In his lively but flawed biography of Raymond Williams, Fred Inglis writes of the Thatcherite 1980s: ‘it mattered like mad that there were still a few people capable of a calm courage when a country’s best values were down and out, and defeat so familiar an experience. As long as Raymond Williams and Edward Thompson were still there, still speaking and writing in the splendid rhythms and time-honoured litany of the Labour movement, of common hopes and purposes, of the visible and monstrous injustice and indifference, the cruelty and wrong so apparent in all that mere power and ruling class did, then we could keep up a good heart’. Personally, I would want to add cultural theorist Stuart Hall to that list of two, since he was certainly one of the Left’s best orators in those dark years.
We have some very effective radical voices speaking out today against the continuing neo-liberal assault on working people – David Harvey, Owen Jones, Caroline Lucas and Slavoj Žižek among them, though I think that none of these has quite the gravitas of Raymond Williams himself. But I have a dream (if I may borrow a currently topical phrase) that the William Morris Society might join this roster, that at moments of national cultural and political crisis – from the London riots of August 2011 through Thursday’s Parliamentary debate on bombing Syria without United Nations authorisation to whatever comes our way next – it might find both the political will and the appropriate internal mechanisms of consultation to make public statements from a Morrisian viewpoint, with the weight and authority of Morris’s unique brand of communism behind it – ‘Socialism seen through the eyes of an artist’, as he once memorably phrased it. And if the current Morris Society were to prove incapable of doing this, then we would need an alternative Morris network that can.