William Morris

Misery and the Way Out

As reported in the Edinburgh Evening News

Source: The Edinburgh Evening News, Tuesday 18 November 1884, p.2
Note: See the full text
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, May 2022


Last night, in the Literary Institute, Edinburgh, under the auspices of the Scottish Land and Labour League, William Morris, London, treasurer of the Social Democratic Federation, lectured on "Misery, and the Way Out." Mr Robert Buist presided, and there was a good attendance.

Mr Morris said he thought the misery of which he was about to speak, from one reason or another, either material or spiritual, stretched practically right through all classes. All were discontented with their lot. An eminent man once told him that the poor always suffered from one disease, "hunger," but he had at least one haven of rest before he reached the graveā€”the workhouse. (Applause.) Everybody treated him as a criminal. In point of fact he had committed the crime of being born whether he would or not. Was it his fault that he had been born into that position? He considered such a life, though scarce worth calling a life, absolutely necessary to the existence of society as at present constituted, for let the labourer raise his class a very little and the foundations of society would be shaken. (Applause.)

The skilled artisan, wretchedly housed, and without intellectual amusement, was at the best a machine and not a man. Clerks and shop assistants were in sense worse off than the artisans because they were supposed to belong to the middle-class, and while their wages were often lower than the artisan's they had to keep up a show. They were obliged to follow the politics of their "bosses" who would very likely make short work of any rebellion on their part, but he asked them to help the Socialist movement.

The small shopkeeper's occupation was doomed to very speedy destruction. On the one hand the great stores like Whiteley's in London, and on the other the co-operative stores were ever drawing nearer the poor man like the jaws of a nut-cracker. He called on this class and also on the farmers, to whose causes of discontent he also alluded, to join the Socialist movement.

Coming to the professional classes or "hangers-on," in which he included himself, the speaker said they were oppressed by the consciousness of the toiling slaves below them, and they despised the idle slave-owners above them. (Applause.) Under the present system there was no hope of the working classes bettering their position as a class. Whatever amelioration they had gained had been got in spite of the system and in the teeth of it. (Applause.) It was of the essence of society at present constituted that the wage-earners should earn no more than was necessary for them to sustain their power of labour and reproduce their kind. He urged them on all hands to combine and shake off the economical slavery of to-day, which did not differ very much from the personal slavery of the older world. (Applause.)

Questions having been invited, Mr Job Bone asked how Mr Morris meant to take possession of the land, machinery, and capital of the country? (Laughter.)

Mr Morris said the present capitalists would not have the money any longer individually, but they would have collectively, and would nave their fair share of all the advantages that flowed from it. As to how it was to be accomplished he would say by the working classes generally making up their minds that it must done. (Laughter and applause.) He left entirely to them to say how.

Mr Bone said Mr Morris' answer amounted to this, that if by a life of thrift and frugality he had saved money it was to be equally divided amongst all, and he was to be content with a 32-millionth part what he had made? Was that fair? and how often was the division to be made? (Laughter.)

A working man asked what was to be done with the lazy and worthless under the new scheme?

Mr Thomas Ritohie spoke against the scheme as being unpractical, and urged co-operation as the cure for the present difficulties between capital and labour.

Mr Andreas Scheu, secretary to the Democratic Federation, said Bone's objections had been long exploded. There would be no need of periodic divides, the capital and machinery and land would belong to all, and would be used for the benefit of the whole.

Mr Morris, answering the question as to the lazy and worthless. thought there would then be a great change in the general disposition for the better as regarded work, and there would be far fewer loafers than at present.

The Rev. J. Glasse, Old Greyfriars, in moving a vote of thanks to Morris for his address, said he (the speaker) was a minister of the Christian Church, one of the rules of which was that the man who would not work must not eat and that whatever we would have others do to us we should do to them. (Applause.) That was the essence of Socialism, and to that extent he was proud of being a Socialist. (Applause.) He had studied political economy, and believed that if they preached thrift to the working people, and all were to practise it, their reward, according to the iron law of nature, would be that their wages would come down. (Applause,)

A vote of thanks was given to the chairman, and the meeting terminated.