Introduction to 'A Review of European Society', by John Sketchley

By William Morris

Entry 8353


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Revolt Library Anarchism Introduction to 'A Review of European Society', by John Sketchley

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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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Introduction to 'A Review of European Society', by John Sketchley

The following pages form a book giving information concerning that Social Revolution which may be said rather to be in progress than to be at hand; information to those who stand outside it, either as curious spectators, or as declared enemies, but encouragement to those who are within it, and are doing their best in their generation to hasten its progress, or to light the way for its footsteps in the earliest hours of the new dav.

The literature of Scientific Socialism in the English tongue is yet but scanty, and a book planned as this, and carried out with so much care as to figures — to speak of nothing else — will doubtless he heartily welcomed by all our comrades in the cause; but the book, besides its intrinsic worth, has another and special claim on our attention in being the work of an old Chartist.

The agitation towards Socialism, which is now once more afoot in England, cannot be dissociated from the expression of discontent which flickered over England so long, and in the opinion of many, nay most, of the contented classes, died out at Kennington Common in 1848.

This expression of most righteous discontent was indeed smothered for a while by the wave of material middle-class prosperity which rolled over England after 1854, and from which sprung some of the most dishonorable deeds which have ever disgraced our history; and if it could have heen possible for this prosperity to last and spread downward, the tale of the Chartists might have heen forgotten, or become a faint and distorted shadow on the page of history; but such a prosperity, founded on class domination and the rule of the sweaters or capitalists cannot he long-lived, as we are now on all sides beginning to find out; the discontent of the mass of the people oppressed under communal slavery, which, if it were to he everlasting, would he the worst of slaveries - this discontent which, as I have said, seemed to most to have died with Chartism in 1848, has risen from the dead in the more formidable shape of Scientific Socialism.

One of the few living men who form the visible links hetween the past hope and the present hopes of the workers of this country, is Mr. John Sketchley, the author of this book, who from his boyhood was attracted to the cause of the people, who worked steadily and faithfully through the years during which Chartism was alive and dreaded, and when to be a Chartist was no light matter, and was a weight not to be born hy a coward or a shuffler; who, when Chartism was dead, yet associated himself with the forward movement, and was a pronounced Republican; who finally (and this it is which makes his career so important and instructive for us) went forward with the progress of events, and instead of folding his hands and looking back complacently on his old work as on a pleasant story, as many have done, has grasped the principles of Scientific Socialism which were developed on the Continent. Since the days of Chartism he has been associated with the movement abroad, and sees clearly that no social agitation which is not international has any real chance of success.

So that Mr Sketchley has many special qualifications for writing this book, and I repeat that the mere fact of his doing so with the care and completeness he has exercised ought to be an encouragement to us, since he represents a sleeping cause (I will not say a dead one, it would not be true) awakened again.

To manv waverers also, who are inclined to pin their faith to the political promises of to-day, he can speak convincingly and with authority, showing them, for instance, that the suffrage will be but little — nay, no use in the hands of those who look upon a vote as an end and not as a means, that the slaves of capital must needs elect masters and not delegates; and thnt it is but little use our having got rid of feudalism if the greed of commercialism is to rule over us: and also that the time is coming, and speedily too, when those who have won a kind of position as an aristocracy of labor by means of the trades unions, will find that position slipping away from them, and will be driven to feel their solidarity with those hitherto more unfortunate workers who have been oppressed by the present system of capital and labor without license or limit.

Both to our comrades, therefore, and our enemies I commend this book, with some sort of a hope that the latter may feel their false position while it is yet time for them to become our comrades also, and with a certain and assured hope that no resistance on their part will in the long run avail them, or prevent them from losing their position of masters of slaves.


Kelmscott House, Upper Mall,
Hammersmith, London,
September 29th 1884



  1. 1884, as introduction to A Review of European Society: with an Exposition and Vindication of the Principles of Social Democracy by John Sketchley, published in London by William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street E.C., and in Birmingham by Sketchley himself, at 348, Cheapside.

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