William Morris

Report to the 1st Congress of the 2nd International

Thursday, 18th July

Morning Session

.................... Morris a delegate of the ..................1.

.....................report to give nor will I dwell .....................position of the working-classes in .....will only say something about the state [of the] socialist movement there.2.

[Just six years ago] there was no socialism in England except [some remnants] of the old Chartist movement and of the [Owenite] so-called Communism blended with a reflexion from continental Socialism. The Middle classes triumphant in [their] commercial successes were ignorant of any discontent [exis]ting amidst the workers; Liberalism or Whiggery was [e]verywhere victorious and seemed to many the furthest po- [li]tical goal to be aimed at.

All this is changed; Socialism is becoming a hope to the workers and a fear to the middle classes. Although indeed [....]lattes will talk about it as much as you please, and not a few of them are prepared to declare themselves Socialists if they are not compelled to recognize the great fact of the class-war. A sort of Conscience is waking up amongst these persons, stimulated by the extreme hideousness and obviousness of poverty in England. All kinds of schemes for the amelioration of the lot of the workman are set on foot or patronized by them: state-aided emigration, to get rid of the incon- veniently many; feeble attempts at turning back the hands of the clock by establishing peasant proprietorship, or village industries; insurance of workers à la Bismark; the slightly improved form of joint-stockery called cooperation, many things down to mere philanthropy and the preachment of Malthusianism and thrift are tried in turn by those bourgeois beginning to be conscious of the volcano on which their society rests.

It is true that in England up till quite lately the movement has been confined to mainly an intellectual one though it has not been confined to those whom we call

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[the educated] classes, but has attracted the [the educated] classes specially, I admit those who may [call it an] intellectual proletariat. But this is now changing, [The depres]sion in trade of the last decade has made the work .......idea of socialism on those who have most .....from the change much easier, and the class struggle [in England] as within other countries is becoming clear to the [workers] and they are learning to connect the misery and [degra]dation of their lives with their position as part of the machinery of capitalistic production; they are feeling the impetus towards a change in the basis of society, and there are not wanting signs that this is the case.3.

E.g. from the first we have used street corner preaching as a means of propaganda, and it forms a large part of our work. A few years ago, say even 3 or 4 years ago there were [even pla]ces where our speakers were liable to interruption from working men themselves; whereas today the audiences listen quietly, and are generally in accord with what our speakers say. Again in the London radical clubs it is almost impossible to get opposition to our speakers, where once they were scarcely listened to. And I say confidently that whatever political action life there is in those clubs (I am not thinking of the wire-pulling at election times) rests with those of their members who are declared socialists4.

The main difficulty that meets us is the apathy of the men of the more consolidated trades; England having been the first country that fell completely under the influence of the Great Industries. The men in the great manufacturing towns have been drilled for generations into dependancy; into looking upon themselves as a part of the factory, and the employer as a paymaster with whom they may wrangle at times, but who was is necessary to their livelihood.

On the other hand we have none of the opposition in feeling between the peasant and the town labourer workman which exists in France and some other Continental Countries.

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.............................face to face as they are with ...............................most brutal form of compulsion; [the farm labourers, while] the merest slaves of the farmers are by no [means conservatives themselves] though they may be forced to vote Conservative ................................of inflammable material5.

[The evolution of] party politics has favoured our Cause [in particular the] Irish affair (in which by the way all socialists at home have shared taken part heartily) has quite broken [up] the old parties; so that the workers, who once trusted [blind]ly in parliament for dealing with their grievances, [are] losing confidence in it; and that the more as the new political group of the Socialist Radicals, (who may be said to be represented in the press by the London 'Star') ...but powerlesshas little power in Parliament, and will have none when the Irish question is solved or shelved. This we think good because in our opinion (I speak here for the the Socialist League) the workers will only waste their time and energies by trying to get work their members into parliament, so that, I repeat we are far from re- gretting the extreme feebleness of the attempts that have been made in this direction.

On the other hand the County Councils (newly established) espec in the great towns and especially in London are showing signs of soc life and a tendency towards Socialism which were certainly never looked for by thosethe Tory Party who brought in the bill which created them; and it may be well hoped that they will form a rallying point for the people against the Centralizing bureaucratic Parliament which in England is sure to be reactionary up to its last days. For indeed what is that parliament but a committee defending on behalf of the Capitalists those sacred rights of property which it is the business of Socialists to attack. This Committee is not sorry to have amongst it members of the exploited classes; partly because their presence there acts as a safety valve for discontent, and partly

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[because a consequence] is that the workers [see how far the bourgeoisie] can carry their hypocrisy [given free rein].

[On the] whole the condition of the party in England [is encou]raging because the growth of public opinion is steady [even though] the organisation of the party is bad, and when ..... opinion has reached a certain point organization will [form] itself from out of it in such a way as to be irresistible.

Meantime I should mention that in Australia Socialism [is] spreading in a hopeful way and that there it is not as it [as might] be expected [a] reflection of American Socialism, but is of the English type.

For the rest the very fact that modern Socialism in England began on the intellectual side gives us special hope that its growth will be steady, and that the idealism which still remainsforms so large a part of the movement there is a necessary portion of the general movement. Surely it is dangerous for us to rest our hope on economic fatalism, on the continued and steadily growing decrepitude of the bourgeois power; the logical development of production & society no doubt leads us to look for this; but then the historical development may interrupt it and give a new lease of life to the middle-class supremacy. England may yet go through a period of exuberant commercial prosperity, although it may well be that, owing to the new impetus that it will give to the invention and improvement of machinery, the workers will not profit by it in the same proportion as they did by the last one. But in any case shall we cease to be Socialists because we are better fed slaves, more prosperous parasites than of old? No, the intellectual movement will save us from that, and will not allow us to be content with anything short of the realization of our ideal. We have learned that what we have to claim is complete equality of condition for all men - and that this claim can be made good, and we cannot unlearn the lesson once learned. We know also that however the lot of the some of the

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[workers may be improved] there will remain that residuum [which] John Bright spoke of with such complacency, until [we have obtained] complete freedom of work and life; and that [even those workers who think] themselves well off will still [be] dependent on the will of their masters, or at bottom the masters of their masters, the World market.

I believe that the claim of which the English workers are learning to make will not stop short of complete independence and the responsibility which goes with it, in place of a slave's rations and ignorant irresponsibility with it. But there is a danger of our going through a period of blunders and dissappointment by drifting into a more political party to be played on by political adventurers and dealers in votes for their own purposes, which party may think it necessary to feed the workers hopes by agitating for a few palliative measures, which the Bourgeois Parliament will only grant them if it believes that they will be effectively ineffective, and which even if effective would leave the great mass of the workers free to vote - and to starve.

Two things I wish to claim on behalf of the English Socialist; first that however they may differ in opinion they are (with a very few exceptions) thoroughly inter national. They condemn jingoism and chauvinism to the utmost extent; for them the word "nation" expresses a mere geographical case idea; and they have so completely thrown off the old prejudices of the Englishman that to them the British Empire is not a thing to love or to be proud of, but a disgrace and a nuisance, a thing as a domination compounded of fraud injustice and violence to be attackedscorned by all honest men wherever possible.

Again in virtue probably of their idealism English Socialists have undertaken the guardian-ship of the aesthetic side of Socialism, and have become the inheritors

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[(unconsciously for the most part) of] the ideas of Charles [Fourier, proclaiming the necessity] of making labour pleasant to [the workman,] though of course they have not [adopted Fourier's elaborate] Utopian schemes for carrying out this [aim, which we] cannot think unimportant. We [Socialists are] one and all striving to get all men to share in [the pains] of labour and the accomplishmentsuccess of our endeavours will be an enormous blessing for the [world.] But shall we be content when we have reached that point? Surely not, the next step of men who have [gained] so much power that they are no longer tor- mented by the fear of starvation will be to abolish the pain [of lab]our, so that we may as happy as we should be6. I claim therefore that the English movement in spite of all its shortcomings has done some good service to the Socialist cause if only by putting before the workers the ideal of a beautiful and complete life, which will be realized along with Socialism, but which cannot be realized as long as the workers are in a dependent position.

It remains to be said that a great deal of literature has come out of the Socialist movement in England. Besides several labour sheets we have two weekly papers Justice representing the Social Democratic Federation, and Commonweal representing the Socialist League: we also publish many pamphlets and leaflets (specimens of which are laid on the table) and larger works on Socialism are not wantlacking. Besides which it may be mentioned as a sign of the times that it has become a sort of fashion amongst our modern novel writers to spice their books, so to say, with a certain amount of Socialism.

Socialism then is a pla in England a plant healthy and of steady growth though it is young and its blossom and fruit are long delayed.

William Morris


1. This paragraph, which is almost invisible, but in Morris's handwriting, presumably read something like: "This report was written by William Morris delegate of the Socialist League".back

2. On Morris's death in 1896 his co-delegate Edward Carpenter described him at the Congress as "fighting furiously with his own words (he was not feeling well that day), hacking and hewing the stubborn English phrases out—his tangled grey mane tossing, his features reddening with the effort!" [Freedom, December 1896, cited in Thompson, William Morris (2nd ed) p.536]. This seems to have been particularly true of the start of this speech: the French translation of this paragraph is full of false starts, crossings out, and revised paraphrases. The version finally settled on (which was also used for the German Protokol) was not quite the same as the fragment of Morris's own draft. It read:

Le Citoyen Morris donne un aperçu du mouvement socialiste en Angleterre sans insister cependant sur la situation faite á la classe ouvrière là, comme ailleurs, esclave du capital.

This does not seem to make complete sense; one way to interpret it might be:

Citizen Morris gives an overview of the socialist movement in England, without, however, exaggerating the distinctiveness of the position of the working class there, which as elsewhere is a slave of capital.

From this it is clear that Morris did not simply read out his text, but at times extemporized around it.back

3. Lafargue's version of this paragraph runs (after much chopping and changing):

Jusqu'au as dernier temps, le mouvement socialist en etait resté à la phase presque exclusivement intellectuelle, soutenu, d'ailleurs, presque uniquement par des membres du proletariat intellectuel. La situation aujourd'hui a changé, grace à l'evolution economique ayant preparé les esprits des travailleurs a recevoir et a accepter les doctrines socialistes. Les ouvriers sont devenus conscientes de la lutte des classes; ils ont compris que le plus ou moins d'misère dans leur existence dépend du rôle qu'ils joueront en tant que faisant partie du mécanisme de la production capitaliste; ils sont poussés par une irrésistible impulsion à vouloir la transformation de la société à sa base même.

This misses some parts which would allow restoration of the missing words in the original, suggesting that Morris may again have talked around his own text here. This leaves some doubts: the 'irrestible drive' to desire a revolution determined by the workers' productive role sounds far more deterministic than Morris's written words. Was this actually what he said, or is Lafargue putting words into his mouth?back

4. Here there is an additional aside in the translation:

En un mot, le socialism influence de tel façon les partis politiques que le Ministre Harcourt a pu écrire "Nous sommes tous des socialistes!"

Another aside at this point is almost completely illegible in the French text. However, the Freie Presse report of the speech includes the following exchange (which ironically was to become the most frequently mentioned part of Morris's report, though not actually in it.)

But if Guesde had declared the French bourgeoisie to be the worst, he had to argue that it was rather the English who were the world's worst. (As translator, Liebknecht noted that he could say the same thing about the Germans, but the bourgeoisie was equally bad everywhere, and as there is only one Socialism, so there is only one bourgeoisie.)

(reported in Neue Freie Presse, Wien No. 8949, Thursday 18th July. Guesde had said:

Our bourgeoisie is the worst, the most pitiless, of all the bourgeoisies (remember the massacres of June 1848 and May 1871) and the most hypocritical...back

5. The French translation has no equivalent to the first two damaged lines. The reference in the last line to 'flammable material' is replaced by 'il a son opinion et l'esprit prédisposé à secouer ses chaînes'.back

6. The whole section after 'schemes for carrying out this aim' until 'happy as we should be' is completely missing from the French translation, suggesting Morris may have skipped it when speaking.back


Report to the 1st Congress of the 2nd International


IISG Guesde Archives: IISG ARCH00496.611.4, Socialistes d'Angleterre

Transcription and notes

Graham Seaman, November 2019

Publication History

First published by the Marxists Internet Archive, 2019




Morris's report survives as a handwritten set of 6 pages in the Guesde archive of material from the 1889 Paris Socialist Congress. The pages are damaged at the top and down the left side, so that parts are unreadable. Where possible missing words have been recreated from the French translation of Morris's reading of his report, made by Paul Lafargue; unfortunately there are some parts where the original text and the reading and/or translation diverge, so that reconstruction would only be possible by guesswork.