Friday, 16 March 2007

News from Nowhere

William Morris
News from Nowhere - Introduction

News from Nowhere was first published as a serial in the Socialist magazine Commonweal in 1890. It was republished in book form in a revised edition in 1892 and went though many reprintings after that. This text is taken from the 1908 reprinting by Longmans of London.
It is a book that is often ignored by Marxists and others who denounce it as backward looking and it is indeed true that Morris' utopian vision is that of a society which has in some sense reverted to an agricultural and handicraft one and seems static. But activists among our readers will be astonished as the insight of this middle aged and middle class English poet and artist in chapter 17 or How The Change Came. Morris here foresees the process of a working class revolution which includes a period of Dual Power, the creation of a fascist movement when the ruling class is threatened, the key role of the media (newspapers only in his case) and the overthrow of the original working class leadership by a more vigorous and determined one together with the necessity of a decentralised but coherent political leadership. Looking at the far cruder concepts of revolution by other socialists who were his contemporaries it is a startling feat.
Few socialists are rash enough to attempt any precision about their desired future state but even his romantic view of rural toil and what we might consider primitive technology contains an attempt to get to grips with and provide an answer to the whole question of alienated labour which again, though little considered at the time, has resurfaced as an important component of Marx's thought. I think he is far too dismissive of science and technology since he sees science and mathematics, like art, as gentlemanly pastimes - though in his utopia of course anyone can participate in them. Otherwise he suggests that science was becoming a commodity, in his words "an appendage to the commercial system". He does not see it as an immensely powerful collective enterprise and the only means by which his population will be able to be as healthy and long-lived as they are. Other questionable aspects of his future society with which he attempts to grapple, including education or economic organisation will doubtless occur to readers as they study this work.
But, whatever the criticisms that we are able to make after another century of human experience, this text forces socialists to try to answer deep and important questions. And they should so study it.
Introduction by Ted Crawford, 4th November 2000

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