William Morris - a conservative revolutionary
On March 24th 1834,William Morris, a British painter, poet, socialist political activist, and manufacturer was born in Walthamstow, England. Coming from a wealthy bourgeois family, he made the struggle against capitalism, in both the arts and economics, the purpose of his life. Morris was to become the informal leader of the second generation of "Pre-Raphaelite" artists who were dedicated Romantics who tried to return the aesthetic ideals of the late Middle Ages in the face of the progressivist and rationalistic atmosphere of Victorian England.
Pre-Raphaelites against the modern world
An outstanding feature of the Pre-Raphaelite movement was that it originally was not only a phenomenon of the arts. Theorist of the movement, the critic John Ruskin, justified the aims of the movement, which were in his view the revival of the spiritual dimension in man, moral purity, a perfect expression of the aesthetic ideal of the sacred, the divine, caring and attentive attitude to nature, denial of the mechanistic and hyper-rationalist model of the Enlightenment. An aesthetic orientation towards the ideals of the past were combined, in Ruskin’s view, with attention to the problems of society, criticism of capitalism and support for socialist ideas, protection of workers' rights. In the book Unto This Last, Ruskin explicated his conception of Christian socialism.
These features are characteristic of all the British thinkers whom we might refer to as part of the paradigm of the "conservative revolution", who represented an orientation towards pre-Modern ideals with social criticism, rejection of capitalism and embracement of revolutionary radical agenda. Their world view was formed under the influence of the dual nature of the great Britain itself: Celtic and Germanic at the same time, once on the edge of the European world, where for a long time they held onto ancient customs and traditions, and yet later becoming the center of modernization, education, liberalism and the Industrial Revolution.
For the rest of Europe, technology and industrialization were understood as a disaster for the European spirit only in the 20th century (Spengler, Heidegger). In Britain, this idea it has become an integral part of the conservative-revolutionary tradition already in the 19th century. The British first experienced the bitter taste of modernity; hence the movement of the Luddites, anti-technicism of the Pre-Raphaelites, and later the understanding of technics as a form of black magic in the world of Tolkien.
In the work of Morris, this trend was particularly apparent. He, like Ruskin and Tomas Carlyle before him, paid special attention not only to the field of literature and art, but also criticized the capitalist system and industrial machine production. A feature of William Morris's connection of conservative and socialist concepts with the romantic ideal of the Middle Ages, social justice values, the merger of art, poetry, with political and economic activism.
Economic ideal of Morris
For a long time, Morris was considered the unofficial leader of the "Movement of Arts and Crafts". His main aim was the convergence of aesthetics and work, overcoming the industrialized impersonal production of the industrial age, that leads to the depersonalization of producer as well as the consumer of such goods, the transformation of work in the aesthetic and even (as it was in pre-Modern age) sacralized process. Morris was familiar with the works of Karl Marx, but he offered to solve problem of alienation, identified by socialist philosopher, by returning to manual labor and re-sacralization of production.
William Morris's theoretical work included the utopian novel, News from Nowhere, articles in the socialist newspaper he founded, Commonwealth, and in the practice of his firm "Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.", supported this particular version of socialism, which can accurately be called "conservative revolutionary". Focusing on Medieval ideals and institutions of the Middle Ages, including aesthetic and ethical ideals, was connected by Morris with socialist and even anarchist ideas. The coming socialism was conceived as a society in which the machines would be completely superseded by hand work, the basis of social and political order will become communities, cooperatives and guilds; the relations between man and nature would be one of harmony; greed will disappear as well as private property, the ideal of spirituality will prevail in society.
It is significant that Morris not only described this ideal, but also put his ideas into practice. In 1886, he founded the firm "Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.", which produced decorative and applied arts. The production used only manual labor and recreated previously lost medieval technology. Workshops were managed by workers' cooperatives and workers received a fair wage. Existing up until 1940, the company soon became the leading manufacturer of Europe in the field of arts and crafts.
The transformation of work in art and ritual is both a revolutionary and conservative alternative. In such a way, labor activity in Europe until the advent of modernity was conceptualized.
Foreign policy views of Morris
From an early date, Morris was fully absorbed the sphere of art. But in 1852, after being admitted to Oxford Exeter College, he along with the future of the Pre-Raphaelite E. Burne-Jones, made an oath to create a brotherhood of artists in order to carry out a "crusade and holy war against the current century and ruthless cold times."
Later on, Morris produced the ultra-left manifesto of the Socialist League, calling for a world-wide workers' revolution. At the same time, the artist remained a staunch opponent of industrialization. In both cases, in spite of the fundamental difference of forms, the content remains the same - the rejection of the modern world, with its spirit of commercialism and capitalism.
Therefore Morris’s geopolitical sympathies are not accidental. He was against modernity and therefore British imperialism and Atlanticism, as the true embodiment of its titanic spirit, the oppressive British capitalist system, alienated “democracy” and rationality, which was professed by the British throughout the world. This is why Great Britain was always on the side of the Sea against the Land. He was on the side of the ancient and for the revolution against modernity, and in light of this, Morris supported the struggle for the restoration of the independence of Ireland, spoke in defense of the Balkan Slavs and the Russian land-power, and rejected British imperialism everywhere it was possible.
It is significant that the key point that influenced the transformation of an artist with an acute sense of the ugliness of the modern the world into an actual political activist was the foreign policy of the United Kingdom at that time, during the 1876-78 biennium. Under Prime Minister Disraeli, Britain was preparing for a new war with Russia. According to Disraeli's plan, the British had to support the Ottoman Empire, despite its atrocities against Southern Slavs.
Like today, in the dispute between Russia and Turkey, the British leadership supported the Muslim Turks against Christian Russia. Nothing personal, no identity: just the interest of the elites. Back then, British and European elites sacrificed Slavs, nowadays they sacrifice their own peoples for the sake of support for a revived Ottomanism.
This is why and when Morris became the treasurer of the anti-war Eastern Question Association and wrote his famous anti-government poems "Wake London lads", ending by quatrains very relevant today:
Wake, London lads! The hour draws high,
The bright sun brings the day;
Cast off the shame, cast off the lie,
And cast the Turk away!