Thursday, 7 April 2011

Varieties of Violence

Well done to those Morris Society members who marched behind the Hammersmith Socialist League banner at the Trades Union Congress’s recent day of action against the Tory-Lib Dem cuts to public spending. Very splendid they and the banner look in the photos posted up on the Society website, and I’m sure this outing must have aroused much interest in Morris amongst other marchers on the day. Media coverage of the event predictably focused on the violent actions of some small protest groups later in the afternoon, rather than the vast mass of peaceful protestors; and in response to such disturbances the Society website carries a notice recording – accurately enough – that ‘Morris condemned anarchist violence’.

Indeed he did; but he did not by any means condemn all kinds of political violence. I have just been external examiner to a wonderful PhD thesis by Ingrid Hanson of Sheffield University on the functions of violence in Morris’s writings. She notes the intense fascination with physical combat in his stories and poems – to the point, indeed, where one might almost think he was reformulating the Cartesian cogito as ‘I fight, therefore I am’; and she convincingly shows too that Morris believed passionately in the disciplined collective violence of the oppressed against the often invisible violence that an oppressive system inflicts upon them.

So: anarchist violence, no indeed; that is just counter-productive. But in response to the silent and actual violences of capitalism, Morris certainly agreed with Sun-Beam in The Roots of the Mountains that ‘if ye would live your happy life that ye love so well, ye must now fight for it’ (ch. 20); and he has shown us in the English revolution of News from Nowhere how that might be done in detail.

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