Pamphlet Review from the May 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Socialism and the Labour Party,” by Bernard Shaw. National Guilds League Lecture at Kingsway Hall, London, on Jan. 29th, 1920. A Supplement to the "New Commonwealth.” Price 2d.
In dealing with reformers of any kind it is difficult to sort the wheat—what little there is of it—from the chaff in which it is buried.
The above is an excellent instance of this truism. Here we find the usual pot-pourri of good horse-sense and nonsense.
The lecturer says
“. . . in all my experience almost all the opposition which reformers meet with arises not really from any particular objection which people have to the reformer’s plan; but from their extraordinary ignorance of the existing state of things in which they themselves live, which they often firmly believe does realise the plan of the reformer as far as it is humanly possible for it to be realised.”
He does not say anything about the revolutionist; however, apparently it would be unreasonable to expect an individual of the “super"-intellectual calibre of the one and only George Bernard Shaw of that ilk to appreciate the difference.
Shaw then makes an appeal—in the main really good—for unity among the robbed class against the robbers. Like most of his “wheat,” it is much too long to quote.
We now come to a fine homily on capitalist honour—although, as might be expected, the lecturer concludes it with an error in which he completely gives away the case for Nationalisation and Municipalisation. This will be dealt with later.
The error referred to is in the statement that “The production of wealth became a matter of the organisation of labour, and that was done by comparatively vulgar persons belonging to what is called the ‘middle-class.’ ”
The lecturer would doubtless be surprised if he were told that there is no middle class. The “organisation of labour” is carried on entirely by the working class, from the managing director to the office-boy.
There was a period in early capitalism when individual owners of the means of production conducted their various businesses themselves. They were called “Captains of Industry.” It would possibly be correct to call these people the middle class. But to-day the “Captains of Industry” have by the inexorable march of economic development been forced down into the ranks of the proletariat, and the modern "Captains of Industry” are the salaried servants —wage slaves of absentee shareholders. These shareholders can be dispensed with at any time that the workers make up their minds to get on with it. So we say, and challenge denial from any quarter, that there is no middle class.
We are told, “if you give a man £50, £100, or £1,000 a day—and that is the sort of income people have nowadays—you can see that then money saves itself." Ha! Ha! Ha! He further defines capital as “saved up money.” This sort of tripe one expects from an "intellectual.” But there—!
If one puts a penny away how long will it be before that penny becomes more? On Shaw's argument it should not take us long to raise that £1,000.
This epistle is written under the title “'Lost, Stolen, or Strayed ’—An Intellectual,” and now we come to the point of the title, for if Mr. Shaw is to be taken seriously one can only judge his sincerity at the cost of his intelligence.
After showing how the “old limited aristocracy” retired from business, i.e., that of exploiting the workers, and describing the birth of the “plutocracy” he says: “A career is open to the talented, and society is open to the rich. The particular talent to which a career is open is that of getting as much money as possible out of other people's pockets and putting it into your own.”
He goes on, “and most Socialist Societies and a good many eccentric philanthropists here and there, want to turn their backs on this particular principle. They want to stop robbing. They want to go in for general co-operation for the good of the community, in short, for Socialism. Is there any likelihood, any sign, of the formation of a party in this country which will absolutely throw over the idea of robbery and go in for co-operative and common production for the benefit of the whole country? ” And so on ad lib.
Note the muddle our “intellectual” has got into! He says “most Socialist Societies” want to stop robbery, and in practically the same sentence asks if there is any sign of the formation of such a party!
We are “bored stiff” by a long tirade from Mr. Shaw in which he, instead of showing the true working-class position, endeavours to set one section of the proletariat against the rest by discussing the degree of utility of the respective services performed by them. He shows how some are engaged in the actual production of the essentials for human existence, while others are merely domestic servants or even lawyers or doctors. There is one section which ho does not refer to—apparently for personal reasons— but I will mention it for him. It is the dramatists, actors, and the theatrical profession generally. But after all, what does it matter? They are ALL members of the working class, getting their living by the sale of their labour-power.
The pet theory held by Bernard Shaw and his colleagues of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party is that of Nationalisation. It is stated above that Mr, Shaw gives away the case for Nationalisation. I will now produce the evidence from the lecture which is the subject of this criticism.
The lecturer states, and rightly too, that the “old-fashioned robber baron . . . has largely passed away, and what remains of him —and this is very important—is a tremendous public opinion that it is every man’s duty to fight for his country, meaning the robber class for which his country exists."
That is to say that when people speak of the country, or the nation, they mean the exploiting class. Therefore when anything is nationalised all that has happened is that the property which has been nationalised has been transferred from the ownership of a few individual members, or maybe groups of members called companies, etc. of the capitalist class to the collective ownership of the whole of that class.
There is one point in the lecture that should have been dealt with before.
We are told that Lenin “introduced 'compulsory labour"' into Russia. This has no terror for us, for we have become hardened to it by long experience. But apparently what Lenin did was to introduce compulsory labour, not for the workers, for they had been the subjects of compulsory labour all their lives, but for the exploiting class, who had never done any work previously.
And now I think that sufficient evidence has been produced to show that the person referred to in the title of this article ‘is Mr. George Bernard Shaw, who is the “Intellectual” who is “lost, stolen, or strayed.”
H. E. Hutchins