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George Bernard Shaw, the gradual revolutionary

Summary:
George Bernard Shaw, who always preferred to be known as Bernard Shaw, died on November 2nd, 1950, at the age of 94. He had achieved fame in two fields, as a writer and as a political activist. A left-winger who had flirted with Marxism, Shaw joined the Fabian Society in 1884 and embraced their policy of gradualism. After a Trafalgar Square rally was broken up by police violence, Shaw decided never to challenge police power, but to pursue a policy of what Sidney Web  called 'permeation,' the infiltration of socialist ideas and people into existing political parties.Shaw edited the 1889 publication of Fabian Essays in Socialism, writing two of them himself. In one of them he wrote that, "the necessity for cautious and gradual change must be obvious to everyone." And in the new version he

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George Bernard Shaw, who always preferred to be known as Bernard Shaw, died on November 2nd, 1950, at the age of 94. He had achieved fame in two fields, as a writer and as a political activist. A left-winger who had flirted with Marxism, Shaw joined the Fabian Society in 1884 and embraced their policy of gradualism.

After a Trafalgar Square rally was broken up by police violence, Shaw decided never to challenge police power, but to pursue a policy of what Sidney Web  called 'permeation,' the infiltration of socialist ideas and people into existing political parties.

Shaw edited the 1889 publication of Fabian Essays in Socialism, writing two of them himself. In one of them he wrote that, "the necessity for cautious and gradual change must be obvious to everyone." And in the new version he wrote of the Fabian handbook, he wrote that "socialism can be brought about in a perfectly constitutional manner by democratic institutions."

He became an investor and co-founder of the new weekly magazine pioneered by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in 1913. It was called The New Statesman, and still publishes today. Most of Shaw's articles for it were contributed anonymously.

His acceptance of Fabian gradualism faded somewhat in the 1920s, and he began to favour more robust approaches to change. He was fascinated by Mussolini, and spoke favourably of him, as he then did of Stalin. He visited Stalin and described him as "a Georgian gentleman with no malice in him." When the Nazi Party came to power in Germany in January 1933, Shaw described Hitler as "a very remarkable man, a very able man."

He also endorsed some controversial policies such as eugenics, and opposed vaccination, including that against smallpox. He described vaccination as  "a peculiarly filthy piece of witchcraft." He was quite eccentric in his writing, too, refusing to accept modern spelling, and eschewing apostrophes in words such as don't and can't. In his will he left most of his assets to a body that was to reform the English alphabet into one featuring 40 letters, but the will was poorly drafted and subsequently voided.

It is unlikely that socialism can be brought in gradually, as the Fabians wanted, for the very good reason that it doesn't work. In democratic societies that introduce socialist measures, their failure will probably lead to the electoral defeat of the party that introduces them, and their subsequent reversal by a succeeding government. The socialist measures brought in by the Atlee government returned in 1945 condemned Britain to a downhill slope of low growth, an appalling strike record, loss-making state industries that performed poorly, and punitive tax rates that discouraged investment. These were all such obvious failures that the Thatcher governments were able to reverse them all and win re-election by doing so.

The no less catastrophic failures of socialism in other countries provide more evidence of the fact that it doesn't work. Socialism might be difficult to install gradually, but it can be imposed by swift and brutal repression. Even then it doesn't work. This means that Shaw spent a large part of his political activism in pursuit of a lost cause, and could explain his admiration for the dictators who dispensed with democracy to impose fascism, communist socialism and national socialism, all of which turned out to be disastrous.

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