William Morris: The Communist Utopia and Human Creativity

News from nowhere

There were two great waves to English socialist thought in the nineteenth century. The first was about the 1830's and we talked about it in the lecture on Robert Owen. The second wave was at the end of the century.

One of the best known socialists of the second wave was William Morris. He was a poet, an artist and a storyteller. Today I am going to tell you one of his stories.

It's called NEWS from NOWHERE and it was published as a serial in the journal of The Socialist League in 1890.

The story begins at a meeting of the Socialist League.

Six members are having an argument:-


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Well, Morris got very agitated, and on the tube journey home he began to wish that he could just see a day of what communism would be like.


Morris, who was a very rich man, had a house by the river Thames at Hammersmith.

Leaving the tube station, he stopped to cool his thoughts by the river. It was a beautiful night in early winter. There was a new moon in the sky and street lights all along the sides of the river. All except in two places that is. At one point there was a black patch on each side of the river. These patches, Morris tells us, indicated the two ends of "an ugly suspension bridge".

When Morris wakes it is not winter - it's a hot, sunny summer morning and the riverside trees are covered in leaves! From now on everything in the story is highly fantastic.

Morris finds a boatman - a man called Richard Hammond - and asks him to row him out into the river for a swim. He strips of his clothes and jumps of the boat into clear, clean river water - which is somewhat surprising because at the end of the 19th century the river Thames was even dirtier than it is now.

click to read Morris looked to where the bridge was - and was so shocked by what he saw that he nearly drowned. Instead of an ugly suspension bridge he sees a medieval bridge. Stone arches, solid and graceful. And on the bridge are houses with painted and gilded vanes a spires on their roofs. "When was that put there?" he exclaimed, and Richard told him that it was opened in 2003 AD. "The date", says Morris, "shut my mouth".

Here we have a medieval bridge built in the future. As we go on with the story we find people wearing medieval clothes, meeting in medieval churches, living in medieval houses and playing medieval instruments. In this strange, sunny world that Morris has entered, the past has somehow caught up with future.


I want to pause the story to explain how Morris's Medievalism fits in with his ideas about work a craftsmanship and the communist future. I will fit my comments into the series of modes of production that Marx and Engels described in their Communist Manifesto.


Morris thought that Medieval "Gothic" work was special: It contained craftsmanship. Next time you visit a medieval cathedral, look at the detail. Look at the carving and see with what care and creativity it has been carried out. Then, on your way home, read Ruskin


In the movement from feudalism to capitalism, Morris thought, their had been a loss of humanity and a loss of craftsmanship. The division of labour (illustrated by Adam Smith's pin-factory) removes craftsmanship from work and de-humanizes the worker.


Morris believed the good features of the medieval period can be recovered in a wholly new (egalitarian communist) society.

Compare this with what Marx and Engels has said in the Communist Manifesto in 1848:

" The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors," and has left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous cash payment. "...

"Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack that is required of him."


Morris tries to pay the boatman for his work. But Richard will not accept payment. He laughs and suggests that Morris should give the money to a museum.

This is not just because Morris's Victorian money is out of date.

All money is outdated in the communist future. People work for free - because they love working


Richard decides that Morris is a foreign tourist and offers to be his guide.

He has a grandfather, a man called Old Hammond who is over one hundred and five years old and lives in the British Museum

First they could go there and the old man could tell Morris the history of the country.

Then they will go up river to Oxfordshire, where Richard has promised to help with the hay harvest.

"But what about your job here?" says Morris. But that is no problem. Richard has a friend staying at the Hammersmith guesthouse who is starving for a bit of river work!


Richard's friend is a Yorkshire weaver, who is also a mathematician, a printer, and a historian. With so much indoor work, he wants outdoor work to refresh him.

Later on they meet another friend: the golden dustman

This man, as well as being the local dustman, wears glorious clothes and writes novels

Richard explains to Morris that in this world, manual labour and craftsmanship have a far higher status then mere intellectual work.


The wares which we make are made because they are needed: men make for their neighbours' use as if they were making for themselves, not for a vague market ...

All work which would be irksome to do by hand is done by immensely improved machinery: and in all work which is a pleasure to do by hand machinery is done without ...

... under these circumstances all the work that we do is an exercise of the mind and body more or less pleasant to be done.


click to read Having got out of the boat, Richard takes Morris for breakfast in the communal guesthouse. The men are served breakfast by three young women. Oh dear...some things have not changed!

Morris tells us that the women were clothed like women, not upholstered like armchairs. They had flowing medieval dresses that followed the curves of their bodies, not the bunched - up bustles of late Victorian times.

The women were all pleasant to look at, and one was "a pretty girl" who looked about twenty and turns out to be forty-two. In the communist utopia of the future people age very slowly - and, for reasons we will come to shortly, they are all rather good-looking.

The women in Morris's book are mostly engaged in housekeeping and making love to the men. They also play musical instruments and read "pretty books" - one lady, Philippa, and her daughter, are eccentrics. They are stonemasons.

Now none of this would have pleased Victorian feminists. Morris did not intend that it should. Old Hammond explains why feminists are wrong

There are two things they are wrong about: housework and birth control


Feminists, Hammond argued, thought housekeeping an unimportant occupation, not deserving of respect

But under communism, housekeeping is recognized as a skilled craft. But not one that men do. The reason for this is that:
"the women do what they can do best, and what they like best" click to read
Hammond reminds Morris of a Norwegian folk-story called How the Man minded the House. The moral of which was that men make a mess of such things.

click to read Despite his conservatism about women's roles, Morris was personally interested in some aspects of housekeeping. Much of his artistic effort went into creating beautiful and useful household goods and fabrics. He took an interest in "common-place things" at a time when most rich men affected to be ignorant of how their dinner reached the table. Morris, by contrast, boasted that he was a "pretty good cook".

On the other hand - Morris had servants to do the housework and a wife to manage the servants.

It is a great pleasure to a clever woman to manage a house skilfully Hammond says.

Population and aesthetics

But to move on to birth-control. Under Morris's communism neither contraception nor chastity appear to have value.

Hammond said that the nineteenth century feminists had wanted to emancipate at least some women from bearing children. But, in the communist future, "maternity is highly honoured".

The implication seems to be that women should bear children as a natural consequence of unregulated intercourse.

We are also led to believe that women doing housework and bearing children is an important aspect of erotic desire.


Despite the value placed on maternity, the population of England under communism was still about the same as at the end of the 19th century. The reason for this was that a lot of people had left to occupy other parts of the world.

The good looks of the people come from their freedom and good sense

Morris describes marriage under industrial capitalism as a commercial contract enforceable by law. Under communism, people are not bound to one another in this way. Couples are free to link and break away without legal formalities.

This, Hammond argues, is the probable cause of the people's good looks: "Pleasure" he says "begets pleasure"

Aesthetics Morris had strong views about what was beautiful and what was ugly. He applied these views to human beings and not just to the objects they worked on. He wanted the crafter to be as beautiful as the crafted.

Morris says that the human products of industrial capitalism are ugly. The human products of communism will be physically and morally beautiful.

It is an interesting idea. Remove people from the destructive environment of the slums and give them the freedom to love joyfully and without commitment and the bodies and minds of their children will reflect the new beauty.

But what if the genetics of pleasure and the influence of environment are not as benign as Morris envisages? What if some of us continue to run to fat, be mentally retarded, age prematurely, have mental breakdowns, physical deformities, or just suffer from a lot of pimples on our faces?

Can Morris's ideal avoid creating a layer of second-class citizens: the "not-beautiful" in a society dedicated to a cult of being beautiful?

Morris was writing at the same time that eugenics was developing. He does not propose genetic selection, but the ideals he sets out are similar.


Morris and Richard travel to london in a horse drawn carriage. At Kensington they enter a forest that stretches from there to Hackney.

In the communist future, Morris learns, all the large towns have shrunk to make way for countryside. Industrial towns, like Manchester, and large coalfields, have vanished altogether.

Later in the story, Old Hammond describes to Morris the three stages of England's history: medieval, industrial, communist.

Medieval England: "England was once a country of clearings amongst the woods and wastes, with a few towns interspersed, which were fortresses for the feudal army, markets for the folk, gathering places for the craftsmen"

Industrial England: "It then became a country of huge and foul workshops and fouler gambling dens, surrounded by an ill-kept, poverty stricken farm, pillaged by the masters of the workshops."

Communist England: "It is now a garden, where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt, with the necessary dwellings, sheds and workshops scattered up and down the country, all trim and neat and pretty."

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If the large industrial towns like Manchester and the large coal and iron fields have disappeared - What has happened to the factories?

Morris comes across one of the factories of the new age. It is called a banded workshop

It does not belch smoke

Instead, it is the pleasant place for doing the kind of handwork that it is convenient to do with other people, The one Morris sees is for glass- blowing and pottery-crafts that need kilns and furnaces.

But, as I said, no smoke

The communist future uses some new, unexplained, power called force which does not smoke and can be provided to people where they live.

Power is not concentrated in the coalfields, therefore, but is distributed everywhere - As are the banded workshops, which are scattered all over the country so that anyone who likes this kind of work can do it.

In real history, as electricity developed as distributed power it was as the energy for even more industrialisation. See Lenin 1920 and Britain 1926


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Going through the North London forest, Morris cannot help noticing that there are an awful lot of children and young people about.

Groups were wandering about, playing in clearings and sometimes camping with fires to cook their meals.

Richard told him that the children came to live in the forest for weeks on end from all over the country. They were encouraged to do so in order to learn to do things for themselves and to become receptive to nature.

Morris thinks it must be the school-holidays - but Richard just cannot understand the idea of school

In our communist future, children learn without going through a system of teaching

By playing in the forest they learn to swim, to ride ponies and to cook. And by working with adults they learn to mow, to thatch, to do woodwork and to keep shop.

These practical things stretch their minds and so adults are not to worried if they also spend some time reading books!

Nobody teaches children to read. Seeing books lying around "most children... manage to read by the time they are four.."

But there is not much reading until children pass puberty. In fact, over- bookishness is not encouraged. Instead, people take up "genuinely amusing work, like house-building and street-paving, and gardening"

Something else that is not encouraged in young children is writing. Writing too soon is thought to encourage scrawling, and this is bad because writing has been re-established as a craft. People handwrite books for their friends rather than printing them.


Emerging from the forest, Morris found that the famous buildings of London - St Paul's Cathedral, Nelson's Column, the National Gallery etc - had been preserved.

Morris thought most of them were ugly, but he was glad they had been preserved to remind people of their history.

The building Morris valued was the medieval one: Westminster Abbey. To his pleasure, he found that this had been cleared "of the beastly monuments to fools and knaves".

But Morris was surprised to see the Houses of Parliament . Oh well, said Richard, we were going to pull them down, but we used them for storing manure and running a market. So the building was now known as the dung market

Morris asked Hammond to explain why Parliament was no longer used for government and Hammond used this as an excuse to explain what we know as


Under capitalism, parliament exists to make sure that the interests of the upper classes are not harmed and to delude the masses into believing they have some share in their own affairs.

But parliament is not the government. The true is the courts, backed by the executive which uses "brute force" against people through the army and the police.

According to Marx, the state is only needed in societies which are divided into classes - where one class is exploiting the other.

After a workers' revolution, the workers ("proletariat") need to establish a dictatorship of the proletariat until communism is fully established.

But, as the remnants of the old classes fade away and a classless society is established, so the state becomes redundant. It "withers away" and the people govern themselves directly.


The England described in News from Nowhere is already a state-less society. Morris asked Hammond where the parliament was and Hammond joked that:

"Our present parliament would be hard to house in one place, because the whole people is our parliament"

Politically, communism is a lose association of small communes. If a collective decision is needed, it is made at the local level, with everyone gathering in the Mote House to discuss the matter.

Usually the village church was the Mote House

No that there are no classes, people do not disagree over principles. They have no politics or political parties. Their disagreements are over practical things - like whether to build a new bridge. Such disagreements are easily settled.


Morris asked Old Hammond if the change from industrial capitalism to communism had come about peacefully.

It had not. Hammond told him that it had involved strikes and fighting.

The motive power of change, he said, was passion - a longing for freedom and equality - like the passion of a lover.

The hope of realising a communal life for everyone arose quite late in the 19th century.

But there had been a group of politicians called the state socialists who did not trust the power of the people: the passion of the masses.

Instead of leading the workers to a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism; the state socialists tried to get the condition of the workers ameliorated by the bosses and the bosses's government.

They wanted the rich to pay a ransom for their riches.

The state socialists did achieve some of their ends

They gained shorter working hours, minimum wages and price control to make sure inflation did not destroy the value of wages.

They also had government factories set up - but these were inefficient - Morris was not in favour of nationalisation, he wanted work returned directly to the people.

But what the state socialists could not provide the workers with was freedom and control over their lives - The standard of living did not improve very much and the best thing the workers gained out of this period of history was the experience of trade union organisation.

A series of commercial crises was brought about - partly by state socialism and the spread of communist ideas.

1952 was one of the worst of these "bad times".

The trades unions called for trade union control of the economy.

The master class saw this as a declaration of war and prepared to fight communism.

In one of the Trafalgar Square demonstrations, soldiers fired machine guns on the demonstrators and over a thousand demonstrators were killed. (See 1887)

The trade unions set up a Committee of Public Safety. This became the focus of opposition to the government. It became the centre of a network of workers associations committed to communism.

It led the masses in civil war and, Morris said, the Committee gained control over people's minds, whilst the official government only had control over their bodies.

After two years of civil war, victory was won by the rebels


But the change was not so much the civil war as building a communist work-loving society

After the civil war, the people had plenty to do restoring the wealth destroyed in the war.

But when this was done, a kind of "dull utilitarian comfort" settled on the people and there was a serious risk they would become a right dull lot with too much time on their hands and nothing to do with it.

Under industrial capitalism two types of goods were produced:-

Under communism, a lot of time was saved by not producing either type of rubbish. Goods were made to last and were of good quality for everyone.

But at first they were utilitarian and the people were bored.

Then the change came

The art of "work-pleasure" sprang up spontaneously from the people. As they were not being over-worked, a

"craving for beauty took hold of them"

Art, or craftsmanship, became a necessary part of the labour of everyone who produced.

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Swimming in a river

How the past catches up with the future

Money - work - love

Journey to London and Oxford

Weavers, mathematicians, printers, dustmen and historians.

Hammond on work

Home and family


Population and aesthetics

Town and country


The forest children

What's left of London

Marxist theory of the state

Politics under communism

How the change came

Transformation of work

Conversations with Ellen

click to read

or falling in love with a woman of the future

Morris meets and falls in love with a young lady called Ellen

But he cannot express his love to her because she is much younger than him and, in any case, she is a woman of the future and Morris has a premonition that at any time he is going to be snatched back into the grime of industrial England.

As you read News from Nowhere, you will realise that there are two fantasies interwoven.

The one is a fantasy about our communist future, about the liberation of the craftsmanship in all of us.

The other is a fantasy of sex and love.

In Morris's mind, the liberation of love and the liberation of craftsmanship inter-twine - But just as his craftsmanship draws on medieval ideas, so does his romanticism.

Morris's love is a chivalric or knightly love - A fantasy that is not consummated in sex and is enjoyed all the more for that.

In the medieval romances, the young knight could fall passionately in love with the wife of another knight absent on the crusades. He wrote poems and sang songs to her from the bottom of the castle wall. She threw down her headscarf and he wore it as his colours into battle, But the poignancy and the sensuality of the love come precisely from the fact that the two never touch.

Morris's love for Ellen does involve touching, but it generally follows the medieval pattern.

Richard has a woman friend called Clare. Whilst Morris and Hammond are talking about history in the British Museum, Richard and Clare go into a private room to make love. Morris and Ellen, on the other hand, just languish in one another's company and think of things that cannot be.

It may be because Morris's love is attenuated and frustrated that the images of violence and romantic passion are linked when Morris discusses the need for political revolution.

Craftsmanship and sexuality are also repeatedly linked. This is how Morris describes the spirit of communist times. It is:

" delight in the life of the world; intense and overweening love of the very skin and surface of the earth on which man dwells, such as a lover has in the fair flesh of the woman he loves; "

In the final pages of the book, Ellen and Morris attend the harvest feast where everyone who has come for the hay harvest is eating together in the local church.

But as they sit opposite one another, Ellen can no longer see him. Morris has faded away to the nineteenth century

The following combines the material from Ideas about Politics in 1989 about William Morris with a study document developed from it called Marx and Morris: Philosophy, history, economics and art

Morris, Marx and Ruskin

Marx and Morris
Morris and Ruskin
News from Nowhere
Pain and pleasure
Family matters

William Morris (1834-1896) was an English poet, artist and storyteller. He founded the Socialist League in 1883 and wrote a fantasy about a future communist society, which he called News from Nowhere.

Marx and Morris

People argue about whether Morris was a marxist. In this quote Ian Birchall explains why he calls Morris an "orthodox marxist".

" I do not mean that Morris simply repeats what Marx said. In that case he would be of no interest - we could just read Marx. And in that sense, say, Lenin, would not be an orthodox marxist. Morris adds an important (but not unproblematical) aesthetic critique of capitalism, which is not present in Marx and which supplements Marx's economic and political critique."

I would not have called Morris an orthodox marxist, but I will try to explain what I think he did have in common with Marx. Both of them thought men and women are stopped from being truly human by the stunting effect of a corrupt social system. The present system they called capitalism. Like previous systems it distorts our true being, but our full humanity will flourish in the communist future. Our separation from what we really are is called "alienation" by Marx. The system makes us strangers (aliens) to ourselves.

Some marxists, notably the followers of Louis Althusser, say that Marx only thought like this in the first part of his life. Others, the Hegalian marxists or "humanists", say this kind of thinking runs through all his work.

To be human, according to Marx and Morris, is to be a creative worker. This is the humanity that we have been alienated from. The alienation took place very early in human history and was associated with the emergence of economic and social classes. When early societies produced more than they needed to exist on, the surplus was set apart for special communal purposes such as investment, defence or religion. The groups that took charge of this surplus became the ruling class and, since then:

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."(5)

Under capitalism there are many classes, but they are polarizing into two: the proletariat (or working class) and the bourgeoisie (or capitalists). The proletariat are the class who own nothing but their labour power, the capitalist are the class who own the means of production.

The proletariat are the first class in history whose class struggles can free everyone from alienation. They have no one beneath them to exploit so the only path they can take to freedom is to set up a classless society in which no one is exploited. This, Marx thought, would happen after a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and after an in-between period called the "dictatorship of the proletariat".

Morris and Ruskin

William Morris was a follower of John Ruskin (1819-1900), an art critic who thought Victorian economic society was taking the humanity out of art and the art out of humanity. Morris tried to create an art that was part of life. He designed fabrics. houses, furniture, books, wallpaper and whatever else he felt people needed to lead beautiful lives. He became a socialist because when he read Marx he came to the conclusion that in the communist future art and living will be re-united.

Morris and Ruskin were "gothics". In the great controversy that tore Victorian architects apart they favoured the medieval style rather than the Greek and Roman classical forms. All this became part of Morris's marxism. Marx argued that art and economics were linked. He saw history as a series of "modes of production". Capitalism developed out of feudalism just as communism would develop out of capitalism via socialism. Under feudalism the nobles took an economic surplus from the serfs who were forced to work their land. (Serfs could not sell their labour to anyone as workers can under capitalism). This surplus paid, amongst other things, for medieval civilization. It built the crenellated castles and the great gothic cathedrals. Under capitalism the surplus is extracted by capitalists almost without being noticed. The removal of the surplus as profit is disguised by the market. And the surplus is more private than under feudalism, so the capitalist does not have the same responsibility for the welfare of the community. The workers lose the common rights and privileges they had under feudalism and cash becomes the only link between worker and employer. In this move from feudalism to capitalism, the workers both gain and lose. They gain a form of freedom, for example, but, according to Morris, they lose wholeness.

Adam Smith, you will recall, argued that the well-being of the workers is immeasurably greater in countries like Britain than in economically under-developed countries because of the "division of labour". Workers produce more; the example he gave was pin making, and the market leads to a world wide division of labour that increases everyone's labour. Morris argued back that the division of labour meant craftsmanship was replaced by mass-production and this meant losses as well as gains for the workers. The losses were two. First, the goods produced were shoddy and second, their production reduced the humanity of the workers.

But, Morris said, craftsmanship and wholeness will be recovered under communism. People will regain their true being. Work will become a pleasure and people will be as enthusiastic about it as they are about sex. Morris's communism is a work-loving society. It is a society where the joy of making beautiful things has become a necessary part of everyone's life.

But why is this communism? It's communism because such a society is only possible when private property and the market are abolished and goods are produced to meet human needs directly. In Morris's communist future no one buys, sells or barters. "The wares which we make are made because they are needed: men make for their neighbours' use as if they were making for themselves, not for a vague market"(6).

News from Nowhere (7)

According to Marx the class struggles of the workers under capitalism will lead to a revolution which will be followed first by socialism and then by communism. In socialist society there is a state that controls the remnants of the old exploiting classes. but as classes fade so does the state. In socialism people are paid according to their labour, but in the classless, communist society they work according to their abilities and take whatever they need.

Morris's News from Nowhere (1890) is a short story of a dream of what communism would be like. Morris dreamed his dream after a particularly argumentative evening at the Socialist League where they had been discussing what socialism (or communism) is. The dream took him into the twenty first century, only to find that the people there have gone back to the middle ages.

They have built a stone bridge with houses on it across the Thames and the river water is pure and clean. People wear colourful medieval clothes, use parish churches for their community meetings, live in houses they build themselves, play fourteenth century instruments and hand-write their own books. Industrial towns have vanished altogether and, in London, a forest stretches from Hackney marshes to Kensington. An old man, called Hammond, tells Morris that medieval England was a "country" of clearings amongst the woods and wastes". In the industrial revolution it became a "country of huge and foul workshops", but now it is:

"a garden, where nothing is wasted and nothing is spoilt, with the necessary dwellings, sheds and workshops scattered up and down the country, all trim and neat and pretty."(8)

Morris tells us that the spirit of communism is a delight in the life of the world, showing itself in an "intense and overweening love of the very skin and surface of the earth on which man dwells". Some people argue that Morris's vision of the future diverges markedly from Marx's at this point. Marx, they say, saw the future as one in which the industrial and scientific revolutions are taken even further than they were in the early 19th century.

According to Morris there are no large coalfields in the communist future. People use some new, unexplained power called "force" which does not smoke and can be provided to people where they live. Domestic industry flourishes, but some work is more pleasantly and conveniently done in company, so there are "banded workshops" where craftsmen and women can work together. The one Morris sees is for glass-blowing and pottery -crafts that need kilns and furnaces. But people work here for the pleasure of working together rather than the need for equipment. Hammond tells Morris that irksome work is now done by machines, but

"in all work which it is a pleasure to do by hand machinery is done without... under these circumstances all the work that we do is an exercise of the mind and body more or less pleasant to be done: so that instead of avoiding work everybody seeks it"(9).

Pain and pleasure

According to the mainstream of political and economic thought in the 19th century, wages are compensation for the pain of labour. "The real price of everything", Adam Smith had said, "...is the toil and trouble of acquiring it...Labour was the first price...that was paid for all things"(10). Sex, on the other hand, was its own reward and as a consequence, Thomas Malthus argued, population rapidly outran production. A communal utopia would be like a generous poor law. It would encourage promiscuity, but give no incentive to work.

In News from Nowhere, Morris discusses these problems with Hammond, who says that they would no more think of charging for work than of charging for having children. "The reward of labour is life". The reward for especially good work is "the reward of creation". Passionate creativity is like passionate love, it supplies its own stimulus. But, argues Morris, "the man of the nineteenth century could say there is a natural desire not to work". Wholly untrue, and to us quite meaningless, says Hammond. "Because it implies that all work is suffering, and we are so far from thinking that, that... there is a kind of fear growing up amongst us that we shall one day be short of work. It is a pleasure which we are afraid of losing, not a pain."(11)

So deep is the future's need for useful work that markets, even a limited international trade, operate without money or barter, providing easy and relaxing work-pleasure for children and the less creative adults.

Family matters

I could not help noticing, says Morris, that the women served the men breakfast. Isn't that a little reactionary? Hammond, however, explains that he is an expert on the so-called "emancipation of women movement" and knew it to be based on two fallacies. One, that house-work is demeaning, Two, that women should want to escape from motherhood. In the communist future motherhood is highly honoured and the "ordinary healthy woman", being more aware of her biology than Victorian feminists and free of the anxieties of poverty, "has far more instinct for maternity". As for housework, it is a craft that women do with greater skill than men and, in the communist future, "The women do what they can do best, and what they like best" (12). No one stops women doing other work. In fact Morris meets two eccentric ladies who are expert stonemasons.

Eugenics (the study of how to breed a sound healthy race) was a major issue in social science at the end of the nineteenth century. In the communist future, Morris finds, everyone is good looking and people age very slowly. Hammond has his own ideas about why this is. Under communism formal marriage and divorce no longer exist. Men and women couple and uncouple according to their love for one another and Hammond argues that this is what leads to healthy offspring. "Pleasure" he says "begets pleasure" (13).

Children under five are discreetly absent from the pages of News from Nowhere. Older children are often encouraged to fend for themselves in the forest. When Morris finds the woods from Hackney to Kensington are full of children playing he thinks it must be the school holidays. But under communism there are no schools. People learn what they want to, not what they are made to (14).


The society in News from Nowhere is an unstructured one that holds together because it has not got many real problems. Problems are largely a consequence of class society and, in particular, capitalism. Liberated from the distortions of the system, the people shape themselves, and they enjoy doing it. Society no longer stands as a power over them because, in as far as it exists, it is a result of their free association.

Tell me about your politics, Morris asks Hammond, only to be told that "we have none". It is clearly not easy to knock up a political party on the question as to whether haymaking in such and such a countryside shall begin this week or next" (15).

Notes and references

6. Penguin Morris page 267

7. News from Nowhere is available unabridged from Lawrence and Wishart together with two other stories. The Penguin Morris (misleadingly called News from Nowhere) contains a shortened version along with an outline of his life, selections from his poems, and selections of the wallpapers and fabric he designed.

8. Penguin Morris page 245

9. Penguin Morris page 267

10. Adam Smith 1776 The Wealth of Nations, book one, chapter 5

11. News from Nowhere chapter 15

12. Penguin Morris page 234

13. News from Nowhere chapter 9

14. News from Nowhere chapters 5 and 10

15. News from Nowhere chapters 13 and 14

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