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Paul O’Flinn

From the Kingdom of Necessity
to the Kingdom of Freedom

Morris’s News from Nowhere

(September 1996)

From International Socialism 2:72, September 1996.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Nineteen ninety six is the year the liberal middle classes finally went off William Morris. They may have been happy enough to have his fabrics in their living rooms but this year, prompted by the commemorations surrounding the centenary of his death, they have had a closer look at the man and his politics. They don’t like what they see. ‘He was not just a wallpaper designer, but a revolutionary socialist – a combination that might have been the invention of a satirist,’ sneered Deyan Sudjic in the Guardian. [1] In a word, keep the wallpaper but for God’s sake skip the socialism, a position pioneered by the Labour Party some time ago. Tim Hilton issued a stern warning to readers of the Independent on Sunday that ‘his politics are not only irrelevant but objectionable’. [2] Deyan Sudjic spelt out that warning: ‘Morris can be seen as an inspiration … for the Khmer Rouge ... He was no totalitarian, but in the Phnom Penh of Year Zero, there is a hideous echo of News From Nowhere.’ The least I can do for Morris in his centenary year is to dispose of this sort of contemptuous incomprehension and try to tell the truth about News From Nowhere. I am going to focus on just that one text and its context. My account, therefore, fits inside the longer view of Morris’s whole life and work offered by Hassan Mahamdallie in the previous issue of this journal.

Morris and the anarchists

The obvious place to start looking for that truth is the novel’s opening paragraphs and it also happens to be the best place to understand the point and the politics of Morris’s text. An unnamed narrator describes a brisk discussion about ‘what would happen on the Morrow of the Revolution’ at a meeting of the executive committee of Morris’s party, the Socialist League:

There were six persons present, and consequently six sections of the party were represented, four of which had strong but divergent anarchist opinions. One of the sections, says our friend, a man whom he knows very well indeed, sat almost silent at the beginning of the discussion, but at last got drawn into it, and finished by roaring out very loud, and damning all the rest for fools.

’One of the sections’ is in effect Morris himself, who on his way home after the meeting:

...found himself musing on the subject-matter of discussion, but still discontentedly and unhappily. ‘If I could but see a day of it,’ he said to himself; ‘if I could but see it!’ [3]

The novel that follows is just that – an attempt to ‘see a day of it’ and describe life in a comfortably post-revolutionary society. Because most of us nowadays read the novel in a modern edition, such as the Penguin I am quoting from, it is easy to lose sight of the explosive nature of this beginning. News From Nowhere first appeared, not in a floppy paperback with an inoffensive picture on the front cover, but serialised in Commonweal. Commonweal, as the subtitle on the front page insisted, was ‘The Official Journal of the Socialist League’; it was the League’s eight page weekly paper and Morris was its editor. When he had taken on that post with Edward Aveling as his co-editor, they had accepted that they were ‘acting as delegates of the Socialist League, and under its direct control’. This was publicly stated on the first page of the (then monthly) first edition back in February 1885.

In that context, the opening paragraphs of News From Nowhere read very differently. Morris ran them on the front page of Commonweal on 11 January 1890 as a blast, a prolonged ‘roaring out very loud’ at the ‘fools’ with their ‘strong but divergent anarchist opinions’ who by that date controlled the party, the paper and its editor, William Morris. True, each week the paper ran a formal disclaimer on its centre page to the effect that:

The Commonweal is the official organ of the Socialist League; but unless definitely so announced by the editors, no article is to be taken as expressing in more than a general way the views of the League as a body. [4]

But these opening paragraphs of News From Nowhere are not even in ‘a general way the views of the League as a body’ but rather a furious challenge to that body and the shambles it was becoming. It was a challenge that got Morris the sack as editor within four months and before his serial was half finished, although such was his drawing power for the paper that the serial ran through to its conclusion on 4 October 1890.

What I want to argue, then, is that News From Nowhere is best understood as Morris’s impassioned argument with the political direction being taken by his party. It was an argument conducted in the party’s paper and through his novel which that paper serialised. On the one hand, for five years he had expressed his socialism through his commitment to the Socialist League, worked for them, learnt from them. On the other, he was now taking on the anarchists who dominated its executive. It was out of that dialectical tension, at once blindly infuriating and yet massively stimulating, that News From Nowhere was made and shaped.

The story of the anarchist takeover of the Socialist League has been told often enough. [5] Briefly, the Socialist League’s insistence on a revolutionary rather than a parliamentary road to socialism came to a head at the party’s Third Annual Conference on 29 May 1887. That position, part of its original 1884 constitution, was challenged by a motion from the Croydon branch which demanded: ‘Its [the Socialist League’s] objects shall be sought to be obtained by every available means, parliamentary or otherwise.’ The motion was withdrawn and the attempt to change the party’s direction failed again at the Fourth Annual Conference in 1888. In the wake of those decisions, many of the party’s leading members – Eleanor Marx, Edward Aveling, Belfort Bax – drifted away.

Morris supported the constitution that he had helped to write, yet he fought hard but unsuccessfully to avoid a split. On 23 February 1887, before the Third Conference, he had noted in his diary: ‘I may as well state here that my intention is if possible to prevent the quarrel coming to a head between the two sections – parliamentary and anti-parliamentary – and which are pretty much commensurate with the collectivists and anarchists.’ As the split became inevitable, he noted glumly in the same diary a few weeks later on 30 March: ‘Whatever happens, I fear however that as an organisation we shall come to nothing’. [6]

News From Nowhere ran as a weekly serial in Commonweal from 11 January 1890 to 4 October 1890. It runs across that split as it worked its way through the party and its paper and hence the novel inevitably becomes a part of that ragged, rending process, at times contesting the split, at times contributing to it, but always driving towards Morris’s vision of revolutionary socialism and the steps needed to achieve it. I would like to look first at these political struggles as they raged unevenly around the novel and then move on to examine the way they help to structure the text itself.

It was in the last quarter of the 19th century that anarchism had its most profound impact on British political life. Because it centres on the needs and desires of individuals, anarchism is instinctively hostile to any form of centralised authority. This in turn tends to condemn it to a flashy, fragmented and impotent existence on the margins of political life, a wonderful source of libertarian slogans yet hopeless as a focus for effective joint action. But it was precisely that impotence that an international conference of anarchist groups, the International Revolutionary Congress held in London in July 1881, sought to overcome. The conference was impatient with the inevitably slow, tedious and often apparently fruitless work of socialist education. It cut short that dull plod with a slogan – ‘Propaganda by deed’. Propaganda by deed aimed to galvanise and inspire oppressed masses wearied by radical rhetoric that left the world unchanged and the rich unmoved. The slogan certainly inspired a series of bombings and assassinations across European cities for the rest of the century which certainly changed the world and moved the rich – but in wholly reactionary ways. For now all that lay in the future. In 1881 one of the participants at Congress, where the new slogan, Propaganda by deed, was adopted, was a young man called Frank Kitz. In 1885 Kitz joined the Socialist League and it was Kitz who, with David Nicoll, took over as joint editor of Commonweal when Morris was removed in May 1890. [7]

As those who had attempted to shift the Socialist League towards parliamentary politics drifted away in the wake of their defeats at the 1887 and 1888 party conferences, Morris realised that the remaining revolutionary socialists like himself would have to confront anarchist politics if the Socialist League was not to end up as a straightforwardly anarchist party. He said as much to fellow party member Bruce Glasier in the wake of the decisions at the 1888 conference:

We have got rid of the parliamentarians, and now our anarchist friends will want to drive the team. However, we have the Council and the Commonweal safe with us for at least a twelve month, and that is something to be thankful for. [8]

He set about thwarting their attempt to drive the team with a letter that he wrote to Commonweal and printed on 18 May 1889. It started with a deliberately unsettling insistence: ‘I call myself a communist and have no wish to qualify that word by joining any other to it.’ That implicit attack on anarchism became explicit as the letter proceeded:

If freedom from authority means the assertion of the advisability or possibility of an individual man doing what he pleases always and under all circumstances, this is an absolute negation of society, and makes communism as the highest expression of society impossible; and when you begin to qualify this assertion of the right to do as you please by adding ‘as long as you don’t interfere with other people’s rights to do the same’, the exercise of some kind of authority becomes necessary.

The language here is calculatedly extreme – ‘doing what he pleases always and under all circumstances … an absolute negation of society ... makes communism … impossible’. Morris is plainly trying to provoke a fight with the anarchists in and around the party, and he soon had several takers. All tried to respond to the question of authority and how it should be exercised in a pre-revolutionary party and a post-revolutionary society. J. Armsden, writing to Commonweal on 1 June 1889, flatly denied ‘any necessity for authority’, a denial repeated by an anarchist, who wrote on 22 June: ‘I should deny the necessity for the exercise of authority … free association is the only guarantee of the due observance of our equal liberty.’ The same issue of Commonweal included a letter from H. Davis, elected that same month to the Council of the Socialist League at its Fifth Annual Conference. Davis picked up Morris’s opening challenge (’I call myself a communist and have no wish to qualify that word by joining any other to it’) and responded directly: ‘I, on the other hand, call myself an anarchist-communist, and have no wish to separate the two words.’ Morris’s challenge on the question of authority was not answered with careful consideration and substantiated rebuttal. Davis simply swept past it on the momentum of rhetorical assertions: ‘I will admit of no compulsion of man over man ... The anarchist seek [sic] freedom through individual liberty by affirming the sovereignty of the individual.’

What we have here is a small part of the debate between revolutionary socialists and anarchists that sounded across the paper in the following months. The notices that the paper carried every week on its back page are particularly revealing. Frequently a column listing a series of books and pamphlets by Morris for sale stood side by side with an advertisement for Freiheit, ‘International Organ of the German-speaking Anarchists’, available from the Commonweal office, or for La Revolte, ‘Organe Communiste-Anarchiste’. [9] On 7 June 1890, after Morris had lost the editorship but while he was still writing for the paper, Commonweal ran a note welcoming the appearance of a new paper, The Anarchist Labour Leaf, launched by the East London Communist-Anarchist Group. In one of those small but significant flickers familiar then and since to close readers of the left press, the paper’s weekly round up of strike news, always headlined The Labour Struggle, was retitled on 19 July 1890 The Labour Revolt.

As factions battled for control of the paper, the erratic swings of David Nicoll, one of its most frequent contributors, seem to me to be particularly revealing. Described by Thompson as ‘a highly-strung and unstable intellectual’, [10] he and Frank Kitz took over from Morris as editors of Commonweal at the end of May 1890. By 6 September, with the News From Nowhere serial still running, he appeared to be pushing the paper in uninhibitedly anarchist directions. That week he led with his own article, Why we Do Not Believe in Parliamentary Action and followed it directly with Part 3 of Revolutionary Government by the most famous anarchist of the lot, Peter Kropotkin. Yet the following week, in the 13 September edition, Nicoll published a letter from himself, challenging Kropotkin’s assumptions and asking a series of basic questions. ‘What will the anarchists do’, he demanded, if after a successful revolution, ‘provisions run short? Who is to direct the men … to get the supplies of food?’ Two weeks later, on 27 September, Nicoll went after the anarchists again in a piece entitled An Anarchist Paper on the Socialist Movement, defending the role of revolutionary socialists in the dock strike against criticism in the anarchist paper La Revolte. Yet Nicoll it was who eventually and effectively sank the paper in April 1892 when he ran an article titled Are These Men Fit to Live? This was directed at the judges responsible for sentencing a group of anarchists to ten years penal servitude for planning bombings. The article did no discernible damage to the judges but quickly earned Nicoll a 16 month sentence for incitement to murder. [11]

Before things fell apart to that extent, Morris had tried to hold the centre of the party together. Even after his removal from the editorship of Commonweal in May 1890, he was prepared to argue for his own and his party’s politics in the paper. The very next week, in an article headed Anti-Parliamentary, he explained and defended the Socialist League’s position on abstention from parliamentary elections. The aim of parliament, he insisted, is ‘the upholding of privilege; the society of rich and poor’; it was therefore ‘a hopeless enterprise’ to try to ‘jockey parliament into socialism’. He concluded by recommending socialists to direct their energy to ‘strengthen your own organisations’. [12]

A road to socialism that is neither parliamentary nor anarchist may be familiar enough to readers of this journal, but it was not one that was readily available in the 19th century. Morris wore himself out helping to lay its foundations.

News From Nowhere and Commonweal

In the light of these facts about Commonweal, its politics and its struggles, I think we can begin to make much clearer sense of News From Nowhere, its strengths and its silences. An enormous source of power that flowed very directly from the novel’s serialisation in the paper is surely that Morris was able to write a novel without compromises. News From Nowhere is a book that talks directly about socialism and about how to achieve it, which is what readers of Commonweal wanted to know about. Its pages are not clogged with the sugary pap demanded by middle class publishers devising inoffensive leisure products for alienated readers. Morris was thus able to write what one critic has called an anti-novel, [13] as he himself makes clear through one of his characters, Ellen. She looks back dismissively on the claims of 19th century realist fiction:

As for your books, they were well enough for times when intelligent people had but little else in which they could take pleasure, and when their needs must supplement the sordid miseries of their own lives with imaginations of the lives of other people. But I say flatly that in spite of all their cleverness and vigour, and capacity for story telling, there is something loathsome about them. Some of them, indeed, do here and there show some feeling for those whom the history-books call ‘poor’, and of the misery of whose lives we have some inkling; but presently they give it up, and towards the end of the story we must be contented to see the hero and heroine living happily in an island of bliss on other people’s troubles; and that after a long series of sham troubles (or mostly sham) of their own making, illustrated by dreary introspective nonsense about their feelings and aspirations, and all the rest of it; while the world must even then have gone on its way, and dug and sewed and baked and built and carpentered round these useless animals. [14]

As that long last sentence unfolds, Morris veers from irritated splutter (’all the rest of it’) to calculated offence to the tastes and expectations of standard novel readers (’dreary introspective nonsense about … feelings’). The people who paid a penny for Commonweal at street corner meetings, at demonstrations and on picket lines were looking for a story that spoke directly to their anger, desires and hopes, that spoke about how one day people would fight for and win a better world for themselves and their children. News From Nowhere was written for those people. It was not written for standard issue 19th century novel readers anxious for tales of moral crises over breaches of good manners or minute fluctuations in the finely tuned, narrowly directed sensibilities of the upper middle classes and those frantic to join them. And it was certainly not written for 20th century Guardian journalists.

And another thing – publication in Commonweal allowed Morris to focus his story sharply, secure in the knowledge that issues inevitably marginalised by that sharp focus were clarified by their coverage elsewhere in the paper. Thus, for example, one of the great strengths of Commonweal was its resolute internationalism. The Socialist League’s Statement of Principles, which ran on the back page of the paper nearly every week, insisted:

This revolutionary socialism must be international. The change which would put an end to the struggle between man and man, would destroy it also between nation and nation. One harmonious system of federation throughout the whole of civilisation would take the place of the old destructive rivalries. There would be no great centres breeding race hatred and commercial jealousy. [15]

That internationalist commitment informed the paper. Every week the centre page carried a list of publications received; on 21 June 1890, for example, 51 journals are listed from, amongst others, Italy, the US, Sweden, Cuba, Germany and Argentina. Those papers provided the basis for an International News column that was a regular feature and carried items from places as far apart as Australia, Denmark, Russia and Southern Africa. In the spring of 1890, while News From Nowhere was running at the front of the paper, the middle pages carried regular reports from Morris’s daughter May on the strike fund set up by the Socialist League to assist French blanket weavers in Cours. [16]

In that context it is therefore quite wrong to criticise Morris as some have done [17] for confining his text to England and failing to address the issue of world revolution. News From Nowhere is about the local unfolding of a struggle that was comprehensively dealt with in the rest of the paper. Morris used his serial to work out in detail what socialism might mean for Clara, Dick and Ellen in London while other pages in Commonweal complemented that with news of the struggle for socialism in New York, Melbourne and Havana.

And that wasn’t all. The class struggle politics of the Socialist League and its paper gave Morris the support and the context to develop his vision of socialism in News From Nowhere in ways quite impossible in a novel prepared for conventional publishing by a conventional publisher. In particular, it encouraged him to expand his attack on those dilute notions of socialism then associated with Fabianism which in turn were to become central to the thinking of the Labour Party as it took root in the next decade. A fortnight after News From Nowhere started running in Commonweal, Morris contributed to the paper a long review of Fabian Essays in Socialism. His review of a volume which, as he noted, included designs by his daughter May, was conducted with his habitual kindliness; it could be obtained post free from Commonweal offices and, ‘I assume that all socialists will read it.’ However, the review is also marked by his habitual honesty; the Fabian ‘theory of tactics’ – in essence, the ‘rollicking opportunism’ of Sidney Webb – is a ‘disastrous move.’ At its core is ‘the parliamentary struggle which we do not believe in’. [18] From there it is only a short step to News From Nowhere’s famous vision of the Houses of Parliament in the future being used as a storage place for manure. [19] But, more extensively, his critique of Fabianism in this 25 January review provides the basis for the novel’s longest chapter, Chapter XVII, which appeared four months later. It ran for five numbers of Commonweal from 17 May to 14 June and described in careful detail the process of arriving at socialism not through parliament but as the result of a raggedly escalating process of unemployment, demonstrations, ruling class reaction, general strike and civil war.

In short, Morris centres on what Commonweal was focused on. As well as special articles on particular strikes, it ran a weekly column headed The Labour Struggle, a roundup of news covering every major and minor dispute. Morris chimed in with this coverage, for example with an article on 22 March 1890 headed The Great Coal Strike, that insisted, ‘It is a battle, not a mere business dispute.’ Or again six weeks later on 3 May, in a front page piece headed Labour Day, he noted a ‘growing comprehension of socialism … underlying all the strikes which have lately taken place, and which has been quite different to that of the strikes of the decade before the revival of socialism in this country.’ In tandem with Commonweal, Morris worked out week by week a theory of the transition to socialism based on the industrial struggles of the late 19th century and one of the functions of News From Nowhere was to see that transition enacted in the 20th century. [20]

But inevitably, as he wrote his way towards a vision of socialism in News From Nowhere through the medium of Commonweal, he also shared some of the limitations of the Socialist League and its paper. For all the sane, brave things about sexuality and its expression in Chapter IX, Concerning Love, most modern readers find the book’s views on gender and on women’s roles uselessly dated. [21] Jan Marsh in particular has written sharply but sympathetically on that subject and I don’t need to add to what she has to say here. [22]

From the Manifesto of the Socialist League that Morris helped to draft and that was carried on the front page of the first edition of Commonweal in February 1885, to the Statement of Principles that ran on the back page every week, the Socialist League offered a relentless and welcome insistence on class and class issues whose downside was that its rare pronouncements on sexual politics were depressingly conventional. That conventionality pervades News From Nowhere and is only partly redeemed by characters like Ellen, who seems to spring from sectors of Morris’s imagination that escaped political conditioning. The other exception, Philippa the headstone carver who appears briefly in Chapter XXVI is, significantly enough, an afterthought, not part of the original serial and only added when it was revised to become a book.

But it is around the issue of anarchism, as I have already suggested, that News From Nowhere offers the most consistent challenge to the way the Socialist League was developing. The novel describes in detail the process by which a class rides the uneven momentum of history as it is in part carried and in part struggles together towards power with no assistance anywhere from heroic bomb throwers and their ‘propaganda by deed’. Once in power, Chapter XIV explains how democratic control is exercised in a small socialist community. The anarchist alternative, ‘to wit, that every man should be quite independent of every other, and that thus the tyranny of society should be abolished’, is simply dismissed by the narrator and one of the protagonists as they ‘burst out laughing very heartily’ at the mere idea. [23]

From the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom

I have tried to argue that News From Nowhere is a dialectical novel, a text produced by the creative tensions between Morris, the Socialist League which he was on the point of leaving, and Commonweal, the paper which serialised his story but whose editorship he lost while the serial was still running. To some extent those tensions obviously drove Morris to set the novel far in the future, well away from the sectarian strife of the present, as he himself makes clear in the opening paragraphs. Yet he is also doing much more than that. In 1892, two years after the serialisation of News From Nowhere, Edward Aveling, formerly co-editor of Commonweal with Morris, published the first English translation of what was to become a classic Marxist text, Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (originally published in French in 1880). Engels himself was a regular contributor to Commonweal; in Socialism, Utopian and Scientific he writes of humanity’s ascent from prehistory, the present, into the beginnings of real human history, the communist future:

Man’s own social organisation, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by nature and history, now becomes the result of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself, more and more consciously, make his own history – only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have ... the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. [24]

That is surely the context in which to read News From Nowhere, as the first fully human novel, a first story about people as they can and will be, liberated from all the alienation, reification, exploitation and complex varieties of crap that fill the pages of 19th century fiction, the fiction of prehistory. That is the way to read Morris’s novel, a pioneering attempt to imagine the lives of the first free human beings, rather than to go searching as some have done for comically irrelevant parallels with The Wind in the Willows or Walter Scott. [25]

And seeing it in that way helps us to avoid another fallacy about Morris. This, with a sad shake of the head, insists that because of his revolutionary purism he failed to attach himself to the way the world in general and British socialism in particular was going. [26] Within a decade there were Labour MPs and within a generation there was a Labour government. Morris’s utterly intransigent version of revolutionary Marxism has meant that he and his novel have always been marginal to those developments. Simply, he got it wrong; there was no successful socialist revolution in 1952, as News From Nowhere claims.

As I started writing this, Tony Blair was in New York, reassuring Wall Street bankers that the next Labour government would make no difference to them and their investments and their profits. In terms of electoral politics, that was of course an entirely sensible thing to do. If the next Labour government is not to be promptly derailed the way previous ones have been by the movements of global capital, then the more reassurances Tony Blair can give to Wall Street the better. But it surely also proves that, even if Morris got it wrong in the short run, he was right in the long run and there really is no parliamentary road to Clause Four, never mind to socialism.

Of course, the easy cynical answer to that is to say that in the long run we’re all dead. Well, yes and no. You’re dead, I’m dead, but humanity isn’t dead; the dream of human liberation doesn’t die. And the longer we go on without reaching that dream, the more important it becomes to get it right whenever the chance to realise it presents itself. We don’t have many better maps for finding that dream than News From Nowhere.


1. The Guardian, 3 May 1996, p. 6.

2. Independent on Sunday, magazine section, 5 May 1996, p. 21.

3. C. Wilmer (ed.), William Morris: News from Nowhere and other Writings (Harmondsworth 1993), pp. 43–44. I have used this edition throughout simply because it is the most readily available. However, like all 20th century editions of News From Nowhere, it is based on the revised edition of the novel that Morris prepared for its first appearance as a book, published in Boston in 1890 and in London in 1891 by Reeves & Turner. There are important differences between these two editions which have been detailed by A. MacDonald, The Revision of News From Nowhere, Journal of the William Morris Society, 3:2, Summer 1976. But these differences do not affect my argument and I have therefore used the Penguin edition because it is the most convenient for readers.

4. See, for example, that same edition of Commonweal, 11 January 1890, p. 12.

5. The rest of this paragraph is based on those accounts I have found most useful: Y. Kapp, Eleanor Marx: The Crowded Years 1884–1898 (London 1976), E.P. Thompson, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary (London 1977), and the Introduction to N. Salmon (ed.), William Morris: Political Writings – Contributions to Justice and Commonweal 1883–1890 (Bristol 1994).

6. F. Boos (ed.), William Morris’s Socialist Diary (London 1985), pp. 37 and 46.

7. Details here from H. Oliver, The International Anarchist Movement in Late Victorian London (London 1983). My thanks to David Nash for drawing my attention to this book, a mine of information on its subject.

8. E.P. Thompson, op. cit., p. 509.

9. See, for example, Commonweal, 8 March 1890, p. 80; 22 March 1890, p. 96; and 5 April 1890, p. 112.

10. E.P. Thompson, op. cit., p. 508.

11. For details, see H. Oliver, op. cit., ch. 4.

12. Commonweal, 7 June 1890, pp. 180–181.

13. See P. Brantlinger, News from Nowhere: Morris’s Socialist Anti-Novel, Victorian Studies, XIX, September 1975.

14. News From Nowhere, op. cit., pp. 175–176.

15. This is taken from the Statement of Principles on the back page of Commonweal, 15 March 1890. Very occasionally pressure on space seems to have led to its disappearance in a given week – see, for example, 5 July and 27 September 1890.

16. See, for example, Commonweal, 22 March and 10 May 1890.

17. See, for example, J. Crump, How the Change Came: News from Nowhere and Revolution, in S. Coleman and P. O’Sullivan (eds.), William Morris and News from Nowhere: A Vision for Our Time (Bideford 1990).

18. Commonweal, 25 January 1890, p. 28.

19. News From Nowhere, p. 69.

20. I am aware that most historians regard the Socialist League, like the Social Democratic Federation, as disastrously underestimating the political importance of New Unionism and the rise in strike action of the late 19th century – see, for example, H. Collins, The Marxism of the Social Democratic Federation, in A. Briggs and J. Saville (eds.), Essays in Labour History 1886–1923 (London, 1971). This may have been true in practice but is certainly not borne out by my reading of Commonweal. Engels noted this contradiction between theory and practice when he complained in a letter to Sorge dated 19 April 1890 about the Socialist League’s penchant for ‘making phrases and otherwise doing nothing’.

21. A significant recent exception is F. MacCarthy, William Morris: A Life for Our Time (London 1994). She finds Nowhere ‘a place of real sexual equality’ (p588). She also persistently misnames one of the novel’s main characters, Dick, as Robert and probably needs to read the book again.

22. See her Jane and May Morris: A Biographical Story (London 1986), and in particular her piece in Coleman and O’Sullivan, op. cit.

23. News From Nowhere, p. 120.

24. F. Engels, Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, in Marx, Engels, Lenin, Four Classic Texts on the Principles of Socialism (London 1960), p. 144. This seems to me a simpler and more accurate way of describing the relationship between Engels’ text and Morris’s than the rather tangled argument about the two books that Thompson conducts with Abensour in E.P. Thompson, op. cit., pp. 787–791.

25. See, respectively, Wilmer, p. xxxvi, and J. Redmond (ed.), William Morris: News from Nowhere (London 1970), p. xiii.

26. See for example E.P. Thompson, op. cit., Part III, Chs. 5 and 6 in particular.

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