William Morris

Appeal To The Just

There are doubtless many worthy people who shudder at the word Socialism, who, nevertheless wish sincerely to see the condition of the people bettered, and who generally console themselves when they hear of any of the horrors of our capitalist civilisation by thinking, "well, at any rate, things are getting better steadily." Ask them how they are getting better, and they will answer you with, "the general spreading of education," "the growth of liberal ideas among the working-classes," and such-like vague stuff. Ask them how soon they think this gradual amelioration is likely, to abolish poverty for all but the vicious and idle and they will answer with vague commonplaces again; for the truth is their hope is a languid one. Amidst whatever anxieties a bourgeois family may lie under, they are themselves comfortable in condition; and, in truth, have never quite realised that there is any class that is "uncomfortable," or in plain words overworked, half-starved, and laden with deadly anxieties. Yet it must be supposed that they really do wish, as abovesaid, to reduce the misery and poverty which in a mechanical way they know to be the yoke-fellow of modern progress, and some of them may perhaps begin to think what the differences are between riches and poverty, or, if you will, between well-to-do life, and poverty. And when they do, they will presently realise the existence of a vast class living under perpetual oppression and injustice, who are now being educated, in a way, but at all events enough to enable them to read the words of those who are discontented like themselves; and surely they will in time be able to see that this discontented class may be a danger to their comfort and refinement, and that they had best turn their attention to dealing with that discontent before it is too late; and then when they do so they will find out that their vague remedies to have effect at some vague future will be utterly useless, that it will be utterly impossible to make the discontented believe in their being intended to remedy their lot. Whither then will they find themselves obliged to turn to prevent civilisation from slipping back from the very doubtful point it has already gained? Where lies any hope for re-construction, any hope for tomorrow even? With the Socialists only; with the much-maligned Socialists, whom they have loaded with all kinds of nick-names, and accused of having no thought of anything but destruction.

Even to-day, while the two parliamentary factions are splitting straws over an insufficient Franchise Bill based on no principle, while the different sections of the Liberal patty are pulling some one way and some another, some nervously anxious that the question of an hereditary second chamber shall be shelved, and others hotly trying to press it on for immediate solution, (hopelessly enough if they only knew): while the most advanced of the non-Socialist politicians have a vague idea that these political reforms will work not as instruments to gain social advancement but by a kind of magic will better the condition of the people with nothing further done; while all those sword strokes in the air are going on, the Social-Democratic Federation is preparing an agitation for demanding immediate physical amelioration for those who need it most. It is attacking the cruel farce of educating starving children; it is attacking the very heart of misery and degradation in calling on legislation against overwork; it is attacking the poverty growing heavier on our hands every day, by calling for the State to employ for the benefit of the common weal those poor people whom the ferocity of commercial war forbids to earn their own livelihood, or add any wealth to the community.

All these things indeed we believe will lead towards Socialism; towards fresh, and ever fresh demands on the part of the workers till all classes are abolished: but if as our Radical friends think at present, our Socialist ideal is impractical and unfeasible, they must admit that in forcing on the attention of our rulers these matters of physical amelioration we are doing their work as well as our own: if when these are attained to, the people becomes contented and asks no more, but turns a deaf ear to our further agitation, they, the Radicals, will have been proved right and we wrong, but the step will at least have been gained. But if on the contrary, as we believe, the attainment of these matters still finds us Socialist agitators at work and listened to, and the step forward has proved to be another rung on the ladder which leads to the realisation of our ideal of the common weal founded an the equality of labour, surely it will turn out to have been a foolish thing for those who called themselves advanced politicians to have played the part of reactionists in the first step towards the new order of things. Only I think before we come to that, as I have said before in these columns, we shall have converted all the real Radicals, and those that are left will turn out to be only peculiarly stupid Tories, masquerading in the cast-off clothes of the extinct Whigs.


Justice, 11th October 1884, p. 4.