William Morris

A Single Socialist Party, as reported in The Labour Leader and Liberty

The Labour Leader

A Single Socialist Party

Wm. Morris, speaking at Kelmscott House on Sunday last, said he thought the time had arrived when an attempt might be made to form a single Socialist party, which should exist as a party, not destroying the existing Socialist organisations, the biggest of which, he said, could not claim to be more than a propagandist society. The party must include the whole of the genuine Labour movement, by which he meant all those who accepted the principle of equality of condition, also all the definitely Socialistic among the middle classes. It should have a simple test of membership, the following statement of principle: "The realisation of a new society founded on equality of condition for all, and general association for the satisfaction of that equality." He thought the party might be formed on the occasion of the forthcoming International Congress. They could patch up their little differences, although he was not sure they could manage that without dismissing all the present leaders — which he would be in favour of doing. One object of the party, he thought, must be to get some of its members into Parliament, for it seemed to him it would be necessary to capture Parliament in the long run, and the sooner they began the better.


William Morris lectured on the first Sunday in the year on "One Socialist Party"; he considered that the time had now come when an attempt should be made by Socialists to form one Party; that some sort of test should be made, not too wide nor yet too narrow, so as to include Socialists of all parties. He thought the trade unions had lost their old narrowness, With regard to what socialism meant he defined it as meaning a society where there would be an equality of condition. It was impossible to do any real work on a vestry or elsewhere where there were conflicting interests. Mere difference of opinion might easily be smoothed over and a workable understanding arrived at, but no decision could be arrived at when interests were antagonistic.

The lecture was from many points of view a remarkably good one revealing many flashes of deep insight into the social life of the people. When asked whether nationalisation of the land with its inevitable officialism would not mean antagonistic interests, Morris replied that we rather read the present into the future; and again as to whether he thought the test for the one socialist party should be wide enough to admit the nonpolitical Socialists or Anarchists, he was of the opinion that it should.

An interesting discussion took place afterwards in which our friend G. B. S., took part and talked about William Morris's pencil, his own typewriter and someone else's bicycle as being "means of production". He also pointed out that the tactics adopted at the Zurich Congress for expelling Anarchists signally failed, as there were as many Anarchists left in their capacity as trade union delegates as there were expelled: the whole affair wasted time and prevented real business being done.

We disagreed from our friend Shaw in the former part of his speech, for pencils and typewriters are not means of production in the Communist sense of the words and it is absurd to attempt to read that meaning into the phrase.

While agreeing with the major portion of the lecture, and whilst being strongly in favour of a united socialist party, we took occasion to call attention to the fact that in the previous attempt to form a socialist alliance, the failure thereat was not due to the Anarchists: they strongly supported the idea; but rather to those political Socialists who could not sink their personal differences. And in view of Mr. Mawdsley's speech at New York, and the attitude of the Trade Unionists with regard to the forthcoming International Socialist Workers' Congress we think the Trade Unionists have lost little of their old narrow exclusiveness.


A Single Socialist Party


  1. Sunday 5th January, 1896, to the Hammersmith Socialist Society


1. The Labour Leader, Saturday 11th January. The Labour Leader was the paper of the Independent Labour party (ILP).

2. Liberty, January 1896. Liberty was an anarcho-communist journal.

This was Morris's last public speech. His original notes have been lost.

Transcription and HTML

Graham Seaman, June 2020.