George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 20
Constitutional Socialism

No ONE, WHO HAS NOT FOLLOWED THE GRADUAL EVOLUTION OF BERNARD SHAW'S political, social and economic views over a period of more than half a century, can understand his fundamental philosophy of Socialism. He studied every known theory of Socialism: "the Utopian Socialism of Sir Thomas More, the Theocratic Socialism of the Incas, the speculations of Saint Simon, the Communism of Fourier and Robert Owen, the so-called Scientific Socialism of Karl Marx, the Christian Socialism of Canon Kingsley and the Rev. F. D. Maurice, William Morris's News from Nowhere . . . , the Constitutional Socialism of Sidney and Beatrice Webb and of the highly respectable Fabian Society." During this period Shaw had personally come into contact with virtually every type of Socialist: Kropotkin, Liebknecht, Stepniak, Hyndman, Morris, Bax, Headlam, Wells, MacDonald, the Webbs--to mention but a few. Always a fanatic who could not be shifted from the Proudhonian criticism of Property as Theft, he was too much a realist to be other than an opportunist, in this respect anticipating Lenin and Stalin, who also, beginning as implacable doctrinaires in bookland, carried on as the most flexible of opportunists in practical politics. He was the first post-Marxian Socialist to commit himself unequivocally to equality of income as fundamental in a stable and progressive society; and his demonstration of this fundamental theorem, like his method of breaking down all the established prejudices against it before unmasking his battery, is unprecedented in Socialist propaganda and very un-Marxian. To romantic Socialism he was merciless always.1

During the earlier years of the Fabian Society, there was a considerable group with anarchist principles and leanings. A valuable piece of work was Shaw's clever demonstration, as convincing as a proof in Euclid, of the impossibilities of anarchism. He showed that under Individualist Anarchism, the prime economic goal of Socialism would not be attained, namely, the just distribution of the premiums given to certain portions of the general product

____________________
1
In To-Day, August, 1888, appeared an amusing skit on the impractical and revolutionary Socialist, entitled "My Friend Fitzthunder, the Unpractical Socialist, by Redbarn Wash"--note the anagram. The reply in the issue of the following September, "Fitzthunder on Himself--a Defence, by Robespierre Marat Fitzthunder," presumably Belfort Bax, is weak and unconvincing.

-271-

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