George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
First Stirrings: Henry George and Karl Marx

WHEN AN ADEQUATE HISTORY OF THE FABIAN SOCIETY AND OF THE DEVELOPMENT of Socialism in England is written, due recognition will be accorded two conspicuous figures from the United States who may be said, with little exaggeration, to have initiated these movements. It is surely noteworthy that the young republic of America should have contributed, through two such figures as Thomas Davidson and Henry George, the ideas and impetus to one of the most significant political movements of our time, the rise of the Labour Party in Britain, with the attendant intellectual social awakening contributed by the Fabian Society.

At the opening of the eighties, Socialism in England was unborn. Even for several years after the decade opened, a regular reader of English magazines and newspapers might not encounter a single reference to Socialism. There were very few men of Socialist principles in England. Adolphe Smith, Carruthers, Headlam, Bax later became conspicuous; but at this time they were obscure and unknown as Socialists. When Hyndman toward the close of 1880 resolved to rally together the advanced men and women of the day, it was a movement of protest against Gladstone's policies and rule, in Ireland and in Egypt, rather than in behalf of a new form of social organization. At Queen Anne's Gate, London, half a century ago, the patriarchal Hyndman, then in the throes of excitement over British "crimes" in India, sketched for me in zigzag outline the deeper urge in the Socialist burgeoning. Profoundly moved by the arguments of Das Kapital, in the French translation, Hyndman formed the acquaintance of the author, Karl Marx, living obscurely in London and entirely ignored by the English public. During the closing months of the year 1880 and the beginning of 1881, Hyndman was often at 41 Maitland Park Road on Haverstock Hill, Marx's modest domicile. Here for hours together, like caged tigers, they would pace, back and forth--Marx, the master, expounding his theories of Socialism, the economics of Surplus Value, the materialistic conception of history, and Hyndman, the apt and eager pupil, absorbing as best he might. With vague but grandiose ambitions, he fatuously dreamed of resurrecting the corpse of Chartism and bringing about a great economic and social transformation. He took heart, he told me. from Marx's pregnant observation: " England is the one country in the world

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