The Manifesto of The Socialist League

By William Morris and E. Belfort Bax

Prefatory Note

The spread of Socialism since the first issue of this Manifesto makes a new edition necessary; all the more, as the word Socialism is now freely used by Ministers and ex-Ministers, who cannot be expected to understand it, and who nevertheless take credit to themselves for their audacity in patronising it before vast popular audiences, so that the word has got to be used loosely and in a misleading manner.

It is hoped that this new issue may be a corrective against misunderstandings that may arise from all this.

The Notes appended to this edition will at any rate, we hope, clear up any possible ambiguities in the text as well as we the undersigned can clear them up.

E. BELFORT BAX. and WILLIAM MORRIS, October, 1885.

The Manifesto of The Socialist League

Fellow Citizens,

We come before you as a body advocating the principles of Revolutionary International Socialism; that is, we seek a change in the basis of Society - a change which would destroy the distinctions of classes and nationalities.

As the civilised world is at present constituted, there are two classes of Society - the one possessing wealth and the instruments of its production, the other producing wealth by means of those instruments but only by the leave and for the use of the possessing classes.

These two classes are necessarily in antagonism to one another. The possessing class, or non-producers, can only live as a class on the unpaid labour of the producers - the more unpaid labour they can wring out of them, the richer they will be; therefore the producing class - the workers - are driven to strive to better themselves at the expense of the possessing class, and the conflict between the two is ceaseless. Sometimes it takes the form of open rebellion, sometimes of strikes, sometimes of mere widespread mendicancy and crime; but it is always going on in one form or other, though it may not always be obvious to the thoughtless looker-on (see Note A).

We have spoken of unpaid labour: it is necessary to explain what that means. The sole possession of the producing class is the power of labour inherent in their bodies; but since, as we have already said, the richer classes possess all the instruments of labour, that is, the land, capital, and machinery, the producers or workers are forced to sell their sole possession, the power of labour, on such terms as the possessing class will grant them.

These terms are, that after they have produced enough to keep them in working order, and enable them to beget children to take their places when they are worn out, the surplus of their products shall belong to the possessors of property, which bargain is based on the fact that every man working in a civilised community can produce more than he needs for hisown sustenance (Note B).

This relation of the possessing class to the working class is the essential basis of the system of producing for a profit, on which our modern Society is founded. The way in which it works is as follows. The manufacturer produces to sell at a profit to the broker or factor, who in his turn makes a profit out of his dealings with the merchant, who again sells for a profit to the retailer, who must make his profit out of the general public, aided by various degrees of fraud and adulteration and the ignorance of the value and quality of goods to which this system has reduced the consumer.

The profit-grinding system is maintained by competition, or veiled war, not only between the conflicting classes, but also within the classes themselves: there is always war among the workers for bare subsistence, and among their masters, the employers and middle-men, for the share of the profit wrung out of the workers; lastly, there is competition always, and sometimes open war, among the nations of the civilised world for their share of the world-market. For now, indeed, all the rivalries of nations have been reduced to this one - a degraded struggle for their share of the spoils of barbarous countries to be used at home for the purpose of increasing the riches of the rich and the poverty of the poor.

For, owing to the fact that goods are made primarily to sell, and only secondarily for use, labour is wasted on all hands; since the pursuit of profit compels the manufacturer competing with his fellows to force his wares on the markets by means of their cheapness, whether there is any real demand for them or not. In the words of the Communist manifesto of 1847:-

"Cheap goods are the artillery for battering down Chinese walls and for overcoming the obstinate hatred entertained against foreigners by semi-civilised nations: under penalty of ruin the Bourgeoisie compel by competition the universal adoption of their system of production; they force all nations to accept what is called civilisation - to become Bourgeois - and thus the middle-class shapes the world after its own image."

Moreover, the whole method of distribution under this system is full of waste; for it employs whole armies of clerks, travellers, shopmen, advertisers, and what not, merely for the sake of shifting money from one person's pocket to another's; and this waste in production and waste in distribution, added to the maintenance of the useless lives of the possessing and non-producing class, must all be paid for out of the products of the workers, and is a ceaseless burden on their lives.

Therefore the necessary results of this so-called civilisation are only too obvious in the lives of its slaves, the working-class - in the anxiety and want of leisure amidst which they toil, in the squalor and wretchedness of those parts of our great towns where they dwell; in the degradation of their bodies, their wretched health, and the shortness of their lives; in the terrible brutality so common among them, and which is indeed but the reflection of the cynical selfishness found among the well-to-do classes, a brutality as hideous as the other; and lastly, in the crowd of criminals who are as much manufactures of our commercial system as the cheap and nasty wares which are made at once for the consumption and the enslavement of the poor.

What remedy, then, do we propose for this failure of our civilisation, which is now admitted by almost all thoughtful people?

We have already shown that the workers, although they produce all the wealth of society, have no control over its production or distribution: the people, who are the only really organic part of society, are treated as a mere appendage to capital - as a part of its machinery. This must be altered from the foundation: the land, the capital, the machinery, factories, workshops, stores, means of transit, mines, banking, all means of production and distribution of wealth, must be declared and treated as the common property of all. Every man will then receive the full value of his labour, without deduction for the profit of a master, and as all will have to work, and the waste now incurred by the pursuit of profit will be at an end, the amount of labour necessary for every individual to perform in order to carry on the essential work of the world will be reduced to something like two or three hours daily; so that every one will have abundant leisure for following intellectual or other pursuits congenial to his nature (Note C).

This change in the method of production and distribution would enable every one to live decently, and free from the sordid anxieties for daily livelihood which at present weigh so heavily on the greatest part of mankind (Note D).

But, moreover, men's social and moral relations would be seriously modified by this gain of economical freedom, and by the collapse of the superstitions, moral and other, which necessarily accompany a state of economical slavery: the test of duty would now rest on the fulfilment of clear and well-defined obligations to the community rather than on the moulding of the individual character and actions to some preconceived standard outside social responsibilities (Note E).

Our modern bourgeois property-marriage, maintained as it is by its necessary complement, universal venal prostitution, would give place to kindly and human relations between the sexes (Note F).

Education freed from the trammels of commercialism on the one hand and superstition on the other, would become a reasonable drawing out of men's varied faculties in order to fit them for a life of social intercourse and happiness; for mere work would no longer be proposed as the end of life, but happiness for each and all.

Only be such fundamental changes in the life of man, only by the transformation of Civilisation into Socialism, can those miseries of the world before mentioned be amended (Note G).

As to mere politics, Absolutism, Constitutionalism, Republicanism, have all been tried in our day and under our present social system, and all have alike failed in dealing with the real evils of life.

Nor, on the other hand, will certain incomplete schemes of social reform now before the public solve the question.

Co-operation so-called - that is, competitive co-operation for profit - would merely increase the number of small joint-stock capitalists, under the mask of creating an aristocracy of labour, while it would intensify the severity of labour by its temptations to overwork (Note H).

Nationalisation of the land alone, which many earnest and sincere persons are now preaching, would be useless so long as labour was subject to the fleecing of surplus value inevitable under the Capitalist system (Note I).

No better solution would be that of State Socialism, by whatever name it may be called, whose aim it would be to make concessions to the working class while leaving the present system of capital and wages still in operation: no number of merely administrative changes, until the workers are in possession of all political power, would make any real approach to Socialism (Note J).

The Socialist League therefore aims at the realisation of complete Revolutionary Socialism, and well knows that this can never happen in any one country without the help of the workers of all civilisation. For us neither geographical boundaries, political history, race, nor creed makes rivals or enemies; for us there are no nations, but only varied masses of workers and friends, whose mutual sympathies are checked or perverted by groups of masters and fleecers whose interest it is to stir up rivalries and hatreds between the dwellers in different lands.

It is clear that for all these oppressed and cheated masses of workers and their masters a great change is preparing: the dominant classes are uneasy, anxious, touched in conscience even, as to the condition of those they govern; the markets of the world are being competed for with an eagerness never before known; everything points to the fact that the great commercial system is becoming unmanageable, and is slipping from the grasp of its present rulers.

The one change possible out of all this is Socialism. As chattel-slavery passed into serfdom, and serfdom into the so-called free-labour system, so most surely will this latter pass into social order.

To the realisation of this change the Socialist League addresses itself with all earnestness. As a means thereto it will do all in its power towards the education of the people in the principles of this great cause, and will strive to organise those who will accept this education, so that when the crisis comes, which the march of events is preparing, there may be a body of men ready to step into their due places and deal with and direct the irresistible movement.

Close fellowship with each other, and steady purpose for the advancement of the Cause, will naturally bring about the organisation and discipline amongst ourselves absolutely necessary to success; but we shall look to it that there shall be no distinctions of rank or dignity amongst us to give opportunities for the selfish ambition of leadership which has so often injured the cause of the workers. We are working for equality and brotherhood for all the world, and it is only through equality and brotherhood that we can make our work effective.

Let us all strive, then, towards this end of realising the change towards social order, the only cause worthy the attention of the workers of all that are proffered to them: let us work in that cause patiently, yet hopefully, and not shrink from making sacrifices to it. Industry in learning its principles, industry in teaching them, are most necessary to our progress; but to these we must add, if we wish to avoid speedy failure, frankness and fraternal trust in each other, and single-hearted devotion to the religion of Socialism, the only religion which the Socialist League professes.

Notes on the Manifesto

A. The distribution of wares is as necessary in a community as their production; the necessary distributors therefore belong really to the class of the producers, so long as they are genuinely fulfilling this function, are not over-paid, are spending their earnings on their own livelihood, and are not living on the interest of invested money; the same thing may be said of those who follow such professions as medicine and teaching. It may be added as to the medical men, that the competition which runs through all life at the present day keeps most of them poor enough - for their position in the middle-class - some of them not earning more than an average skilled workman. Such men have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a social revolution; they, along with the poorer of the literary men, may be said to belong to the intellectual proletariat; and are slaves to Capital in their way just as the mechanics are in theirs.

A word or two on those of the working-class, who by dint of the much-praised "thrift and industry" have raised themselves into the position of small capitalists, who have, for example, money in savings banks or building-societies. These "aristocrats of labour" have in fact a double quality, and are both slave-drivers and slave-driven: living in comparative comfort, yet without aspirations for a life of true refinement, they offer good material for the schemes of reactionaries; it is accordingly on the widespread creation of such a sub-class that the more foreseeing of the dominant classes base their hopes of the continuance of the present system, with its necessary foundation of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water.

B. The standard of livelihood varies at different times and in different countries: it has always been a subject of bitter contention between employers and employed, sometimes leading to actual war between them, and continually to strikes and other bickering; but the whole result of this higgling has always been to leave at least a lowest class of labour existing only a little above actual starvation. On the other hand no group of the workers can properly be said to have even a subsistence-wage if their standard falls below that of the healthy middle-class; they live, it is true, but the statistics of the average of life in the various classes show that they do not live as long as the better fed and less worked classes do (if indeed statistics be necessary to support such an obvious fact). They die before their time.

C. The end which true Socialism sets before us is the realisation of absolute equality of condition helped by the development of variety of capacity, according to the motto, from each one according to his capacity, to each one according to his needs; but it may be necessary, and probably will be, to go through a transitional period, during which currency will still be used as a medium of exchange, though of course it will not bear with it the impress of surplus value. Various suggestions have been made as to the payment of labour during this period. The community must compel a certain amount of labour from every person not in nonage, or physically or mentally incapable, such compulsion being in fact but the compulsion of nature, who gives us nothing for nothing. 1st. This labour may be arranged on the understanding that each person does an amount of work calculated on the average that an ordinary healthy person can turn out in a given time, the standard being the time necessary for the production of a definite quantity of bread-stuff. It is clear that under this system, owing to the difference of capacity one man may have to work a longer and another a shorter time than the estimated average, and thus the result would fall short of the Communistic ideal of absolute equality; but it is probable that these differences would not have much practical effect on social life; because the advantages gained by the better workers could not be transmuted into the power of compelling unpaid labour from others, since rent, profit, and interest would have ceased to exist. Those who obtained the extra goods would have to consume them themselves, otherwise they would be of no use to them. It should also be remembered that the tendency of modern production is to equalise the capacities of labour by means of machinery, so that the unskilled, the weak man, the woman, or even the child, are reduced to something like an equality of capacity. Of course it will be understood that this is an illustration drawn from our present state of industrial production, which for this reason employs woman or child-labour in preference to that of adults.

But 2ndly, labour might be so arranged that an estimated necessary average of time should be its basis, so that no one would have to work longer than another, and the community would have to put up with the differences between various capacities, and the necessary short-comings of some which would be compensated by the superiority of others. The bourgeois will of course cry out that this would be offering a premium to idleness and stupidity; but once more we must not forget that the use of machinery would much reduce the difficulty; and further, that as each would be encouraged to develop his special capacity; a position of usefulness could be found for everyone; and this fact would almost entirely get rid of the above difficulty. Whatever residuum of disadvantages was left would be met by the revolutionised ethics of a Socialist epoch, which would make all feel their first duty to be the energetic performance of social functions: shirking work would be felt to be as much of a disgrace then to an ordinary man as cowardice in the face of an enemy is now to an officer in the army, and would be avoided accordingly.

Finally, we look forward to the time when any definite exchange will have entirely ceased to exist; just as it never existed in that primitive Communism which preceded Civilisation.

The enemy will say, "This is retrogression not progress"; to which we answer, All progress, every distinctive stage of progress, involves a backward as well as a forward movement; the new development returns to a point which represents the older principle elevated to a higher plane; the old principle reappears transformed, purified, made stronger, and ready to advance on the fuller life it has gained through its seeming death. As an illustration (imperfect as all illustrations must be) take the case of advance on a straight line and on a spiral, - the progress of all life must be not on the straight line, but on the spiral.

D. The freedom from these sordid anxieties offers the only chance to escape from the insipidity or the bitterness, into one of which the lives of most men fall at present. Then would real variety and healthy excitement be introduced into human life. Then would come to an end that "dull level of mediocrity" which is a necessary characteristic of an epoch of Capitalist production, which forces all but a very small minority to become mere machines. Individuality of character is the real child of communal production; it is the reckless scramble for individual gain which reduces all character to a level by giving it one object in life, an object sordid in itself, and to which all other objects and aspirations, however noble, must bend and be subsidiary.

E. A new system of industrial production must necessarily bear with it its own morality. Morality, which in a due state of Society should mean nothing more than the responsibility of the individual man to the social whole of which he forms a part, has come to mean his responsibility to a supernatural being who arbitrarily creates and directs his conscience and the laws which are to govern it; although the attributes of this being are but the reflex of some passing phase of man's existence, and change more or less with that phase. A purely theological morality, therefore, means simply a survival from a past condition of Society; it may be added that, however sacred it may be deemed conventionally, it is set aside with little scruple when it clashes with the necessities (unforeseen at its birth) which belong to the then existing state of things.

The economical change which we advocate, therefore, would not be stable unless accompanied by a corresponding revolution in ethics, which, however, is certain to accompany it, since the two things are inseparable elements of one whole, to wit social evolution.

F. Under a Socialistic system contracts between individuals would be voluntary and unenforced by the community. This would apply to the marriage contract as well as others, and it would become a matter of simple inclination. Women also would share in the certainty of livelihood which would be the lot of all; and children would be treated from their birth as members of the community entitled to share in all its advantages; so that economical compulsion could be no more brought to bear on the contract than legal compulsion could be. Nor would a truly enlightened public opinion, freed from mere theological views as to chastity, insist on its permanently binding nature in the face of any discomfort or suffering that might come of it.

G. The first discoverable stage of human society was founded on a Communistic basis. Religious, ethical, political, economic, artistic activities were not developed into separate existence, but were merely latent. Civilisation, which at bottom meant the development of the great antagonism between individualism and Society, in the course of its evolution brought these distinctions in the several departments of human life into relief at the cost of all the miseries which that antagonism necessarily produced. Historical progress (i.e. the Historical Period of human evolution) simply means the disentanglement of these various departments with the antagonisms involved in them; "Happy," says the proverb, "is the people which has no history." Socialism closes [this[ era of antagonisms, and, whatever may be the case as time goes on, and though we cannot accept finality, at present we can see nothing beyond it.

H. The so-called co-operative bodies, whatever might be their arrangements within themselves, would, as far as their external dealings were concerned, have to act as bodies just like other capitalists; also their individual members outside their own bodies would be each of them a capitalist. It is to be understood that this is said of the Co-operative societies if they came up to their own standard, and divided all their profits equitably among their workers; but we believe none of them reaches this standard, and most of those existing are mere joint-stock companies worked on improved business principles.

I. Now that the feudal system with the consequent public duties of the landowner is abolished, land is but one of the forms of capital. The land that a factory stands upon is part of the constant capital of the manufacturer, just as much as the building is, or the machinery within it. A landowner's rent for his land is exactly analogous to a money-lender's interest on his money; it is one of the many forms of squeezing surplus value from labour.

J. By political power we do not mean the exercise of the franchise, or even the fullest development of the representative system, but the direct control by the people of the whole administration of the community, whatever the ultimate destiny of that administration is to be. We venture to suggest that the first step in the state of transition into Communism might probably be the enactment of a law of a minimum of wages and a maximum of price applied to all industrial production, including the distribution of goods; it seems to us that this, coupled with the immediate abolition of all laws enforcing contract, would at once destroy the possibility of profit-making, and would give us opportunity for getting into working order the decentralised voluntary organisation of production which we hope to see take the place of the present Hierarchy of Compulsion.

The Manifesto of the Socialist League, 2nd Edition, 1885.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology