William Morris: From Madman to Peace Upon the Earth

William Morris was an active socialist most of his adult life. He attended meetings, gave lectures wrote pamphlets and books. He tried his best to “make socialists”. He was aware that most workers had to become socialists for socialism to be possible. He made mistakes but he knew what socialism was and what socialism wasn’t.

In 1893, William Morris, drew up a MANIFESTO FOR THE ENGLISH SOCIALISTS along with J M Hyndman and G. B. Shaw. This is what the Manifesto said:

On this point, all socialists agree: our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community, complete ownership, and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines, and the land. Thus we look to put an end forever to the wage-system, to sweep away all distinction of class, and eventually to establish national and international communism on a sond basis.https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1893/jointmanifest.htm

We might pick Morris up on the use of the term “national communism”. Socialism or communism (both words mean the same) is a global social system without boundaries, border guards or check points. And socialists would also disagree with Morris that those like G B Shaw and the Webbs could ever be considered socialists when they were not. Shaw repudiated Marx’s theory of value for the economist William Jevons theory of utility while the Webb’s foisted onto the Labour Party in 1918 an object of state capitalism or nationalisation. And Hyndman was a political autocrat who went on to support the First World War.

Morris wrote a pamphlet ‘HOW I BECAME A SOCIALIST’ (‘Justice’ 1894). It was a reflective piece used as a template by subsequent socialists to describe how they became socialists. It describes socialism as:

…a condition of society in which there should be neither rich or poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain sick brain-workers, nor heart sick hand workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition, and would manage their affairs unwastefully, and with full consciousness that harm to one would mean harm to all -the realisation at last of the meaning o the word commonwealth

In 1904 a clear statement on the object and definition of socialism was made by the Socialist Party of Great Britain:

The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community”.

Socialism was to be a global system of production and distribution, without a wages system of class exploitation, no labour market, no classes and no employers. Socialism was to be based on production solely and directly for social use. Or, as Marx put it ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their need’.

For Morris, his road to socialism was from Ruskin and Medieval craftsmen to the Democratic Federation and an engagement with Marx’s ‘CAPITAL’. The road for other socialists began by having parents or relatives’ already as members in the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Others became socialists by contact with friends or attending meetings in Hyde Park. Others, such as myself, by coming in contact with the works of William Morris when studying architecture during the 1970s next to the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow. All socialists were responding to the material conditions of capitalism and the reality of the profit system. Many became socialists by already questioning the profit system and what it did to their lives. All were capable to reject capitalism to become socialists. All did so without being told to by leaders.

It is useful to remember what Engels once remarked on why workers become socialists:

Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex, in thought, of this conflict {between the productive forces and the mode of production} in fact; its ideal reflection in the minds, first of the class directly suffering under it, the working-class
(Anti-Duhring, p. 325).

Morris did not hide from being a socialist although he lost friends. Students at Oxford University where he delivered a socialist lecture were warned to have nothing to do with him. Nevertheless, he knew that socialism was the only social system capable of resolving the economic and social problems facing the working class. Propagating socialism requires commitment, action, and hard work. However, socialists are under-resourced most must work and raise families. And unlike Morris, employers do no take kindly to having socialists in their employment. Time is a luxury many socialists do not have. We do the best we can under the very difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves. It was Eleanor Marx who once remarked that our political enemies have millions to spend on lies but we can just about afford the stamp.

Fortunately, socialism does not just depend on socialists alone. As Marx noted in ‘THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO’ capitalism creates its own gravediggers. Capitalism creates socialist ideas and socialists. Capitalism not only renders the workers an exploited class but it causes the social and economic problems workers face – war, unemployment, and poverty to name but three.

Morris was aware that there were very few socialists in his day. He was not downhearted. This is what Morris wrote:

One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: two men with the same idea in common may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten men sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention as fanatics, a thousand and society begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and there is war abroad, and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question”.

Since 1904 socialists in the Socialist Party of Great Britain have struggled to make socialists.

That is what do we do today to the best of our ability? It is a struggle – a political class struggle.

We do what William Morris said socialists should do, we make socialists. And while capitalism exists it will always create socialists and generate socialist ideas. Why not ‘a hundred million socialists and peace upon the earth’?

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.