A critical analysis of the tactical and ethical difficulties of English communist propaganda of the 1930s and 1950s.
Casting new light on the relations between nationalism, rhetoric, and revolution, Michelle Weinroth shows how the English legacy of William Morris was appropriated in the interests of political forces seeking hegemonic power. She argues that Conservative claimants disseminated Morris's aesthetic oeuvre readily, declaring it the embodiment of English sensibility. Communists, however, struggled to retain Morris's Englishness while promoting his political doctrine. Weinroth demonstrates that these peripheral ideologues were caught in a paradox: they could not grip the masses without the aesthetic appeal of Englishness, but Englishness was imbued with the very imperialism that they abhorred. Theirs was a propaganda strained by the conflict between political dissent and ruling-class cultural forms.
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.