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Haditha Ethics - From Iraq to Iran?

The Spokesman, 91


Phil Katz, Thinking Hands: The Power of Labour in William Morris, Hetherington Press, 188 pages, paperback ISBN 0954046218 £10

Jan Marsh, William Morris and Red House, National Trust, 160 pages, £25


‘William Morris had an abundance of ideas that were a constant challenge to workers in the Nineteenth Century and remain so for the Twenty-first.’


This is the thesis advanced by Phil Katz, in a book which is a celebration of Morris, and at the same time an affirmation of hopes which do not die, in spite of all the onslaughts of external capital.


‘Useful work’ was the credo that Morris gave to a Labour movement which was increasingly being shaped by people who were labelled as ‘unskilled’. Katz tells us that ‘Morris saw a need to bring the skills of both brain and hand to the work’. He believed ‘that everyone could acquire a range of crafts and that they should seek out work best suited to their talents, rather than let work define them’.


Today, useful work is harder and harder to find. Legions of wage slaves toil in call centres designed to foist unwanted consumer objects or services on reluctant targets, whose leisure and privacy are violated in the process.


Katz shows us how neatly complementary are the views of Morris and Marx.   It was, after all, Marx who wrote that:


‘The worker feels himself only when he is not working: when he is working, he does not feel himself. He is at home when he is not working, and not at home when he is working. His labour is, therefore, not voluntary but forced. Its alien character is clearly demonstrated by the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, it is shunned like the Plague.’


Phil Katz does not simply juxtapose thoughts from Marx and Morris: but he strikes sparks from them to invite us to develop their dialectic. The old Institute for Workers’ Control wrote on its banner a celebrated dictum of Morris’s: ‘No man is good enough to be another man’s master.’


Katz invites us to go beyond this in exploring how new generations can learn new approaches to work and skill, industry and technology, politics and trade unionism.


Thinking Hands invites us to explore the thought of William Morris as a guide to Twenty-first Century thinking.


Now William Morris is comfortably installed in the National Trust, which has recently bought Red House, or to be more strictly accurate, found a benefactor who has bought it for them. Volunteers enabled the house to be opened to the public, so that nearly twenty thousand visitors came in April 2003.


Now Jan Marsh has told the story of the only house that was built for William Morris by his friend, Philip Webb. The house had to live up to some very demanding specifications: more, it could not be furnished without the establishment of a specialist design company (Morris and Co.) which could produce fit appurtenances to grace it.


Working from the top, the ceilings came first. Each had a pattern pricked into the damp plaster as a template for repeat painting. Morris himself, with Janey, worked on this: they vary from simple stripes to an elaborate series of arcs resembling peacock feathers. Working down, the scope expanded for murals, designs and embroidered hangings. In short, there was a great deal for the design firm of Morris and Co. to do. All this is profusely illustrated in Jan Marsh’s impressive book.


A delight for the eye, this book will give its readers some remarkable insights into the practical skills of our greatest Communist artist-designer.


David James



Independent News Collective


Spokesman Books,

 Russell House,

Bulwell Lane,




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