POST 3: SHAW’S SOCIALISM
By Neil Titley
‘P.P.E. AND G.B.S.’
+ Introduction and the FILM. + Timeline: The Life of Bernard Shaw + Bibliography (1200w)
The Reminiscences: ‘Guff and Bunk and Bugaboo’. (20,400w)
The Ideas: ‘P.P.E. and G.B.S!’ (11,600w)
Ten Talks on Music: ‘Music for Deaf Stockbrokers’. (24,700w)
GBS Quotations: ‘A Shavian Scrapbook’. (15,100w)
The Play: ‘The Intelligent Golfer’s Guide to Bernard Shaw’ (11,500w)
The Abridged Play ‘Shaw’s Corner’ (4,300w)
THE POCKET SHAW
POST 3: SHAW’S SOCIALISM
By Neil Titley
‘P.P.E. AND G.B.S.’
I did enter the political arena once. I stood as a candidate for the St. Pancras Borough Council. I wrote to all the electors and told them that I depended on the support of the thoughtful few. As every man in St. Pancras believes he is the centre of that charmed circle, I won handsomely. But I would never allow myself to be put forward for Parliament. I am not a practical politician. I want to get something done and practical politicians are people who have mastered the art of using parliament to prevent anything being done.
No, I will not stand for Parliament but for letting Parliament know what I think about it and, incidentally, of the political intelligence of the people who elect it. That is a useful and necessary occupation, but not one that wins votes.
I would rather be a dog than Prime Minister of a country where the only things the inhabitants can be serious about are football, refreshments, and war. That is what they like. And they like war because it isn’t real to them – it’s only a cinema show.
Democracy is in practice nothing but a device for cajoling from the elector the vote he refuses to arbitrary authority. He will not vote for Coriolanus but when an experienced demagogue comes along and says:
“Sir, you are the dictator. The voice of the people is the voice of God. I am only your humble servant” he says at once:
“All right, tell me what to dictate” and is presently enslaved more effectively with his own silly consent than Coriolanus would ever have enslaved him without asking his leave.
As nobody could be trusted to govern the people, it was thought that the people must govern themselves which is nonsense. The people at large are occupied with their own special jobs and the reconstruction of the country is a very special job indeed.
To tell the people to make their own laws is to mock them, just as I would mock them if I said: “Gentlemen – you are the people, write your own plays.”
The people are the judges of the laws and of plays, but they can never be the makers of them.
Nevertheless it was assumed that by inscribing every man’s name on a register of voters we could realise the ideal of Everyman his own Plato, as to which one could only ask why not Everyman his own Shakespeare or his own Einstein. But this assumption suits the plutocrats very well as they had only to master the easy art of stampeding elections by their newspapers to do anything they like in the name of the people.
Votes for everybody (called for short Democracy) ended in government neither of the best or worst but an official government which could do nothing but talk – and an actual government of landlords, employers, and financiers at war with an Opposition of trade unionists, strikers, pickets and, occasionally, rioters.
Parliament has the reputation of being all powerful as long as it doesn’t do anything. Its members consist of windbags, actors, lawyers on the make, and, since the introduction of salaries, a sort of alms house for retired Trade Union secretaries, who call themselves Socialists only when they’re told to. As for the realities of these people’s lives – well – we don’t know the truth about any of our politicians until they are dead and can’t take libel actions.
Their approach to real reform is pathetic and dishonest. I am boilingly contemptuous of the common English plan of dealing with social evils by catching a scapegoat, overwhelming him with virtuous indignation, and calling that reform.
It may be asked how it is that social changes do actually take place under these circumstances. The reply is that other circumstances create such emergencies, dangers and hardships that the very people who dread Government action are the first to run to the Government for a remedy, crying that ‘Something must be done’. And so civilisation, though dangerously slowed down, forces its way through piecemeal in spite of stagnant ignorance and selfishness.
There are few practitioners of democracy of twenty years’ experience who do not realise that government is only open to the highest bidder in bread and circuses. If any class or trade or clique can gain control of Parliament, it can use its power to plunder any other class or trade or clique, to say nothing of the nation as a whole, for its own benefit. Such operations are of course always disguised as reforms or political necessities but they are really intrigues to use the State for selfish ends.
The real power behind Parliament is plutocracy, which has bought and swallowed Democracy whole. Money talks. Money prints. Money broadcasts. Money reigns. And kings and labour leaders alike have to register its decrees and even by a staggering paradox to finance its enterprises and guarantee its profits. Democracy is no longer bought; it is bilked.
Ministers who are Socialists to the backbone are as helpless in the grip of plutocracy as its acknowledged henchmen are from the moment when they attain to what is, with unintentional irony, called power – meaning the drudgery of carrying on for the plutocrats. They no longer dare even to talk of nationalising any industry, however socially vital, that has a farthing of profit for plutocracy still left in it or that can be made to yield a farthing for it by subsidies.
I studied economics and became a Socialist forty years ago because I had curiosity enough to find out how it was that some people got money for nothing, whilst others slaved for £15 a week or less and died in poverty after working hard all their lives.
To me, the heart of it all lies in the consequences – sometimes comic, sometimes tragic – of our persistent attempts to found our institutions on our half satisfied passions instead of on a genuinely scientific natural history. Without economic knowledge, we are living in a fool’s paradise and Capitalism is doing its best to keep us there.
I will attempt to explain economics because most people understand neither what they are defending nor what they are attacking on the subject. I will write simply. My object is to elucidate. I want to show you the nest, not the hedge.
Money is the most important thing in the world. It represents health, strength, honour, generosity and beauty as conspicuously and undeniably as want of it represents illness, weakness, disgrace, meanness and ugliness. Poverty is the worst of crimes. It blights whole cities, spreads horrible pestilence, strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.
What you call crime is nothing. It is only the accident and illness of life. There are not five hundred genuine professional criminals in all London. But there are millions of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill fed, ill clothed people. They poison us morally and physically, they kill the happiness of society, they force us to do away with our own liberties and to organise unnatural cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us down into their abyss.
If a man becomes permanently unemployed, he consequently becomes a starving man. Now, a starving man is a dangerous man, no matter how respectable his political opinions may be. A man who has had his dinner is never a revolutionary, his politics are all talk. But hungry men rather than die of starvation will, when there is enough of them to overpower the police, begin by rioting and end by plundering and burning rich men’s houses, upsetting the government, and destroying civilisation. The saying that we are all members one of another is not merely a pious formula to be repeated in church without any meaning; it is a literal truth, for though the rich end of the town can avoid living with the poor end, it cannot avoid dying with it when the plague comes.
In 1886, the poor broke the windows of all the clubs on Pall Mall. And the next day the Mansion House Poverty Fund went up from £50,000 to £78,000. So the idea develops that you can buy off any revolution for thirty shillings a week. Thus you get what we call the dole. Now, small as the dole may be, it must be sufficient to live on and if two or three in a household put their doles together, they grow less keen on finding employment and develop a taste for living like ladies and gentlemen; that is, amusing themselves at the expense of others instead of earning anything. We used to moralise over this sort of thing as part of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
I put forward the axiom that there must be no unemployment and poverty must never be taken for granted. If it is made bearable, it will be borne; the only thing is to abolish it.
Don’t waste your time on Social Questions. What the matter is with the poor is poverty. This is not sentimental pandering to the poor. I am not the friend of the poor or the enemy of the rich as ignorant people expect a Socialist to be. Socialism is not charity, nor loving kindness, nor sympathy with the poor, nor popular philanthropy with its almsgiving and mendacity, but the economist’s hatred of waste and disorder. I have never had any feelings about the English working class except a desire to abolish them and replace them with sensible people. And they agree. I once spoke at a public meeting on ‘The poor are useless, dangerous and ought to be abolished’ and my poverty-stricken audience cheered me to the echo. They don’t want to be poor.
I can remember a bishop, who ought to have known better, exhorting the poor of the East End of London at a time when poverty was even worse than it is now, to become capitalists by saving. He should really have had his hat jumped on. Allow me to explain why.
Let us take a look at what capitalism means in simple language. We all need food and we work to acquire it. After you have enough to eat, if you are successful you will make more food than you can consume. There arises the problem of what to do with the spare food before it goes bad.
Using food as a metaphor for all our needs, suppose for instance that your needs have included a big country house in a big park.
Suppose that park blocks the shortest way from one important town to another and that the public roads that go round your park are hilly and twisty and dangerous for motor cars.
You can then use your spare food to feed hungry men who have not been successful in their work while they make a road for motorcars through your park.
When this is done, you can send the hungry men away to find another job as best they may, leaving yourself with a new road for the use of which you can charge a shilling to any motorist who uses it as they will all save time and risk and difficulty.
You can keep one of the hungry men to collect the shillings for you.
In this way, you will have changed your spare food into a steady income. In city language, you will have gone into business as a road-maker with your own capital.
Now, if the traffic on the road be so great that the shillings and the spare food they represent pile themselves up on your hands faster than you can spend them, you will have to find new ways of spending them to prevent the new ‘spare food’ going bad.
You will have to call the hungry men back and find something new for them to do. You might set them to build houses all along the road. Then you could present the road to the local authorities to be maintained by the ratepayers as a public street and yet greatly increase your income by letting the houses.
Having in this way obtained more spare food than ever, you could establish a service of motor buses to the nearest town to enable your tenants to work there and your workmen to live there.
You could set up an electric lighting plant and gasworks to supply their houses. You could turn your big house into a hotel, or knock it down and cover its site and the park with new houses and streets.
The hungry would do all the actual work for you. What you would have to do would be to give them the necessary orders and allow them to live on your spare food meanwhile.
But, you will say, only an exceptionally able and hard-working person of business could plan all this and superintend its carrying out. Suppose you were too lazy or stupid to think of these things, or a genius occupied with art or science or religion or politics.
Well, if only you had the spare money, hungry men and women with the requisite ability would come to you and offer to develop your estate and to pay you so much a year for the use of your land and spare money, arranging it all with your solicitor so that you would not have to raise your little finger in the matter except to sign your name sometimes. In business language you would invest your capital in the development of your estate.
Now consider how much further these operations can be carried than the mere investment of one person’s savings and the development of one person’s estate in the country. Big companies, by collecting millions of spare subsistences in small or large sums from people all over the country who are willing to take shares according to their means, can set the hungry to dig those mines that run out under the sea and need twenty years work before coal is reached.
They can make railways and monster steamships; they can build factories employing thousands of men and equip them with machinery; they can lay cables across the oceans; there is no limit or end to what they can do as long as they can borrow spare food enough for the hungry men until the preparations are finished and the businesses begin to pay their way.
Sometimes the schemes fail and the owners of the spare food lose it; but they have to risk this because as the food will not keep, they would lose it all the same if they did not invest it. So there is always spare money being offered to the big men of business and their companies.
And thus our queer civilisation, with its many poor and its few rich, grows as we see it on top of the fundamental sowing and reaping of the food that it all depends on.
Such is the magic of spare subsistence, called capital. That is how idle people who have land and spare subsistence become enormously rich without knowing how and make their babies millionaires in their cradles – whilst the landless, penniless persons who do the work from dawn to dusk are left at the end of the job as they were at the beginning.
However we not only have the productive side of capitalism which at least does create a wealth society. We also have the existence of banking.
The bankers and financiers have a concealed and latent power greater than any public political power existing in commercial communities. How did they acquire it?
Very simply. In a village, people can keep their spare money if they have any in an old stocking or bury it in the back garden. But in town men of business have to handle large sums which they want to have kept safely for them and paid out to their order as and when they need it. They began by leaving their money with the goldsmiths who were quite willing to keep it for them and let them have it when they had payments to make.
You see, the goldsmiths discovered – not by any exercise of skill on their part but simply by experiencing what happened – that if they had a large number of people leaving money with them and never drawing it out (we call it keeping a balance) they would have a lot of other people’s money to play with all the time.
Take my own case. I am only a private professional man but it is necessary for the conduct of my finances and household that I always keep at my bank about £1000 at call. When the sum falls below that, I replenish it. The consequence is that my banker is in a permanent condition of having a £1000 of mine.
If you add to my poor professional man’s little £1000, the huge balances needed by the big industrial corporations and the multitude of modest margins from the rest of the smaller fry, you will see how when the goldsmiths became bankers they found that an astonishing proportion of the money lodged with them remained permanently in their hands, enabling them to enter on the most lucrative of all businesses – the business of money lending with other people’s money.
They run only one risk and that was that if all their customers were seized with panic and made a simultaneous run to draw out their money, the money would not be there and the bank would break. But this occurs so seldom that the risk is negligible.
So now you see that this natural discovery made by the goldsmiths and exploited by them as bankers sets up automatically, in large civilisations like ours, a money power so irresistible that it becomes a political and industrial power of the most formidable magnitude.
Any nation that leaves this power in the hands of irresponsible private men to use simply for their own enrichment is either politically ignorant or politically mad to the utmost possible degree.
Government was needed to have some control over the nation’s affairs but the financiers and employers did not want it to encroach upon their own areas of power. Various economists came up with a new theory.
The policy of letting things alone – in the practical sense that the Government should never interfere with business or go into business itself – was called Laissez-Faire.
It broke down so completely in practice that it is now discredited but it was all the rage in politics a hundred years ago and is still influentially advocated by men of business and their backer, who naturally would like to be allowed to make money as they please without regard to the interests of the public.
Under Laissez-Faire, the English nation was wasted and ruined, starved and prostituted on an appalling scale, but because its manufacturers and mine owners made fortunes then deemed colossal, it became the political religion of the English bourgeoisie.
It meant that the only duties of the Government were to maintain private property in land and capital, and to keep on foot an efficient police force and magistracy to enforce all private contracts made by individuals in pursuit of their own interests – besides of course keeping civil order and providing for naval and military defence or adventure.
This is what was called the Manchester School of Capitalism and its new commandment was ‘Every man for himself’.
They added that if goods were to sell in a competitive market, labour must be cheap and there must be a pool of unemployed people. Otherwise, labour would demand higher wages. The workers must accept destitution and unemployment to further the commercial interest of the country. Do away with poverty and you do away with prosperity, the argument went.
Their theories also included not only capital, but the ownership of land which they said should not be owned by the nation, but by private persons called landlords, who could prevent anyone living on it or using it except on their own terms.
We are so used to paying people for rents of land that it rarely strikes us as extraordinary that any private person should have the power to treat the earth as if it belonged to him, though you would certainly think him mad if he claimed to own the air or the sunlight or the sea.
Hence the absurdity of a person whose grandfather’s father pre-empted a cabbage patch on the site of Chicago should be a millionaire.
The advantage claimed for this system is that it makes the land-holders rich enough to produce the spare money necessary to fuel capitalism. Consequently, the entire industry of the country which could not exist without land or capital is private property.
But as industry cannot exist without labour, the owners must for their own sakes give employment to those who are not owners and must pay them enough wages to keep them alive and enable them to marry and reproduce themselves, though not enough wages to enable them to stop working regularly.
It is fully admitted that this produces enormous inequality of income and that the cheapening of labour which comes from increase of population must end in an appalling spread of discontent, misery and crime culminating in violent rebellion unless the population is checked at the point up to which owners can find employment for it.
After this point (because of too many people on the dole) Capitalism becomes desperate and tries to get rid of the unemployed. How is it to be done?
The unemployed will not let themselves be starved, still less will they let themselves be gassed or shot, which would be the obvious Capitalist way out of the mess but perhaps they can be induced to leave the country and try their luck elsewhere if the Government will pay their fare. That would be cheaper than keeping them at home on the dole.
Thus we see Capitalism producing the amazing and fantastic result that the people of the country become a drawback to it and have to be got rid of like vermin, politely called Assisted Emigration.
Then we have the problem that capitalists compete with each other and, as this competition is uncontrolled, the results are often quite lunatic.
To keep up the price of fish, many have to be thrown back into the sea. Tons of wheat and coffee harvests have to be burnt to keep the rest saleable. Overproduction is the curse of Capitalism and commercial competition is its mainspring, yet commercial competition makes overproduction inevitable.
When one hundred people want one hundred pairs of new boots and ten competing shopkeepers, each hoping to secure the entire sale, order a hundred pairs from the boot factories who will accordingly manufacture a thousand pairs, nine hundred of which will be left unsaleable on the shop shelves. Until nine hundred people wear out their boots and buy up the superfluous pairs, the shops give no further orders to the factories and the factories have to discharge their workers and add them to the unemployed.
Hence we get the cycles of overproduction followed by unemployment and trade depressions, the booms and slumps, the crises and recoveries, which are characteristic of the capitalist system and are dreaded economic nuisances.
Let us turn to what the apologists of Capitalism call its advantages. Our society is so constituted that most people remain all their lives in the condition in which they were born and have to depend on their imagination for their notions of what it would be like to be in any other condition.
The real opposition to Socialism comes from the well-founded fear that it would cut off the possibilities of becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice which our capitalist system encourages.
The odds against a poor person becoming a millionaire are of astronomical magnitude but they are sufficient to establish unlimited daydreams. This sort of gambling promises the poor what Property performs for the rich – this is why the bishops dare not denounce it fundamentally.
There is another reason for maintaining a class of excessively rich people at the expense of the rest and businessmen consider it the strongest reason of all. And that is that it provides capital by giving some people more money than they can easily spend so that they can save money without privation. The argument is that if income were more equally distributed, we should all have so little that we should spend all our incomes and nothing would be saved to make machinery and build factories and construct railways and dig mines and so forth. If we divided up all the wealth in the country, we should only have about £50 apiece – which, by the by, is rather a dangerous fact to tell a man who has less than £50.
Now it is true that Capitalisation is a necessary thing, but Capitalism is quite the other. Capitalisation – that is, the gathering of spare money to fund necessary projects – does not hurt us as long as capital is our servant and not our master. It is certainly important to high civilisation that these savings should be made but it is hard to imagine a more wasteful way of bringing it about.
A shocking proportion of the money we give our oligarchs on the chance of their investing it as capital is spent by them on simple self-indulgence. When their income outruns their extravagance so far that they must use it as capital or throw it away, there is nothing to prevent them investing it in South America or South Africa or Timbuctoo, though we cannot get our own slums cleaned up for want of capital kept in and applied to our own country.
The capitalist pleads that the interest on their income comes back to this country, so enabling them to spend it at home and give British workers more employment. But we have no guarantee they will spend it at home. They are just as likely to spend it in Monte Carlo. And even if they do spend it at home, on what sort of employment? Golf courses? Hotels? We have valets and game-keepers, instead of engineers and shipwrights.
Also, capitalism is insatiable in its quest for cheap labour for other things being equal the cheaper the labour, the bigger the dividends. If labour costs ten shillings a day at home and there are places where it costs ten shillings a week, capital will stream abroad to that place unless the Government is wise enough and strong enough to keep it at home and see that it is employed where it is most needed.
An intelligent Government would not let a single penny go out of the country until we were quite saturated with capital which is very far from the case now. Foreign trade must be taken out of private hands. But a Government of capitalists will not do this.
Capital has no home or rather it is at home everywhere. It is a quaint fact that although professed Socialists call themselves Internationalists and carry a red flag which is the flag of the workers of all nations; and although most capitalists are boastfully nationalist and wave the Union Jack on every possible occasion, yet when you come down from the cries and catchwords to the facts, you will find that every practical measure advocated by British socialists would have the effect of keeping British capital in Britain to be spent on improving the conditions of their native country; whilst the British capitalists are sending British capital out of Britain to the ends of the earth. We allow them to spend it where they please and their main preference naturally is for the country in which it will yield them the largest income.
Individual capitalists are not of course vicious in the way that their system is. Most capitalists are not making a conscious attempt to rob you. They are flies on the wheel of their own machine. What produces such unspeakably vile results is that it is an automatic system which is as little understood by those who profit by it as by those who are starved and degraded by it. Even our millionaires and statesmen are manifestly no more ‘captains of industry’ or scientific politicians than our bookmakers are mathematicians.
There is something to be said for the small business. It provides a necessary outlet for the individual. But as business comes to be done on a larger and larger scale, then little firms find their customers being taken from them by big concerns and joint stock companies who with their huge capital and costly machinery not only undersell them, but make a greater profit out of their lower prices.
And try as you may to hold on to your little shop, the Trusts or Cartels will presently freeze you out and rope you in and strike you industrially dead. Therefore there is no longer any practical question as to mass control in production – the struggle today is whether a Cartel runs it or the nation runs it.
When people tremble at the power of the state as monopolist in chief, they forget that the private monopolists now exercise all the powers of the State without its responsibilities. The oil companies practically run the United States today.
Several Liberal politicians, now Socialists, have said to me that they were converted by seeing that the nation had to choose, not between government control of industry and control by separate private individuals kept in order by their competition for our custom, but between government control and control by gigantic Trusts wielding great power without responsibility and having no object but to make as much money out of us as possible.
The misdeeds of Governments are public and conspicuous; the misdeeds of private traders are practically invisible. And thus an illusion is created that Governments are less honest and efficient than private traders. But whatever you buy from capitalists you have to pay not only what it costs but an additional charge which is finally handed over to people who have done nothing whatever for you.
That is the real point and to keep the attention of the public off that, they will use every smear possible. Most people are so simple and ignorant of big business that the private capitalists are actually able to persuade them that Capitalism is a success because it makes profits – and public service (Socialism) is a failure because it makes none. The simpletons forget that the profits come out of their own pockets.
They can achieve this confidence trick because they control the Press.
I recently went round the world describing modern Russia. Now I was not physically prevented from doing so nor from writing and printing it. But in a Western world suffering badly from Marx phobia and frantically making itself worse like a shrew in a bad temper, I could not get a single newspaper to take up my point or report my utterance. When I say something silly or am reported as saying something reactionary, it runs like wildfire through the Press of the whole world. When I say something that could break the carefully inculcated popular faith in Capitalism, the silence is so profound as to be almost audible. Freedom of the Press also means freedom to suppress.
The Press is in the hands of men who would not insert a single paragraph against their own interests even if it were a royal command. Straightforward public lying has reached gigantic development. There is nothing to choose in this respect between the thief at the police station and the editor in the newspaper office.
People get their opinions so much from newspapers that a free Press is vital. But the Press is not free. As it costs at least £500,000 to establish a daily newspaper in London, the newspapers are owned by rich men. And they depend upon the advertisements of other rich men. Editors and journalists who express opinions in print that are opposed to the interests of the rich are dismissed and replaced by subservient ones. The result is that there is no cowardice like Fleet Street cowardice.
A politician may try to stand for the great abstractions – for conscience and virtue, for the eternal against the expedient – but he will be held in check by the Press which can organise against him the ignorance and superstition, the timidity and credulity, the gullibility and prudery, the hating and hunting instinct of the voting mob and cast him down from power if he utters a word to alarm or displease the adventurers who have the Press in their pockets.
It is a monstrous thing that a man who – by exercising a low cunning has managed to grab a few millions of money providing mindless newspapers and magazines for the circulation of lying advertisements – should be honoured and deferred to and waited on and returned to Parliament and finally made a peer of the realm, whilst men who have exercised their noblest faculties or risked their lives on the furtherance of human knowledge and welfare should be belittled by the contrast between their pence and the grabber’s pounds.
So let us consider the opposing system by which we could live. I do not consider public control is a bad thing in itself. I greatly prefer it to the irresponsible and sometimes vicious private control which is the real alternative. Socialism is in fact absolutely vital, even within the capitalist community.
To begin with, there are many most necessary things that private companies and employers will not do because they cannot make people pay for them when they are done.
Take for instance a lighthouse. Without lighthouses we should hardly dare go to sea and the trading ships would have to go so slowly and cautiously and so many of them would be wrecked that the cost of goods that they carry would be much higher than it is. Therefore, we all benefit greatly by lighthouses even those of us who have never seen the sea and never expect to.
But the capitalists will not build lighthouses. If the lighthouse keeper could collect a payment from every ship that passed, they would build them so fast that the coast would he lit up all the way round like Brighton sea front. But as this is impossible and the lighthouses must shine on every ship impartially without the captain having to put his hand in his pocket for it, the capitalists leave the coast in the dark.
Therefore the Government steps in and collects spare subsistence in the shape of taxes from everybody and builds the lighthouses. Here we see Capitalism failing completely to supply what to a sea-faring nation like ours is one of the necessities of life, (for we would starve without our shipping), and thereby forcing us to resort to Socialism.
Take another example. Why is it that the nationalised Post Office is so much cheaper and more extensive than a private letter carrying company could make it that private letter-carrying is actually forbidden by law? The reason is that the cost of carrying letters differs greatly as between one letter and another. The cost of carrying a letter from house to house in the same terrace is so small that it cannot be expressed in money. It is as near nothing as does not matter. But the cost of carrying the same letter from the Isle of Wight to San Francisco is considerable.
You would naturally expect the Postmaster General to deliver a dozen letters for you in the same terrace for a penny and charge you a pound or so for delivering one letter to San Francisco. What he actually does for you is to deliver the thirteen letters for three half-pence each. He charges you less than the cost of sending the long distance letters and more than the cost of sending the short distance letters. But as he has thousands of short distance letters to send and only dozens of long distance ones, he can make up for the undercharge on the long by an overcharge on the short.
This charging the same for all letters is called by economists averaging. Others call it gaining on the swings what we lose on the roundabouts. Our reason for forbidding private persons or companies to carry letters is that, if they were allowed to meddle, there would soon be companies selling stamps at three-pence a dozen to deliver letters within a few miles. The Postmaster General would get nothing but long distance letters; that is, the letters with a high cost of carriage.
He would have to put up the price of his stamps and when we found that the advantage of sending a letter a mile or two for a farthing was accompanied by the disadvantage of paying sixpence or a shilling when we wanted to write to someone ten miles off, we should feel that we had made a very bad bargain.
The only gainers would be the private companies who had upset our system. And when they had upset it, they would raise their short distance prices to the traditional penny, if not higher. It is of prime importance to the success of this idea that profiteers are not allowed to come in and pick out the easy bits of the business to exploit for themselves.
In the same way, people pay for the lighting of the streets, for the paving of them, for police to patrol them, for bridges across the rivers, and for the removal and destruction of dustbin rubbish.
Nobody thinks of saying: ‘I never go out after dark. I have never called a policeman in my life. I have no business on the other side of the river and never cross the bridge. And so therefore I will not help to pay the cost of these things”. They are for the benefit of everybody indiscriminately. In short, they are Socialistic.
All the time we are denouncing Socialism as a crime, every street lamp and pavement and water tap and police constable is testifying that we could not exist for a week without it.
The people of the capitalist countries use the words Socialism and Socialist to denote everything vile – while honour, privileges, and authority are heaped on rich and ‘well connected’ persons who have hardly the brains or skill to knit socks.
Although the country is up to its waist in Socialism because there are so many vitally necessary public services out of which capitalists can make no profit, they still assume Socialism is as impossible as it is wicked.
I must remind you that they are not all hypocrites or confidence tricksters deliberately lying for their own ends. They are mostly quite decent folk just parroting the noises they have heard all around them all their lives and see printed in their newspapers every day.
The Press also propagates the myth that sharing destroys individuality. But this is not really the case. There are religious orders in which the rule is so completely monastic that every penny the members would earn as laymen belongs to the order. They may not even choose which fashion of clothes they wear. When I asked a friend of mine who belonged to such an order what bad effects if any it had upon its votaries, he replied:
“Well, it develops one’s individuality so frightfully that at forty years of age every member is a confirmed crank”.
It is of great importance to achieve equality of income if Socialism is to work. Now of course intellectual equality does not exist, neither does moral equality. There are differences between Christ and Dr Crippen. One person may be trusted with the government of a province where another could not be trusted with the care of a cat. No stationer will ever sell as many picture postcards of a plain man of seventy as he will of a pretty girl of twenty five. This is self-evident but what I am proposing is equality of financial income.
Equality of mind and body is impossible but equality of income is quite easy. You cannot take Shakespeare and an idiot and make two ordinary men of them by taking the brains from the one and adding them to the other. But if Shakespeare has nineteen shillings and the idiot one shilling, you can take nine shillings from Shakespeare and give them to the idiot, leaving them equally rich with ten shillings each. (One may add that at present it is usually the idiot who has nineteen shillings and Shakespeare who has the one shilling).
However when I say that property must be redistributed, I do not mean that your own personal property or house or possessions should be given to someone else. I mean that the disposable amount that is now put into shares and profiteering should be put into the common wealth, to produce the money that is needed for capitalising national projects.
Do not let yourself be confused by the common use of the term ‘private property’ to denote personal possessions. Socialism – far from absurdly objecting to personal possessions – knows them to be indispensable and looks forward to a great increase of them. People who have a vague notion of Socialism think that a Socialist should be a sort of Franciscan friar who strips off his gentlemanly clothes, sells all he has, and throws the price into the street to be scrambled for by the poor.
Recently, there was a carefully orchestrated uproar in the Press because I owned a motor car. I was reproached because I did not immediately beggar myself. But even if these buffoons had understood what they were talking about, they would have been wrong in supposing that a hostile critic of the existing order either could or should behave as if he were living in his own particular Utopia.
But ‘real’ property is a very different thing from one’s personal property. Let me illustrate this. You call your umbrella your private property. But it is not so – you hold it on public conditions. You may not hit me on the head with it – much as you may want to. Your right to the use of your umbrella is a personal right, rigidly limited by public considerations.
But if you own an English or Scottish county, you may drive the inhabitants off it into the sea if they have nowhere else to go. You may drag a sick woman with a newly born baby in her arms out of her house and dump her in the snow on the public road for no better reason than that you can make more money out of sheep and deer than out of men and women.
This is not a fancy example. It has been done again and again. Look at what the Dukes of Sutherland did to the Highlands of Scotland. Certainly this was a long time ago but it is amazing how the grossest abuses thrive on their reputation for being old unhappy far-off things in an age of imaginary progress. The Trusts are doing these sort of things in foreign countries to this day, and it can happen again here.
And if you ask why landowners are allowed to do this with their land what you cannot do with your umbrella, the reply is that this is ‘real property’ whilst the umbrella is only personal property. That is why Socialists say that private property should be done away with.
Do not be misled into believing that Trade Unionism is the answer to the problem. Trade Unionism is not Socialism – it is the capitalism of the proletariat. It is selling one’s labour on capitalist principles. The unions have discovered they can make money out of their labour in the same way that capitalists make money out of their capital.
The employers, to find out how much work can be got out of a man, pick out an exceptionally quick and indefatigable man called a slogger and try to impose what he can do in a day on the rest.
The unions naturally retort by forbidding their members to lay a brick more than he must do if he is to be worth employing at all. This practice of deliberately doing the least they can do, instead of the most they can do, is the catch of which employers complain so much though they do the same thing themselves under the more respectable name of ‘restricting output’ and selling in the dearest market.
It is the principle on which Capitalism is avowedly founded. Thus capitalism drives the employers to do their worst to the employed and the employed to do the least for them. And it boasts all the time of the incentive it provides to both to do their best.
This state of affairs leads to what is really a form of civil war between rich and poor, conducted by disastrous strikes – thus envy and rebellion and class resentments are chronic moral diseases with us.
All strikes are nothing but the old plan of starving on your enemy’s doorstep until he surrenders. You catch your oppressor round the waist and jump into the water with him, hoping that he will yield rather than drown. But when he is a capitalist and you a workman, he can live longer under water than you. Besides, you are dragging all the other workers under water with you and the moment they find to their surprise that they are suffocating as well as the capitalist and suffocating much faster, they break loose from you and beg the capitalist’s pardon.
All that a strike can do is to remind the public that labour is as indispensable to their daily bread as capital but even that reminder cannot be given without making the workers suffer much more than the capitalists or the public.
Between six and seven hundred battles a year – called trade disputes – are fought and some ten million days of work lost to the nation. If the matter was not so serious one would laugh at the silly way in which people talk of the spread of Socialism, when what is really threatening them is the spread of Capitalism.
I will now turn to some possible dangers in Socialism. There has to be great care taken in instant revolutionary Socialism. When we have what is called a popular movement very few people who take part in it know what it is all about.
I once saw a real popular movement in London. People were running excitedly through the streets. Everybody who saw them doing it immediately joined in the rush. They ran simply because everyone else was doing it. It was most impressive to see thousands of people sweeping along at full speed like that. There could be no doubt that it was literally a popular movement. I ascertained afterwards that it was started by a runaway cow.
The young Socialist is apt to be catastrophic in his views – to plan the revolutionary programme as an affair of twenty four hours. With Capitalism in full swing on Monday morning, a tidal wave of insurgent proletariat on Monday afternoon, and Socialism in full working order on Tuesday.
Socialists who understand their business are always against violence. At the end of the fighting we should all be the poorer, none the wiser, and some of us the deader.
Even in parliamentary terms it does not work. It’s no use thinking that all you have to do is to beat the others at the polls, and then convert the Sermon on the Mount into legislation.
I am also compelled to say that some of the most militant Socialist sects are ignorant and incapable in public affairs and, in many cases, their assumption of an extreme position is an excuse for doing nothing under cover of demanding the impossible.
However, neither should we be too finicky nor faddish. ‘Cease to be slaves, in order that you may become cranks’ is not a very inspiring call to arms. The Fabian Society came into existence through a split in an earlier society for ‘the peaceful regeneration of the race by cultivation of perfection of individual character’. Certain members of that society including myself (modestly feeling that the revolution would have to wait an unreasonably long time if it had to be postponed until we had all personally attained perfection) established ourselves independently as the Fabian Society.
A movement which is confined to philosophers and honest men can never exercise any real political influence. There are too few of them. Until a movement shows itself capable of spreading among brigands it can never hope for a political majority.
Therefore I will be as frank as St. Augustine and admit that the professed Socialists are a very mixed lot. All movements which attack the existing state of society attract both the people who are not good enough for this world and the people who are too good for it. So that the saint is always embarrassed by finding that the dynamiter and the assassin make common cause with him. If by joining the Socialists, it meant inviting them to tea indiscriminately, I should strongly advise you not to do it. They are just like other people – which means that some of them are very nice and some of them will steal the spoons if they get the chance.
Keep in mind that a Socialist state can be just as wicked as any other state. Eternal vigilance is the price of Socialism no less than liberty. Establish a form of Socialism which shall deprive the people of their sense of personal liberty and, though it doubles their rations and halves their working hours, they will begin to conspire against it before it is a year old.
We only disapprove of monopolists – we hate masters. Above all, remember that no individual or society can possibly be absolutely and completely right, nor can any view or theory be so stated as to comprise the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Finally, let me say something on what Capitalism does, not just to the economy of a country, but also to its very fabric.
Capitalism takes it as a matter of course that the proper use of cleverness in this world is to take advantage of stupid people to obtain a larger share than they deserve of the nation’s income. Every day, speculative business is done on Wall Street, the Bourse, and the Stock Exchange to the tune of millions of pounds.
The buyers have no money and the sellers no goods. Their countries are no richer for it all than they are for the gaming tables at Monte Carlo or the bookmaker’s settlements at the end of a horse race.
Yet the human energy, audacity, and cunning wasted on it would – if rightly directed – make an end of our slums and epidemics and most of our prisons in fewer hours than it has taken days of Capitalism to produce them.
It is claimed that success and failure in Capitalism are the reward of moral qualities. It is true that certain vices and weaknesses make us poor but it is also true that it is certain other vices that make us rich.
The fact to be born in mind here is that the attraction of commerce, which lies in its lucrativeness, is rare and feeble compared to the attraction of the arts and crafts, the sciences, and the open air pursuits which involve daily contact with the miracles and visual beauty and adventure of nature.
It is not the ability for money making that is rare but the taste and selfishness for it. Dickens, in Uriah Heep, made a character narrow and mean and greedy and cowardly enough to think of nothing else but now to make money for himself and become much richer than the better citizens for whom money making was only an irksome necessity. Commercial ability is often really mere spiderishness.
But people are inexorably drawn into the meshes. There is a period of life which is called the age of disillusion – which means the age when a man discovers that his generous and honest impulses are incompatible with success in business. That the institutions he had reverenced all his life are shams and that he must join the conspiracy or go to the wall. Capitalism has destroyed our belief in any effective power but that of self-interest backed by force.
What is to be done with the people whose talent is for money making?
History and daily experience teach us that if the world does not devise some plan for ruling them, they will rule the world. Now, it is not desirable that they should rule the world for the secret of money making is to care for nothing else and to work at nothing else that is not profitable to itself. As the world’s welfare depends on operations by which no individual can make money, whilst its ruin by war and drink and disease and debauchery is enormously profitable to money makers, the supremacy of the money-maker means the destruction of the nation.
For example, Capitalists can engage in the robbery of making a corner in wheat or copper or any other cornerable commodity and forcing up prices so as to make enormous private fortunes for themselves. Or they can make mischief among the nations through the Press to stimulate the private trade in armaments.
We cannot go on this way.
We would have died of Capitalism already had not our country been built up on the ten commandments and on the Gospels and the reasoning of jurists and philosophers all of which are flatly opposed to the principles of private profit. Let these principles go and Capitalism, which has destroyed many ancient civilisations, will destroy ours if we are not very careful.
So there you have it. I do not believe things have changed. There is even a chance that people will fall again for the old Manchester School resurrection pie. The old Fabian simplicities are mistrusted, the things which are really at the back of any movement worth counting in this country. All these things have been forgotten. We have gone slack about them; we have lost faith in the possibility of their being done.
People say that Fabianism is dead and gone. Well, I am sorry to be out of fashion – but you will have to go back to that kind of Fabianism, if you are going to get out of your present mess.
I am at heart an inveterate world-betterer. There is an eternal war between those who are in the world for what they can get out of it and those who are in the world to make it a better place for everyone to live in.
I have utter contempt for the mean-minded little egotists whose idea of government is to appoint committees of myopic skinflints, whose notion of natural economy is to cut off our education, our locomotion, and our recreation; who believe that human nature is so poor that it is useless to try and improve anything; who think that life is nothing else except not being stone dead and then, through chattering teeth, stammering the words ‘Survival of the Fittest’.
A curse on them and their petty little mentalities. We must leave the world better than we found it or this war ravaged planet will fall to pieces about our ears.
All this brings me to a subject which, although not appearing to have much relevance to economics, I consider to bear a quite strong relationship, namely religion.
I hope that writing St. Joan may be accepted as a small set off against the abominable bigotry of my Irish Protestant childhood which I renounced so vigorously, when I grew up to some sort of discretion and decency, that I emptied the baby out with the bath water and left myself for a while with no religion at all. Still, I suppose the best priest is a reformed rake.
I used to argue fervently with Alec Furnival over religion. He was the Vicar of St. Pancras, and was one of those ‘muscular Christians’ who could not forgive Jesus for not putting up a decent fight of it at Gethsemane. I could never forgive him for filling the exquisite windows of his church with stained glass resembling transparent linoleum.
He used to practice redemption on his parishioners, in particular a Mrs. Harris who he would employ as a charwoman every time he tried to save her. And each time his efforts would be doomed by her acquired taste for methylated spirits which enabled her to drink furniture polish with avidity, though you could trust her with untold dozens of hock.
However my major objections arose from the air of false sanctity that the Churches have imposed on Christ. The moment you venture to wonder whether Christ swore when he stood on a nail in the carpenter’s shop, you produce enormous dismay amongst the iconolators. You have made the picture come out of the frame, the story becomes real, with all the incalculable consequences that might follow. It is at such moments that you realise that the iconolators have never conceived of Christ as a real person who meant what he said as a fact, as a force like electricity. They insist upon such irrelevancies as the miracles.
To a man of Jesus’s intellect to have to say: “You should love your enemies and to convince you of that fact I will now proceed to cure this gentleman of cataracts” would have been the proposition of an idiot.
The Churches, then as now, could not take in the immensity of Christ’s mind. The horror of the high priests was quite natural. They were primates faced with what they considered a street preacher uttering an appalling and impudent blasphemy. We should not regard Annas and Caiaphas as worse men than the modern Archbishop of Canterbury or the Head Master of Eton.
If Jesus had been indicted in a modern court, he would have been examined by two doctors, found to be obsessed by a delusion, declared incapable of pleading and sent to an asylum – that is the whole difference.
I think that my early confusions arose because I could not appreciate the differences between Jesus and St. Paul. Paul, not Jesus, is the true head and founder of our reformed Church, as St. Peter is of the Roman Church. The followers of Paul and Peter made Christendom, whilst the Nazerenes were wiped out.
When their successors get the upper hand, as in Scotland and Ulster, every spiritual activity except moneymaking and churchgoing is stamped out. And the result of all this privation is partly an insane conceit of being the Elect of God with a reserved seat in heaven and partly, because not even the most infatuated idiot can spend his life admiring himself, the less innocent excitement of punishing other people for not admiring him and the nosing out of other people’s sins.
Pauline Christendom was hampered from the beginning by a dispute as to whether salvation was to be attained by a surgical operation or by sprinkling of water – mere rites on which Jesus would not have wasted twenty words.
Later, the other ceremony – that of eating the God – produced an even more disastrous dispute in which a difference of belief as to whether it was a symbolic or a real ingestion of divine substance, produced persecution, slaughter, hatred and everything that Jesus loathed on a monstrous scale.
Must a Christ have to perish in every age to save those who have no imagination?
Religion is a great force, the only real motive force in the world, but what most churchmen fail to realise is that you must get at a man through his own religion and not through yours. They cannot see the quintessential sameness of all religions.
I should have noticed that Jesus was a Communist, that he regarded much of what we call law and order as machinery for robbing the poor under legal forms, that he thought domestic ties a snare for the soul, that he agreed with the proverb: ‘The nearer the Church, the further from God’, that he saw very clearly that the masters of a community should be its servants not its oppressors and parasites, and that, though he did not tell us not to fight our enemies, he did tell us to love them and warned us that they who live by the sword shall die by the sword.
All this shows a great power of seeing through vulgar illusion. My sympathies may be diseased and sentimental and cowardly. Most men who take the Pauline blood and iron pose would say so. But of one thing I am absolutely certain – that Militarism and Commerce are not Christianity.
For nineteen hundred years official Christianity has been incessantly trying to find excuses for disregarding the teaching of Christ. The glaring contradiction between that teaching and the practice of all the states and all the Churches is no longer hidden. The Sermon on the Mount is still a dead letter in spite of all the compliments we pay it.
All religious organisations exist by selling themselves to the rich. The religious bodies, as the almoners of the rich, become a sort of auxiliary police taking the insurrectionary edge off poverty with coals and blankets, bread and treacle, and soothing and cheering the victims with hopes of immense and inexpensive happiness in another world, when the process of working them to premature death in the service of the rich is complete in this.
It is a particularly obnoxious school of thought which treats Christianity as a sort of spiritual sheep dog for preserving law and order and suppresses the fact that, in so far as it is really lived, it has lived as a revolutionary force and is still amongst us in that way.
Also, in passing that if our governing classes could be persuaded of the truth of this, the crucifix would go up on Primrose Hill tomorrow with the latest incarnation of Christ nailed to it between the secretary and treasurer of his Christian Society.
What is wrong with priests and popes is that they say ‘I know’ instead of ‘I am learning’ – and pray for credulity and inertia, just as wise men pray for scepticism and activity. A Church that has not enough spiritual energy to cut the dead wood out of its ritual and lead its people, instead of lagging centuries behind them, is no real Church at all.
However, although remaining profoundly opposed to the churches, I did return to religion. What produced this change was a close examination of the works of Charles Darwin and his followers.
Now, Darwin’s theories had an attractive scientific basis to them and cleared some of the fog that the churches had created.
Supposing there was a hole in a wall and somebody found a cannon ball near it which exactly fitted. Before Darwin, people would say that that was the clearest evidence that some intelligent person made that hole to fit the cannon ball. Darwin showed that it was entirely wrong. The cannon ball knocked the hole in the wall and nobody meant the hole to be there at all.
If you are familiar with the processes of survival of the fittest, sexual selection, and variation to new kinds, there was nothing to puzzle you in Darwinism. That was the secret of Darwin’s popularity. He never confused anybody.
But the ‘Origin of Species’, if not overtaxing, becomes merely an endless reiteration of the same case. Darwin becomes tedious in the manner of a man who insists on continuing to prove his innocence after he has been acquitted.
In 1906, I might have vituperated Jehovah more heartily than ever Shelley did without eliciting a protest in any circle of thinkers or shocking any public audience. But when I described Darwin as ‘an intelligent and industrious pigeon fancier’ – that blasphemous levity was received with horror and indignation. In fact, I was far too lenient.
For Darwin unwittingly unleashed the most frightful consequences upon us all. He proclaimed that our true relation is that of competitors and combatants in a struggle for mere survival, and that every act of pity or loyalty to the old fellowship is a vain and mischievous attempt to lessen the severity of the struggle and preserve inferior varieties from the efforts of nature to weed them out.
The result was that never in history had there been such a determined, richly subsidised, politically organised attempt to persuade the human race that all progress, all prosperity, all salvation, individual and social, depend on an unrestrained conflict for food and money, on the suppression and elimination of the weak by the strong, on free Trade, Free Contract, Free Competition, Natural Liberty, Laissez-Faire. In short, on doing the other fellow down with impunity.
Even the proletariat sympathised though to them Capitalist liberties meant wage slavery, without the legal restraints of chattel slavery. People were tired of governments and wanted to find out how Nature would arrange matters if she were let alone. And they found out to their cost in the days when Lancashire used up nine generations of wage slaves in one generation of their masters.
The Neo-Darwinians, in effect, claim that the right way to deal with drunkenness is to flood the country with cheap gin and let the fittest survive. In politics, they produced a European catastrophe of a magnitude so appalling and on a scope so unpredictable that it is far from certain whether our civilisation will survive it.
The World War showed one half of Europe engaged in knocking the other half down and then trying to kick it to death – which is logically sound Neo-Darwinism. Darwin’s natural selection produced the only result possible in the ethical sphere and that was the banishment of conscience from human nature or – as Samuel Butler put it – of mind from the universe. What damns Natural Selection as a creed is that it takes hope out of evolution and substitutes a paralysing fatalism, which is utterly discouraging.
This forced me to think afresh. Discouragement does in fact mean death. It might be better to cling to the hoariest of the savage old creator-idols, however diabolically vindictive, than to abandon all hope in a world of ‘angry apes’ and perish in despair like Shakespeare’s Timon.
We have outgrown our religion, outgrown our political system, outgrown our strength of mind and character. But what next? Is ‘no’ enough? For a dog, yes, for a man, never. No, I must have affirmations to preach.
The man who believes that he has more than a professional hypothesis to go on is a born fool. But he may have to act vigorously on it. Our modern world has no use for the Agnostic who won’t believe anything because anything might be false and won’t deny anything because anything might be true.
Belief has become more than an intellectual luxury, it has become a vital to us as food. Of course, I realise that the fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober man. But we must look at the realities of the situation.
This much I know, looking at life after many years. Men without religion are moral cowards and mostly physical cowards too, when they are sober. And those who no longer fear anything beyond the grave, can be dangerously unscrupulous on this side of it.
Throughout all the godless welter of this infidel century, it has become necessary to put a credible and healthy religion in its place. And I think there is such a thing.
The Vitalists said that a dead body and a live one are physically and chemically identical, and that the difference can be accounted for only by the existence of a Vital Force. Shakespeare called it ‘the divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will’. I have renamed it the Life Force.
It is that mysterious drive towards greater power over our circumstances and deeper understanding of nature, in pursuit of which men and women will risk death as explorers or martyrs and sacrifice their personal comfort and safety against all prudence, all probability, all common sense.
There is an immortality of a kind. Old and yellow, the leaf falls. It may be dead but it is not annihilated. It has only returned to the earth from which it sprang. It is there. The law of the conservation of matter sees to that. It enriches the earth.
And though unrecognisable in disintegration and decay, chemically it does not die. Its elements transmuted go on; only its identity is destroyed; only it is no longer a leaf. And in this limited sense there is immortality of body and soul.
Anything in the nature of a more personal survival I hold to be incredible.
Can you imagine an existence in which you cannot get rid of Bernard Shaw?