1940s >> 1946 >> no-498-february-1946

Is Stalin a Fabian? A Priority Claim by Bernard Shaw

Bernard Shaw, in his 90th year, has been trying to console himself for a mis-spent life, by affecting to see in Soviet Russia the theories of Fabianisin in operation. To understand fully what is meant by that special brand of “socialism” a knowledge of the period in which it originated, together with the working-class organisations and their leaders that were engaged in the general struggle for notoriety, would be useful.


The necessity for this background, however, is obviated by Shaw himself in his article (Sunday Express, 30.12.45) in which he repeats, for his readers’ benefit, the main articles of the Fabian faith. The most important is: Government by Experts, as is fully indicated in the following quotation :—


“What new discovery had Russia made, and what lesson learnt from all this? Simply that, as all great publicists from Aristotle to de Quincey have seen, there are the two basic incomes in civilised society, one for directed soldiers and peasants, mechanics and labourers who can do only what they are told to do with materials supplied, and the other for business directors, inventors, mathematicians, philosophers, financiers, artists and rulers”

The idea of “business directors, financiers and rulers” being necessary under Socialism is more than a little cock-eyed coming from an alleged authority on Socialism, more especially as, with a few others, he started the Fabian Society some sixty years ago with the declared purpose of popularising Socialism. But there it is: “The road to hell is often paved with good intentions.” On the road, too, are many shoddy counterfeits. Here’s one:—


“Stalin declared for collective farming and Socialism in a single country to begin with, and at once became, without knowing it, the Arch-Fabian of Europe.”

The Fabians talked about Socialism as if it were something which was to be inflicted on the people from above. And they got themselves talked about for a time, which, perhaps was more important, for them. They were lost sight of and forgotten by most people, but now Shaw has discovered that their work had borne fruit, in far-off Russia, a country so backward that 25 years ago 90 per cent. of the people could neither read nor write. But since then, what a change! Education has even reached the stage where the people understand Fabianism, and Hewlett Johnson will have to change the title of his book from “the Socialist Sixth” to the Fabian Sixth: a title that might not be quite so misleading, as there are many people who, having heard about the Fabians, never connect them with Socialism. Lenin seemed to be one of them, for Shaw writes: —


“Webb and myself, formerly pitied by Lenin as ‘good men fallen among Fabians,’ remained the staunchest champions of Soviet Russia in the west. And in spite of all the surprises and delusions, we believe that Fabian Russia will pull through yet, and that as she has made all the mistakes foe us, we should take care not to make them all over again, which is the worst peril at present threatening us.”

It must be already apparent that the British Labour Government is modelled on the Fabian plan, according to Shaw, who cannot permit Laski to be undisputed advisor. Hence his warning of the perils ahead.


Not the least of the perils hinted at are the trade unions and their demands: “Trade unionism in Russia has annexed the State: In England it is still fighting the State.” But we are left in doubt whether in Shaw’s view the trade unions, here should be permitted to go on fighting, or whether the State should allow itself to be “annexed.” A further quotation from Shaw’s article is a flat contradiction of the last one, and a lurid description of Fabianism at work in Russia: —


“What do we find when we visit Russia or read the reports of travellers and witnesses? No freedom at all, everything State controlled. British liberties stamped out as treasonable, and the nearest thing to a British Parliament barely allowed to ventilate grievances for weeks at intervals of years. The strike, the only weapon of the proletariat, banned as conspiracies. Trade unions pressed into the State service, and not tolerated in any independent form. Division of society into rich and poor, manual workers wages varying in the proportion of 10 to 1, those of the brain workers 200 to 1, and the poorer workers with less cash in their pockets than in those of Capitalist England or America.”

And that is Russia, after the revolution that was to have ushered in Socialism with the “catastrophic program of Capitalism on Monday, revolution on Tuesday and Socialism in full swing on Wednesday.” Thus Shaw jeers at those who say : A new era for humanity will dawn on the day that the organised working-class gains control of the State by a majority vote. There is only one conclusion to be drawn from Shaw’s picture of Russian conditions: That Fabianism with its central idea of government by experts leads to dictatorship.


Because nobody to-day denies that Russia is a dictatorship, Shaw in his decrepit nineties has unwittingly slain the creation for which he was partly responsible in his thirties. To his press fans he says ” I have two more years to live.”


Two years in which to acquire a rational outlook on social problems, to recognise the failure of the Fabian way, and achieve a knowledge of Socialism. Can he do it in the time? As one of his characters would have said, “Not bloody likely.” There is just as good a chance that Stalin and Co., or any other Labour caucus, having once achieved power, will voluntarily relinquish that power before they are compelled to do so by the working-class consciously organised for Socialism.


F. Foan