Socialism as a Way to Achieve Political and Economic Freedom

Act III of Man and Superman consists of an ironic socialist mini sermon on the right of the working man to refuse degrading labor. In this Act, Shaw presents a discussion where a band of vagabonds discusses the “abstruse questions of Politic economy” (Shaw Man 85) in an abandoned quarry in the Spanish Sierra Nevada. Actually their discussion parodies European intellectual club meeting. Mendoza, the leader of the brigand, discusses socialistic aims. What they do is to ambush the tourists, get ransom from them and live on it. He accents the opinion of the sulky social democrat that all wealth is created by labour.

Undoubtedly. All made by labor, and on its way to be squandered by wealthy vagabonds in the dens of vice that disfigure the sunny shores of the Mediterranean. We intercept that wealth. We restore it to circulation among the class that produced it and that chiefly needs it: the working class. We do this at the risk of our lives and liberties, by the exercise of the virtues of courage, endurance, foresight, and abstinence—especially abstinence. I myself have eaten nothing but prickly pears and broiled rabbit for three days (Shaw Man 85).

Mendoza says that this group is trying to “secure a more equitable distribution of wealth.” On the above statement, Mendoza justifies their brigrandry as a step forwards economic and social reforms. But their mode of redistributing the wealth of society lies in thievery: they are waiting to ambush the next automobile. They catch Straker and Tanner and hold the latter for ransom (Board xvii).

Sociopolitical Worldview of George Bernard Shaw
1. Abstract
2. Introduction: Shaw as a reformer of social, political and theatrical conventions
3. War is the Coward’s Art
4. Socialism as a Way to Achieve Political and Economic Freedom
5. Futility of Romantic Love
6. Presentations of Upper Class Society
7. Conventional Family and Marriage as a Hindrance for Reformation
8. Life Force, the Core Relation between Man and Woman
9. Hope in Evolution, or the Replacement of Man by Superman
10. Conclusion: Shaw advertised his doctrines on the problems of modern society
11. Works Cited

Mendoza is putting forward the arguments of socialists in a rather ludicrous way. However what he says about wealth, and the vulgar way the rich spend their money has the sound of truth. Shaw, one of the older member of the Fabian society, who believed in socialism is found satirizing the socialistic pretenses of the brigands. Fabians believed in a peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism. They do not believe in violent overthrow of the state or in robbing the rich by violent means.

The progressive idea of Shaw has been mixed with the idea of Life Force and Superman. His progressivism not only depends on socialist economics but also in creating Superman. To Shaw, of all the forms of creation, none is as important as the creation of a living organism, and man will go on progressing, if only he can produce a better race. He must make his children greater than himself or he will be scrapped by the Life Force. At present his energies are woefully misdirected. He makes laws, votes, drafts constitutions and thinks he is making progress. This idea of progress is a foolish illusion, because these votes or laws cannot overcome the “harsh conditions of human beings” (Çakırtaş 344). Dr. S. C. Sen Gupta has claimed that for Shaw “To make real progress man must procreate a better race; he must produce the Superman. Before there has been an evolution in the inner quality of the species, mere change in the external departments of politics and science will not mean any real advancement” (Gupta 16-17).

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Shaw started his career as an exponent of Fabian Socialism and did not proclaim his views on Creative Evolution with any vehemence until 1903, when he wrote Man and Superman. This has led most critics to mistake the place of economics in his philosophy. His advocacy of socialism is really subsidiary to his championing the cause of Creative Evolution. He has never been a socialist for the sake of socialism. For him it is only a means for doing away with the ponderous machinery of Capitalism, which is trying to stifle the activities of the Life Force. The two aspects of his philosophy are not different; one naturally follows from the other (Gupta 17).

Shaw is a socialist because unless all have equal incomes, equal freedom and leisure, the unconscious Life Force will not be free to move. So the solution is in the equality of wealth. In our society, Ann has to choose between Tanner and Tavy, but if there had been perfect equality of income, Tanner’s chauffeur Straker would have been in the running and would probably have beaten his rivals. Then, again, as the poor live in dirt and degradation, the constant struggle against poverty and total lack of leisure obstruct their unconscious powers. If there is perfect equality of income, if there is work for all as well as leisure for all, if there is no degradation, it will not mean the creation of a better species all at once but it will produce the conditions precedent to the birth of a race of supermen. In the Revolutionist’s Handbook Tanner argues that “Equality is essential to good breeding; and equality, as all economists know, is incompatible with property” (Shaw Man 203).

As Shaw’s economics is only a branch of his biology, his socialism has its own peculiarities. He has insisted with great force only on the equality of income and has been comparatively lukewarm in his support of other aspects of the movement. Even when he has dealt with any particular economic question, he has laid stress only on this side of the problem on working for all and also on equality of income for all. His book The Intelligent Women’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism argues with unmatched thoroughness and lucidity the theory that,

Equal income for all should be the ultimate goal for governments. The Essay has a strong negative thrust: in short, “Mankind is horribly corrupted, not by original sin but by inequality of income.” The policies that would redeem mankind, by making a system of equal income work, involve a governmental body determining how much of the country’s budget must be allocated to necessary public services and how much divided equally among all citizens. Those citizens will enjoy equality of leisure to the extent that their share of the total income permits, but they will also be required to work, whether as longshoremen, poets, or anything in between—all varieties being desirable in a sufficient society (O’Neil 1376)

Shaw had his great ability to discuss technical questions of economics. But in his economic dramas, he has not gone into details which are purely economic; he has only drawn our attention to the bases of all problems: underpayment of the poor, idleness of the rich and the consequent waste of leisure and energy. If there is underpayment, there will be inequality, overwork, dirt and degradation, and the Life Force will be handicapped. The blockage of poverty must be removed; for the Life Force must breathe (Gupta 18).

আরো পড়ুন:  Hope in Evolution, or the Replacement of Man by Superman

There is yet another characteristic of Shavian socialism. As Shaw believes in Creative Evolution, he does not believe in the vulgar idea of Progress and has more faith in the illumination of the Will and the Intellect than in hasty breaks of the law. Shaw is less interested in contemporary movements and in temporary profit-and-loss than in the evolution of the Will, which might take a long period. He valorizes the importance of the Will and opines that changes should be done in a series of reformation rather than through anarchism. In the Revolutionist’s Handbook Tanner’s idea expressed on the following way:

At the present time we have, instead of the Utilitarians, the Fabian Society, with its peaceful, constitutional, moral, economical policy of Socialism, which needs nothing for its bloodless and benevolent realization except that the English people shall understand it and approve of it. But why are the Fabians well-spoken of in circles where thirty years ago the word Socialist was understood as equivalent to cut-throat and incendiary? Not because the English have the smallest intention of studying or adopting the Fabian policy, but because they believe that the Fabians, by eliminating the element of intimidation from the Socialist agitation, have drawn the teeth of insurgent poverty and saved the existing order from the only method of attack it really fears. (Shaw Man 218-219).

Shaw in his earlier days, believed that mankind progressed into more and more refined nature, as time passed by, he no longer believed in automatic progress of mankind. In the dedicatory epistle to Aurther Walkley, we find the change clearly mentioned. He writes, “I do not know whether you have any illusion left on the subject of education, progress and so forth. I have none” (Shaw Man lix). He cannot find any evidence for continuous progress in any branch of human achievement, history politics or philosophy. The Revolutionist’s Handbook too emphasizes this idea “We must therefore frankly give up the notion that Man as he exists is capable of net progress. There will always be an illusion of progress …” (Shaw Man 222). Though he lost faith in the progress in man in the conventional sense of the term, he believes in different kind of progress; biological evolution of the species. Man, one of the species among the vast number of them, cannot achieve this progress through education but only by procreating a better race. As Tanner tells in his Handbook, “Our only hope, then, is in evolution. We must replace the man by a superman”. “The only fundamental and possible socialism is the socialization of the selective breeding of Man” (Shaw Man 232-233).

For socialism, equality is the way. So equality and liberty are conceptualized in the play, though they are not the major themes. Shaw uses Tanner as a mouthpiece to speak on equality. To him, “equality is essential to good breeding; and equality, as all economists know, is incompatible with property” (Shaw Man 203). In the maxim part of the book, Tanner supports Proudhon dialogue that that “Property … is theft. This is the only perfect truism that has been uttered on the subject” ((Shaw Man 244). He also says in maxim, “Equality is fundamental in every department of social organization.” In the Maxims for Revolutionists, it has been said by Tanner that “Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it. … Where equality is undisputed, so also is subordination. Equality is fundamental in every department of social organization. The relation of superior to inferior excludes good manners” (Shaw Man 240).

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Shaw defined the ‘whys, whats and hows’ of Fabianism within a few words: “the reconstruction of society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities” (Shaw Fabian 3) besides stressing the basis of Fabianism:

The Fabian Society was warlike in its origin: it came into existence through a schism in an earlier society for the peaceful regeneration of the race by the cultivation of perfection of individual character. Certain characters of that circle, modestly feeling that the revolution would have to wait an unreasonably long time if postponed until they personally had attained perfection, set up the banner of Socialism militant; seceded from the Regenerators; and established themselves independently as the Fabian Society (Shaw Fabian 3-4).

Though there are many concurrent characteristics of Fabianism and Socialism, Shaw went into the search of the small particulars of the two movements: for instance, though during the emergence of the Fabian Society there were two different constitutions named the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League (Shaw Fabian 4), Shaw explained the exact reason behind forming a separate society within the following words: “… the apparent reason was that we were then middle-class all through, rank and file as well as leaders, whereas the League and Federation were quite proletarian in their rank and file”. In another statement, he emphasized that “… the object of our campaign, with its watchwords, ‘EDUCATE, AGITATE, ORGANIZE’, was to bring about a tremendous smash-up of existing society, to be succeeded by complete Socialism” (Shaw Fabian 4). The main discussion was on the ‘inclusiveness of money’ within the boundaries of the society, and Shaw wrote: “In 1884, we were discussing whether money should be permitted under Socialism, or whether labor notes would not be a more becoming currency for us”, and he continued, “and I myself actually debated the point with a Fabian who had elaborated a pass-book system to supersede both methods” (Shaw Fabian 3).

Shaw had the Shavian concept of society and believed in socialism. He clamoured for political and economic freedom and social and economic equality. No doubt, he was very sharp in criticizing the fallacies of his age. He thought that socialism was the solution to the drawbacks of the society, but his socialism was not dogmatic. His concept of socialism was elastic and influenced by his theory of evolution or Creative evolution. He does not seem to be very much in favour of quick change or a revolution. On the other hand, he believed in democratic procedure of life. He thought that socialism could be brought in by a process of legislations that aimed at bringing about equality in society and reducing the gaps between the rich and the poor.

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