William Morris

Statement of Principles of the Hammersmith Socialist Society

By Socialism, the Hammersmith Socialist Society understands the realization of a condition of true society all-embracing and all-sufficing.

It believes that this great change must be effected by the conscious exertions of those who have learned to know what Socialism is.

This change, it believes, must be an essential change in the basis of society: the present basis is privilege for the few and consequent servitude for the many; the further basis will be equality of condition for all, which we firmly believe to be the essence of true society.

As soon as any community begins to make differences in the condition and livelihood of its members, according to some imagined standard of estimation of their qualities, it finds itself driven to use a mere arbitrary system for the apportioning of responsibilities and rewards, which must of necessity injure some for the aggrandizement of others. But when a society habitually injures any groups of its members, it has become a tyranny; it has ceased to be a true society, and has lost its reason for existence.

As Socialists, we say, that society is embodied for two purposes, the increase of wealth by means of the combination and co-operation of the varying powers and capacities of men, and the equitable distribution of the wealth so produced; and as each man's capacities can be used for the benefit of the community, and as the needs of all men are at least similar, we claim the right for every person born into society to a full share of the sum of benefits produced by it: whosoever is kept out of this share, whether by force or fraud, is not a member of society, but has been thrust out of it, and owes no allegiance to it.

But the society of the present day, that of the capitalist wage-earner, of rich and poor, by no means admits this claim; on the contrary, the essence of it is the denial of this right and the assertion of an arbitrary inequality. It is an exclusive society, a combination of privileged persons united for the purpose of excluding the majority of the population from participation in the wealth which they (the workers) make. The system whereby this privilege is sustained, is the exclusive ownership by the privileged classes of the means of production, that is to say, the land, and the tolls and appliances necessary to combined labour, namely the factories; machinery; railways, and other means of transit. The working-classes are not allowed to use these means of production except on the terms of their giving up everything to the possessing classes, save the bare necessities of life. These so-called higher classes, therefore, are enabled to live upon the labour of the workers, who are thus deprived of all the advantages gained by an advanced state of civilization: the productivity of labour has increased enormously within the last 400 years, but the working-classes have not shared in the gains of that increase in power; all that they have done is to create a large and prosperous middle-class, which consists in part of their direct employers, i.e., their masters, and in part of those who minister to the pleasure and luxury of those masters.

The workers therefore, we repeat, are not a part of capitalist society, since they do not share in the wealth produced for it, they are but its machinery, and are not protected or sustained by it; for them it has ceased to be a society, and has become a tyranny; and it is a tyrannywhose subjects are not an inferior race of feeble and incapable persons, but the useful part of the population.

Such a society (so called) dominating populations, the useful part of which is out-lawed, cannot be stable; it holds within itself the elements of its own dissolution; and it can only go on existing by the repression by force and fraud of all serious and truthful thought and all aspirations for betterment. It is conceivable though, we believe, improbable, that it may still further degrade the working-classes, till it has crushed all resistance out of them, and made them slaves more hopeless and more hapless than the world has yet seen. But the whole evolution of society and all the signs of the times bid us hope for a better fate than this for our epoch. It is becoming clearer day by day that the thought and the hopes of the working classes (who are being gradually educated into a knowledge of their unworthy position), and the force lying latent in them for a new order of things cannot be repressed; that the tyranny of privilege is weakening, and that we are within sight of its overthrow.

It is beyond a doubt that if the workers unite to claim their heritage, the due membership of society, the tyranny of privilege must fall before them, and that true society will rise out of its ruins.

For here we must say that it is not the dissolution of society for which we strive, but its reintegration. The idea put forward by some who attack present society, of the complete independence of every individual, that is, for freedom without society, is not merely impossible of realization, but, when looked into, turns out to be inconceivable.

As Socialists, it is a true society which we desire. Of that true society the workers contain the genuine elements, although they are outcasts from the false society of the day, the tyranny of privilege; and it is their business to show the privileged that it is so, by constituting themselves even now, under the present tyranny, into a society of labour definitely opposed to the society of privilege. Such a society would be able to ameliorate the lot of the workers by wringing concessions from the masters, while it was sapping the strong-hold of privilege, the individual ownership of the means of production, and developing capacity for administration in its members; so that when the present system is overthrown they might be able to carry on the business of the community without waste or disaster.

To further this militant society of labour we believe to be the business of all Socialists, but we would say a word about the part in this business which we believe should be the special work of the Hammersmith Socialist Society and others, who are neither State Socialists nor Anarchists.

We believe then, that it should be our special aim to make Socialists, by putting before people, and especially the working-classes, the elementary truths of Socialism; since we feel sure, in the first place, that in spite of the stir in the ranks of labour, there are comparatively few who understand what Socialism is, or have had opportunities of arguing on the subject with those who have at least begun to understand it; and, in the second place, we are no less sure that before any definite Socialist action can be attempted, it must be backed up by a great body of intelligent opinion - the opinion of a great mass of people who are already Socialists, people who know what they want, and are prepared to accept the responsibilities of self-government, which must form a part of their claims.

It may be, nay, probably will be, necessary that various crude experiments in the direction of State Socialism should be tried, but we say if this be so, let them be advocated by those who believe that they see in them a solution of the social question, rather than by those who, not so believing, merely wish to use the advocacy of them as a political expedient for strengthening their position as exponents of Socialism.

On the other hand we deprecate spasmodic and desperate acts of violence, which will only increase the miseries of the poor and the difficulties of Socialists by alarming the timid, and giving opportunities for repression to the capitalist executive, and which must of necessity be carried on by men who know nothing of their position, except that they are suffering, and who, in consequence, will yield easily to those who may relieve their sufferings temporarily. At the same time, we know that it may be necessary to incur the penalties attaching to passive resistance, which is the true weapon of the weak and unarmed, and which embarrasses a tyranny far more than acts of hopeless violence can do, turning the apparent victories of the strong and unjust into real defeats for them.

Furthermore, as Socialists, we would remind our brethren generally that, though we cannot but sympathise with all struggles of the workers against their masters, however partial they may be, however much they may fall short of complete and effective combinations, yet we cannot fail to see that of themselves these partial struggles will lead nowhere; and that this must always be the case as long as the workers are the wage-slaves of the employers.

We, therefore, earnestly urge the workers to lose no time in constituting a general combination of labour, whose object will be the abolition of privilege by means of obtaining for labour the complete control of the means of production, which must be the first step in the realization of Socialism. With the object steadily in view, such a combination will gain ever fresh advantages for the workers: everyone of which, be it remembered must necessarily be gained at the expense of the capitalists. It will drive them from position after position, until at last they will find themselves burdened with a responsibility which carries no privilege, and will call upon the workers to take that responsibility on themselves, and themselves carry on the work of the world.

It is the business of all Socialists to do their best to bring it about, that in that day the masters will be addressing men who are willing and able to accept that responsibility, because they know, that they, who were once outcasts from society, have now become society itself.

In this hope, we appeal to all workers to learn to understand their true position; to understand that they have no hope of bettering their condition save by general combination; but, that, by means of that general combination they may become irresistible, that their demands must then be yielded to. But, unless they know what to demand, they will not be really strong, nay, without that knowledge, complete combination is impossible.

You that are not Socialists, therefore, learn, and in learning teach us, that when we know, we may be able to act, and so realize the new order of things, the beginnings of which we can already see, though we cannot picture to ourselves its happiness.

December, 1890.