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New Left Review I/103, May-June 1977


Edward Thompson

Reply to Willard Wolfe

Edward Thompson replies: I did not ‘attack’ Willard Wolfe’s book, but cited it in passing as an example of the facility and confusion to be found in references to William Morris’s political thought in ‘reputable’ academic circles. I could no doubt have found elsewhere a dozen examples equally banal. Professor Wolfe does indeed make each of the judgements that I cite. On p. 132, note 48, he writes: ‘Morris’s Socialist lectures of the 1880s advocated a form of Radical-individualist utopianism that was very similar to Shaw’s.’ I am glad to note that he can now see that this judgement is ‘obviously inapplicable’. Since he agrees that he wrote the two other judgements I cannot see why he should find my citation of them to be ‘hopelessly distorted’. It is true that Wolfe offers at other points in his book other—and contradictory—judgements. On p. 12 he writes of Morris’s ‘intensely conservative, neo-romantic emphasis on community’, and on p. 13 of his ‘essentially conservative social idealism’, although on p. 90, note 68, he describes Morris as a ‘Marxist’ (in quotation marks), on p. 131 he has Morris on ‘the revolutionary wing of English Marxism’ (without quotation marks), and on p. 172 he has Morris’s early socialist lectures as ‘essentially eclectic’, with ‘only a faint tinge of Marx’: indeed (p. 173) ‘the core of Morris’s Socialist faith . . . was precisely the teaching of the new Christian Socialism’.

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