1940s >> 1948 >> no-527-july-1948

Mr. Shaw and the Dictators

After Mr. G. B. Shaw’s article in the Daily Herald on 13th May and the attack on him by Mr. Michael Foot in the Tribune, Shaw wrote to the Tribune on 28th May and again on 11th June. Some of his points deserve comment. He admits his support of the dictators in the following terms:

    “I may remind Mr. Foot that we all very properly stood by Hitler and Mussolini until they went wrong, exactly as we stood by Ramsay MacDonald. The first years of a dictator are always to his credit. Power corrupts, but not in five minutes.” (Tribune, 28/5/48.)

The last sentence raises a nice point. The other dictator, Stalin, has been in power for nearly a quarter of a century and must therefore have had time to be corrupted by power but Shaw has not withdrawn his approval as far as we know. In the later letter (11/6/48) Shaw tells us why the early years of a dictator are good. He tells us that Hitler put an end to unemployment and tore up the Versailles Treaty, and Mussolini drained the Pontine Marshes, started rebuilding Rome and made a Concordat with the Pope. It is, of course, the silliest of arguments for it justifies support of every kind of government, past present and future. They have all claimed credit for other peoples’ work and lent their names to monumental projects and the making or breaking of Treaties. Are we to give blind support to Roosevelt for the Tennessee Valley Scheme, to Napoleon and to those who destroyed him, to the Pharoahs under whom the Nile waters were used for irrigation and the Pyramids built, to all the rulers of the slave and feudal and capitalist regimes? Incidentally, if the tearing up of the Versailles Treaty shows how good dictators are, what about Stalin’s part in the agreements for the plunder of the defeated at the end of the second world war. Does Shaw now execrate him for lunacies worse than Versailles, and get ready to hail the new German dictator who will tear it all up?

Shaw is angry with Mr. Foot for reminding him that Mussolini had Matteoti assassinated, and says that he (Shaw) was not a party to it. If the Labourites are in the absurd position of deluding themselves with the notion how nice capitalism would be if only it were freed from the evils that necessarily accompany it, Mr. Shaw is in the same silly position about dictators. He says in effect, how nice dictators would be if only they didn’t do the brutal things to their opponents that all dictators have to do.

Of course, when it is a question of flooring Mr. Foot, Shaw is on an easy thing. Arguing for industrial conscription (”compulsory civil service ”) he asks Mr. Foot what a Labour Government has to offer to make the workers work, in place of the whip of starvation. What he ignores is the fact that we still have capitalism, and as Socialists have always said, you can’t have an exploiting system without some bludgeon to drive the exploited to work. But what has this to do with Socialism?

Mr. Shaw gives his own version of events when he. tells us that “the careers of Mussolini and Hitler were produced solely by the disgust and disillusion of the proletariat with party parliaments . . . ” This is a gross misinterpretation, What made the workers disillusioned in Germany was not Parliament as such but the inability of the Social Democrats, alone and in coalition, to make capitalism function in the interests of the working class; but every Socialist knows that this is always impossible. If Mr. Shaw had added Lenin and Stalin to his list of dictators his argument would have exposed itself, for the Russians never had any experience of parliament and therefore could not be disillusioned with it.

On Shaw’s general argument that Parliament is too slow and faulty, and dictators speedy and efficient, do any of his dictators give proof? Hitler and Stalin were just as helpless as any Parliamentary government to prevent capitalism engulfing their countries in war. If dictatorship is swift why is it that 30 years after Lenin said that they must immediately introduce virtual equality of wages from top to bottom, we find Russia not only not doing so but producing greater and greater inequality between the privileged rich and the poverty-stricken masses? If dictatorship is sure and efficient how comes it that Russia, after spending years developing co-education, ease of divorce, and legalised abortion, then discovers its “errors” and sets about reversing all those trends in greater or less degree?

Mr. Shaw’s defence of capitalism run by dictators is as weak as his opponents’ defence of capitalism run by Labour Governments.

P. S.