1920s >> 1927 >> no-277-september-1927

Bernard Shaw and Socialism

A few days ago I picked up an old copy of “Bernard Shaw,” by Holbrook Jackson, and in it I came across a quotation from a lecture given by Shaw in 1896, which it struck me was worth quoting again before I forgot it, owing to the bearing it has upon Shaw’s conception of what Socialism would be like. The need to publish this statement again is the more urgent as there is a tendency, even among many who claim to accept the Marxian outlook, to regard Shaw as the arch-socialist.

In December, 1896, Shaw lectured at Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, on “What Socialism will be like,” and his opening remarks, which I am quoting, are taken from the report published in the “Labour Leader” of December 19th, 1896:

    “My lecture will be very short. It consists of three words—I don’t know. Having delivered it, by way of opening a discussion, I will proceed to make a few remarks. The first thing that strikes one in discussing the matter with a Socialist—if you have a critical habit of mind, as I have, professionally—is the superstitious resemblance of the notion your ordinary Socialist has of what Socialism will be like to the good old idea of what heaven will be like! If you suggest that under Socialism anybody will pay rent or receive wages your ideal Socialist jumps on you. If I venture to suggest that such questions as who shall be allowed to live on Richmond Hill under Socialism, it will have to be settled much as it is to-day, by seeing who will pay most to live there, such an eminent and enlightened Socialist as Mr. Hyndman immediately loses his temper, and retorts that that is a disgusting middle-class idea.”

Here you have a view entirely different from that which sees in Socialism a state of society in which the means of production will have ceased to be the private monopoly of a small class of wealthy people, and will have become the common property of all—socially owned. Where there is wages and rent there cannot be social ownership, though there may be those highly developed forms of capitalism—Nationalisation and Municipalisation.


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