Quotations from Chairman Morris


I think of a country where every man has work enough to do, and no one has too much: where no man has to work himself stupid in order to be just able to live: where on the contrary it will be easy for a man to live if he will but work, impossible if he will not . . .where every man's work will be pleasant to himself and helpful to his neighbor; and then his leisure . . . (of which he ought to have plenty) would be thoughtful and rational. (quoted in E. P. Thompson: William Morris; romantic to revolutionary, c1976)

Something better is possible . . .

[Hammersmith Socialist League] Setting aside all convention, all rhetoric and flummery, what is it that you want from the present labour movement? Shorter working hours -- better education for your children -- old age pensions, libraries, parks and the rest. Are these things and things like them what you want? They are, of course, but what else do you want?

Something better is possible than the life of a prosperous mill-hand...

Self-respect, happy and fit work, leisure, beautiful surroundings, in a word, the earth our own and the fullness thereof . . . . (1885)

Is it too much to ask?

To keep the air pure and the rivers clean, to take some pains to keep the meadows and tillage as pleasant as reasonable use will allow them to be; to allow peaceable citizens freedom to wander where they will, so they do no hurt to garden or cornfield; nay, even to leave here and there some piece of waste or mountain sacredly free from fence or tillage as a memory of man's ruder struggles with nature in his earlier days: is it too much to ask civilization to be so far thoughtful of man's pleasure and rest, and to help so far as this her children to whom she has most often set such heavy tasks of grinding labour? Surely not an unreasonable asking. But not a whit of it shall be get under the present system of society. That loss of the instinct for beauty which has involved us in the loss of popular art is also busy in depriving us of the only compensation possible for that loss, by surely and not slowly destroying the beauty of the face of the earth. (Oxford lecture, 1883)

Enemies of Society?

Adam and EveThe Echo has been kind enough to advertise our approaching celebration of the Chicago martyrs and Bloody Sunday by a ferocious attack upon us, in which old calumnies against our comrades have been new burnished for the occasion, and we are held up to public reprobation as 'enemies of society. . .

'Enemies of society'? Of what society? Of the society which enables friends and kindred and fellow-workmen to live together in peace and good-fellowship, helping one another through all the difficulties of life; the society which gives every one an opportunity for living as well as the nature surrounding him will allow him to live? We are not enemies of this society, we are now devoted soldiers of it, and some of us may yet live to be happy members of it. For are we not Socialists -- i.e., people who want to realize true society?

But I suppose the Echo is thinking of another society; the society of classes: the society which insists that most men shall be poor in order that some may be rich. The society which at its culminating success in our own days takes care that poverty shall no longer mean, as it once did, mere rudeness of life and scantiness of possession, but utter degradation of body and soul; the society which produces in one country, in one city, living under the same 'equal' laws, the coster's barrow and the duke's palace; the culture of the Whitechapel slum dweller, and the 'culture' of the university superfine superior person. In a word, the 'society; that produces the rich and the poor, -- that is to say, the suffering of the world.

Of such a 'society' as this -- or rather of such a band of robbers and heap of corruption usurping the holy name of Society -- every honest man must be the enemy, even if he is not conscious of it. (Commonweal, 1888)

Commercial War

Once again I tell you that our present system is not so much a confusion . . . as a tyranny: one and all of us in some way or another we are drilled to the service of Commercial War; if our individual aspirations or capacities do not fit in with it, so much the worse for them: the iron service of the capitalist will not bear the loss, the individual must; everything must give way to this; nothing can be done if a profit cannot be made of it: it is for this that we are overworked, are made to fear starvation, live in hovels . . . it is for this that we let our money, our name, our power, be used to drag off poor wretches from our pinched fields and our dreadful slums, to kill and be killed in a cause they know nothing of . . . (quoted in Thompson, 1976)

The Garden and the Wall

Who or what sets class against class? The whole evolution of society. That is, the existence of the classes. That is indeed a foolish and wicked thing, and since we now see that we can make an end of it, let us make an end of it at once. Here is a wall which hinders us from the use of a fair garden: there is the hindrance, and it is caused by the wall; which is there, whether we shut our eyes to it or not. Nor shall we be any more inside the garden because we turn round and dibble in a few potatoes outside it, and pretend there is no wall between us and the garden and that we don't want to get in if we could. Moral -- down with the wall! even if it necessary to say plainly that it exists. (Commonweal, 1888)

"Individual men cannot shuffle off the business of life onto the shoulders of an abstraction called the State, but must deal with it in conscious association with each other."

Every man willing to work should be ensured: First, Honorable and fitting work; Second, a healthy and beautiful house; Third, Full leisure for rest of mind and body. (Art and Socialism)

On 'Reforming' Capitalism

The palliatives with which many worthy people are busying themselves now are useless: because they are but unorganized partial revolts against a vast wide-spreading grasping organization which will, with the unconscious instinct of a plant, meet every attempt at bettering the condition of the people with an attack on a fresh side; new machines, new markets, wholesale emigration, the revival of grovelling superstition, preachments of thrift to lack-alls, of temperance to the wretched; such things as these will baffle at every turn all partial revolts against the monster we of the middle class have created for our own undoing . (Art and Socialism)

Those who think they can deal with our present system in this piecemeal way very much underrate the tremendous organization under which we live, and which appoints to each of us his place, and if we do not change to fit it, grinds us down until we do. Nothing but a tremendous force can deal with this force; it will not suffer itself to be dismembered, nor to lose anything which really is its essence without putting forth all its force in resistance; rather than lose anything which it considers of importance, it will pull the roof down upon its head. ('Whigs, Democrats, and Socialists', in Signs of Change)


England's place -- what is England's place? To carry civilization through the world? Yes, indeed, the world must be civilized . . . and yet, since I have heard of wine with no grape juice in it, and cotton-cloth that is mostly barytes, and silk that is two-thirds somach, and knives whose edges break or turn up if you try to cut anything harder than butter with them, and many another triumph of Commerce in these days, I begin to doubt if civilization itself may not be sometimes so much adulterated as scarcely to be worth the carrying -- anyhow it cannot be worth much, when it is necessary to kill a man in order to make him accept it . . . (quoted in Thompson, 1976)

The Back of the Pattern

A state of things that produces vices among low people, will produce, not opposing virtues among high people, but corresponding vices; if you weave a pattern on a piece of cloth, and then turn it over and look at the back of it, you will see the back of the pattern, and not another pattern: material riches bred by material poverty and slavery produce scorn, cynicism and despair. (quoted in Thompson, 1976)

"I say flatly that the Puritan, as Puritan, is the enemy of the human race, his horrible galvanism of Christianity the worst religious trap which the world has fallen into . . ."

"And it is grievous to think how much power this Puritanism still has. Although it has shrunk from a destructive fanaticism into a slimy superstition, it is still a dangerous ally of the gigantic robbery of capitalism, which first gave it birth. Such a body of voters as it can bring to the polling places!"

No Laughing Matter

[Factory]A citizen complained of a nuisance, in the form of a stink, in a police-court the other day, and the whole subject was thought to be very funny, the magistrate (Mr. Plowden) leading off the laughter. We cannot tell from the report what the merits of this particular case might be; but we do know that a neighborhood may be stunk out without a legal nuisance being established, which is indeed ridiculous enough, though not more ridiculous than most of our law. Perhaps the magistrate and his audience were laughing at English law in general. Or perhaps they thought it a preposterous joke that a well-to-do citizen should make a fuss about commerce annoying him with a mere stink when it murders so many poor people day by day. No doubt this is a joke, but I can't laugh at it. There is another explanation, which is that these laughers were such dullards that they had no conception that people might possibly restrain commerce so as to allow people to live decent lives. That also is no laughing matter. (Commonweal, 1889.

The Trades Unions

At present when the rights of capital are admitted . . . the position of the Trades Unions, as anything but benefit societies, has become an impossible one; the long and short of what they say to the masters is this: We are not going to interfere with your management of our affairs except insofar as we can reduce your salary as our managers [by claiming a larger share in the profits] . . .I say again if they are determined to have masters to manage their affairs, they must expect in turn to pay for that luxury. To go any further they must get out of that blind alley and into the open highway that leads to Socialism. They must aim at managing their own business, which is indeed the business of the world: remembering that the price they pay for their so-called captains of industry is no mere money-payment -- no mere tribute which once paid leaves them free to do as they please, but an authoritative ordering of the whole tenor of their lives, what they shall eat, drink, wear, what houses they shall have, books, or newspapers rather, they shall read, down to the very days on which they shall take their holidays like a drove of cattle driven out from the stable to grass. (Commonweal,1887)

It is possible that we may live to see times in which it will be easier than now for the labourer to live as a labourer and not as a man, and there is a kind of utilitarian sham Socialism which would be satisfied by such an outcome of times of prosperity. It is very much our business to meet this humbug by urging the workers to sustain steadily their due claim to that fullness and completeness of life which no class system can give them. (Commonweal, 1887)

The Family

'Will the social family,' says W. Cabell, 'take the place of the present private family?' I ask in turn, 'What is the present private family?' It is surely not always composed of people akin to one another; only the present distinction of classes has crept into it. It is surely clear that Socialism could never assent that a family should be confined to blood-relations; for the rest there would be no hard and fast line as to what a family should be; it would be what people might choose, what they might find convenient according to the circumstances. (Commonweal, 1885)

Nationalism vs. True Community

The fact is, as individualism suppresses individuality, so nationalism suppresses all that is worth keeping in the special elements which go to make up a real and not an artificial nation. The sham community of the present -- the nation -- is formed for purposes of rivalry only, and consequently suppresses all minor differences that do not help it to supremacy over other nations. The true community of the future will be formed for livelihood and the development of all human capacities, and consequently would avail itself of the varieties of temperament caused by differences of surrounding which differentiate the races and families of mankind. (Commonweal, 1886)

See also:

"I . . . pondered how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name." -- William Morris

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