George Bernard Shaw
& The Fabian Society Essay, Research Paper
George Bernard Shaw and the Fabian Society
Having been raised in the 1980’s, during the reign of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, I was indoctrinated with strong pro-democracy and anti-communist sentiments. The cold war was a poorly-explained concept that simply meant one of us was wrong, and it most likely was not the United States of America. The television, radio, and newsprint all hailed democracy as the wave of freedom, the absence of oppression. They simply showed massive bread lines and dirty faces, strict policemen and military marches when stock footage of Soviet life was required. Democracy was supposed to be a system where capitalism ruled, and the government?s job was simply to keep people safe, and to keep the money flowing. Communism, on the other hand, was supposed to be the only bastion of socialism in the modern world. The government would be oppressive, squashing the tiniest bit of individualism and fostering mediocrity as an ideal toward which to be striven.
Then, the walls fell and Soviet communism met its demise. With the end of the Soviet Union, confidence in democratic principles dropped dramatically. A new wave of neo-communists appeared, holding the crippled ideals of Marx high once again. The press held democracy as “pretty good,” a hero without a villain to fight. Communism showed a bit of resurgence in the eyes of the public, due to lack of anti-communist propaganda. There was a bit more explanation of the differences between democracy and communism, but much of it was slanted to favor the communist arguments.
And even now, neo-Marxists show their faces bravely and proudly, forwarding their goals in the aftermath of the fall of the giant. The Maoist International Movement, with whom I have held extensive correspondence (Maoist International Movement. “MIM,” etc. (9/28/97 – 11/4/97).), is one of the many groups that claims communism is for the best, but Marx had the wrong way of going about it. Other factions attempt to repair the vision of the fallen government in the eyes of the populace. These people can be splendid propaganda artists, using art and literature to show their ideals in favorable light, as did make one certain Irishman famous early in this century.
George Bernard Shaw, one of the most celebrated playwrights of modern times, did indeed write in many media. However, his own favorite medium, and his most popular, was the stage play. His plays have been converted to musicals, they have been adapted to fit the times, they have simply been performed as intended for the better part of a century. They were a method of showing the mind of one man and many at work.
Some names of plays verily leap out when Bernard Shaw is mentioned. Pygmalion, brought to even greater fame with the musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, was a story insisting on the possibility of transference between social classes, given time and education. In the plot line, Eliza Doolittle, a flower vendor from the streets of London, was taken in by Professor Henry Higgins and Col. Pickering, and given a six-month education in order to allow her to be passed off as a duchess within six months? time. The two men made a wager for the price of her lodging and training over Higgins? ability to train her sufficiently. Through voice training, refining of etiquette, and drastic improvement of personal hygiene Eliza certainly did pass the test of nobility, and found herself stranded without her old means of living, as she could not return to the streets with her poshly influenced attitudes. However, she did manage to open a flower shop and find a suitable husband, and lived a fairly pleasant life thereafter. (Shaw, G. B. _Pygmalion_.)
This play did influence modern thinking quite a bit, from the heresy of the times in bringing a girl from the gutter to be a lady of the reception hall to the simple elegance in the metaphor of its title. _Pygmalion_ was a Greek myth about a sculptor who created the world?s most lovely statue, and fell in love it. His devotion was noted by the gods, who in turn brought the statue to life to answer his prayers to them. Henry Higgins fell in love not with Eliza, but with the beautifully impossible task of bringing her to the upper class. His fervent prayers in the form of science and training were indeed answered, and he was blessed with a miraculous success story. And still does the play affect drama and dramatists. In drama even today, a Cockney accent is referred to occasionally as an “Eliza.”
One other of Shaw?s most famed plays was Androcles and the Lion. This biblical and mythological play followed the tale of early Christians in the Roman Empire, sentenced to death at the claws of lions in the arena. Androcles, on the road to Rome, met with a lion suffering from a thorn in its paw. Androcles, always the lover and protector of animals, removed the thorn and was allowed by the lion to go on his way. In the arena, the lion to be faced by Androcles was, of course, this very same one which he had aided. With the display of -taming- the lion in the arena and the help of another Christian entering a battle rage and killing seven Imperial Guards, the emperor ordered the entire guard regiment converted to Christianity. The story ends with a Christian victory in a massive conversion, though by intimidation and awe rather than by reason and faith. (Shaw, G. B. _Androcles and the Lion._)
This play brought forth memories of mythology, and made the myth famous once again to the common world as well as that of the intellectuals. It was aimed toward the middle-class, Christian audience with its profuse amounts of dialogue sprinkled liberally with humor and nonsense. The use of pseudo-Biblical allegory ensured Androcles and the Lion acceptance by the mass of the population, and the simple plot of the play could be comprehended by even the simplest of minds.
Shaw himself even acknowledged his own weaknesses in writing. He would have very weak plot lines, covering the holes in his script with liberal use of dialogue. His dialogue was used to describe and define both the actions of his characters, and the characters themselves. He would often dwell on the fine details of personality and character appearance, but leave gaping inconsistencies in the generalities. (Henderson, Archibald, and Shaw, G. B. _Table-Talk._ p. 65.) Still, he had a talented knack for bringing across abstract ideas in the words and actions of characters beneath their obvious stance and countenance.
Bernard Shaw was also famed for work he did writing essays which could not afford to cover holes with dialogue. He wrote a large portion of the Fabian Essays on Socialism (Shaw, G. B. et al. _Fabian Essays._), as one of many authors writing tracts on the socialist viewpoint and action. These essays were often used as the basis for live lectures, in which Shaw also participated eagerly. He was bringing the Fabian Society to the outside world.
The Fabian Society as founded and still runs today, was and is the primary socialist organization in the United Kingdom. This socialism is based on the ideals of distributing wealth according to the deservedness instead of distributing wealth according to wealth, power, and luck. In varying forms of socialism, the quality for deservedness may vary substantially, but the premise remains as the prime directive.
Marx began the socialist movement with his treatises and the famed Das Kapital, but he was by no means the only defining figure of the idea. Marxist socialism was mainly concerned with the negative aspects of capitalistic culture. He gave wonderful instructions for dismantling the capitalistic systems and granting a socialist regime control, but he had very little to say in the manner of what was to come afterward. His idea of a socialist revolution would overturn society, yet he did not give instructions as to what the socialist regime was to do in the order of building a communal existence. Finally, those few ideas he did give in order for a socialist community to live were based on a utopian concept, with no holdovers from a previous existence, and no immediate rebellion. (Monarch Notes, “Marxist… after Marx.”)
The Fabians, on the other hand, concentrated on the positive aspects of a democratic socialist people rather than simply decrying the status quo of the mostly capitalistic world. Instead of bringing the wealthy down to the level of the poor, they wished to bring the poor to meet the level of the wealthy. They proposed a change not through revolution, but through the steady infiltration and evolution from capitalism to socialism. The world would gradually find itself in a socialist community, having passed over the small machinations of the Fabians unnoticed. The Fabians, at least, tended to deal with more realistic circumstances than the Marxists. (Monarch Notes, “Marxist… in Great Britain.”)
The Fabian Society was founded on January the fourth, 1884. Several independent private discussion groups came together to form a larger whole. For the most part, this Fabian Society was comprised of bourgeois personalities, most notably G. B. Shaw, Sidney Webb, H. G. Wells, and many other famed writers of the time. In the early years of the Fabians there was an immense concentration on involvement with the public. They would run public advertisements in the newspapers, give publicly attended lectures with question-and-answer sessions afterward, made sure their resources were publicly available, and extended their public influence through popular culture via writers and playwrights. The Fabian Tracts were publicly available resources written by easily-recognized names of the day, and were the means of communicating Fabian ideals to the public secondary only to the appearances the authors would make. There were regularly over seven hundred appearances annually by the authors of these tracts. (Watson, Peter. “Fabian Society.”)
The early focus of the Fabian Society was not on economics, which one might assume to be of great importance to a socialist organization. Only Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb followed the minutiae of economic theory. No, the greatest focus was placed onto Ricardo?s theories of rent and Jevon?s theories of value and diminishing utility. Rent, according to Ricardo, was any unearned income over that of the lowest available income. Economic rent would result from higher quality land in agriculture. Rent of ability would result from one who used the land for a more profitable means. Rent of opportunity would simply occur when one regularly had more chances to profit than others. The value and diminishing utility, according to Jevon, was based upon the premise that each additional item acquired past the first will provide a geometrically lower amount of satisfaction. Thus, those who stockpiled great amounts of items would have nearly no need for their excess, whereas those who had few or none would derive great utility from the excess in the stockpiles. (Shaw, G. B. “Economic,” _Fabian Essays._)
The Fabian Society was not the only socialist organization in the United Kingdom, but it certainly was the most prevalent. Marxism was present in England, but only as an individual here and there. It never caught on in earnest for two main reasons: Marx was a foreigner, and Marx was a revolutionary. The xenophobic British public was not interested in the theories of a German even before the World Wars. They simply preferred their homegrown thought. Marx, being a revolutionary, also offended the British sensibilities. Revolution to them meant either war or severe social upheaval, neither of which sounded pleasant at all. They simply did not accept the theories of Marx wholeheartedly, especially not after a suitable alternative appeared that was both domestic in origin and not nearly as radical in its approach, the Fabian Society. (Monarch Notes, “Marxist… in Great Britain.”) There was another fairly large socialist organization in the United Kingdom, though not so effective as the Fabians. The Democratic Socialist Front was the proletariat answer to the bourgeois Fabian Society. The Fabian Society sympathized with them, and supported them as fellow socialists, but did not agree implicitly and entirely with all that they did and said. Thus, the Fabians were unwilling to merge with the smaller group. (Winsten, Stephen. _Days._)
Knowing George Bernard Shaw?s involvement with the socialist Fabian Society, it is possible to see the ideas and ideals of socialism expressed in his work. His plays showed a definite undercurrent of socialist thinking. Pygmalion brought forth the classic ideal of raising up the low to meet the high. Eliza was purged of the most notable symbol of her lower-class heritage, her gutter accent. Thus would the poor be purged of their inhibitors to wealth, according to socialism. They would eliminate the differences in class and caste, just as Eliza was turned into a Magyar princess by the actions of Higgins and the assumptions of Nepommuck. (Shaw, G. B. _Pygmalion._)
Androcles and the Lion, too, showed signs of socialist intervention. Instead of the high bringing the low to their level, here, the low showed their worth and turned the thinking of the high to their own. The Christians impressed the Romans through intimidation, fear, and their worth in battle, and converted the Romans to Christianity. In addition, the wounded lion helped by Androcles would normally have eaten a man approaching it, but found aid in the man when it was wounded. The lion, long a heraldic symbol of royalty and nobility, does represent the upper class in a particularly debilitating crisis. Through the workings of the lower class, they have often found their return to power, and the socialists wish to remind them of this that they might open their minds to the idea of raising the low. (Downer, Alan S. _Theatre of Shaw, Vol. I._ p. 458)
Obviously, the Fabian tracts are socialist in nature, for that is their prime purpose in existence. George Bernard Shaw was the most prolific author of these tracts, and brought them alive to the public in live lectures. He allowed the public to interact with him, bringing a whole new dimension to the concepts. It was not simply listening to a man speaking, but having him listen to the questions and responding in kind. Such a tactic certainly worked well to convince many of his righteousness.
However, the Fabian socialism did not live up to its ideals. It claimed to forward an egalitarian society, and appeared to do so to most eyes. However, with a bit of reading and probing, dissent in this matter can be traced back to even Webb and Shaw. Shaw claimed that the children of the higher classes needed a different education than those of the lower classes. When questioned on this rather blatant digression from Fabian doctrine turning a child?s life into the sport of doctrinaires, he sighed and responded, “We can?t prevent any human activity being dominated by doctrinaires. Wrong doctrine will finally discredit itself by its failure and sound doctrine will establish itself by its success.” (Winsten, Stephen. _Days._ 85-87) Thus, he proposed what amounts to a wild-guessing format of checking doctrines which understandably causes much harm when put into practice. Also, the Fabian?s disregard for the Democratic Socialist Front tended to be more from their condescension toward the proletariat group than from any true disagreements with doctrine.
In addition, the socialist group claimed to leave behind their propertarianism, but examination still finds it running rampant in the ideals. To paraphrase a quote from Mr. Michael DeConte, “In order to distribute wealth, one must first gather it in to a central source.” Those doing the gathering would be allowed to designate an ?appropriate? fee for their work, and have first turn at the dole. (DeConte, M. 2/25/98.) Also, Sidney Webb said “Labour produces capital; therefore capital should lay in the hands of labour.” (Monarch Notes, “Marxist… after Marx.”) This seems proper and impropertarian, but it implies that hard work shall earn goods and services rather than work done. Those who could lift a seventy-pound weight with ease would earn less than those who could lift a seven-pound weight with difficulty, on the simple account of effort. Thus, this could easily lead to gross understatement of ability in order to garner more from one?s labour?s earnings.
Again, the Fabian plan for takeover is not a very rational one. In their expectations to build on the ruins of capitalism, they make two very important assumptions: they expect capitalism to fall in the first place, and they expect no other system to take over the reins of the ruins. They claim that any social upheaval must be followed by a brief period of dictatorship. Obviously, there would be only one ?rational? choice to lead this dictatorship, the oligarchy of the Fabian Society. (Grover, John C. The Hellmakers, 158.) History has not been kind to those who make brilliant plans for dictatorship. The Fabians would expect this dictatorship to end smoothly, whereas in history power hunger has almost universally been addictive enough to foster an ongoing dictatorship. One would expect the future to live up to the past in at least this quality.
What is more, the Fabians would expect the mass of the people to accept socialism and the changes it brings. Currently, the majority of people in the entire world are rather greedy and propertarian. In periods of crumbling precepts, the one thing that is certain is the self, and in a period of crumbling capitalism, that greed would most likely become more and more prevalent. The vision of the “Shining New Socialist World” most likely would not appear to most people. Also, Webb gave four conditions for the change from capitalism to socialism. His fourth criterion was that the change must be constitutional and peaceful. (Monarch Notes, “Marxist… after Marx.”) This idea brings up some important questions, namely in the wording of constitutional. The fall of capitalism might very well change large portions of the constitution, or a revolution over the fall of a capitalist regime might well abolish the any remaining constitution altogether. Additionally, whose constitution would they live by? That of the 1880?s, or of the 1990?s? This final question poses one of the greatest threats to the argument, and ideals are wont to change with time.
Finally, some of the goals of the Fabian Society are simply impossible, or against standard human nature. The motivation which the Fabians cite for the individual in capitalism is that it offers selfish motives for doing good, at least in theory. They also claim that the socialist worker would work the hardest, the socialist soldier would fight the fiercest. (Winsten, Stephen. _Days,_ 266.) In these, the socialist would be doing his good for the community of which he is a member. Thus, he has a personal stake in the matter, and could very well be working for personal gain. Furthermore, true devotion to community above the self would hold two prerequisites. The socialist would have to have little or no sense of selfishness, and he would have to have little or no loss factor in the prescribed course of action. These held to be true, there would be no loss for a possible gain.
The Fabians would also abolish all rent, all differences in unearned income. The four types of rent that they cite are rent in land, rent in ability, rent in opportunity, and rent in interest. (Shaw, G. B. “Economic,” _Fabian Essays._) Three of these four cannot be regulated efficiently. Rent in land could only be abolished if the land were truly communal, which is possible, though unlikely. Rent in ability would only be abolished if use of extraordinary abilities such as strength or imagination were proscribed. Rent in opportunity could be avoided by limiting the opportunities of all to those available to the lowest, and only from that point widening the opportunities of the lowest. Rent of interest would only result from the abandonment of the concept of interest altogether, which would make any money lending a losing operation from the beginning. Regulating these factors and others could easily require the regulation of more base operations. Differences in the physical body would have to be done away with through cloning. Differences in philosophy and religion would have to be done away with by indoctrination during childhood. One might insert any number of Huxleyan devices to help regulate and stabilize society.
Thus, though the Fabians may have seen lofty goals in the past, we have seen attempts at socialism in our world through routes similar and different to their own. We have seen Soviet Communism, which fell apart from the greed of its citizens, the greed of its leaders, and the oppressive nature of its structure. We have seen attempts at traditionalism, where small agrarian communities truly do live as a single unit. However, this would only work so long as the community remained agrarian, and remained small. Large communities need more regulation, as do industrial communities. The regulation is what people most often rebel against, and thus would be a symbol for that which must be avoided in proper socialism. We have even seen regulated “democracy” cover the name of socialism with that of its rival. This would not work simply because mob rule would tend to override any truly beneficial opportunities for the whim of the masses.
Whether the future holds a bright future for socialism or not, we can still see the inroads socialism has made into our society today. The Labour Party in both the United Kingdom and the United States seeks to place the means of production and the results of production in the hands of the producers. (Watson, Peter. “Fabian Society.”) The entire idea of Welfare is to raise the low a bit higher than they are, to put money in the hands of those who have none. HMO groups offer a controlled and regulated medicine to those who join.
But to return to the idea of democracy, a true democracy might be sold on the idea of socialism. In a mob rule, power lies in that hands of numbers, not intelligence, and it truly sounds like a good idea. “Make all people the same, so that the poor would not be poor.” Alas, in real life, there exists no true democracy, and there is no true utopia from which to begin anew. Thus, the only route available to the socialists who wish to make a lasting societal change is through patient infiltration of the status quo.
There may indeed be good points to socialism, but the socialist government?s true worth could only occur from a utopian society. Any attempt at socialism in the world we live in would be doomed never to achieve its full potential simply from human nature and opponents from other nations. It would be compromised in its integrity, in its leadership, and in the hearts of its people. As has been seen through the Marxism of the Soviet Union and the Maoism of the People?s Republic of China, the pseudo-socialism that may be achieved with resources currently available is certainly much more harmful to society than the semi-capitalism that exists in most nations. It is the encouragement of mediocrity by rewarding those with less ability, it is the idea of the high being brought down that cannot be accepted by the public.
Perhaps capitalism will fall someday, but those cities built upon the rubble of its ruins will not be assured of a socialist existence. As admitted by the Fabians themselves, a period of dictatorship is inevitable, and an extended period would be more than likely. So long as there is held some form of class and power in the world, there will be those reluctant to release it. The self is the most reliable person, the most trustworthy, and therefore will always receive first merit in the eyes of worth. Thus, the community is always afforded a second place to the selfish man.
Still, we must be constantly watching for infiltration. Perhaps Adolf Hitler said it best in 1933: “When an opponent declares ?I will not come over to your side,? I calmly say, ?Your child belongs to us already… What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short while they will know nothing else but this new community.?” (Grover, John C. _The Hellmakers,_ p. 36.)
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__________ _Pygmalion._ Reading: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1913.
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