Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Under Another Name ...

The Dream of John Ball contains one of Morris’s most profound political meditations: ‘I pondered … how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name’. It is a reflection that has resonance well beyond the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, which is so vividly dramatised in John Ball itself.

‘Turns out not to be what they meant’. So it is that the great electoral defeat of the Thatcher government in 1997 and the arrival of Tony Blair and the Labour Party in power, in which so many on the Left had invested such hopes (I remember friends confidently telling me that the Party had only used Blair to win the election and that, now in government, it would ditch him for a man of the Left like Robin Cook), has led to a decade-long right-wing “New Labour” project which has in some respects (creeping privatisation of the National Health Service, say) gone further than Thatcherism itself would ever have dared.

‘Have to fight for what they meant under another name’. At which point, it seems to me, politically active Morrisians have increasingly invested their own dreams of transformation in the emergent politics of the Green movement. And, as a little historical footnote to this shift of allegiances, I offer the following eco-socialist motion put to the conference of the Green Party of England and Wales in 1996, the year of Morris’s centenary:

“Conference celebrates the centenary of Green Left pioneer William Morris, and his artistic and political work. Conference reaffirms the Green Party’s commitment to building a sustainable society based on the values we share with William Morris and those who came before and after him.

“In particular we share Morris’s vision of:

“ - an equitable and just society based on co-operation, peace and harmony with nature,

“ - sustainable production for need in harmony with the environment, not exploitation of planet and people for individual greed and corporate profit,

“ - a commitment to usefulness and beauty, not the ugliness of throw-away mass production for naked materialism,

“ - participation in a living community empowered to make their own decisions, not least through community ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange,

“The Green Party Executive is instructed to give priority to coalition building with others who share these values and this vision of the future basis of society and the economy.

“Proposed by John Norris, Penny Kemp, Johann Sikora, Tony Martin”.

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