William Morris and the Council of the Socialist League. Commonweal 1888

The Policy of the Socialist League

Source: “The Policy of the Socialist League” Commonweal, Vol 4, No. 126, 9 June 1888, p.180;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Since the Socialist League was founded to support the principles of International Revolutionary Socialism, and since there has been some difference of opinion amongst us as to the meaning of those words, the Council of the League thinks it its duty to point out what in its opinion that meaning is, as expressed by publications of the League, which at the time of their publication were not challenged by any of its branches or members; and in doing this the Council wishes to disclaim any narrowing of the principles of the League beyond what it believes has been recognized from the first as necessary to give it a reason for existence separate from that of other Socialist bodies.

The aim of the Socialist League, therefore, is the realization of a society based on equality of condition for all persons without distinction of race, sex or creed; a society which will not recognize the right of any privilege to interfere with that equality, whether such privilege rests its claim on birth, wealth or capacity in the individual.

The League holds that the necessary step to the realization of this society is the abolition of monopoly in the means of production, which should be owned by no individual, but by the whole community, in order that the use of them may be free to all according to their capacity: this we believe would necessarily lead to the equality of condition above-mentioned, and the recognition of the maxim ‘from each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs’.

It is necessary to explain here that some Socialists believe this first step, the abolition of monopoly in the means of production is the end of Socialism, and that the society so founded will admit of competition for the relative shares of the wealth produced for use; although it is obvious that success in such competition can only be attained by the successful at the expense of the unsuccessful, and thus new classes would be formed which would take the place of those destroyed by the abolition of monopoly. On this point, therefore, the Socialist League differs in its aim or ideal of society from some other Socialists.

Again, the League believes, when it speaks of International Socialism, that the word internationalism applies only to the present state of slavery, as expressing that the workers do not recognize the national distinctions made by their masters, and that in the society of the future, nations as political entities will cease to exist, and give place to the federation of communities bound together by locality or convenience. Here again the League differs from some Socialists who cannot see so far as the abolition of nationality, and this again implies a difference in ideal.

As to the means for the attainment of the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, and through that to equality of condition for all persons, the League believes that the first and most indispensable of such means is the putting before the people its aims, ultimate and immediate, plainly and honestly, and has always acted on that belief; in the confidence that however strange these aims may be to the greater number of persons, the time will come when circumstances will force the workers to accept them as their own, and that it is no waste of energy meantime to familiarize them with these aims and thereby to quicken their desires and give something for their intelligence to seize hold of, and for their hope to feed on. The education of the vague discontent which (happily) is now so prevalent among the workers into a definite aim, is the chief business of the Socialist League; nor can this work ever be dispensed with even on the very eve of the first obvious and open steps towards revolution.

There are other Socialists, however, and they are numerous enough, who are not contented with the slow and patience-trying work of getting the workers to understand their position and the remedies for it. They cannot believe that anything is being done unless attempts are being made to get Socialists into Parliament, and other elected bodies; although it is clear that these bodies are the most direct expression of the power of our enemies, and their intention to put down all attempts towards the regeneration of society; and though the passing of a few palliative measures is the utmost that could be hoped from Socialists in Parliament until the time when the people are strong enough to destroy Parliament itself.

The Socialist League has declared over and over again its sense of the futility of Socialists wasting their time in getting such palliative measures passed, which, if desirable to be passed as temporarily useful, will be passed much more readily if they do not mix themselves up in the matter, and which are at least intended by our masters to hinder Socialism and not to further it. Over and over again it has deprecated Socialists mixing themselves up in political intrigues; and it believes no useful purpose can be served by their running after the votes of those who do not understand the principles of Socialism, and who therefore must be attracted by promises which could not be fulfilled by the candidates if by any chance such candidates were returned to Parliament. The two last Annual Conferences of the League have declared by large majorities of the delegates assembled that it was the policy of the League to abstain from parliamentary action, and have refused to allow any alteration of this policy.

The Council of the Socialist League therefore feels itself bound frankly to point out the impossibility of propaganda by electioneering coexisting with the educational propaganda in the same body to any good purpose. Those holding the two sets of ideas will and must mutually hamper each other, even where their root-principles do not differ widely; and this all the more as the advocates of propaganda by electioneering must feel how heavy their task is, and that they must begin at once with it and insist early and late on the necessity, of turning all our attention to getting Socialists into Parliament by any means feasible. The Council of the Socialist League believes that there will for a long time be this difference of opinion as to the method of propaganda, and thinks itself justified not only in pointing out the evil effects of contesting the point within the League itself, but also in appealing to those Socialists who agree with the League and who now belong to other bodies, to join it, rather than impair their usefulness also by remaining in those bodies when they feel themselves out of harmony with their tactics.

At the same time, the Council wish it to be clearly understood that they have stated the differences between the League and other Socialists in no contentious spirit, but only to justify the continued existence of the League as a separate body, and to deprecate any alteration in its principles and tactics, which, if carried out would put it into a position of mere factious opposition to other Socialist organizations. The Council desires further to say that it thinks it the duty of the League and its members to co-operate in the most cordial way with other Socialists on all occasions when it can do so without loss of principle, and without prejudice to the form of propaganda which it has from the first believed it to be its duty to press forward.