In the following passage from her book on William Morris, Hanson convincingly shows, contrary to much modern criticism, that he believed in violent revolution. — George P. Landow.

Thackeray's decorated initial T

he idea that violence can bring about peace is more fully developed in News from Nowhere than in any of Morris's other works. His alterego, William Guest, arrives in the postrevolutionary world of the future to find everything cleansed, renewed and healed: London, and indeed England, is restored to an idyllic rural state of harmony without the need for laws, prisons or coercion of any kind. The class system has vanished and hostility between people is reduced to good-tempered teasing or grumbling, except for occasional but significant murders. The story works beyond its own context, and reflects on later narratives as well as earlier ones, but it is firmly rooted in the circumstances of its composition and publication. By 1890, British socialism was driven by factionalism, based on conflicting ideas of how to bring about the new society. Morris stood between the increasingly active anarchist wing of the Socialist League, determined that acts of violence could bring about change, and the parliamentary wing, committed to standing for election. Before the serialization of News from Nowhere in Commonweal was complete, Morris had stood down from its editorship and left the Socialist League to form the Hammersmith Socialist Society. In its own time, then, this was an imaginative contribution to arguments not only about the shape and feeling of the future society, but also about how it might best be achieved: the lengthy description of the civil war in the chapter entitled, 'How the Change Came', is essential as a contribution to that debate, and in that context it upholds a commitment both to organized violent resistance as against anarchist 'propaganda by deed' and to absolute war and destruction as against what Morris saw as the counterproductive 'palliatives' of parliamentary politics." While it encompasses Marxist principles of change, it functions at the same time as a passionate presentation of the renewing power of physical violence acting on the bodies and minds of the working class to bring about transformation.. . . It is not, as Paul Meier argues, an orthodox Marxist account of revolution and the 'withering-away of the State'. . . It does present a point of convergence between Morris's political beliefs and his storytelling impulse, and it is significant that what is not left out is the certainty of battle, killing and wounding. The story echoes not only the Christian and Nordic religious myths of death and new birth, but also the belief of Hegel and Marx in dialectical progression and transformation through the interaction of opposing forces. It insists on this conflict and draw a specific attention to the physical details of its enactment. Social change is kicked into action by a bloody massacre, in which 'the dead and dying: covered the ground, and the shrieks and wails and cries of horror filled all the air, till it seemed as if there was nothing else in the world but murder and death' (116). There can be no mitigaiion of the effects of violence, the story suggests. It can only be overcome by more violence.

Beyond his own time, Morris's ideas find resonances in more applied political thinking on the possibilities of violence. The novel enacts the enduring myth that violence carried out by the right people can overcome oppression and lead to happiness, because, as Hannah Arendt characterizes the idea, 'evil is but a temporary manifestation of a still-hidden good." Violence is not conceived, in this view, as something with intrinsically corrosive effects on those who carry it out; neither is it simply a means to an end. Rather, in the exercise of violence, social and individual good is released. In an argument that rests on a belief akin to Morris's in the creative and transformative power of the violence of the oppressed, Fanonon argues that violence is a kind of creative work, which binds the people together and forms their characters, 'since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upwards in reaction to the settler's violence'. Fanon's comments highlight the enduring appeal of the idea of generative and transformative violence not merely as a Sorelian myth, but as revolutionary praxis.

At the same time, history - not least that of Fanon's Algeria - demonstrates that while the forging of identity may be possible through violence, it is less effective in the creation of long-term peace and social transformation. [156]


Hanson, Ingrid. William Morris and the Uses of Violence, 1856-1890. London: Anthem Press, 2013. [Review in the Victorian Web]

Last modified 26 May 2010