Hal Draper 1966


Source: New Politics, Volume 5, no 4, Fall 1966. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Bernard Shaw: The Rationalization of Russia, Edited with an introduction by Harry M Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, pp 134, $3.95

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From at least 1931 (the year he visited Russia) till his death in 1950, Bernard Shaw was one of the most enthusiastic and least critical pro-Stalinist apologists to be found anywhere, and produced a stream of writings and statements in praise of the Kremlin totalitarianism. Before that, Shaw had already made himself known as an admirer of Mussolini, Hitler, Piłsudski, and almost any other dictator extant. This massive fact has been so disconcerting to his friends that it is possible to read whole long essays on his political views (like one by his fellow Fabian, Leonard Woolf) which never mention it; and there exists no attempt at a discussion of Shaw’s pro-Stalinism which even makes a reasonable stab at trying to explain it politically. Nor are the Stalinists in a better position: the much-touted Stalinist intellectual Christopher Caudwell, for example, has an essay on Shaw which attacks him as a bourgeois reformist, and likewise never mentions that this ‘bourgeois reformist’ ended his political life with almost two decades of fulsome encomiums of the worst excesses of the Stalinist regime.

For after all, ‘everybody knows’ that Fabianism was the very arch-type of anti-Marxist ‘democratic socialism'; and everybody knows that Fabianism was the Webbs and Shaw; and since everybody knows all this, no one seems to have the slightest idea of what explains the head-cracking fact that all three of the architects of Fabianism became sycophants of totalitarianism.

A new pro-Stalinist disquisition by Shaw has just been published, having been found (unfinished) among the Shaw manuscripts recently added to the British Museum. It does not add anything of importance for those already familiar with, say, The Truth About Soviet Russia by the Webbs and Shaw’s introduction thereto; or with Shaw’s pro-Stalinist ‘rave’ in Story magazine.

The year after his Russian visit, Shaw began writing sections of this book. It is quite rambling and discursive, and perhaps he abandoned the project of writing a book on the subject because of the difficulty of ordering his views into a reasonably systematic form.

Shaw was already pulling no punches in his apologia for totalitarianism:

We cannot smash Capitalism without smashing its institutions; and its institutions include not only its predatory and oppressive organs but the defensive, humanitarian, palliative and popular brakes and checks and safeguards and franchises and ‘liberties’.

Capitalism’s ‘old nineteenth-century excuses – reward of abstinence, custodianship of culture, individual liberty, freedom of speech and press, and trade, overpopulation, constitutional safeguards against tyranny and the rest of it – are now played out’. All the workers ever cry in a hitch is: ‘Tell us what to do, governor.’ And so on.

All through this draft goes a positive reveling in the shooting and physical extermination of opponents and refractory elements (particularly capitalists, of course). ‘From the Communist point of view there is no arguing with that sort of thing. There is nothing for it but Bang’, he says approvingly. ‘Our question is not to kill or not to kill, but how to select the right people to kill.’ The capitalist may plead that if you kill him you rob others of their incentive to become capitalists, ‘to which the Russian reply is “Precisely. Bang!"’ In Russia, he reports gleefully, ‘If you want to have more bread than other people can get if they want it, then – Bang!’ ‘The Soviets shoot them at sight’, he explains, and this ‘is the only thing to be done’ with such people. And lots more of this, on the most simpleminded level.

The shooting of capitalists in Russia, he informs us, ‘takes the place of pheasant shooting in England’, and provides the basis for ‘the maintenance of this earthly paradise for professional men’, viz, Russia.

For while Shaw’s joy in Stalinism is unalloyed, he views Russian talk about ‘The Workers’ as simple, homespun hypocrisy, which performs the useful function of keeping the dumb workers hypnotized but which naturally cannot be taken seriously by the Úlite. The Bolshevik Revolution itself was mainly a successor of stupidities made by doctrinaires, who have now happily been eliminated by the wise Stalin, so that Communism ‘is now a working reality, purged of all its old follies and adulterations’, in fact pure Fabianism.

One of the things which readers can gather from this document is Shaw’s monumental ignorance of the socialist movement – a Shavian characteristic usually overlooked because Shaw’s commentators and editors have commonly been idolaters who are just as ignorant (like the editor of the present book). For example, this sentence: ‘The Ultra-Red Socialists of yesterday: Hyndman, Kautsky [Kautsky], Miliukoff, Kerensky, figure in the newest Russian polemics as imperialist reactionaries and bourgeois democrats...’ Or: ‘... Marx’s demonstration that under Capitalism there is always a revolutionary situation.’ Or: Marx ‘attached great importance to an analysis of the circulation of commodities which made his opening chapters very hard reading...’.

I include the last two examples especially because of the myth, which was invented and fostered by Shaw himself, that Shaw ever was or ever became a Marxist. The fact is that there is not a line in all of Shaw which gives evidence that he ever read any of Marx outside of the first volume of Capital in French as a young man (plus perhaps the Communist Manifesto), or that he ever understood the most elementary economic notion in that book, every subsequent reference of his to Marx’s economic teachings being of a piece with the specimens given here.

Naturally the present editor, HM Geduld, parrots the myth: ‘GBS was a Marxist fourteen years before Lenin discovered Das Kapital...’ But Geduld himself should not be held responsible for the boners in his introduction, for he is merely parroting. Thus: ‘When Trotsky split with Lenin over the issue of world revolution versus socialism in one country...’ ‘In his younger days’, says Geduld, as if Shaw had ever changed his mind, ‘Shaw had even committed the blasphemy of finding a “flaw” in Marx’s theory of surplus value.’ (The ‘flaw’ was that Shaw had dismissed the whole Marxian theory of value in favor of Jevonsian economics.)

Credit Geduld for one thing: like everyone else who has ever gotten well acquainted with Shaw’s writings and personality, he has nothing but scorn for the extraordinarily common belief that the expression of such views by Shaw was ‘leg-pulling’ or in some way not entirely serious. Shaw was in dead earnest about it all, including all the exclamation points after ‘Bang!’.