1930s >> 1930 >> no-305-january-1930

Dictatorship or Democracy

Shaw’s apple-cart upset

Most of our readers no doubt have heard or read of George Bernard Shaw. It is not Shaw’s fault if they haven’t. He has done his best to make himself known and has, on the whole, succeeded fairly well.

His combination of a shrewd wit with an equally shrewd ambition has enabled him to rise in a society wherein the superficial brilliance of diamonds is of greater esteem than the solid utility of the humbler foundation stone.

A master of paradox, he poses as the supreme contradiction, the wealthy Socialist. In the ‘eighties he claimed to have superseded Marx by means of a kind of Irish stew of David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill and Stanley Jevons. (See “The Economic Basis of Socialism.” Fabian Essays.) This was somewhat sadly burnt in the frying pan by his fellow-Capitalist, H. M. Hyndman, in “Economics of Socialism” (see chapter on the Final Futility of Final Utility), but such ambitious chefs as Shaw are undeterred by little accidents like that.

So, more recently, he has made a further hash of things entitled “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism,” in which juicy bits of real information are all but totally submerged in a sticky mess of rubbish. Shaw appears to have learned little about Socialism during the last forty years and that little he admittedly owes to Marx. He can give us an effective description of the effects of Capitalism and even indicate their underlying basis, but his attitude towards that basis is as unsound as ever. The blunders of the Third International give him something more to talk about and a chance to show off, by contrast, his supposed practical political sagacity. Upon examination, however, his sneers at the “Marxist fanatics” only turn out to be another case of the pot calling the kettle black. So far from Shaw’s Socialism being a science he boldly avows it is as a religion, a curious blend of sentiment with childish fantasy and prophetic cocksureness.

Confronted with concrete issues Shaw asks not “how does it arise?” nor “what is the solution?” but “who is right?” Thus in an article in the Labour Monthly of October 15th 1921, he condemned the miners in Britain for striking, and praised the Soviet Government for shooting men for slacking and shirking at their work. Compulsory work, he held, was dictated by “the irresistible logic of facts and of real responsibility.” (p. 312). His article was dated August 10th. The very next day the Soviet Government published their New Economic Policy. The attempt to introduce “Communism” from above by compulsion failed and the seer had written a day too soon; but he did not learn his lesson nor cease to worship with all the fervour of his vegetarian heart the brutal “directness” of Lenin, Mussolini and Pilsudski.

In his attempt to impress his wisdom upon the intelligent ladies of his class Shaw makes no secret of his “despair of democracy” and his faith in the “intellectuals” and in those capitalists who are in danger of immediate precipitation into the ranks of the workers through the development of Capitalism.

This group provides the finance and “brains” of the Labour Party; but Shaw is by no means optimistic concerning the ability of this party to hold together once it has acquired office. Recent events confirm his fears of the danger of splits fostered by the rival ambitions of different leaders and discontent among their working-class followers. For Shaw, “Socialism” is something to be imposed upon us with or without our consent by the Civil Service. It is, in other words, expert Capitalist government tending towards equality of income by means of taxation, nationalisation and an increase in insurance and pension schemes. Hence the support of the workers is desirable inasmuch as it may smooth the pathway of the administrators; but Shaw is uncomfortably conscious of an awkward fact—the class struggle.

While his Fabian politicians and permanent officials are trying to hold society together in order to keep their cushy jobs, the irreconcilables may refuse to be reconciled. The capitalists may lock-out or, worse still, the workers may strike; to which emergency Shaw’s timid Fabianism answers in one word—”Dictatorship!” (pp. 379-380).

This magic phrase expresses in inverted form the hopeless confusion in which Shaw lands himself and his readers in his frantic endeavour to appear wise. Here are one or two examples.

Discussing the subsidy to the mine-owners in 1925 he says “The people who say subsidies are Socialistic  . . . are talking nonsense. They are frank exploitations of the taxpayer by bankrupt Capitalism” (p. 305).

Reverting to the same subject (on pp. 387,388) he tells us that “the capitalists themselves have established the Socialistic practice of subsidising private business.”

In sections 57-62 (pp. 268-284) he tries to show that compensation (to be provided by taxation) is necessary to avoid “revolution.” On page 372, however, we are told “It may quite possibly happen that even if the most perfect Fabian Acts of Parliament be passed . . . the capitalists may . . . try to prevent by force the execution of the Fabian acts. We should then have a state of civil war”; while on p. 376, he admits that “a political revolution may be necessary to break the power of the opponents of Socialism.”

In the face of this it is difficult to avoid  drawing the obvious conclusion, namely. that Fabianism is an attempt to prolong “the power of the opponents of Socialism.”

Further items of interest to members of the working-class who make no claim to Shaw’s level of intelligence, are statements to the effect that the army and navy and the police force, as well as the Church of England, are “communistic institutions” (see pp. 13-15) because, forsooth, their services are available to rich and poor alike. Workers on strike will no doubt appreciate this.

On page 18 we are informed that “money is the most convenient thing in the world; we could not possibly do without it.” Under Shaw’s special brand of “Socialism” the whole paraphernalia of commodity-production, buying and selling, etc., would this continue to exist, thus implying the private property which he professes to get rid of.

Again, “Thoughtless people think a brickmaker more of a producer than a clergyman,” is another sample of Shavian wit. What does a brickmaker produce? Under Capitalist society he produces profit for his kind exploiter and the function of the clergyman is to persuade him that he should love his exploiter as himself. Shaw’s easy-going facetiousness as shown in the above instance is only typical of his incurably conceited notion that the so-called intelligentsia are as necessary as the workers to social life in the future.

Professional parsons and playwrights appear in his eyes as among the eternal necessities; but these brainy people recognise that in order to bluff the common herd and safeguard their own position they require the assistance of another special body of intellectuals tools, namely, the professional politicians, male and female. The more “advanced” of these tricksters will, no doubt, find in Shaw’s writings most valuable aid in specious “arguments” and verbal jugglery. But members of the working-class requiring an understanding of their position will find them worse than useless. Nothing prevents intelligent political action by the workers more effectively than confusion, and, so far as this country is concerned, we have no hesitation in handing George Bernard Shaw the palm—as the master-confusionist.

E. B.

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