William Morris

Preface to 'Socialism made Plain'

I HAVE been asked to write a Preface to this book, and do so with pleasure, believing that it will supply a need to those who are really anxious to know the aims and methods of Socialism. There is, indeed, a good deal of socialist literature in circulation; but a part of this is in pamphlet form, and though often excellent in their way, not one of these pamphlets goes far enough towards exhausting the subject, and satisfying the demand for information. On the other hand, the more learned socialist literature, like Marx's celebrated book, requires such hard and close study that those who have not approached the subject by a more easy road, are not likely to begin on that side, or if they did, would find that something like a guide was necessary to them before they could follow the arguments steadily. Therefore books like this are welcome, which state the pros and cons clearly and fairly, and without what, to a beginner, would be the incumbrance of dealing with side issues, especially when, as in this case, they are free from the affectation of technical terms, which in many works on sociology repel the reader, and not seldom contain in themselves unproved assumptions, and circular arguments. In truth a working knowledge of Socialism is not hard to acquire at the present time; since, in these days, the evolution of history has set thought free from prejudices, which not very long ago made it impossible for any but original and rare minds even to consider the relation between the classes, which make up modern civilisation, or to criticise the present makeshift, falsely called Society. Amidst the growing aspirations of all thoughtful people towards a society founded on mutual goodwill and fair dealing, in other words towards a real society, the subject of Socialism is no longer an abstruse study for philosophers, but a practical question which all honest people must face, and learn to understand, under penalty of finding themselves surprised into a position of unreasoning hostility to the welfare of the world at large; and, I repeat, it is no longer difficult to understand the principles of Socialism, and to learn what it is that it attacks. To a person once impressed, as so many now are, by the miseries resulting from the inequality of our modern society it is almost enough to show the development of privilege in our modern or commercial society, and to lay bare the machinery by which this iniquity is worked. In the course of his learning what it is that Socialism attacks, the enquirer will learn what it is that Socialism aims at, viz., the full development of human life set free from artificial regulations in favour of a class. To give this information is the main part of the task which Mr. Fairman has put before himself, and he has accomplished it straight- forwardly and clearly, so that it is impossible to misunderstand his meaning. But he has also very naturally felt himself bound not only to explain the principles of Socialism, but also to give his views as to how they might be put in practice; that is to say, to state his idea of the transition from the present to the future of society. It must be admitted frankly that on this, the political side of modern Socialism, there are and must be differences of opinion between Socialists; in the aims of Socialism there is really little difference; this lies chiefly in the means to be used, or rather in the way in which the lever, the communization of the means of production, is to be applied. Since the author puts forward his views with much modesty, and without dogmatism, I have the less difficulty in admitting that I am one of those to whom he alludes who difier from him as to the method of bringing about the change set forth by him in the ninth chapter of this work.

It seems to me that the constitutional or parliamentary method which he advocates would involve loss of energy, disappointment, and discouragement; that it would bear with it the almost inevitable danger of the people's eyes being directed to the immediate struggle, losing sight of the ultimate aim; of their being befooled by those very concessions which the author speaks of as likely to be offered so eagerly by the present political parties; and, judging by the signs of the times, I cannot help thinking that the necessities of the miserable, ever increasing as the old system gets closer to its inevitable ruin, will outrun the slow process of converting parliament from a mere committee of the landlords and capitalists into a popular body representing the best aspirations of the workers. Moreover socialists, unless they abandon their principles, cannot help showing their hand from the first, and consequently even moderate measures will always be looked on with suspicion coming from them, and concessions which would have been granted without much resistance to the Radicals twenty or even ten years ago, if they had been demanded, will be sternly refused to the Socialist demand. In the days in which I am now writing, there are not lacking signs that the reactionists, driven by the fear of the advancing wave of revolution, are making up their minds to make a stand on the ground of mere brute force, which at present they are able to com- mand.

Without wishing any more than the author to claim the gift of prophecy, I venture to state that my own hope lies in converting the associated workmen to Socialism, and in their organizing a great inclusive body, which would feel itself consciously at strife with the proprietary class, and its organ Parliament; which would regulate labour in the interest of the workers as well as might be under the present system till the time was ripe for the general assertion of the principles of Socialism, and for the beginning of their practice, when Parliament might be used mechanically for the setting forth of a few enactments rather destructive than constructive, so as to allow freed, but organised labour to take its due place, and throw off the mere encumbrances which are so well dealt with in this book.

I do not suppose the author will differ from me in thinking such an organised body of practical opinion necessary; so that our difference of opinion is really narrow enough, and I need say no more about it, but will only hope that that opinion will speedily grow and that all dispute as to the means of attaining Socialism will fall dead before the necessary action which events will force on us.

In conclusion, I heartily recommend this book as a useful manual, which really fulfils the promise of its title, of making Socialism plain; a most important function to fulfill.


London, Dec. 5th, 1887.


  1. 1888, as preface to The Principles of Socialism Made Plain; and, Objections, Methods and Quack Remedies for Poverty Considered, by Frank Fairman, published by William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street E.C.