Socialism From The Root Up: or, Socialism; Its Growth & Outcome

By William Morris

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(1834 - 1896)
William Morris (24 March 1834 – 3 October 1896) was a British textile designer, poet, novelist, translator and socialist activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement. He was a major contributor to the revival of traditional British textile arts and methods of production. His literary contributions helped to establish the modern fantasy genre, while he helped win acceptance of socialism in fin de siècle Great Britain. (From :


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Socialism From The Root Up

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This document contains 27 sections, with 42,711 words or 283,960 characters.

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In offering this book to the public, we have to say that we thought it useless to go over the ground covered by so many treatises on Socialism, large and small, hostile and friendly, that have appeared of late years. We have dealt with our subject from the historical point of view ; this, we are aware, is a less exciting method than the building up of "practical" Utopias, or than attempting the solution of political problems within the immediate purview of the Socialist struggle of to day. On the other hand, a treatise on abstract economics, furnished with a complete apparatus of statistics, would have been more congenial to another class of mind. Nevertheless, a continuous sketch of the development of history in relation to Socialism, even as slight as it is here, should have its value if efficiently done. Our plan also necessarily deals with the aspirations of Socialists now living, toward the so... (From :

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In one of Edgar Allen Pe's tales he recounts how a little group of wrecked seafarers on a water logged vessel, at the last extremity of starvation, are suddenly made delirious with joy at seeing a sail approaching them. As she came near them she seemed to be managed strangely and unseamanly as though she were scarcely steered at all, but come near she did, and their joy was too great for them to think much of this anomaly. At last they saw the seamen on board of her, and noted one in the bows especially who seemed to be looking at them with great curiosity, nodding also as though encouraging them to have patience, and smiling at them constantly, showing as he did so a set of very white teeth, and apparently so anxious for their safety that he did not notice that the red cap that he had on his head was falling into the water. All of a sudden, as the vessel neared them, and while t... (From :

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In beginning this series on Socialism, we think it necessary to prelude the matter which may appear to interest more immediately us now living, by a brief allusion to the history of the past. Our adversaries are sometimes forward to remind us that the present system with which we are so discontented, has been made by the growth of ages, and that our wills are impotent to change it; they do not see that in stating this fact they are condemning their own position. Our business is to recognize the coming change, to clear away obstacles to it, to accept it, and to be ready to organize it in detail. Our opponents, on the contrary, are trying consciously to stay that very evolution at the point which it has reached to-day; they are attempting to turn the transient into the eternal; therefore, for them history has no lessons, while to us it gives both encouragement and warning which we... (From :

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We have now to deal with that Mediæval Society which was based on the fusion of ideas of tribal communism and Roman individualism and bureaucracy. The fullest, and one may say the most pedantic type of this society is to be found in the Mediæval German Empire; it was modified somewhat in other countries; in France by the fact that several of the other potentates, as, eg., the Duke of Burgundy, were theoretically independent of the King, and practically were often at least as powerful. In England, on the contrary, the monarchy soon gained complete predominance over the great barons, and a kind of bureaucracy soon sprang up which interfered with the full working of the feudal system. The theory of this feudal system is the existence of an unbroken chain of service from the serf up to the emperor, and of protection from the emperor down to the serf; it recognizes... (From :

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The period of change from the feudal system into that of commerce is so important, and so significant to our subject, that it demands a separate chapter. The beginning of the sixteenth century found, as we have said, the craft-gilds corrupted into privileged bodies holding within them two orders of workmen -- the privileged and the unprivileged -- the two forming the germ of a society founded on capital and wage-labor. The privileged workmen became middle-class; the unprivileged, proletarians. But apart from the gilds, the two classes were being created by the development of commerce, which needed them both as instruments for her progress. Mediæval commerce knew nothing of capitalistic exchange; the demands of local markets were supplied by the direct exchange of the superfluity of the produce of the various districts and countries. All this was no... (From :

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By the beginning of the seventeenth century the centralizing, bureaucratic monarchies were fairly established: nay, in France at least, they were even showing the birth of modern party-government, which since - carried on, indeed, under the veil of constitutionalism -- has been the type of modern government. Richelieu -- the Bismarck of his time and country -- begins the series of prime ministers or real temporary kings, who govern in the interest of class society, not much encumbered and a good deal protected by their cloaks, the hereditary formal sham kings. In England this prime-ministership was more incomplete, though men like Burleigh approached the type. Elizabeth reduced the Tudor monarchy to an absurdity, a very burlesque of monarchy, under which flourished rankly an utterly unprincipled and corrupt struggle for the satisfaction of individual ambition and greed. This grew still more rankly,... (From :

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The English seventeenth century revolution was from the first purely middle-class, and as we hinted in our last [chapter] it cast off most of its elements of enthusiasm and ideality in Cromwell's latter days; the burden of the more exalted Puritanism was felt heavily by the nation and no doubt played its part in the restoration of Monarchy; nor on the other hand was England at all ripe for Republicanism; and so between these two disgusts it allowed itself to be led back again into the arms of Monarchy by the military adventurers who had seized on the power which Cromwell once wielded. But this restoration of the Stuart monarchy was after all but a makeshift put up with because the defection from the high-strung principle of the earlier period of the revolution left nothing to take the place of Cromwell's absolutism. The nation was quite out of sympathy with the Court, which was un-national and Cath... (From :

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As we have said, Louis XIV succeeded in making the French monarchy a pure autocratic bureaucracy, completely centralized in the person of the monarch. This with an ambitious king like Louis XIV involved constant war, for he felt himself bound to satisfy his ideal of the necessary expansion of the territory and influence of France, which he looked upon as the absolute property of the king. The general success of Louis XIV brought with it the success of these wars of aggrandisment, and France became very powerful under his rule. Under the rule of his minister Colbert industrialism in France became completely commercialized. Colbert spared no pains or energy in bringing this about. Often, with more or less success, he drove an industry forward artificially, as with the silk and woolen manufactures. For he was eager to win for France a foremost place in the world-market, which he thought but the due ac... (From :

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The bankruptcy towards which France was staggering under the régime of an untaxed privileged noblesse drove the Court into the dangerous step of attempting to do something, and after desperate efforts to carry on the old corruption by means of mere financing operations, under Calonne and others, aided by an assembly of the 'Notables', or kind of irregular taxing council, the Court was at last, on the 4th May, 1789, compelled to summon the States-General, a body which was pretty much analogous to a Parliament of our mediæval kings, that is a kind of taxing machine, but which attempted to sell its granting of taxes to the king for redress of certain grievances. This States-General had not met since 1614. Bickering between the three houses, Clergy, Noblesse, and Commons, immediately began, but the latter, which was middle-class in spirit though including some of the lower nobility, gave t... (From :

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The insurrection of the 10th August, which culminated in the final downfall of the monarchy and the imprisonment of the king and royal family in the Temple, was headed and organized by a new body definitely revolutionary, intended to be the expression of the power of the proletariat, the new Commune of Paris, the moving spirit of which was Marat, who even had a seat of honor assigned to him in the Council. Already, before the king had been sent to the Temple, the Girondin Vergniaud, as president, had moved the suspension of the 'hereditary representative' and the summoning of a national convention. Danton was made minister of justice; Robespierre was on the Council of the Commune. A new Court of Criminal Justice was established for the trial of the crimes of August 10th. The members of the Convention were chosen by double election, but the property qualification of 'active and passive citizens' was... (From :

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In our last two chapters we had to deal with a revolution which was as rich in dramatic interest, and as obviously so, as any period in the history of the world. We have now to note a series of events the well-spring of which was Great Britain. This series is not usually connected by modern historians so as to be dignified by the name of a Revolution; but it is one nevertheless, and is at least as important in its bearing on the life of the modern world as that more startling and, on the surface, more terrible one in France. In the last chapter wherein the condition of England was dealt with, we left it a prosperous country, in the ordinary sense of the word, under the rule of an orderly constitutionalism. There was no need here for the violent destruction of aristocratic privilege; it was of itself melting into money-privilege, and all was getting ready for the completest and se... (From :

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During the French Revolution, especially during its earlier stages there was a corresponding movement in England. It made some noise at the time, but was merely an intellectual matter, led by a few aristocrats -- eg., the Earl of Stanhope -- and had no sympathy with the life of the people; it was rather a piece of aristocratic Bohemianism, a tendency to which has been seen in various times, even our own. For the rest, there certainly was in England a feeling, outside this unreal republicanism -- a feeling of which Priestly the Unitarian may be looked on as a representative; this feeling was of the nature of that felt by respectable and thoughtful Radicals of later days, and was distinctly bourgeois, as the other was aristocratic. The French Revolution naturally brought about a great reaction, not only in absolutist countries, but also in England, the country of Constitut... (From :

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When the great war which Napoleon waged against Europe came to an end by his defeat and ruin, France was once more handed over to the Bourbons, and Europe fell into the arms of reaction and sheer absolutism. The Holy Alliance, or union of reactionary monarchs, undertook the enterprise of crushing out all popular feeling, or even anything that could be supposed to represent it in the persons of the bourgeois. But the French Revolution had shaken absolutism too sorely for this enterprise to have more than a very partial success even on the surface. The power of absolutism was undermined by various revolutionary societies, mostly (so-called) secret, which attracted to them a great body of sympathy, and in consequence seemed far more numerous and immediately dangerous than they really were. Still there was a great mass of discontent, mostly political in character, and by no means con... (From :

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In dealing with the great event of the Paris Commune, we must take for granted a knowledge of the facts, which are in a brief form accessible to all since the publication by the Socialist League of its pamphlet on the subject. As we have stated before, the International was founded in 1864, under the leadership of Beesley, Marx, and Odger. In 1869, at the Congress of Basle, Marx drew it into the compass of Socialism; and though in England it still remained an indefinite labor-body, on the Continent it became at once decidedly Socialistic and revolutionary, and its influence was very considerable. The progress of Socialism and the spreading feeling of the solidarity of labor was very clearly shown by the noble protest made by the German Socialists(1) against the war with France, in the teeth of a 'patriotic' feeling so strong in a... (From :

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It is now necessary for us to turn for a while from the political progress of Socialism, to note the school of thinkers who preceded the birth of modern scientific or revolutionary Socialism. These men thought it possible to regenerate Society by laying before it its short-comings, follies, and injustice, and by teaching through precept and example certain schemes of reconstruction built up from the aspirations and insight of the teachers themselves. They had not learned to recognize the sequence of events which forces social changes on mankind whether they are conscious of its force or not, but believed that their schemes would win their way to general adoption by men's perception of their inherent reasonableness. They hoped to convert people to Socialism, to accepting it consciously and formally, by showing them the contrast between the confusion and misery of existing civilization, and the order... (From :

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Of the Socialist thinkers who serve as a kind of link between the Utopists and the school of the Socialism of historical evolution, or scientific Socialists, by far the most noteworthy figure is Proudhon who was born at Besançon in 1809. By birth he belonged to the working-class, his father being a brewer's cooper, and he himself as a youth followed the occupation of cowherding. In 1838, however, he published an essay on general grammar, and in 1839 he gained a scholarship to be held for three years, a gift of one Madame Suard to his native town. The result of this advantage was his most important though far from his most voluminous work, published the same year, as the essay which the Madame Suard's scholars were bound to write: it bore the title of 'What is Property?' his answer being, Property is Robbery. As may be imagined, this remarkable ess... (From :

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The foregoing chapters on modern Socialists may be regarded as leading up to the full development of the complete Socialist theory, or as it is sometimes called, 'scientific' Socialism. The great exponent of this theory, and the author of the most thorough criticism of the capitalistic system of production, is the late Dr Karl Marx. He was born in 1818 at Treves, his father being a baptized Jew holding an official position in that city. He studied for the law in the University of Bonn, passing his examination with high honors in 1840. In 1843 he married Jenny von Westphalen, sister of the well-known Prussian statesman of that name. Philosophy and political economy, with especial reference to the great social problems of the age, were his special studies on leaving the university. These studies led him towards Socialism, the result of which was that he felt compelled to decline th... (From :

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We have now come to the point where it is necessary to consider the circulation of commodities; the first means to this circulation is the establishment of a tertium quid, or universal equivalent. And in order to have a really universal equivalent it is necessary that use-value should be eliminated from it, since such an equivalent is required to express not the diverse qualities of all the various commodities, but the relative quantity of embodied human labor which they severally contain. Money as a mere measure of value is imaginary and ideal, but the bodily form of it must express quantitively equivalent abstract value -- ie., labor -- and takes the form of the precious metals, finally of gold. Gold has come to be the bodily form taken by the universal measure of value, partly because of its natural qualities -- portability, durabi... (From :

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Says Marx: 'The circulation of commodities is the starting point of capital: the production of commodities, their circulation, and that more developed form of their circulation called commerce, these form the historical groundwork from which it rises. The modern history of capital dates from the creation in the 16th century of a world-embracing commerce and a world-embracing market. The great representative of this circulation is money, which is the first form in which capital appears. In history, money presents itself to us as opposed to land: the merchant is opposed to the landowner; an antithesis which struck people so much at one period that they expressed it by means of a double proverb -- 'No land without a lord', and 'Money has no master'. This is, in fact, another way of stating the antithesis between the Mediæval basis of property,... (From :

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The problem to be resolved is as follows. The owner of money has to buy his commodities at their value, and to sell them at their value, and nevertheless at the end of the process to realize a surplus. This is the end and aim of his existence as a capitalist, and if he does not accomplish it, he is as a capitalist a mere failure. So that his development from the mere money owner to the full-blown capitalist has to take place at once within the sphere of circulation and without it: that is, he must follow the law of the exchange of commodities, and nevertheless must act in apparent contradiction to that law. This problem cannot be solved merely by means of the money which he owns, the value of which is, so to say, petrified. As Ricardo says, 'In the form of money, capital has no profit'. As money, it can only be hoarded. Neither can the surplus originate in the mere re-sale of the... (From :

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Marx goes on to develope (sic) further the process by which the capitalist exploits the laborer under the present system of wages and capital. We now come to the two instruments which the capitalist uses in his exploitation of labor, and which are named constant and variable capital; constant capital being the raw material and instruments of production, and variable the labor power to be employed in producing on and by means of the former. The laborer, as we have seen, adds a value to the raw material upon which he works; but by the very act of adding a new value he preserves the old; in one character he adds new value, in another he merely preserves what already existed. He affects this by working in a particular way, eg., by spinning, weaving, or forging, that is, he transforms things which are already utilities into new utilities pro... (From :

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Capitalism cannot be said even to begin before a number of individual owners of money employ simultaneously a number of workmen on the same terms, that is to say before the development of a concert of action towards profit among the employers, and a concert of action towards production for the profit of the employers among the employed. 'A greater number of laborers working together at the same time in one place (or if you will, in the same field of labor) in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically the starting-point of capitalist prodiuction.' It differs from the mediæval system, that of the gilds and their craftsmen only by the greater number of the workmen employed; but this change to a new form of organization made at once considerable difference in... (From :

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Marx now goes on to trace the development of the capitalist in the present epoch, indicating the latest phase of the class-struggle; he points out the strife of the workman with the machine, the intensification of labor due to the constant improvement of machinery, etc. He then gives what may be called a history and analysis of the Factory Acts, the legislation to which the employing class found themselves compelled, in order to make it possible for the 'free' workman to live under his new conditions of competition; in order, in short, to keep the industrial society founded by the machine revolution from falling to pieces almost as soon as it was established. The point of the intensification of labor is so important that it demands a word or two in passing; the gist of the matter as put forward by Marx resolves itself into this: As the organization of production progresses toward... (From :

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We have now arrived at the most exciting part of our subject, since it has to do with what we may fairly call the practical politics of Socialism, with matters which all who call themselves Socialists must of necessity consider, unless they chose to relegate themselves to the position of theorists pure and simple. What lies in the scope of these chapters is the giving some idea of the relative position of the attack and defense in the passing time, when armies are definitely gathering for the battle, and it is beginning to be perceived that Socialism is the one serious question of the epoch, since it covers every interest of modern life. Let us turn our attention first of all to the defense; and we use the word advisedly, since the present proprietary and dominant class has absorbed into itself its old enemy the feudal proprietary class, and, since it has now no longer any... (From :

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The movement was begun in Germany by Lassalle (1) about 1863 as a national movement; it grew in that form after his death for some years. Meantime 'the International' had been founded, and had gradually come under the guidance of Karl Marx and Frederic Engels, who won for themselves two energetic and able coadjutors in Liebnecht and Bebel, men untiring in gaining converts to the ideas of the International from the followers of Lassalle and of Schulze- Delitsch, the bourgeois co-operationist, to which latter party indeed Bebel himself once belonged. The scope of this article prevents us from going into details as to the fortunes of the German party; it must be enough to say that the Marx party grew rapidly, and at the congress of Gotha in 1875 the Lassalle party amalgamated with them, formally renouncing the special tenets of Lassalle, notably the n... (From :

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It is possible to succeed in a manner in picturing to ourselves the life of past times: that is, our imaginations will show us a picture of them which may include such accurate information as we may have of them. But though the picture may be vivid and the information just, yet it will not be a picture of what really took place; it will be made up of the present which we experience, and the past which our imagination, drawing from our experience, conceives of, -- in short, it will be our picture of the past(1). If this be the case with the past, of which we have some concrete data, still more strongly may it be said of the future, of which we have none -- nothing but mere abstract deductions from historic evolution, the logical sequence of which may be interfered with at any point by elements whose force we have not duly appreciated; and these are abstractions also... (From :

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It remains to say something on the religious and ethical basis of which the life of Communal Society may be called an expression, although from another aspect the religion may be said to be an expression of that life; the two together forming an harmonious whole. The word religion has been, and is still in most minds, connected with supernatural beliefs, and consequently the use of the word has been attacked as unjustifiable where this element is absent. But, as we shall proceed to show in a few words, this is rather accessory to it than essential. In the first instance religion had for its object the continuance and glory of the kinship -- Society; whether as clan, tribe, or people, ancestor worship forming the leading feature in its early phases. That in such an epoch religion should have been connected with what we now call superstition was inevitable, since... (From :


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