Editorial: The Shaving of Shaw

In the Daily Herald of November 8th, 1924, appeared a copy of a letter on the Russian question, written by G. Bernard Shaw for .the Russian paper, Iznestia. This letter seems to have caught the fancy of the Daily Herald, as in a leading article next day it is described as a “brilliant analysis” of the Bolsheviks’ position in Russia, and one alliterative phrase is quoted with great glee:—

“Wherever Socialism is a living force instead of a dead theory it has left Karl Marx as far behind as modern science has left Moses.”

The toadying policy of the Daily Herald towards the leaders of the Labour Party is so well known that little notice need be taken of its comments. It is curious, however, that two critics of Mr, Shaw’s letter, Mr. Longden, National Council of the I.L.P., and Mr. Max Beer, should have missed the double fallacy in the statement quoted.

What is meant by the phrase “ a living force”? Shaw, as is usual with him, attempts no explanation. “A living force” may vary from zero to the point where it over-rides all other forces. In no case or place has Socialism reached the latter position. In every country where it is being advocated it is at present accepted and taught by a minority, and can, therefore, only exert any “force” indirectly through its influence upon the fears or hopes of the ruling class, or of the majority. Without any exception, in every place where Socialism is seriously examined, criticised, or fought, it is always the teachings of Marx that are taken and dealt with by both supporters and opponents. Shaw in his propaganda is usually—though quite incorrectly— looked upon as a buffoon, except when he uses the Marxian case. In his debate with Professor Wicksteed, in the early eighties, he was only able to score by using Marx’s economics. When addressing a meeting of the “Technical and Administrative Workers,” at the Central Hall, Westminster, about two years ago, he gave Marx’s analysis of capitalism and showed how the concentration of capital into a relatively few hands had rendered impossible the old notion of an individual starting in business and building up a fortune by “ability and hard work”! Neither the Fabian Society nor the “Independent” Labour Party, which Shaw claims as “the living centre of English Socialism” (italics ours—as though Socialism could be national!) can produce a single notion or proposal worthy of a moment’s thought by the Workers, without basing such proposal upon the teachings of Marx. Even the Catholic Mr. Wheatley, a late Cabinet Minister, is talkihg of and advocating the class war in his latter-day speeches.

Mr. Shaw’s first fallacy is, of course, well known to all students of Socialism, including Mr. Shaw. His second fallacy, that the actions of the Communists in Russia are Marxian, or even a sensible deduction from Marx’s teachings, has been exposed on several occasions in the columns of the Socialist Standard. This fallacy extends farther than Shaw, and is extremely useful to supporters of the capitalist class in their attempts to oppose and “refute” Marx. In two public lectures on Marxism, given at King’s College, London University, in December, 1924, this was the line taken by the lecturer to show the “failure” of  Marx’s teachings.

On certain occasions Shaw will use Marx’s works, without acknowledgment, but evidently feels uncomfortable in handling such advanced material. As his writings and actions during the war and at other times show, he does not care to keep pace with Marx, or even with Moses, but feels quite at home when he goes Back to Methuselah.