E. Belfort Bax

Shaw and Fabianism

(August 1902)

E.B. Bax, Shaw and Fabianism, Wilshires Magazine, August 1902, pp.39-40.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

London, Eng.


I don’t know whether our beloved brother Shaw is regarded on the other side of the Atlantic as he is here, to wit: as a refined human joke. Whether or not, I feel impelled by his article in the May number of the Magazine, to take up the pen in order briefly to warn our transatlantic comrades and friends against any temptation they may feel to take anything our Irish Heine says too seriously. I have, I may premise, already demolished the fallacies contained in the Shawesque perversion of the Socialist point of view, some year and a half ago in the columns of the Saturday Review. But our only Shaw, bowled over on one occasion, comes up again smiling the next with the same old weapons.

Shaw is, of course, welcome to think “professed Socialism in a bad way,” if he chooses; but, when he alleges that the Social Democratic Federation at least has abandoned any of its principles, be they “catastrophic revolution” or what he terms “pious platitudes” (read the fundamental demands of Socialism), anent the “Socialization of the means of production and of exchange,” one feels it is necessary to protest, if only for the sake of those American readers who know not Shaw and his humor.

As regards the first point the S.D.F. has never, neither does it now, deny the possibility of crises in which physical force may be a factor in the social revolution ahead of us. On the contrary, we regard it as next to certain that there will be such crises in England as elsewhere. While as to the second point, when the S.D.F. “abandons” the “Socialization of the means of production, etc.,” it will decree its own dissolution.

Shaw appears to suffer chronically from a disease that I may term Radicophobia – a plank in the Radical platform is to G.B.S. like the proverbial red rag to the bull. Socialism must, for him, be something clean cut off from the past. G.B.S. persistently refuses to recognize that Radicalism has had its own work to do, and that in so far as Radicalism has failed to complete its historical task, the uncompleted portions of that task devolve upon the Socialism – that is its successor. Shaw rails at Socialist bodies for including in their programmes items accepted also by Radicals. The “Enfranchisement of Woman” (I suppose he means female suffrage), which is one of those mentioned, may be a piece of idiocy, as I think it is, but if so it belongs by no means exclusively to feeble, foolish Radicals and Socialists, but would, if I mistake not, be subscribed to by the majority of the all-wise Fabian Society. There are, moreover, probably in proportion at least, as many Socialists, and even Radicals, who object to it as Fabians.

And now what is the heaven-sent kind of Socialism Shaw advocates in place of the historical? What is Fabianism? For those who know the history of the Fabian Society, its literature and its ways, the answer is clear as daylight. Fabianism is nothing more than a movement for the aggrandisement and ascendency of the civil servant, in other words of the Bureaucrat. Your civil servant, your bureaucrat, must have his Fabian movement just as your army man has his militarist movement, or your parson his clerical movement. Fabianism is no less a class movement than the others, only owing to the circumstances of the case the bureaucratic movement, termed Fabianism, can more easily masquerade as Socialism by means of an equivoque, to wit by the modern class-state being confounded, by a verbal quibble, with the Social-democratic Society of the future.

In fact, the whole of the Shaw case rests upon sleight-of-hand tricks with words. Take Shaw’s gibe at Social-Democrats for their “pro-Krugerism,” as he calls it. As everybody else knows our Internationalism compels us to be pro-Boers. Shaw appears to suggest that Internationalism consists in a great capitalist power aggrandizing itself at the expense of smaller and weaker peoples. Here again two contradictory principles are confounded by a juggle. Of this new interpretation of Internationalism, as meaning Imperialism let us hope “not a breath” does “stir” among us. Why does not Shaw carry his argument a step farther? A harmless and industrious workman on his way home is set upon by Hooligans and robbed of his tools. The Social-Democrat is naturally indignant at the aggression, at which Shaw observes that Social-Democrats today appear to have “not a breath” of the old collectivism stirring among them. They used to believe in the Communization of the means of production; now they talk as though individual property in the means of production were an institution of sacramental sanctity! Here we have an exact parallel to Shaw’s attempt to identify Imperialist robbery with the free federation of nationalities demanded by Socialist Internationalism. The forcible subjugation of weaker nations by stronger is no more Internationalism than the annexation of the workman’s tools by the common thief is collectivism in the means of production.

No, my dear Wilshire, we of the S.D.F. are not likely to be caught by the Fabian bait. “Efficiency” may be all right, but you can pay too high a price even for it. Mr. Seddon and New Zealand, are they not there to warn us of the rottenness of bogus Socialism (save the mark!)

With best wishes for the success of Wilshire, man and magazine,


I remain, ever yours,
E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 8.8.2004