Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw

By Gareth Griffith | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

‘Life levels all men: death reveals the eminent.’

(Shaw 1931f:222)

Usually George Bernard Shaw is thought of as a playwright: author of such works as Saint Joan and Major Barbara; winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Failing that, his reputation rests on his scintillating work in music and drama criticism. What is sometimes overlooked, in the popular perception of him at least, is that he first achieved prominence in public life as a leading member of the Fabian Society, serving on its executive committee for over twenty years, acting as resident propagandist and original thinker, often tackling neglected themes. Even after he resigned from the executive in 1911 his interest in politics and political ideas never flagged. Only now it was developed more in his capacity as an independent thinker or world statesman. His achievement was considerable.

In his day he commanded both a large audience and a massive reputation in the socialist movement. His name appears at a critical stage in countless biographies and reminiscences of Labour politicians and socialist intellectuals. ‘Shaw gallops away at the head of the author’s field’ was the conclusion Alexander and Hobbs reached from their research in 1962 into ‘what influences Labour M.P.’s?’. He was the author cited most by those of all shades of political opinion in the Party, among left and non-left groups; nor did his popularity vary according to educational background, among those who had or had not attended university: ‘Shaw, Wells, Cole and Marx emerged high in all lists, Shaw always first’ (Alexander and Hobbs 1962:11). He was, to use Kingsley Martin’s phrase, the favourite intellectual father figure of an entire generation; ‘Shaw, like Wells, dominated the world in which I grew up’, wrote J.B. Priestley (Winsten 1946:50).

Where the British labour movement was concerned, therefore, he was perhaps the most influential of all socialist propagandists. Together with his fellow polymath, H.G. Wells, he mapped out the contours of the progressive cause in Britain and beyond. Shaw was like a machine, producing ideas and opinions at a constant rate over seventy years, stretching and pulling the mind

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Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I 21
  • 1 - Shaw’s Fabianism 23
  • 2 - Shavian Socialism 101
  • Part II 155
  • 3 - Sexual Equality 157
  • 4 - The Irish Question 191
  • 5 - War and Peace 216
  • 6 - Fascism and Sovietism 241
  • Part III 275
  • 7 - Conclusion 277
  • Notes 286
  • Bibliography 291
  • Index 300
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