William Morris

What we have to look for [portions]

I do not mean by this what the ideal of Socialism has to offer to us when we have got people's heads turned in the right direction, but rather what our present movement may reasonably expect to come across in its progress towards Socialism; it is not prophecy that I am about to-night but a reasonable forecast of the few next moves deduced from the experience of the last few. I consider this a dull job, a dispiriting job because it must necessarily deal with failure and disappointment and stupidity and causeless quarrels, and in short all the miseries that go to make up the degrading game of politics. Still I think it has to be done, in order that we may get on to the next step, and the next and the next, till we reach the one when the end of all politics will be clear to us.

Within the last five years or so the movement which represents the change from the society of so called free-contract to that of communal organization has undergone a great change. In the early days of our movement we had nothing to think of seriously except preaching Socialism to those who knew nothing of it but the name, if indeed they knew that, in the hope that amidst those we addressed our words might touch a few who were sympathetic with the movement, and were capable of learning what we had to teach; or indeed a good deal more. In that hope we were not disappointed. The greater part of the public indeed from the depths of their ignorance thought us mere visionaries, from the depth of their muddling impracticality thought our views were unpractical. It must be admitted that behind this propaganda of preaching lay the thought that the change we advocated would be brought about by insurrection; and this was supposed by those who were most averse to violence; no other means seemed conceivable for lifting the intolerable load which lay upon us. We thought that every step towards Socialism would be resisted by the reactionaries who would use against [it] the legal executive force which was, and is, let me say, wholly in the power of the possessing classes; that the wider the movement grew the more rigorously the authorities would repress it. And we were somewhat justified by their treatment of us; for while the movement was yet quite young the said authorities began to think that we were not only foolish but dangerous, which latter we may yet turn out to be, though not in the way which they meant by the word: hence all the stupid police interference with harmless meetings, and Black Monday and Bloody Sunday and the rest of it. Now there is another thing; we gained, as I said, adherents, and good ones, and that more speedily than might have been expected, because the spirit of Socialism was alive, and on the way, and only lacked, as it does now, the due body which would make it a powerful force. But for a long time we did not touch the very people whom we chiefly wanted to get at: the working-classes to wit. Of course there were many working-men amongst us, but they were there by dint of their special intelligence, or of their eccentricity; not as working-men simply. In fact as a friend of ours once said to me, We are too much a collection of oddities. Anyhow the great body of working-men, and especially those belonging to the most organized industries were hostile to Socialism: they did not really look upon themselves as a class, they identified their interests with those of their trade-union, their craft, their workshop or factory even: the capitalist system seemed to them, if not heaven-born, yet at least necessary, and undoubtedly indefeasible. I don't know if we expected this, but I do not think it dispirited us, partly perhaps because we would not admit it, being sanguine to the verge of braggadoccio. Well now much of this is changed: the idea of successful insurrection within a measurable distance of time is only in the heads of the anarchists, who seem to have a strange notion that even equality would not be acceptable if it were not gained by violence only. Almost everyone has ceased to believe in the change coming by catastrophe. To state the position shortly, as a means to the realization of the new society Socialists hope so far to conquer public opinion, that at last a majority of the parliament shall be sent to sit in the house as avowed Socialists and the delegates of Socialists, and on that should follow what legislation might be necessary; and moreover, though the time for this may be very far ahead, yet most people would now think that the hope of doing it is by no means unreasonable.

Next it is no longer the case that the working-classes are hostile to Socialism. They even vaguely approve of it generally, and from time [to time] take action, through strikes and other agitation, which amounts to a claim to be recognized as citizens, and not looked upon as merely part of the machinery for profit-bearing production; and all this has produced so much impression on the possessing classes, that they are beginning to think of making some concessions in the direction, as they think, of Socialism, so long as it can be done "safely." And the number of those [who] can vaguely be classed as Socialists has increased the condition of one group of workers at the expense of others: and thereby you make a partial content out of general discontent, and hoodwink the people, and prevent their action: "divide and govern" being a very old maxim of Scoundrels-craft.

... In that early time I spoke of we were a sect and had no pretence to be a party, and did not need to be one. And mind you I don't mean the word sect to imply any blame or scorn. Sects have before now done a good deal towards forming the world's history: but you see we have settled that we want to go into parliament, and for that it seems to me a party is definitely necessary; that declaring ourselves socialists we shall formulate our immediate tactics toward that end: such a party once formed which would not break up any existing bodies but include them, would, it seems to me, have a claim on genuine Socialists, and one thing at least I am sure of that until it is formed, though we may do good propagandist work we shall do nothing worth speaking of in the political way. My hope is, and if people really care for Socialism enough, it will be realized, that we shall do much propagandist work, and convert so many people to Socialism that they will insist on having a genuine Socialist party which shall do the due work, and they will not allow the personal fads and vanities of leaders (so-called) to stand in the way of real business.

... we had better confine ourselves to the old teaching and preaching of Socialism pure and simple, which is I fear more or less neglected amidst the said futile attempt to act as a party when we have no party.


What we have to look for


  1. 30th October 1895, at a meeting sponsored by the Oxford and District Socialist Union at the Central School, Gloucester Green, Oxford.