Thursday, October 11, 2018

News From Nowhere

Chapter XIV. How Matters are Managed
Said I: "How about your relations with foreign nations?"
"I will not affect not to know what you mean," said he, "but I will tell you at once that the whole system of rival and contending nations which played so great a part in the `government' of the world of civilisation has disappeared along with the inequality betwixt man and man in society."
"Does not that make the world duller?" said I.
"Why?" said the old man.
"The obliteration of national variety," said I.
"Nonsense," he said, somewhat snappishly. "Cross the water and see. You will find plenty of variety: the landscape the building, the diet, the amusements, all various. The men and women varying in looks as well as in habits of thought; the costume more various than in the commercial period. How should it add to the variety or dispel the dulness, to coerce certain families or tribes, often heterogeneous and jarring with one another into certain artificial and mechanical groups and call them nations, and stimulate their patriotism - i.e., their foolish and envious prejudices?"
"Well - I don't know how," said I.
"That's right," said Hammond cheerily; "you can easily understand that now we are freed from this folly it is obvious to us that by means of this very diversity the different strains of blood in the world can be serviceable and pleasant to each other, without in the least wanting to rob each other: we are all bent on the same enterprise, making the most of our lives. And I must tell you whatever quarrels or misunderstandings arise, they very seldom take place between people of different race; and consequently since there is less unreason in them, they are the more readily appeased."
Chapter XV. On the Lack of Incentive to Labour in a Communist Society
"But the labour-saving machines?"
"Heyday!" quoth he. "What's that you are saying? the labour-saving machines? Yes, they were meant to ‘save labour’ (or, to speak more plainly, the lives of men) on one piece of work in order that it might be expended - I will say wasted - on another, probably useless, piece of work. Friend, all their devices for cheapening labour simply resulted in increasing the burden of labour. The appetite of the World-Market grew with what it fed on: the countries within the ring of ‘civilisation’ (that is organised misery) were glutted with the abortions of the market, and force and fraud were used unsparingly to ‘open up’ countries outside that pale. This process of ‘opening up’ is a strange one to those who have read the professions of the men of that period and do not understand their practice; and perhaps shows us at its worst the great vice of the nineteenth century, the use of hypocrisy and cant to evade the responsibility of vicarious ferocity. When the civilised World-Market coveted a country not yet in its clutches some transparent pretext was found - the suppression of a slavery different from, and not so cruel as that of commerce; the pushing of a religion no longer believed in by its promoters; the ‘rescue’ of some desperado or homicidal madman whose misdeeds had got him into trouble amongst the natives of the ‘barbarous’ country - any stick, in short, which would beat the dog at all. Then some bold, unprincipled, ignorant adventurer was found (no difficult task in the days of competition), and he was bribed to ‘create a market’ by breaking up whatever traditional society there might be in the doomed country, and by destroying whatever leisure or pleasure he found there. He forced wares on the natives which they did not want, and took their natural products in ‘exchange’, as this form of robbery was called, and thereby he ‘created new wants’, to supply which (that is, to be allowed to live by their new masters) the hapless helpless people had to sell themselves into the slavery of hopeless toil so that they might have something wherewith to purchase the nullities of ‘civilisation.’ "Ah," said the old man, pointing to the Museum, "I have read books and papers in there, telling strange stories indeed of the dealings of civilisation (or organised misery) with ‘non-civilisation’; from the time when the British Government deliberately sent blankets infected with small-pox as choice gifts to inconvenient tribes of Red-skins, to the time when Africa was infested by a man named Stanley, who - "
News from Nowhere, William Morris (1889)

1 comment:

Tim Hart said...

I was glad to have the opportunity to re-read these sections of William Morris’s book. It is a lovely piece of romantic fiction and, in addition to its Utopian outlook, is both graphic in its description of the times in which he lived and poignantly prophetic in encapsulating the times we live in now; as these extracts illustrate I think if William Morris were around today he would be in awe at the resilience of capitalism and amazed at how it has mutated into an even more venal and pernicious predatory version than he could have conceived; such that today it threatens the survival of the entire planet; as evidenced by the latest report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change which calls for drastic action to curb Greenhouse Gas emissions, else to reach the tipping point in a matter of a decade or so. Despite a bit of obligatory froth in the media the capitalist juggernaut will continue to roll on towards the abyss, its destructive force bemoaned by much wailing and gnashing of teeth amongst the environmentalists and others. But such psychopathic behaviour is unsurprising. The primacy of the profit motive, and its equivalent of GDP at the state level, is hard-wired into capitalism. No appeal to rationality or morality will change that. It is a systemic problem which needs a systemic solution and that solution is socialism. I suspect that if William Morris was alive today he might be in a state of panic to bring this about.