Monday, 5 April 2010

William Morris, a Green Socialist

I took some time off electioneering, if not politics, over the Easter holiday, and visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. The great man lived in this house from 1848 to 1856. The gallery is located on Forest Road in the neighbouring London borough of Waltham Forest.

As well as being a leading figure in the art and crafts movement in the second half of nineteenth century England, Morris was a famous socialist and conservationist. For me, this makes him a very important thinker and writer, as socialism in the twentieth century became almost totally productivist in practice. Which I think, took socialism down the completely wrong path and played a part in the demise of the system, both practically and ideologically. Indeed, if socialism had taken a true, and ecologically sound route, Green parties would not need to exist.

Morris was against industrial mass production and in favour of the beauty of the artisan’s individual skill and craft. He theorised that capitalism not only alienated workers by making them into small wheels in the mass production of bland commodities, but was also unhealthy for the workers in body and spirit. You can see the results today, in high levels of absenteeism and stress amongst the workforce. Greens tend to advocate a different measure of wealth and well being to the current emphasis on economic growth and GDP. Morris led the way in this type of thinking.

Politically, he was a member of the Social Democratic Foundation first, and then the Socialist League, and was always making speeches at rallies and writing pamphlets, books and even a play. His most famous political book, News From Nowhere, sets itself in a future, post socialist revolution society. He shows his distain for the Houses of Parliament, by describing it as the place where the horse dung is kept in his brave new world.

Traditional socialists should think about Morris’s concept of socialism, especially in an age where the very nature of our political/economic system is exploiting people and planet to the ruination of both. Twentieth century socialism was just as bad, if not worse, than capitalism for the environment and the people who lived under those regimes.

At the gallery itself, you can see examples of his furniture, textiles, wallpaper, tapestry, ceramics and political writing. It is all very beautiful work, in keeping with Morris’s essential ideas on the nature of work and production. It is well worth a visit, and entry is free.

You can find out more about the gallery here…


Anonymous said...

Morris was against industrial mass production? His entire career was bankrolled from the dividends of the successful investments his father had made in the cornish mining industy, the products of which fueled the industrial revolution. The man was a trustafarian dilletante.

Mike Shaughnessy said...

I don't normally comment on anonymous messages...but...

Wasn't Marx bankrolled by Engels' father, a wealthy capitalist? Does that make Marx's thinking, or Morris's for that matter, any less valid?

leonora said...

You may like to have a look at this - (I wrote it!)