William Morris

Genuine Radicals

In spite of Irish Coercion Acts, wars against freedom in South Africa and Egypt, emigration swindles, Cobden Club dinners, and the ceaseless hypocrisy of a bogus monarchy, there still exists a Radical party in this country. With the parliamentary leaders of that party, or the phalanx of factory lords which supports it in the hope that such a party may still mean reasonable liberty - to sweat the workers at its pleasure; with these we have nothing to do, not even to warn them of the change which is coming over the face of European civilisation.

But beyond and besides these there are all those whom they have led into their pinfold of so-called practical politics, wherein they were to be comfortable for ever - if the laws of supply aid demand would allow it. It is to this crowd of men, by no means interested, in the continuance of the present state of things, but who are tacked on to the skirts of those lords of commerce who are interested in nothing else, that we have a word or two to say. We address ourselves to the political workingmen, to whom Radicalism seems an advanced creed; who think that by persisting in pushing it at the polling booth and public meetings they will somehow gain good education for their children, a steady and tolerable livelihood undisturbed by disgraceful wars abroad, or ruinous commercial crisis at home, in a word decent life and self-respect: to these, I say, to whom Radicalism has come as the best and most advanced opinion, and to who at present know nothing beyond it, we are bound to say and shall do so again and again that they have thrust themselves into a blind alley with nothing but a blank wall at the other end. What are you going to get by remaining mere radicals? That is what we ask. "We are going to get universal suffrage." Yes you are but your leaders won't ask for it or let you do so if they can help it.

"We are going to abolish the House of Lords." Well, you think so, but your leaders are going to reform that august body; worth taking trouble about isn't it? "We are going to abolish the monarchy?" I have no doubt of it; but don't tell your leaders of your intentions - not yet - you know you were over hasty with Sir Charles Dilke; you must permeate your leaders with your advanced opinions; and when you have done so - excuse me, you must first have opinions - you will find that you have got no leaders - and do not want them.

And again, when you have gained Universal Suffrage which at the present Radical rate will I should think take you about 150 years, and have by means of it abolished (in another 150 years the House of Lords, and then the monarchy in another 150, what will you do then? 'Then we shall all be citizens and free!' Yes indeed, as free as the citizens of France are now for instance, who have to hereditary rulers; France, a country which your leaders look on as a commercial concern which is a dangerous rival to England in the markets; but which you should look at as a country sustaining so many millions of fellow workers, who are not as contented with their freedom as you expect to be with yours, when you have abolished your hereditary rule.

'Yes, but by the way we intend to abolish monopolies.' All of them? `Yes certainly.' My Radical friends, you will abolish monopolies when you know what they are; but I don't think your leaders will give you very accurate information on that point, for they themselves are one and all monopolists.

I am sure you long for freedom, that you wish to live easily, comfortably, reasonably, without overwork, or the oppression of sordid anxiety for your livelihood; and I must tell you that your leaders, that body of rich and educated people from whom you choose your representatives in Parliament, cannot wish to gain this kind of freedom for you, though they may think they do; for their position of riches and cultivated leisure, their dominion in other words, depends on your ignorance, your overwork, your sordid anxiety for a livelihood. We Socialists know that this is so, that there is a necessary and unceasing war between you and your Masters, whom you send to Parliament to represent you; and it is this knowledge and neither inborn wickedness nor Tory bribes that forces us in the columns of Justice to take up a tone of implacable resistance to the sham popular government, which, whether it is called Liberal or Conservative, is nothing but a committee for arranging the affairs of the land owners and capitalists and their servants, or in plain English, their slaves, on the basis of servitude for the workers.

Well, I know that you Radicals are angry with us Socialists for disturbing the course of practical politics and reasonable reform; but go on being Radicals a little longer and see what will happen; only try to make Radicalism real and progressive, take part in affairs yourselves, and don't look on while your leaders pretend to work for you; press them on such points as free education, and the eight hours working day, push them on to attacking the railway monopoly, the vested interests of property in typhoid or cholera, and you will find that you will either force them into avowed Conservatism of the modern cynical type, which allows that slavery is bad for the working man, but will uphold it all the same, or into nameless groups of philanthropical varnishers; you will either force them into avowed tyranny or conscious and obvious hypocrisy, and they will be leaders who in either case can only lead people who are conscious of their slavery. And then when you have unmasked your leaders and are led by principle and not by place-hunters, and are on the way at least to gaining those good things above mentioned, and many others, the Radical party, what of it was worth anything, will be merged into the Party of the People, those whom we now call SOCIALISTS.


Justice, 12th July 1884, pp. 4-5.