E.B. Bax

Rejoinder to Shaw’s Letter

(November 1902)

Rejoinder by Bax, Wilshires Magazine, November 1902, pp.88-89.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


Thanks for sending me Shaw’s note, to which I cheerfully reply with withers utterly unwrung. As to the two last conferences, of the S.D.P. and I.L.P. (for the LATTER of which bodies I am in no way responsible BIEN ENTENDU) I can only say that I fail to see anything in Shaw’s point. The S.D.F. at least is well-known to be a Socialist body with the program of International Social Democracy emblazoned (may I say) on its banner. All the year round it is preaching Socialism, and on suitable occasions issuing manifestoes. This being so, I cannot see the necessity of taking up the precious time of its annual Conference when so many business and domestic matters have to be discussed, in passing resolutions designed to reassure the world of a fact the world has known all along. The same line of argument, I suppose, would apply to the I.L.P. Had there been any special matter before the public, as often happens, demanding the accentuation of the great economic gulf between Socialism and Radicalism, then the case would have been different. But on the occasions referred to there was not. The war and the education bill were the chief topics of immediate public interest. Now, on these subjects, especially on that of the war, there is little or no essential difference of view between Socialists and that section of the Radical party that remains true to its colors. That Shaw describes the resolutions passed on the above questions as “types of Anti-Socialism” simply means that they were types of Anti-Fabianism, which again, being interpreted, means that they were types of a doctrine disliked by Messrs. Shaw and Webb. Shaw asks us to compare them “with the perfectly independent and original utterances of the Fabian Society,” i.e., of himself and Webb (Shaw furnishing the wit and literary style, and Webb the Economics). Well, now, that’s just what I object to in the binary star of Fabianism, the assumption that it (or they) has always COUTE QUI COUTE got to be original. Fabianism must not at any cost rub shoulders with anyone else! It must be superior and unique! I venture to submit that this perpetual attitudinizing is artificial, absurd, and conduces to no purpose other than the gaiety of middle-class readers who appreciate Shaw’s style. It is unhistorical to suppose that Socialism springs up, like Athene out of the head of Zeus, SUI GENERIS (i.e., absolutely, not relatively so – the latter it undoubtedly is) and entirely severed from the past. If Shaw’s words mean anything, they mean that Socialism is absolutely cut off from everything else. But Shaw and Webb (i. e., the Fabian Society) are not consistent, and it would be impossible for them to be so. They zealously eschew old-fashioned Radicalism, it is true, but only to truckle to new-fashioned Rule Britannia jingoism. (See their pamphlet on the British Empire and its management). Their solution is Jingoism plus sublimated Bureaucracy.

Now, as to this Bureaucracy, to further which the Fabian Society exists. Shaw with perfect justice says that Socialism would “replace the private speculator by the public servant of the community,” and further on that “Socialism would make every citizen a public servant.” This, though sound enough as doctrine, you will observe does not affect my criticism one whit. The public servant for the Capitalist Class-State for whom the Fabian Society is concerned, is NOT the public servant of the community. He and the State he serves exist as a CLASS apart from the mass of the community. Not until THE PROLETARIAT AS A CLASS has asserted its political and economic supremacy over the exploiting classes, will these classes begin to disappear, and not till they have disappeared as classes, can we with any truth speak of that “community” as existing, the Socialist community, of which, as Shaw says, every citizen will be a civil servant. At present we have a Bureaucracy, and a Bureaucracy, as such, is a nasty thing today quite as much as in the days of Ricardo and McCulloch. I, for my part, cannot so severely blame our Radical friends when they are inclined to “funk” the “Socialism” a la Shaw and Webb, which would give virtually absolute power into the hands of this Bureaucracy.

Of the New Zealand imposture and the man Seddon I will say nothing further, save that we Social Democrats, myself included, appraised the whole farce at its true value long before the war, and when Seddon might, for aught we know, have developed into a sound pro-Boer. Happily a Social-Democratic movement has begun in New Zealand, which, let us hope, will effectively combat Seddonism.

Shaw talks about Marxs “stupendous ignorance of the history and character of the English working-classes,” about Das Capital having been “sent to the scrap-heap as a text-book,” etc., and then alleges that on reading his performance in the above style I shall feel like Mr. Kruger would if he heard me talking (in terms of the “higher criticism,” I suppose) on the subject of the Bible. No, my dear Wilshire, it is not so. Mr. Kruger would doubtless be pained and shocked at my views. I am amused with Shaw’s jokes. I am always amused with a friend’s jokes, or try to be. Kruger would lament. I laugh. Similarly, when Shaw compares Das Kapital disparagingly to Sidney Webb’s Industrial Democracy (a book, moreover, such as it is, that has been anticipated in essentials in Germany) which he calls “the greatest economic and political treatise” produced since Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, I do not regard Shaw as mad. Not in the least. I only recognize an old and familiar type of Shawesque joke. If anyone discourses in Shaw’s presence on the sublimity of Mont Blanc, Shaw will immediately insist with emphasis that Mont Blanc is not a patch upon Primrose Hill in point of natural scenery. Only this particular vein of humor is, if I might suggest it, getting just a little bit “used up” even with a man of Shaw’s cleverness – Shaw should try another lode. He has worked the paradox-joke long enough.

I must beg leave to stand by my parallel as to the Hooligan and the robbed and outraged workman. The Hooligan was not a lone Chamberlain, but the whole corrupt and swindling gang of financial capitalists who, sticking at nothing, machined the dastardly plunder and murder raid in South Africa against a peaceful nation of farmers. Shaw seems, by the way, to think it a supreme joke that anyone should suggest that a Hooligan could possibly be a supporter of the government. Those of us who have had anything to do with pro-Boer meetings during the last three years would be interested to know what else Hooligans are! Really G. B. S.’ rancour against anything and everything Radical is outrunning his wit and making him write fatuous things.

But, to return to the main point, Shaw will say, “You are allowing sentiment to run away with you; the Boers were retrograde and outside the path of progress, and therefore had to be swept out of the way.” Now, my dear Wilshire, apart from ethical, or, as Shaw would call them, sentimental, considerations, I contend that every consistent Socialist, on purely economic grounds, must necessarily back the Boers and every other people that stand in the way of that so-called PROGRESS which means CAPITALIST EXPANSION As you well know, so long as the capitalist can effectively open up new markets, the old civilized ones, as you have so ably shown, being played out for him, and so long as he can get ever fresh supplies of cheap black labor, the capitalist system will continue. It is the final giving out of all available markets that will finish the system. Now, “progress,” as understood in the present day, simply means the exploitation of new peoples and new regions of the earth for the purpose of giving capitalism a longer lease of life. But we Socialists don’t want to do that. The Fabians apparently do. Hence the seemingly depraved Radicalism of our attitude and Fabian remonstrances thereto.

In conclusion, I can again assure G.B.S. that though a Communist, I can, under the present dispensation, rigorously respect his trousers’ pockets, and similarly, that, though an Internationalist, I regard frontiers, in the present day, as absolutely inviolable! Funny, isn’t it?

Believe me, my dear Wilshire,


Yours ever,
E. Belfort Bax

[The article to which Mr. Shaw refers and which Mr. Bax defends, appeared in our August issue under the caption of Shaw and Fabianism, by Mr. Bax.]


Last updated on 6.8.2004