Reclaiming William Morris

Reclaiming William Morris: Englishness, Sublimity, and the Rhetoric of Dissent

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 320
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Reclaiming William Morris
    Book Description:

    Moving through theoretical, historical, and exegetical analyses of propagandist texts, Reclaiming William Morris brings out the aesthetic underpinnings of nationalist ideology. Combining the philosophical substance of Karl Marx, Georg Lukács, Antonio Gramsci, and Ernst Bloch with Kantian aesthetics, Weinroth constructs a conceptual apparatus that explains the impassioned yet decidedly marginal rhetoric of early twentieth-century English communism.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6622-4
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-23)

    In an era of national chauvinism, they were internationalists. As strangers in their own land, British Communists of the 1930s were conspicuously distinct and socially forbidding. They embraced revolutionary ideas which challenged the quaint beauty of England’s compact measure, shattering its blissful parochialism and summoning their fellow citizens to heed the evils of the day: the spectre of fascism and the belligerence of Western imperialism. Their “foreign” (Marxist) persuasion was deemed not merely formidable but perplexing, for it threatened to transform that “happy English isle” into a nation racked with rage and distemper. But however much they adhered to principles...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Philosophical Reflections: Towards a Theory of Propaganda
    (pp. 24-49)

    Propaganda is often considered a politically motivated enterprise in which attempts to transmit ideological values are realized by affecting people’s thinking; it has come to represent a method of persuasion involving psychological manipulation, deception, and political coercion. Familiarly used pejorative terms such as these have tended to lodge the discussion of propaganda almost exclusively within a genre of human wilfulness, thus thwarting a more “objective” account of what propaganda represents beyond its seemingly unmitigated maliciousness. Yet while it would be naïve to suppose that propaganda does not (either consciously or unconsciously) distort the object of its statement, it is worthwhile...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Conservative Propaganda and the Legacy of William Morris
    (pp. 50-83)

    On 9 February 1934, the day Stanley Baldwin gave his inaugural address at the Victoria and Albert Museum in honour of Morris’s centenary celebrations,The Times’ art critic commented on Morris’s art at the anniversary exhibition. It “brings home,” he claimed, “the enormous range, versatility, and fertility of Morris as designer and craftsman, and it ‘places’ him firmly in relation to the British school as a whole. Different as they are in subject matter, nobody can pass from the Exhibition of British Art at the Royal Academy to this one and fail to recognize that he is in the same...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Propaganda of the Third International and the Emerging Marxist Morris
    (pp. 84-118)

    If Baldwin’s propaganda aimed to dissimulate its political motivations, Communist rhetoric of the 1930s in no way intended to obscure its ideological purpose. On the contrary, it sought to expose its philosophical tenets and revolutionary goals as lucidly and vigorously as possible. Thus when Robin Page Arnot undertook to respond to the Morris Centenary, he composed a pamphlet entitledWilliam Morris: A Vindication(1934). The text aimed to enlighten the public. In its uninhibitedly forceful tone, it debunked the Conservative and reformist versions of Morris’s memory and showed them to be distortions of history. Simultaneously, it attempted to reclaim Morris...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Martyrdom and the Communist Intellectual
    (pp. 119-137)

    In his polemical anger, Arnot indirectly registers the plight of his party. Yet, however much his actions are intertwined with the larger political Communist movement, his grievances also reflect his personal challenge to single-handedly deliver an unprecedented political statement. In 1934 no other member of the Party contributed to the debate on the reformistconservative “mythology” of Morris (Morton 1985). Arnot’s fury can thus be seen as a compensation for an unsupported and unwieldy endeavour: to counter a massive backlog of preconceptions which coloured the Morris hero with strains of conservative sentimentalism and covert anti-Marxism. Voiced in shrill and solitary cries,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Irrationality of Rationalist Discourse: A Phenomenology of Communist Propaganda
    (pp. 138-183)

    As we have seen in the foregoing discussion of Arnot’sVindication,revolutionary propagandists of the Second and Third Internationals helped to spawn a widespread belief that revolutionary rhetoric was ethically superior and untainted by the spurious character and mystifying forms of bourgeois ideology. This lent the rather facile presumption that mythical propensities are almost exclusively the property of bourgeois ideologues and that these deploy certain manipulative mechanisms of persuasion which are wholly absent among revolutionary propagandists, educated as they are in a rationalist, dialectical method of thought. This position was of course not utterly pervasive, but neither was it wholly...

  10. CHAPTER SIX “England, Our England”: The Sublime Poetics of Communist Community
    (pp. 184-205)

    In the last months of his life, especially, [Ralph] Fox’s thoughts dwelt very much on the “great refusal” of present-day writers to face reality as a whole, cynicism and atrophy which leave the way open for the enemy. This “fear life, the effort to keep out of the community of humanity,” means self-exile from the greatest spirits of all ages, from the “spiritual community binding together the living and the dead” which is our cultural heritage. “We would be rejected from this community: and therefore do we hope,” says Wordsworth. “Hope,” writes Fox, “will return on that condition alone, that...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN “The Biting Edge of British Humour”: The Sublime Patriotism of Cold War Communists
    (pp. 206-229)

    The Communists of the 1950s inherited a mentality of excludedness from the 1930s. Yet this was not simply an ideological carry-over but equally a political actuality. The Cold War period isolated Communists, relegating them to the status of foreigners associated with Soviet Communism. Thus, despite the interim sequence of the war when Communists were more readily integrated into mainstream society (given their prominent anti-fascist activities and mobilization of popular support), these propagandists were once more isolated, as were their affiliates of the red decade. Unlike the latter, however, the Communists of the 1950s underscored the importance of articulating an English...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 230-244)

    In their enthusiastic embrace of Englishness, Communist propagandists of the 1950s appeared to shed the ideological prohibitions of the Third Period of the Comintern. The suppressed ideology of nationalism could finally be espoused with alacrity and purpose. Overtly, one might say that the erstwhile sectarianism of the 1930s had been renounced in favour of a more relaxed and flexible Communist doctrine which reconciled nationalism with internationalism, and transformative praxis with affirmative politics. But this remains an impressionistic observation and one which abides by the surface appearances of official history. Closer scrutiny shows that the newly adopted nationalism of the period...

  13. Appendix: A Word on Morris the Propagandist
    (pp. 245-248)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 249-276)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-296)
  16. Index
    (pp. 297-302)