Sunday 24 April 2016

Morning Star at 50

In his excellent 1991 article on News from Nowhere, Patrick Parrinder reminded us that ‘Morris (among his multifarious activities) was a newspaperman’, and he was, more specifically, a socialist newspaperman; so I think that he would have been as impressed as we should be that tomorrow is the fiftieth anniversary of the Morning Star newspaper.  To keep a daily paper ‘For Peace and Socialism’ (as its front page announces) going for half a century, particularly in the last couple of decades of neoliberalism, in which Raymond Williams’s ‘long revolution’ has been so thoroughly rolled back, is a major feat indeed.

The Morning Star began as The Daily Worker in January 1930, when it was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain.  Just how Stalinist it was in those days is indicated by the fact that when in August 1940 it reported Trotsky’s assassination it did so under the headline: ‘A Counter Revolutionary Gangster Passes’.  My paternal grandfather Henry Pinkney, as a CPGB member, must have been reading the paper in those years, and I know that he used to sell it outside the gates of Betteshanger Colliery after he retired as a miner in 1959.  What he made of its metamorphosis into the Morning Star in April 1966, I do not know.

There are always questions to be asked about the political orientations of Left newspapers – including Morris’s own Commonweal.  Often, I find, today’s Morning Star doesn’t seem to be able to think much further Left than Jeremy Corbyn.  But it is always packed with crucial industrial, trade union, campaigning and international news than you won’t find in the mainstream press and media, and for a relatively thin newspaper (16 pages on weekdays) its cultural coverage is good too.  So we must be grateful for what we’ve got.  Let’s admire the political dedication that has kept the title in being for fifty years, and wish it another half century on behalf of Peace and Socialism too.  Whenever and wherever you see the Morning Star, do buy it – it needs and deserves our support.

Thursday 7 April 2016

Ellen's Basket

In his 1976 essay on ‘The Revision of News from Nowhere’ across its different textual manifestations, J. Alex Macdonald offers us a tiny but intriguing revisionary detail.  In the 1890 Commonweal version of the early morning meadow at Runnymede, Ellen does not have a basket; in the 1891 Reeves and Turner book version, she suddenly does: ‘that was Ellen, holding a basket in her hand’ (ch.XXIII).  Why, then, does Morris add a basket to this character and, more intriguingly, what might be in it? 

Baskets and the mystery of what they may contain are indeed something of a minor motif in the revisions of News from Nowhere; for in the road-mending episode (also not in the Commonweal version), William Guest spots ‘a good big basket that had hints about it of cold pie and wine’ (ch.VII).  Macdonald’s own explanation of Ellen’s new basket is modest enough: ‘the addition of it is a small touch which brings Ellen more clearly into view.  Among utopian novels News from Nowhere is almost unique in its loving attention to detail, especially of landscape and architecture’ (12). 

Fair enough; but then, almost any other daily object might have served the same purpose.  The interesting thing about baskets, surely, is that they contain things, and not only cold pies.  To my mind, the most striking fact we learn about Ellen in the course of the book is that she has been a pupil of old Hammond’s; so I am going to wager that her new basket is full of the sage of Bloomsbury’s writings about the history – and even perhaps the future - of Nowhere which she has taken out into the fields for a spot of plein air study before the rest of the Runnymede household wakes up.