William Morris

CHANGE OF POSITION — NOT CHANGE OF CONDITION.

To the Socialist, who is earnest in wishing to stimulate the genuine and practical desire of the workers towards freedom, and who knows well that no mere good nature of individuals can make a system tolerable which is designed for the benefit of the privileged classes only — to the Socialist the aim is not the improvement of condition but the change in position of the working classes. For he has full confidence that the change in position must have the immediate consequence of the bettering of condition. I am aware that to many or most of the readers of Justice these remarks will seem trite, yet I think some form of the thought in them is necessary to be put before people at present. For, to say the truth, if I were a non-Socialist, and were interested in the preservation of the society of privilege, I should conceive a hope from the present situation of the possibility of hoodwinking the working men into accepting what I should name (to them) a kind of semi or demi-semi-Socialism, which would do no sort of harm to the society of privilege. I should condescend to Socialism, and pat it on the back. I should say, as indeed, I have heard such worthies say, “Socialism, my friends, cannot give you what it promises, but I am pleased to see you Socialists, because all this labour agitation will call people’s attention to the ‘condition of the working classes,’ and will ‘improve it.’ You will find that you must work with the capitalists and not against them, so that you may extend markets, contend successfully with other nations, and improve business. By that means, though this Socialist agitation is founded on principles which are wrong, and cannot be carried out in practice, yet it will have given you enhanced wages, reduction of the hours of labour, more permanency of employment, better housing, gas and water galore, and an extended franchise. And then (but I don’t know when) you will be happy and contented, and, which is more to the point, so shall we.”

That, I say, will be the sort of line to take for those who wish to keep labour — i.e., usefulness — out of its heritage. And I think it will he taken, I fear not wholly unsuccessfully. For the present necessities of working people are so great that they must take what they can get, and it is so hard for them in their miserable condition to have any vivid conception of what a life of freedom and equality can give them that they can scarcely, the average of them, turn their hopes to a future which they may never see.

And yet if that future is not to be indefinitely postponed they must repudiate this demi-semi-Socialism. They must say : “£2 a week instead of £1; eight hours work instead of nine, ten, twelve; out-of-door relief galore to supplement the out-of-work periods; comfortable (Lord help us!) lodgings found by the municipality — all these are fine things indeed. But we will not even think of them unless we can use them for getting all the benefits which we know will follow on the abolition of privilege and the realisation of equality. That is, in short, what we mean to have. What those benefits may be we cannot imagine in detail; but we know that the sum of them will mean a decent self-respecting life for us all. We are Socialists and believe in Socialism, and the day will come when we shall partly be able to estimate onr gains by looking back and wondering that we once thought it worth while to strive for such petty advantages as those you have been telling us of.”

And again and again it must be said that in this determination we shall be justified when the working-classes make it their determination; and further, for last word, that the first step towards this consummation is the union in one party of all those in the movement who take that view of the movement, and not merely the gas and water and improved trade union view. The view not of improved condition for the workers but of essentially changed position.

Bibliographical Note

Title

Change of Position - not Change of Condition?

Source

Published in Justice, organ of the SDF, for May 1st 1895. Reprinted in 1896 in the pamphlet Why I am a Socialist following Morris's death. This page is taken from the reprint.