William Morris

Lecture on Socialism

As reported in the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle

Source: The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle, Wednesday 9 November 1887, p.3 (reprinted in the Saturday edition)
Note: The newspaper printed the lecture with the title Lecture on Socialism, causing Eugene Lemire (in Unpublished Lectures of William Morris) to list it as a delivery of the talk of that name; from the actual text it is clearly a delivery of a different talk: What Socialists Want.
Transcription: by Graham Seaman for MIA, October 2022


On Tuesday evening, despite the inclemency of the weather, there was a good audience at the Victoria Hall, to listen to a lecture by Mr William Morris M.A., of London, on "Socialism". Mr E. Woodhead M.A. presided, and Mr George Thomson and Mr O. Balmforth occupied seats on the platform.

The Chairman observed that no doubt some present might be inclined to ask him a question which he had already been asked privately several times since the announcements of the meeting had been out, "Are you a Socialist?" and he had been tempted to reply in the Scotch fashion by asking "Aren't you?" That seemed to him the only reply feasible and admissible to the question. It was the reproach of ignorance to catch at a name and make it a badge of obloquy without really knowing what the significance of the name or the wort might be. All who loved their fellow-men Were practically entitled to the names of Socialists. When they overcame national selfishness and looked st social questions from an external standpoint, and not an internal standpoint, they then became Socialists. In this way the name, instead of being one of reproach, became one of the very reverse quality. In some points he might be at issue with the lecturer, but he did not feel that such difference of opinion should in any degree militate against his presiding that night. So long be felt convinced that any any public speaker was an honest advocate of the views that he held, he felt that there was a great advantage to the community in those views being expounded. (Hear, hear)

Mr Morris, who was well received, said that in the first place it was alleged against the Socialists that they claimed equality for all men. So they did from one point of view. But Socialists no more than other people believed all persons to be equal. Amongst men there most be varieties of desires, dispositions, degrees, and capabilities. Nevertheless, these were very much increased by the circumstances amongst which a men lived, and not only his own life, but those of his ancestors. These circumstances were more or less under the control of society. These inequalities became a source of misery to many, and of degradation to all. There were, however, certain things in which all were equal. Those were, for instance, food, clothes, and housing. And if they needed these things they also needed them in sufficiency, and of good quality. If they could not obtain these there must be something wrong somewhere — either nature, man himself, or the society of which that man formed a part. As men and women also, they had all other needs such as leisure, pleasure, and education. But that power might be repressed or developed. Again, if a person had not leisure, pleasure, or education, he fell short of human necessaries, and there was something wrong somewhere. Everybody should have a certainty of those necessaries as long as he behaved himself decently. If this was brought about they would all be equal, as Socialists used the word equality. Did this reasonable equality exist amongst us? It did not. This was the richest oontry in the world, the richest country there ever had been, and there were many clever and capable people in it. Notwithstanding this there were persons in this country who were actually starved to death not In a series of years, but io a series of days. There were also vast numbers who were practically starving to death, but the operation took a longer time. Abundance of people had not leisure, except that dreadful leisure of lack of employment. A rich person was sure of all the necessaries he spoke of, while a poor one was in the very opposite condition. To all thoughtful persons this seemed very dreadful, and if it was to continue all our lives must be sad failures. There were some people who said that the present state of things was the fault of nature, and others said it was the fault of the poor people themselves. He contended that neither of these theories was correct, and said that all people who tried to alter our present social system might fairly ba called Socialists. They did not always call themselves so. He argued that the present system was more analogous to that of a prison and the one he he would put in its place to that of the family. If the tendency of thought went on as it was now doing and had lately been doing, Socialism was In a fair way of being realised. His argument was that poverty was not caused by national law, but by artificial arrangements. The poor by means of their labour kept the rich, and the rich were pensioners upon the poor. If the poor withdrew their pensions the rich would have either to starve or work—a consummation devoutly to be hoped for. What Socialists said was let those who do not work not thrive, and could that be unfair? The poor had to pay the rich their pensions so cunningly[?] that they did not understand it, though they struggled against it. The privileged few had possession of the raw material, and compelled the people to pay for the use of It. In this they were supported by the law and the Governments of all civilized countries. The wages of the people, to speak plainly, were exactly analogous to the rations paid by the owner to his slaves. The landowners and the capitalists were comparatively few, and thus the smaller part of the population forced the larger part of the population to pay for leave to live, and the price which the workers paid was the remuneration of all the comforts of life. It was not unnatural, after this, that the great mass of the people should be poor. It ought to follow that those who worked most should have most, and those who did not work at all should get nothing. In our present system the very contrary was the case, and the harder and more useful the work less the less seemed to be paid for it. This was flying in the face of nature, sod the result must be the impoverishment of the larger part of mankind. It was our social system which brought about the inequalities all lamented, and all should be very glad to be driven to that conclusion, because if It was the work of nature it could not be seriously amended, and it all the useful people were useless what could they do then? But since it was the fault of the system it could be altered, and it would be soon. (Hear, hear.) Human systems changed, and in the direction men most desired. It was sad to think how cruel men could be to one another through ignorance. A little real courage, a little forethought, and a little wisdom would make such a difference in the world. The aim of Socialists was to make all the poor wealthy without injuring the rich one iota. They did not want to injure the rich, but to do them good. If people would make the change from the bad old system to the better new one much misery would be avoided. The lecturer then described she new system which includes nationalisation of the law [sic, presumably 'land'], nationalisation of all manufacturing products, and of the means of production, nationalisation of railways, &c. Socialists wanted all persons to enjoy what they had fairly earned by their labour and what they could fairly use. They would only take from men what they could not use themselves, and prevent the abuse of it. He admitted that such views were in direct opposition to the present laws of society. Practically society would be put on a new basis. Everyone would have to work, and there would be no need for overwork. Education would be the same for every one, and those who could not work would be properly taken care of. The standard of the workers being raised the standard of comfort would be also raised. Modest private house and splendid public ones would he thought be the rule. Such responsibilities as this new state of things would involve could only be undertaken by free men. Some of these ideas might be thought revolutionary, but they formed part of the ancient constitution of these islands. The bodies charged with carrying out the various duties necessitated by such changes would federate for national and international purposes. One such alteration would be that there would be no political parties squabbling incessantly as to who should govern the country and doing nothing else. The country would govern itself. Labour would organize itself in the least wasteful manner, and every ordinary citizen would learn to understand at least some part of the organisation. A great deal of business as at present conducted consisted of men trying to "best" one another. We should have to give that up and be honest. The task before the Socialists was a difficult one, but they did not despair. There were many rich people who were beginning to learn that they bad nothing to fear from a system which would destroy poverty as wall as riches. Unless movements were quickly made there would be a terrible state of things before the new system was born. The claim of the workers could not be resisted If they combined, end it they did not combine they would starve before long.

A number of questions were put and answers given.

The Chairman, in moving a vote of thanks to the lecturer, pointed out that be bed treated men as they would like them to be rather then as they are. If a capitalist did not work or save, his capital was the result of previous saving. The accumulation of capital was the result of the thrift of individuals who began with as little as anybody else. If the new organisation left so little for a man to do and so much for the community to do for himself as Mr Morris had suggested, it would practically place the individual in a prison, though that prison might be lined with cushions. (Applause.)

The motion was seconded and carried, and the Lecturer having replied at some length the proceedings terminated shortly afterwards.