Monday, 1 October 2012
William Morris Communist: 2
I am a great admirer of David Leopold’s edition of News from Nowhere for the Oxford World's Classics series. It’s a handy and reasonably priced volume, the Introduction is a superb account of Morris’s thought as whole as well as of News from Nowhere in particular, and the notes at the end are full and helpful. None the less, reading David’s Introduction through again, I have a significant reservation about it this time round: for it does not once use the words ‘communism’ or ‘communist’ to describe Morris’s politics, either in his utopia or more generally.
Why should this matter? First, and philologically, because News from Nowhere does use these terms a fair number of times, so an Introduction as good as this should offer at least some account of them. William Guest finds himself amidst ‘the present rest and happiness of complete Communism’ (ch.XXVII). Enlightened men in the late-Victorian period, old Hammond tells us, concluded that ‘the only reasonable condition of Society was that of pure Communism (such as you now see around you)’ (ch.XVII). Narrating the revolution, he then speaks of ‘the spread of communistic theories ... a simple condition of Communism ... the Communism which now loomed ... a system of life founded on equality and Communism’ (ch.XVII). Chapter XV is headed ‘On the Lack of Incentive to Labour in a Communist Society’, and as Hammond describes the operation of local democracy in Nowhere he asks Guest ironically, ‘a terrible tyranny our Communism, is it not?’ (ch.XIV).
Second, and politically, because after the long twentieth-century experience of what did indeed prove to be ‘terrible tyrannies’ in the name of Communism, some key figures on the Left such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek are now asking whether it might not be time to use the term ‘communism’ again, as the basis of a new emancipatory politics for the twenty-first century. On these two grounds, then, of Morris’s own usage and our contemporary politics, I hope that any future edition of David Leopold’s News from Nowhere might tackle this term and topic.