George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 25
The Inevitability of Gradualness

THE FABIAN SOCIETY, PRIMARILY THROUGH THE INFLUENCE OF TWO AMAZINGLY able leaders, Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw, united in policy but antipolar in temperament, talents, and technique, radically transformed the intellectual climate of England in regard to Socialism. In the early eighties, Webb was ripe for action in social reform, and on the alert to locate the best medium for the expression of his views and the implementing of them in social action. During this same period, Shaw was sampling all the new movements and new societies, sprouting everywhere like mushrooms. The first of the two to discover his métier and the group which seemed best fitted to serve his purposes, was Shaw. Already a stout Fabian, after eight months in the Society, Shaw converted Webb to Fabianism--although Webb, later on, spoke as if he had invented Fabianism. In 1889, following a visit to the United States to study social movements there, Webb published an excellent survey of Socialist activities in England, in which he says of the Fabian Society: "Its influence on the Socialist movement has been marked by the present predominance of the ideas of gradual evolution and the importance of current economic analysis." Discarded as futile for immediate use and future advance were the idealistic schemes and visionary dreams of a future earthly paradise: Plato's "Republic," Campanella's "City of the Sun," More's "Utopia," Baboeuf's "Charter of Equality," Cabet's "Icaria," St. Simon's "Industrial System," Fourier's "Phalanstery," Robert Owen's "New Moral World," and Comte's "Polity." Even Marx's terrific indictment of Capitalism, with its overwhelming array of facts and figures, was shelved as useless to the Fabians, although it served as powerful propoganda ammunition for Socialists like Hyndman, who were intent upon organizing a Socialist political party. Webb significantly announces the forthcoming publication of Fabian Essays in Socialism, with but a single mention of Shaw as one of the contributors.1

This epochal work revolutionized the opinion of the British public toward Socialism, which hitherto had been regarded as a fantastic and nonsensical dream of cranks and crackpots, French anarchists and Russian nihilists. While reaping all the credit for fixing the economic stamp upon the Fabian Society,

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1
Sidney Webb, Socialism in England (Publications of the American Economic Association, IV, No. 2, April, 1889), passim.

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