William Morris. Commonweal 1886

The Moral of Last Lord Mayor’s Day

Source: “The Moral of Last Lord Mayor’s Day” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 45, 20 November 1886, p.265;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The Lord Mayor’s Show has come and gone, and it may be supposed that many respectable people, including probably the city magnates who formed part of the procession, are easier in their minds that it is well over. But perhaps they will not on reflection be thoroughly reassured. The procession was far from being a triumphant one, and was escorted by hoots and groans all along. The success of the police in preventing a demonstration was only partial, since a huge meeting was held and harangued in Trafalgar Square, in spite of Sir Charles Warren’s proclamation, besides the large meeting in Hyde Park held together by members of the League in spire of the pouring rain. All this is not very like a police triumph. But the most significant fact is that the allies counted on by the police, judging by Colonel Fraser’s letter, entirely failed then. It goes without saying that the Kenny and Kelly gang were nowhere, and that the Liberty and Property Defence League might as well have saved themselves the expense of printing and circulating the handbill which was plentiful in the city on the 8th, and which was practically an incitement to the crowd to attack the Socialists. All this was a small matter, but what was important was that the crowd everywhere were in sympathy with the Socialists; and it must be said this is a very important fact, and shows that the propaganda of the past year has produced its effect. The all middle-class — the respectables — certainly expected it to be all the other way, and the press has shown its disappointment clearly enough, though some part of it has tried to hide its uneasiness at the affair. The Standard probably expresses the general feeling on the matter, and the tone of its article is regret that the police did not stop the meeting at any cost, because authority has received a blow from what took place — as indeed it has. The Pall Mall admits the collapse of authority. The Daily News loses its respectable head from sheer peevishness, even to the extent of allowing itself to publish the following remarkable sentence: ‘The spirit in which they [the Socialists] conduct their agitation is a good deal more important than their principles.’ Really, Mr Bourgeois, ‘even for your own purposes’, you should try not to be so empty as that. Socialist principles, whether they are right or wrong profess to deal with a subject no less than the whole of human life; and however rude and offensive we, the present agitators, may be in our agitation, those principles will be discussed, whether they are acted upon or not, long after the world has got rid of such passing matters as us and our rudeness.

A very few words upon, not the cause of this demonstration, but its occasion. The Daily News ends its article by saying, ‘Socialism is one thing, and the prevention of the threatened winter’s sorrow at the East End is quite another. Those who doubt it have only to read the resolutions carried at Trafalgar Square yesterday.’ Yes, that is true, but nearly in the inverse sense that the Daily News means it. The steps suggested by those resolutions, or rather the action of the Government which the whole agitation is meant to force on, would certainly do something towards ‘preventing the winter sorrow’. But, let alone the very little that the Government could be forced to do for poor people, even the whole of the resolutions do not mean Socialism or anything like it, though they do mean an attempt to palliate present poverty. An attempt, it must be said, which, even as a palliative, is bound to fail, because it is a palliative that looks towards Socialism. No bourgeois government could carry out the measures claimed by these resolutions, even if they would; and certainly none will try to do so, or can be forced to try, so long as they are a constitutional government and not a revolutionary body.

Nevertheless the crowd in Trafalgar Square did not draw, and had no chance of drawing, any fine distinctions. They were there supporting the Socialists in general, who they believed were trying to raise them from the terrible condition in which they are, and they were at least in a fair way of understanding that they are poor because the masters of the police and soldiers are rich. The net gain of this strange Lord Mayor’s Show is that, as far as it goes, it has struck a blow at bourgeois authority, and that it has emphasized the class distinctions which rob us all of our due life. That at least is something. Until people find out either by learning to see it, or by instinctive feeling, that there is a class war going on, and great change for the better is impossible. When the poor begin to know that they are poor not by irremediable accident, but because they are robbed by a useless class who can be got rid of, the beginning of the end is at hand.