William Morris. Commonweal 1886

The Ten Commandments

Source: “The Ten Commandments” Commonweal, Vol 2, No. 46, 27 November 1886, p.276;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Amongst the articles in the ‘Mall Pall Gazette’ occur some that express sad trouble about the ten commandments. These are always of a peculiar character, so that it is safe to assume that they are written by one person; and that person’s function seems to be to repress the excesses of those contributors to the journal who are Socialistic in tendency. It is not the business of the Commonweal to criticize literature, so we may leave the style of the above-said contributor alone; but his anxiety as to the fate of the ten commandments in a future state of society, which is shared, doubtless, by many well-to-do people, is a little curious, considering the life they live in the present one; and therefore we may be allowed to ask which of the ten commandments it is he is so anxious about, since it may be assumed that it is not one or more of the theological ones. Should we be hazarding too much if we were to guess that it is the sixth, which is likely to be not much heeded when Imperial Federation is well on foot, and the lives of various niggers stand in the way of its success? Or, indeed, is it ever heeded, seeing how short the life of the workers is, compared with that of the idlers, and considering how manufacturers have to be compelled by fear of fire rather than by fear of ignominy, to take the most ordinary precautions against the accidental death of their men? Or is it the tenth? It is true that coveting a man’s goods is only a small part of the process of taking them away from him; and it is so inbred in us under our ‘Society’ of Artificial Famine, that we don’t heed that our bourgeois morality is specially constructed to justify us, or a few of us, in keeping our neighbours poorer than they should be in order that we may grow rich through their poverty. Still the commandment is an important one, and worth anxiety. But commercial morality, that of to-day, is an organized system of coveting our neighbour’s goods; therefore the writer in question may let his anxiety go by the board on that score, since the commandment is already broken as much as it can be. Nor, surely, need anxiety for the future of the eighth keep him awake at nights; tis quite done with now, since not only are many poor devils compelled to steal for a livelihood (and I doubt if the Jewish lawgiver had that in his mind), but that which compels them to do so is the unceasing robbery of the poor by the rich, which is so habitual that it has not only become legal, but is the very bond of our Authoritative sham-Society, the basis of ‘law and order’. It may be said that this is the commonplace of Socialism, and so it is; but if the writer in the Pall Mall can give any other explanation of the miseries of our society of rich and poor let him do so, and not shelter himself behind a superstitious regard for an ancient rule of life, which he and his have long ago ceased to practice, but the words of which they use to evade the problems of civilization, by throwing them in the faces of people even more ignorant than themselves — people who suffer from the misfortune of superstition rather than the crime of cant. To these, who are unhappily ignorant, we Socialists say that in the true society which we are striving to realize, honesty and mutual respect will become so habitual that the very meaning of these commandments will have grown dim to us.