19 January 2023

Echoing Morris on Russia

And who are they who flaunt in our faces the banner inscribed on one side ‘English interests’, and on the other ‘Russian misdeeds’? Who are they that are leading us into war? Let us look at these saviours of England’s honour, these champions of Poland, these scourges of Russia’s iniquities! Do you know them?—Greedy gamblers on the Stock Exchange, idle officers of the Army and Navy (poor fellows!), worn-out mockers of the Clubs, desperate purveyors of exciting war-news for the comfortable breakfast tables of those who have nothing to lose by war, and lastly, in the place of honour, the Tory Rump, that we fools, weary of peace, reason and justice, chose at the last election to ‘represent’ us: and over all their captain the ancient place-hunter, who, having at last climbed into an Earl’s chair, grins down thence into the anxious face of England while his empty heart and shifty head is compassing the stroke that will bring on our destruction perhaps, our confusion certainly:—O shame and double shame, if we march under such a leadership as this in an unjust war against a people who are not our enemies!
- William Morris, from ‘To the Working-men of England’, 11 May 1877

It is not as a Russophile (though perhaps I may be called that, however reluctantly) that I oppose war with Russia, or more accurately further escalation from the West of the already-devastating war in the Ukraine. It is in the same spirit of William Morris, the true Tory radical and advocate of the advancement of the working classes in Britain, that I oppose the same self-serving machinations of the imperialists at home and the squandering of American wealth on a war abroad that benefits only the war-profiteers in the so-called ‘defence’ sector and their assorted hangers-on. The character of these latter is precisely the same as the gamblers, mockers, purveyors of war-news and rump-parliamentarians whom Morris declaimed in this letter.

Yet I expect many of the same who in our day claim Morris as an inspiration would have been quick to dismiss him then, as they are quick to dismiss leftists now, as ‘campist’ or ‘tankie’ or ‘pro-Putin’ or ‘Russian bot’. Indeed, Morris did face opposition among fellow-‘leftists’ in his own day for his principled opposition to British imperialism, his support of Bulgarian independence and his opposition to Turkish atrocities in the Balkans. In the name of William Morris, then—in the name of the Eastern Question Association of his day, in the name of the good Englishmen and Americans of his day who opposed war and the exploitation that comes with it—this iteration of the Great Game must be opposed. It must be brought to an end before it brings on our destruction as it has already brought on our confusion. And those who flaunt in our faces the faded and jaded banner inscribed on one side rules-based order and on the other side Russian aggression must be called to account and shown for what they truly are!

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