1970s >> 1974 >> no-838-june-1974

Showing Up Shaw

George Bernard Shaw, as well as a playwright, was a reformist who debunked silly ideas and embraced even sillier ones.

 

In 1943 he wrote an article in the Labour Daily Herald headed What would Marx say about Beveridge? Our comrade Clifford Allen criticized it in the American Western Socialist. A copy was sent to Shaw, and he sent a letter beginning: “I am much indebted to Mr. Allen for having, by his article in your issue of May, called my attention to The Western Socialist.” He went on to say that Marx “had no experience of the daily drudgery of government”, and that Allen ought to try it too.

 

Allen responded with a detailed examination of Shaw’s political claims — his belief that Russia was “a new civilization” and that the Socialist revolution would be heralded by shootings on all sides; his Fabian theory that Socialism would come by instalments; and his comprehensive misunderstanding of Marx.

 

Was Shaw “much indebted” for this further commentary? Far from it. He wrote again, this time with great petulance:

 

The packet of your issues since May with which you threaten me has not yet arrived. I hope it never may . . . My time — of which there is so little left — is too precious to be wasted on Mr. Allen whose utter ignorance of the real world created a vacuum into which Marx (what he could understand and misunderstand of him) rushed with irresistible force. Experience alone can drive it out.

 

Allen pointed out that Shaw had made no attempt to answer the arguments but fell back on anger with anyone who took up his “precious time” by daring to criticize him. The Western Socialist’s last word was a quotation from Arthur M. Lewis’s essay The Social Revolution, dealing with the “professional intellectual”:

 

Should he take up socialism and enter the movement, his first and greatest surprise is to find himself surrounded by hundreds of working men who are fundamentally and undoubtedly his intellectual superiors.

 

Incidentally, a book called Shaw the Chucker-Out, published in 1968, quotes quite lengthily from the Western Socialist criticism but does not mention Shaw’s replies. The reader is not told of Shaw’s pique when he himself was “chucked out”.