William Morris

The Class Struggle, as reported in the Leicester Daily Mercury


The last of the present course of lectures under the auspices of the Socialist league was delivered on Tuesday evening, the Co-operative Hall, High street. The lecturer on this occasion was Mr. Wm. Morris, the editor of the official journal of the League and author of several works bearing on the subject of Socialism, who gave a vigorous address on "The Class Struggle.” Mr. Thos. Barclay presided, and there was a good attendance.

The Lecturer said at the outset that Socialism in its modern form had not been before the English people for more than six or seven years, but that short time had changed its position very much. Before then it was assumed by ordinary politicians that in England there was no class grievance that could be put down to the relations of one class to another. The people of that period boasted of the improvement made by the workman, and had the idea that he would improve his position as workman still further, and as civilisation advanced would gain some of the advantages thereof, The position of the workers as such was thought to be very good by the greater part of the middle classes, though they admitted that there was a certain amount of suffering amongst them, but their impression was that this was owing to the men themselves. They saw no reason why the employer and should not be very good friends, and could not see that it was in the interest of the former to get as much work for as little pay as possible, and to the interest of the employed to do their work as badly as they possibly could. Now, however, it was seen that the workers were a class with definite claims upon society, and that these claims involved the definite and distinct betterment of the workers as a whole class. The old idea was that workmen could better themselves without altering the relations of society in the least, but it was now seen that society would have to be greatly altered. It was also becoming clear to all thoughtful persons that the betterment must take the form of Socialism. Since it was clear that they had not got to the final form of society in that which consisted of capitalist employers and propertyless wage-earners, they must endeavour to find what the next step was to be. The aspirations of workmen to be something more than the mere toiling slaves of their masters began with the birth of machinery, of course partly from the fact that men were thrown together in bodies, and enabled to meet and consider what they could do, and began to feel the solidarity of labour, that all workmen had an interest in common opposed to all those who ruined workmen. All the means by which labour was made fruitful were in the hands of one the two classes, and the characteristic of the class which was privileged to have the monopoly of those means was that it was useless class. If they could only bring it about that the machinery and the organisation of labour and of those things which could only be used for the production of wealth should be no longer in the hands of the useless, but in the hands of the useful class, the result would interesting, it would bring practical equality instead of slavery. (Applause.) These classes had two functions strictly confined to the class to which they belonged; that of the workmen was to labour for the production of wealth, that of the privileged class was to waste the labour of the producers. As long as privilege existed, and the useless lived on the useful, and kept them poor, there was one business for all honest men which he (the speaker) called rebellion, for honest men could not live under a dishonest system without being rebels, and if be was not a rebel he was not an honest man. He admitted that in this intricate and well-guarded society the rougher ways of old times were not possible, but they could much to harass privilege at all points by trades unions, the strikes, the boycott and bold speech, and make capitalists see that it would not be worth resisting the final and necessary resource — to force of arms. Whether taken in the longest or shortest way, this rebellion meant conscious discontent with the wrong that they knew could righted — every rebellion founded on that consciousness was a holy one — and a union of all the intelligent of the useful class. Once bring these about, and the means would not be lacking. The next stage most assuredly would be some more frightful entanglement and turmoil than the world had yet seen unless the useful set to work to make the useless give their privileges. The class struggle, with their help or without, would go on, and it was for the workers to say whether it was to go with misery and confusion, or with peace and order on the clear understanding of the beneficence of the change for all men. Although the day would come when they would all be really Socialists and living like a family, unless the workers united so as to be irresistible, before that time would come the ruin of all society; and if for that reason and no other, to evade that dreadful calamity, he urged the wage-earners of all countries to unite. (Applause.)

Several questions were put to Mr. Morris at the close of the lecture, and the proceedings terminated with a vote of thanks.


The Class Struggle (as reported by The Leicester Daily Mercury)


  1. 13th October, 1889, to the Hammersmith Club (scheduled)
  2. 10th November, 1889, at the Lower Concert Hall, Lord Nelson Street, Liverpool
  3. 30th November, 1889, to the Manchester Social Democratic Club at the Secular Hall, Rusholme Road, Manchester
  4. 11th March, 1890, to the Leicester Branch of the SL at the Co-operative Hall, High Street, Leicester (this version)
  5. 25th March, 1890, to a meeting sponsored by Leeds socialists at the Grand Assembly Rooms, Leeds


The Leicester Daily Mercury, Wednesday 12 March, 1890, p. 4

Morris's own notes for this talk have not been preserved.

Transcription and HTML

Graham Seaman, July 2020.

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