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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Arts and Craft Carpets from Afghanistan

I found the above picture in a home magazine recently.  It is a hand-knotted wool carpet from Afghanistan woven in Morris's Pimpernel pattern.  The scan doesn't do the tan, baby blue and brown colors of this carpet justice.  It is being sold by Landry&Arcari, local rug merchants, for $11,000 (9ftx12ft).

The fact that it is made in Afghanistan got me thinking about Morris's vehement protest of imperialism during his lifetime including, no doubt, the Anglo-Afghan war in 1878.  His hatred of aggressive nationalism was what first roused him to political action in 1877 when he protested Disraeli's foreign policy in the near East.  In his "A Note on Morris and Imperialism" Peter Faulkner writes "Morris was, as one would expect, particularly concerned about the effects of imperial expansion on the cultures of the colonized peoples.  In "The Art of the People" in 1879 he drew his audience's attention to the poignant fact that while the developing interest in decorative art had led pattern-designers to look to the East for inspiration, the very art that they admired was being destroyed by "the advance of Western conquest and commerce"."

Thus were the seeds planted of Morris's ultimate vision of a Utopian world in "News From Nowhere" and of his transformation into a leading Socialist philosopher.  On Landry&Acari's website there is a very interesting photo gallery that explains the entire rug making process  -- it is almost all by hand.  The company is a member of GoodWeave, an international nonprofit organization devoted to building schools, programs and opportunities that give children back their childhoods by ending child labor in the handmade carpet industry in South Asia.

Would all of this meet with Morris's socialist approval?  This is where I step far out of my area of expertise but am happy to stand in awe of Morris's powerful and continuing influence on socialism past and present.  Indeed, if I lived near London I would go to the event below later this month, where I'd no doubt learn much of interest.

Instead, I'll ponder this essay about William Morris by Adam Buick, a socialist leader and (see comments :-) writer who is giving the above lecture.  Here is a short excerpt (I hope Buick doesn't mind--if he does, I'll take it down).

"Although the task of toning down Morris's socialism for the benefit of his wealthy admirers began almost as soon as he was dead, in Marxian circles his reputation as a 'revolutionary socialist' survived. His 'News From Nowhere' which leaves no doubt as to where he stood on this issue had a very wide circulation. It was quickly translated into German (by the wife of the pioneer German socialist, Wilhelm Liebknecht) and distributed by the Social Democratic Party.

At the end of his life Morris's political position was more or less that of the SDF (Socialist Democratic Federation) and it was this organisation which first kept alive his reputation. The Twentieth Century Press which was at the service, if not under the democratic control of the SDF, reprinted a number of Morris's writings: some of the pamphlets he had written for the Socialist League, an article How I became a Socialist. The anarchists too reprinted some of the Socialist League pamphlets. Besides these pamphlets, articles and lectures Morris's books Signs of Change and Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (written with Belfort Bax) were also available. So that at the turn of the century, when the reform-revolution problem was re-opened, socialists could have had access to a fair number of Morris's socialist works. After the turn of the century yet more of his works became available. In 1903 the Fabian Society published a lecture of his on Communism. In 1907 the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which had broken away from the SDF in 1904, brought out another lecture 'Art under Plutocracy' as a pamphlet entitled Art, Labour and Socialism. In 1913 the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co. in Chicago which specialised in popular editions of Marxist works reprinted Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome."