Saturday, 12 January 2013

Audiences for Socialism

In his 1996 essay ‘The Morris Who Reads Us’ (which is certainly a neat title), Norman Kelvin remarks that ‘As for the late audiences for socialism, they heard him [Morris] at the Hammersmith Socialist Society (his last, smallest and most congenial socialist group). They were composed for the most part of loyal friends and employees of Morris and Co. (for several of whom attendance might have been prudence only)’ (p.347). That’s a rather peculiar final comment, surely, which potentially undermines the authenticity of Morris’s socialist meetings. It’s the kind of remark that you might expect from an avowed political opponent, from some snide Tory hack on Rupert Murdoch’s The Times newspaper, rather than from one of our best Morris scholars (who gave us the marvellous Collected Letters, after all).

So I think we have to insist that in this matter Professor Kelvin should either put up or shut up. He needs to produce documentary evidence that some of Morris’s workmen attended meetings purely for ‘prudential’ reasons – i.e. under real or perceived threat of reprisal from their employer if they didn’t - or he should withdraw this claim. And his speculative ‘might have been’ formulation here suggests to me that there is no such evidence. Morris gives us a graphic portrayal of an employer victimising an employee for his political views in section VI of The Pilgrims of Hope, so he hardly seems likely to have indulged in the same practice.


ianmac55 said...

Only just caught up with this one, Tony!

I suppose what I find puzzling is the very idea that one's employer should preach socialism at one.

Now we've all been down this argumentative road before. Morris as the purveyor of luxury to the swinish rich and so on.

But it's certainly plausible that a workman may have attended his employer's lectures with a view to brown-nosing (as the modern idiom would have it).

I guess that Kelvin is just putting in print what has occurred to him. Not everything needs the footnote with documentation.

Tony Pinkney said...

Thanks for this, Ian. Interesting defence of "may have ... " speculations. I actually like such speculations and think they're valuable in relation to 'News from Nowhere' (but then, that is itself a speculative work of fiction in the first place), so perhaps I'm being unduly censorious in the case of Norman Kelvin's remark.

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