Interesting comments on a number of things, including doctors, slaves, soldiers, income inequality, sobriety, thrift, poverty,
Bad as we are, I believe that if we all understood how we are living, and what we are doing daily, we should make a revolution before the end of the week. But as we do not know; and as many of us, forseeing unpleasant revelations, do not want to know; I can only assure you that I am in perfect concord with standard economists when I state that competition is the force that makes our industrial system self-acting. It produces the effects which I have described without the conscious contrivance or interference of either master on the one hand, or slave on the other. It may be described as a seesaw, or lever of the first order, having the fulcrum between the power and the weight.
The so-called right of private property is a convention that every man should enjoy the product of his own labour, either to consume it or exchange it for the equivalent product of his fellow labourer. But the landlord and capitalist enjoy the product of the labour of others, which they consume to the value of many millions sterling every year without even a pretence of producing an equivalent. They daily violate the right to which they appeal when the socialist attacks them. Nor is their inconsistency so obvious as might be expected. If you violate a workman's right daily for centuries, and daily respect the landlord's right, the workman's right will at last be forgotten, whilst the landlord's right will appear more sacred as successive years add to its antiquity. In this way the most illogical distinctions come to be accepted as natural and inevitable. One man enters a farmhouse secretly, helps himself to a share of the farm produce, and leaves without giving the farmer an equivalent. We call him a burglar, and send him to penal servitude. Another man does precisely the same thing openly, has the impudence even to send a note to say when he is coming, and repeats his foray twice a year, breaking forcibly into the premises if his demand is not complied with. We call him a landlord, respect him, and, if his freebooting extends over a large district, make him deputy-lieutenant of the country or send him to Parliament, to make laws to license his predatory habits.
MR. G. BERNARD SHAW ON SOCIALISM.
On the 26th February, Mr. Shaw delivered the following characteristic address to the Liberal and Social Union at the rooms of the Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street;—
I am here this evening in an invidious position. The Liberal and Social Union, a body of ladies and gentleman of more than ordinary culture, have done me the honour of inviting me to address them on the subject of Socialism from the point of view of a Socialist. From that point of view, unhappily, I must regard the Liberal and Social Union, in spite of its hospitality, and the human race generally, as cannibals of the most dangerous description, whose power must be completely neutralized before they will cease to retard the evolution of the social instincts of the race by perpetually preying upon one another. The very deep and sincere admiration which we all entertain in this century for ourselves cannot but make this Socialistic conclusion unpalatable; but it is so well supported by history that I should be trifling with the audience were I to pretend that their generosity of disposition, cultivated intellects, exalted ideals, and genuine indignation at the rapacity of their fellows, has ever prevented them from purchasing the necessaries of life at prices which obviously entail abject poverty on the producers of these necessaries, or from drawing dividends year after year from mines and railways which they have never even seen, much less worked upon. I have myself disgracefully consumed in idleness so much of the wealth produced by peasants from the soil they tilled, that they have been left for far poorer than I, who did nothing for them. Yet I have never been reproached for this. On the contrary, I should have been far more highly esteemed and courted had I been able to plunder three or four thousand peasants instead of one or two. However, I made the most of my limited opportunities, and have little doubt that those whom I address now have done the same, we must meet on equal terms, and can proceed to discuss our subject quietly and cautiously, as becomes people who all dwell in the same glass house.
Mankind, in order to live, must have access to the earth and the fullness thereof. Hence, if the earth be owned by a private person, he can cause his fellow creatures to die by refusing them access to the land. This power makes them his slaves. He has only to say "I will grant you access to the land on condition that you do for me whatever I choose to dictate," and they must, on pain of death, accept that hard condition. It is known to us all that the land of England today, excepting the barren highroads, and a few patches of common which have accidentally not been stolen, is owned by private persons. The rest of the community are therefore the slaves of these private persons, or of the capitalists to whom they have sublet their powers in order that they may ultimately resume them in a more effective stage of development. We are then divided into two great sections: proprietors and slaves. Now slaves are always separated into classes according to the nature of their services. Your shepherd need be little better off than your sheep. Allow him a hut, a coarse garment, and the wherewithal to keep alive himself, his wife, and a rising generation of shepherds and shepherds' wives and all your purposes will be served as effectually as if you treated him like a prince. Therefore you do not treat him like a prince, and you do treat him like a shepherd. But you need a physician as well as a shepherd, and him you cannot have on these easy terms: your life and that of your wife and children depend on his skill, in order to acquire which he must practice for years on your other slaves in an hospital, and have at his disposal museums, libraries, dissecting rooms, paupers alive and dead, and oral instruction from experts in bis profession. And this is not enough. As he is to be your intimate associate, the repository of some of your most private affairs, and the confidential adviser of your wife, he must be no rebellious, rough, and uncultured slave, but a pampered, softly nurtured retainer, with lowlier serfs allotted to do menial work for him, and a degree of comfort and consideration which you yourself may perhaps be unable always to attain. You cannot have him more cheaply; and so, though you complain of the expense, you pay the price. But you get him as cheaply as possible, caring nothing for his needs, but only for your own. This is proved by your treatment of your shepherd's doctor. To him you deny the social consideration you allow to your own medical adviser, because, as you do not associate with him, his lack of social polish does not inconvenience you. All you need from him is that he will keep your shepherds in working order, and for this professional ability alone suffices. Hence your shepherd's doctor is a much less expensive slave than the general practitioner who attends you. But you naturally select the best doctor for yourself, and leave the worst to your shepherds. This enables you to claim that under your admirable system doctors are rewarded in proportion to their merits. By this you mean that the best doctors waste their superior skill in preserving the lives of idlers whose existence is an evil, whilst the worst doctors are busy killing useful and industrious men. Thus the reward of the best man is the privilege of ministering to the worst.
Between the shepherd and the physician come many grades of slaves. There is the workman, the foreman, the clerk, the manager, and the secretary. Each of these grades has its lawyer, its doctor, and its divine. Then there is the soldier, sometimes a cheap article who has but to obey orders, charge with the bayonet at men with whom he has no quarrel, shoot and be shot at, and give three cheers when titled persons inspect his buttons; sometimes a comparatively expensive gentleman, versed in trigonometry and tactics, and yet not above levying executions on slaves in default with their tribute. With all these varieties of servitude, the slave section gets minutely stratified into classes. Ignorant of the causes that have produced the stratification, each stratum despises or envies the others. The doctor despises the shepherd because he is ignorant and uncleanly: the shepherd mistrusts the doctor because he is the friend of his tyrant. The difference in comfort between the extreme strata is immense. The unskilled labourer is allowed 2s. 6d, thirty pence, a day. The eminent barrister is allowed fifty guineas, or 12,600 pence a day. The barrister does not get fifty guineas every day; but neither does the unskilled labourer get half a crown every day. When both are in work — when the proprietors need their services — the barrister gets 420 times as much as the unskilled labourer, in spite of the fact that the proprietors have denied to the labourer the education and comforts they have allowed to the barrister is his nonage. It is sometimes alleged that differences such as these are due to differences in the sobriety or ability of the individuals. If sobriety be indeed the cause, then, if the barrister drink one bottle of wine a day, as many eminent barristers do; the unskilled labourer must drink 420 bottles of wine a day before the barrister can be considered 420 times as sober. Nor is it probable that any man has 420 times, or even four times, the ability of another. When the external conditions are equalized, the man who can double the average achievement is looked upon with wonder. The argument that thrift is at the bottom of it all is far sounder. We estimate a man's thrift by the amount of money he possesses. The barrister has 420 times as much money as the unskilled labourer. Hence we argue that the barrister is 420 times as thrifty as the labourer. If we accept this short method of computing thrift, the conclusion is logical, if not eminently satisfactory to the labourer; but this sort of thrift is evidently not a virtue which the labourer can cultivate or not as he pleases. Neither sobriety, nor thrift, nor any ordinary quality can induce the proprietors to raise the labourer to the class of their most favoured slaves. Should he gain promotion by absolute genius, he will still be at a disadvantage at many points with the most commonplace members of the class to which he is elevated. In either class he will still be a slave, receiving out of the full exchange value of his services just what is sufficient to maintain him and enable to reproduce himself with such culture and habits as may be neccessary to make him an efficient servant and, if his services bring him into personal contact with his employers, an agreeable associate. All the rest he must surrender as rent or interest to his masters.
I fear that I must, for lack of time, venture to assume that my hearers already know how this system is made automatic by the action of competition. I am aware that such an assumption exposes me to the risk of being misunderstood; for it would be affectation on my part to pretend that any company of English ladies and gentlemen can be depended upon for even a rudimentary knowledge of economics and sociology. Bad as we are, I believe that if we all understood how we are living, and what we are doing daily, we should make a revolution before the end of the week. But as we do not know; and as many of us, forseeing unpleasant revelations, do not want to know; I can only assure you that I am in perfect concord with standard economists when I state that competition is the force that makes our industrial system self-acting. It produces the effects which I have described without the conscious contrivance or interference of either master on the one hand, or slave on the other. It may be described as a seesaw, or lever of the first order, having the fulcrum between the power and the weight. The power is the labour force of the slaves; the weight is the body of proprietors who have to be raised above the level of the slaves and maintained there. Hence the more numerous the slaves are, the lower they sink, and the higher they raise the proprietors. Conversely, if the slaves decrease in number they rise a little and the proprietors sink. Hence the Malthusians urge the workers to reduce their numbers as much as possible. Unfortunately, when the masters find their end descending too low, they allow the weaker members of their own body to slip down to the other end of the lever, into the slave class, until the former preponderance is reestablished.
Socialists insist that people should stand on the firm earth, and not on a see-saw, much less on a lever which is always at see, and never at saw. They seek to disable the lever. Now, the way to disable a lever is to remove the fulcrum. What is the fulcrum of this lever of competition? Clearly it is private property in the raw material and machinery indispensable to subsistence. The slave submits to the master solely because the master has the power to withhold from him the means of subsistence if he rebels. The master of the land says, after St. Paul, "If a man will not work for me, neither shall he live." Deprive him of this power of condemning his fellowman to death, and the fellowman will snap his fingers at him, and quote St. Paul more accurately in his turn. To deprive the proprietor of this power, you must deprive him of his private property in the land and capital of the nation, which is just what the socialist proposes. This is why the masters raise so loud an alarm when an attack on private property is proposed. Unfortunately for themselves, they have set the example of disregarding it. The so-called right of private property is a convention that every man should enjoy the product of his own labour, either to consume it or exchange it for the equivalent product of his fellow labourer. But the landlord and capitalist enjoy the product of the labour of others, which they consume to the value of many millions sterling every year without even a pretence of producing an equivalent. They daily violate the right to which they appeal when the socialist attacks them. Nor is their inconsistency so obvious as might be expected. If you violate a workman's right daily for centuries, and daily respect the landlord's right, the workman's right will at last be forgotten, whilst the landlord's right will appear more sacred as successive years add to its antiquity. In this way the most illogical distinctions come to be accepted as natural and inevitable. One man enters a farmhouse secretly, helps himself to a share of the farm produce, and leaves without giving the farmer an equivalent. We call him a burglar, and send him to penal servitude. Another man does precisely the same thing openly, has the impudence even to send a note to say when he is coming, and repeats his foray twice a year, breaking forcibly into the premises if his demand is not complied with. We call him a landlord, respect him, and, if his freebooting extends over a large district, make him deputy-lieutenant of the country or send him to Parliament, to make laws to license his predatory habits. We need not even contrast two different men. Let us take the case of a railway shareholder, who lives idly on his dividends, having purchased the power of making the railway officials work for him. This man robs every unfortunate railway porter daily of a share of the value of his work, without incurring the least punishment or even disapprobation. Yet if he were to do the same thing in another way; if he were to attack a railway porter in a lonely street and rifle his pockets; he would render himself liable to imprisonment and disgrace. And it is not at all improbable that, at his trial, the fact of his being a holder of railway shares would be brought forward as affording a strong presumption of his honesty and respectability. Of the mental confusion caused by the toleration of these anomalies, and the failure to recognise them as such, we shall very possibly have some examples before we separate this evening; but we need not depend on our own efforts tor assurances that if the upper classes consume luxuries they pay for them; that a tradesman will not give a landlord a coat or a leg of mutton for nothing, any more than he will give it to a labourer; that landlords should be satisfied with fair rents (as if privately appropriated rent could be fair under any circumstances), or that capitalists should content themselves with reasonable interest (as if interest could possibly be a reasonable charge); that men will not do their best unless they have the incentive of knowing that the more they produce, the more they will be robbed of; that railways are constructed by buying pieces of paper in the Stock Exchange, and could not be constructed in any other way; that the money spent in drink annually would suffice to raise the East-End dock labourers to affluence; that Robinson Crusoe was a capitalist farmer and shipowner; that people should not indulge in wild talk about revolutions; that if we divided up all the money in the country we should only have £30 a piece (which, by-the-bye, is rather a dangerous fact to obtrude on a man who has less than £30); and above all, that if we did away with landlordism and capitalism today, we should have all our social inequalities and evils back again in six months: — that is to say, that if we remove the cause, the effects will still continue. This hotchpotch of error and nonsensically advanced truth can be, and has repeatedly been disentangled and refuted, but to no purpose as regards the men who utter it; for a man who does not understand his own proposition cannot understand a refutation of it. And the landlords and capitalists have no longer any skilled apologists. Political economy in the days of McCulloch and John Stuart Mill said what it could for them; but Mill finally dropped them; and his successor Cairnes let out the truth at last that rich idlers are an unmitigated nuisance in a community. The more enlightened idlers are themselves growing ashamed. They do something (which usually has to be undone by somebody else) and plead that they are working. Gentlemen laboriously get called to the bar, and, as briefless barristers, feel that they can read Cairnes with equanimity. Ladies educate themselves, learn to paint or play the violoncello, and feel that their lives, at least, have not been wasted. Both ladies and gentlemen will give alms, get up concerts and bazaars, join societies for mutual improvement and admiration. They are not asked to do any of these things, yet they do them. They are asked to work as hard for the workers as the workers work for them; and that they will not do. Many of them have got to the point of being willing to sacrifice almost anything for the poor, except the power and practice of robbing them. Nevertheless that is what they must sacrifice now, if they would avert another failure of human society. Such failures, though not absolutely irretrievable, are very tedious. The human race has hitherto never succeeded in establishing a permanent social state. They tried on a large scale in Egypt; but the experiment, after progressing hopefully for centuries, collapsed. They tried again in Greece with some valuable results, but with the same end. Then Rome tried her hand, and made a tremendous mess of it. Now we are trying; and so far, are doing worse even then the Romans. Every reformer has his pet reason for the decay of these civilization; and I will not assert that luxury and slavery rotted away the foundations of them all. But I may at least claim that luxury and slavery did not prove so beneficial that we need apprehend much danger from ridding ourselves of them.
The main difficulty of the Socialist is not, however, in convincing people that the present condition of society is a bad one. Intelligent members of the proprietary classes admit that when the life of the masses is described to them. The lower classes know it by experience without being told. It is even possible to obtain general assent to the proposition that the millennium is incompatible with private property. But the mass of the people — particularly those who are not in absolutely wretched circumstances — are loth to move, and afraid of the unknown that lies at the other side of change. They admit that they are ill; but when the Socialist prescribes exercise — violent exercise sometimes — they peevishly demand a remedy of the patent medicine description. "Give us something definite," they say: "what is it that you are driving at?" "Abolish private property in land, and prevent the employment of the means of production as capital," replies the Socialist. "That is definite enough; is it not?" "But how are you going to do it?" persists the other. At this the Socialist loses his temper. "I am not going to do it," he retorts. "We are going to do it; and the ways and means must be settled by us in council when we have made up our minds on what we have to do. If you choose to sit down and let other men decide on a plan, you will probably find, when it is put into practice, that your interests have been overlooked — and serve you right too. If you have no ideas on the subject, that only proves that you have never read the works of the men whose schemes you were sneering down as Utopian the day before yesterday." The Socialist then recommends Engels and other German authors to his assailant, who probably does not know German. So he falls back on the sacredness of private property, and declares that, after all, a man has a right to do what he likes with his own.
This alleged right of a man to do what he likes with his own is the private property principle which the Socialist attacks. It is already obsolete except in the case of land and the means of production. Property in other things is subject to the condition that it shall not be used to injure or oppress. A landlord, for example, if he wishes to turn his arable land into pasture, or his pasture into a deer forest, is permitted to drive hardworking husbandmen or shepherds off his property into overcrowded towns, or, for the matter of that, into the sea, with impunity, because he claims a right to do what he likes with his own. But the landlord owns other things besides land. He owns guns and sticks. If he were to take the stick and give one of the husbandmen or shepherds a thrashing with it, the plea that the stick was his own and that he had a right to use it as he pleased would not save him from punishment. Still less do we allow him to present his gun at a tenant, and, by threatening him with death, compel him to give up what he has gained from the soil by his labour. Yet what he may not do with a gun, he may do, and does, with a writ of ejectment. Such a power is subversive of property in the only sense in which property is a sane institution. But the landlord, by studiously confusing private property outside and independent of the law and the commonweal, with the public right of every man to possess and enjoy what he produces, succeeds in persuading careless reasoners that to attack private property is to attack the commonweal. He says in effect "If you abolish my right to wear another man's coat, what becomes of my right to wear my own. The right to wear coats is sacred; and if you violate it, society will be impossible." One can understand a landlord using this argument; but it is not so easy to understand the many silly people who are not landlords, but tenants, and who yet repeat it in defence of their despoilers' power to plunder them. The inability to comprehend economic problems indicated by such suicidal utterances on the part of the slave class is a serious matter. The utterances are very common; and hence it may be inferred that the inability is very general. For this reason the abolition of private property, the equitable distribution of labour and of the products of labour among the community, and the nationalization of rent, will have to be accomplished by an enlightened minority. They will have to overcome the active resistance of the proprietors, and the inertia of the masses. If this be once done, the masses will acquiesce; and the proprietors will no longer exist as a class. But the proprietors may fight: Lord Bramwell explicitly declares that they will fight. They scare many persons from Socialism by threatening to compel Socialists to shed their blood. Unfortunately they are accustoming the public to bloodshed. Revolting as it is at first, there ;is nothing to which men so rapidly grow habituated: they even develop a taste for it. When we have had a little more practice in fighting for our bondholders abroad, we will think little of fighting against them at home, should occasion arise. Civil war is horrible; but we have supped full of horrors in our city slums: and an open, well ventilated battle-field, with wounded men instead of rickety children and starving women, would be an absolute improvement. The proportion of corpses would be about the same, and the suffering would be less prolonged; whilst excitement and hope would take the place of dulness and despair. These humane considerations constantly tempt the poor to violence, and weaken the influence of those who would restrain them until the steps to follow the battle have been thoroughly debated. It is still harder to stay those who would hasten a revolution by intimidation. We know the cause of dynamite explosions, but not their effects. We know, for example, that if we raise the temperature of water to 212 deg. Fahrenheit, it will boil; and we know just as certainly that if we destroy the liberty of the press and the right of public meeting, dynamite will explode. Russia and Austria first discovered this fact; and we, in a truly scientific spirit, have verified it experimentally in Ireland. Now if Socialism be not made respectable and formidable by the support of our class — if it be left entirely to the poor, then the proprietors will attempt to suppress it by such measures as they have already taken in Austria and Ireland. Dynamite will follow. Terror will follow dynamite. Cruelty will follow terror. More dynamite will follow cruelty. Both sides will thus drive one another from atrocity to atrocity solely because we, the middle class, instead of interfering on behalf of justice, sit quaking and complying with ignorant and cowardly journalists who devote the first half of an article to calling the dynamitards "dastardly wretches," and the second half to clamouring for more dynamite in the shape of further restriction of our liberty and further license to our oppressors. If, on the other hand, the middle class will educate themselves to understand this question, they will be able to fortify whatever is just in Socialism, and to crush whatever is dangerous in it. No English government dare enact a Coercion Law or declare a Minor State of Siege against the Radical party. The result is that the Radical party never makes us shake in our shoes as the dynamitards do. I trust then that the Middle Class will raise the Socialists above the danger of Coercion, Minor Siege, and consequent Dynamite, by joining them in large numbers. When a Revolution approaches, those who are within the Revolutionary party can do something to avert bloodshed: those who hold aloof can only provoke it. A party informed at all points by men of gentle habits and trained reasoning powers may achieve a complete Revolution without a single act of violence. A mob of desperate sufferers abandoned to the leadership of exasperated sentimentalists and fanatic theorists may, at a vast cost of bloodshed and misery, succeed in removing no single evil, except perhaps the existence of the human race.
This appeared in the April, 1885, issue of The Christian Socialist. Shaw was one of many people who were inspired by Henry George's ideas. Many of them went on to embrace Socialism. I've been reading the early years of the monthly magazine The Christian Socialist, which began publication in June, 1883, and find that much of it is quite consistent with Henry George's ideas. A number of his essays which were collected into Social Problems appeared in its pages.
Socialists seek to socialize all the tools of production. Georgists seek to socialize the value of land and natural resources and natural opportunities, and regard that which one makes and saves as one's private treasure. Georgists make a careful distinction between Land and Capital; Socialists tend to conflate the two -- as do the neoclassical economists who dominate our college and university economics faculties today.