour on such gardens is like enough to be purely voluntary, as it is not easy to see the day when 75 out every 100 people will not take delight in the pleasantest and most innocent of all occupations; and our working people will assuredly want open air relaxation from their factory work. Even now, as I am told, the Nottingham factory hands could give many a hint to professional gardeners in spite of all the drawbacks of a great manufacturing town. One's imagination is inclined fairly to run riot over the picture of beauty and pleasure offered by the thought of skilful co-operative gardening for beauty's sake, which beauty would by no means exclude the raising of useful produce for the sake of livelihood.

Impossible! I hear an anti-Socialist say. My friend, please to remember that most factories sustain to-day large and handsome gardens, and not seldom parks and woods of many acres in extent; with due appurtenances of highly paid Scotch professional gardeners, wood reeves, bailiffs, game-keepers, and the like, the whole being managed in the most wasteful way conceivable: only, the said gardens, &c., are say, twenty miles away from the factory, out of the smoke, and are kept up for one member of the factory only, the sleeping partner to wit, who in may, indeed double that part by organizing its labour (for his own profit) in which case he receives ridiculously disproportionate pay additional.

Well, it follows on this garden business that our factory must make no sordid litter, befoul no water, nor poison the air with smoke. I need say nothing more on that point, as "profit" apart it would be easy enough.

Next, as to the buildings themselves I must ask leave to say something, because it is usually supposed that they must of necessity be ugly, and truly they are almost always at present mere night-mares; but it is, I must assert, by no means necessary that they should be ugly, nay, there would be no serious difficulty in making them beautiful, as every building might be which serves its purpose duly, which is built generously as regards material, and which is built with pleasure by the builders and designers; indeed, as things go, those nightmare buildings aforesaid sufficiently typify the work they are built for, and lack what they are, temples of overcrowding and adulteration and over-work, of unrest in a word; so it is not difficult to think of our factory buildings showing on their outsides what they are for, reasonable and light work, cheered at every step by hope and pleasure. So in brief, our buildings will be beautiful with their own beauty of simplicity as workshops, not bedizened with tomfoolery as some are now which do not any the more for that hide their repulsiveness; but moreover besides the mere workshops, our factory will have other buildings which may carry ornament further than that, will for it will need dining hall, library, school, places for study of various kinds, and other such structures; nor do I see why, if we have a mind for it, we should not emulate the monks and craftsmen of the middle ages in our ornamentation of such buildings, why we should be shabby in housing our rest and pleasure and our search for knowledge, as we may well be shabby in housing the shabby life we have to live now?

Add again, if it be doubted as to the possibility of getting these beautiful buildings on the score of cost; let me once again remind you that every great factory does to-day sustain a palace (often more than one) amidst that costly garden and park aforesaid out of the smoke, but that this palace, stuffed as it is with all sorts of costly things, is for one member of the factory only, the sleeping partner - useful creature! It is true that the said palace is mostly, with all it contains, beastly ugly; but this ugliness is but apart of the bestial waste of the whole system of profit-mongering, which refuses cultivation and refinement to the workers, and therefore can have no art, not even for all its money.

So we have come to the outside of our Factory of the future and seen that it does not injure the beauty of the world, but adds to it rather; on another occasion, if I may I will try to give a picture of how the work goes on there.


Justice, 17th May 1884, p. 2.