1940s >> 1943 >> no-465-may-1943

Same Old Shaw

In the Daily Herald for March 10, Mr. George Bernard Shaw presented a lengthy article on the subject of Marx, entitled, “What would Marx say about Beveridge?”

His answer to his own question (for what it is worth) is that “if he were alive now he would probably denounce Sir William Beveridge as a rascally appeaser, trying to ransom capitalism for another spell by his Report” — and though that is precisely what Sir William is doing, Sir William is not a rascal.

We are not bothered by literary speculations as to what Marx would have done, or said. The only reason Mr. Bernard Shaw writes such things is because it helps to perpetuate the myth that he is the bold, daring, revolutionary thinker who has “applied” Marx to British conditions. In this article, as in the “biography” by Mr. Hesketh Pearson (“Bernard Shaw,” Collins, 1942) this legend is again dished up.

Marx “made another man of me”; “Marx’s torpedo hit it [the 19th century] between wind and water and blew the golden lid of hell”; BUT—Marx’s “dialectic of historical materialism belongs to the days when Tyndall startled the word by declaring that he saw in matter the promise and potency of all forms of life,” (Shaw’s metaphysics belong to the days of Methuselah, as we shall see), and “now we know that Marx’s attempts to measure value by abstract labour-power, when he should have measured it by abstract desirability and his treatment of both as mathematical constants, instead of as variables, can only lead to nonsense and bankruptcy.”

It’s quite simple, Marx’s own teachings—Historical materialism, the Labour Theory of Value and the Class Struggle are bankrupt  nonsense—but Marx himself was the greatest figure of the 19th century, because he made a new man of Mr. George Bernard Shaw. The “Fabian Essays,” which Shaw edited, had nothing whatever to do with Socialism (Marxism). They were pure and simple Social Reform, which G.B.S. in the same article declares the capitalists turned (when published in his programme, “A Plan of Campaign for Labour”) to their own account, thus producing the new form of capitalism called Fascism or Nationalism—Nazi for short, in Germany. This is perfectly true—very well known to Socialists—that the sure, certain way to Fascism is via a Fabian, Labour-reformist Government trying to administer capitalism under the false colours of Labourist “Socialism” and driving the workers, disgusted, into the arms of “leaders.”

Incidentally, it was very well known to the I.L.P. politicians too. “Wheatley (Labour Health Minister) pointed out that the country was passing through one of its periodical cycles of depression. Within the capitalist system reduction in the standard of life would be inevitable. Wages would fall and the social services would be restricted. Did a Labour Government wish to be responsible for such things> It would necessarily become so if it administered Capitalism. Much better that it should throw the responsibility for the evils of capitalism on the Conservative and Liberal parties.” (Page 198, “Inside the Left,” Fenner Brockway.) Brockway and W. J. Brown actually proposed that the I.L.P. members of Parliament should resign before the resignation of the Second Labour Government; Brockway’s one regret being that they did not.

The problem is how to saddle all this on to Marx. It turns out according to Shaw that the experience of Russia showed that “Marxian tactics broke down ruinously in Russia, and had to be replaced by Fabian ones.” The real man in Russia is not Marx—but Sidney Webb. Lenin’s new economic policy was Sidney’s inevitability of gradualness. Here we might agree with G.B.S. Had he read THE SOCIALIST STANDARD  in 1917-18 or 1920, he would have been aware of the impossibility of Socialism in Russia then, instead of being taken in by it, and signing all those silly Communist statements, after his visit to Moscow.

We would have been interested if G.B.S. had shown us how the capitalists could use Marx’s writings to establish Fascism. like they did his and Webb’s (Fabian State-Control). Instead, all he does is to urge that all the extracts from Marx dealing with Dialectical Materialism and Economics should be cut of the new “Lawrence and Wishart” edition, leaving only the polemics like the “Eighteenth Brumaire.”

His conclusion is that “Marxian strategy is all right, but what Marxian idolatry and bigotry can do without Fabian tactics may be learnt from Fenner Brockway’s history entitled ‘Inside the Left.'” The History of the I.L.P. “is a heartbreaking record,” he says, but it is staggering that Shaw, who claimed to have read the book, can accuse Brockway, who in the course of 340 pages, betrays not the slightest inkling in Marx, of “Marxian bigotry.” Brockway’s effort is a tiresome lament that the I.L.P. did not know how to kick itself clear of the Labour Party’s troubles quickly enough. Listen to this “Marxian idolator” – Brockway:—

    “The establishment of a revolutionary Socialist Party can be attempted in one of two ways. A few theoreticians can lay down a watertight programme and invite those who agree with it to join: this is the method of the Trotskyists and the Fourth International has remained in a vacuum. Only a party which already has its roots in the working-class movement can evolve, grow, to the revolutionary position by thought applied to experience, by learning its lessons from mistakes, by discussion, by the study of the history of the movement in other countries, and by a sincere and constant effort to find the right way. This second has been the method of the I.L.P.” (P.237.)

Which is like saying a few draughtsmen can draw up blue-prints of an aeroplane, but we prefer to tie a pair of wings on you (the workers) and push you off the nearest cliff; we, the leaders, will then learn by “our mistakes.” The statement is a typical piece of Brockway’s political trickery—”thought applied to experience” IS political theory. His failure to grasp these elementary essentials has led Shaw into writing the stupid letters, published by Brockway, supporting the I.L.P. Not that this matters, as he has also supported everybody else, except the S.P.G.B.

The fact is, as Shaw himself says, his object has always been to “irritate and startle.” If you do not say a thing in an irritating way, you may just as well not say it at all, since nobody will trouble themselves about anything, that does not trouble them. (“Bernard Shaw,” p. 106.) This is what “poor bankrupt Marx” would have called tautology.

Shaw has nearly always been wrong, as when he said the last war would last 30 years; and advised “Turn up the lights” in this one, in 1939. His simple plan has been to startle the capitalists, by kidding the workers that he is a reckless revolutionary. Nothing is further from the truth; in fact, he is a quiet conventional respectable bourgeois, most apprehensive of the ideas of Karl Marx—a Fabian.

Fenner Brockway tells how at the Finsbury Branch of the I.L.P. in Goswell Road in 1906. Bernard Shaw came to speak one evening.

“The question I put was this: Mr. Shaw, we are young, and want to make the best use of our lives. What is your advice? The answer came in a flash, ‘Find out what the Life-Force is making for and make for it, too.” How many times have I used that in perorations to Socialist (?) speeches,’ says Brockway. (“Inside the Left,” p. 22.)

Dear Mr. Shaw, much as we appreciate the third act of “Man and Superman,” we still cannot allow your Nietschean “Life Force” (Shavian for “God”) to substitute Marx’s driving force of social evolution—the tool of production. Perhaps Brockway took your advice, and chased the “will o’ the wisp”; we see the motor of evolution in the strong right arm of the working class.

Mr. Pearson, Shaw’s biographer, recounts how, in 1915, Eugen Sandow, the physical culturist, tried to entice Shaw as a pupil. Shaw said, “You misunderstand my case; I have you seen you supporting on your magnificent chest twenty men, two grand pianos and a couple of elephants, and I have no doubt you can train me to do the same, but my object as to pianos and elephants is to keep them off my chest, not to heap them on to it.” (“Bernard Shaw,” p. 317.) The Socialist worker’s object as to parasites is to dump them off his chest, by the aid of Karl Marx, not heap them on to it, even when they include Fabian literary elephants like Bernard Shaw.


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