William Morris on Revolution

The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use, has a terrible sound in most people’s ears, even when we have explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society, people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you will speak of reform and not revolution. As, however, we Socialists do not at all mean by our word revolution what these worthy people mean by their word reform, I can’t help thinking that it would be a mistake to use it, whatever projects we might conceal beneath its harmless envelope. So we will stick to our word, which means a change of the basis of society; it may frighten people, but it will at least warn them that there is something to be frightened about, which will be no less dangerous for being ignored; and also it may encourage some people, and will mean to them at least not a fear, but a hope.

– William Morris

A quote worth sharing; Morris is too often overlooked these days.


  1. JM

    That can however only apply in a country that didn’t experience a socialist revolution of the shitty kind before, which were quite a lot in numbers. I doubt many people in Eastern Europe, in China, Russia and quite a number of other places would be happy to hear about the promise of a “Socialist Revolution, this time without the bad stuff”.

    I’m, for reasons of massive injustice done in the name of socialism, still of the opinion that the wider left has to move beyond the terminology of the 19/20th century. It’s not the label that counts, but the action.

  2. Well, even in the countries who experienced shitty socialist revolutions, many people are far from positive about capitalism these days. Beyond that, I don’t think each country can only have one revolution.

    I do agree about some of the terminology used by socialists being out of date and/or irrelevant, and actions certainly matter more than words at the moment, but I also think that the essentially revolutionary nature of the socialist struggle should not be denied. Without fundamental change, little can be achieved.

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