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John Morley had
said that the early Liberals, Cobden, Bright, and others, were
systematic and constructive, because they "surveyed society and
institutions as a whole," because they "connected their advocacy of
political and legal changes with theories of human nature," because they
"considered the great art of government in connection with the character
of man, his proper education, his potential capacities," and could
explain "in the large dialect of a definite scheme what were their aims
and whither they were going."

"Is there," Mr. Morley had asked, "any approach to such a body of
systematic political thought in our own day?" Mr. Webb announced that
the Fabians proposed to fill in this void. It was primarily system and
order rather than any particular principle at which he aimed. The
keynote of his system was to be opposition to the individualistic
_theory_ of the philosophic Liberals whom the Fabians hoped to succeed
rather than opposition to the _principles_ of capitalism, which lend
themselves equally well either to an individualistic or to a
collectivistic application.

Just as Mr. Webb is the leading publicist, so Mr. Bernard Shaw is the
leading writer, among the exponents of Fabian Socialism. It is now more
than twenty years since he also began idealizing the State, and he is
doing the same thing to-day. "Who is the people? What is the people?" he
asked in the Fabian Essays in 1889. "Tom we know, and Dick; also Harry;
but solely and separately as individuals: as a trinity they have no
existence. Who is their trustee, their guardian, their man of business,
their manager, their secretary, even their stockholder? The Socialist is
stopped dead at the threshold of practical action by this difficulty,
until he bethinks himself of the State as the representative and trustee
of the people."[128] It will be noticed that Mr. Shaw does not say the
State may become the representative and trustee of the people, but that
it _is_ their representative. "Hegel," he continues, "expressly taught
the conception of the perfect State, and his disciples saw that nothing
in the nature of things made it possible or even difficult to make the
existing State if not absolutely perfect, at least trustworthy;" and
then, after alluding with the greatest brevity to the anti-democratic
elements of the British government, Mr. Shaw proceeds to develop at
great length the wonderful possibilities of the existing State as the
practically trustworthy trustee, guardian, man of business, manager,
secretary, and stockholder _of the people_.[129]

Yet Mr. Shaw says that a Social-Democrat is one "who _desires_ through
democracy _to_ gather the whole people into the State, so that the State
may be trusted with the rent of the country, and finally with the land
and capital and the organization of national industry." He reasons that
the transition to Socialism through gradual extensions of democracy and
State action had seriously begun forty-five years before the writing of
the Essays, that is, in the middle of the nineteenth century (when
scarcely one sixth of the adult male population of Great Britain had a
vote, and when, through the unequal election districts, the country
squires practically controlled the situation--W. E. W.). In Mr. Shaw's
reasoning, as in that of many other British Socialists, a very little
democracy goes a long way.[130]

Later Mr. Shaw repudiated democracy altogether, saying that despotism
fails only for want of a capable benevolent despot, and that what we
want nowadays is not a new or modern form of democracy, but only capable
benevolent representatives. He shelved his hopes for the old ideal,
government _by_ the people, by opposing to it a new ideal of a very
active and beneficent government _for_ the people. In "Fabianism and the
Empire" Shaw and his collaborators say frankly: "The nation makes no
serious attempt to democratize its government, because its masses are
still in so deplorable a condition that democracy, in the popular sense
of government by the masses, is clearly contrary to common sense."[131]

Mr. H. G. Wells, long a member of the Fabian Society, has well summed up
the character of what he calls this "opportunist Socialist group" which
has done so much to shape the so-called British Socialism. He says that
Mr. Sidney Webb was, during the first twenty years of his career "the
prevailing Fabian."


"His insistence upon continuity pervaded the Society, was re-echoed
and intensified by others, and developed into something like a
mania for achieving Socialism _without the overt change of any
existing ruling body_. His impetus carried this reaction against
the crude democratic idea to its extremest opposite. Then arose
Webbites to caricature Webb. From saying that the unorganized
people cannot achieve Socialism, they passed to the implication
that organization alone, without popular support, might achieve
Socialism. Socialism was to arrive as it were _insidiously_.

"To some minds this new proposal had the charm of a schoolboy's
first dark lantern. Socialism ceased to be an open revolution, and
become a plot. Functions were to be shifted, quietly,
unostentatiously, from the representative to the official he
appointed; a bureaucracy was to slip into power through the
mechanical difficulties of an administration by debating
representatives; and since these officials would, by the nature of
their positions, constitute a scientific government as
distinguished from haphazard government, they would necessarily run
the country on the lines of a _pretty distinctly undemocratic
Socialism_.

"The process went even farther than secretiveness in its reaction
from the _large rhetorical forms of revolutionary Socialism_. There
arose even a _repudiation of 'principles' of action_, and a type of
worker which proclaimed itself 'Opportunist-Socialist.' This
conception of indifference to the forms of government, of accepting
whatever governing bodies existed and using them to create
officials and '_get something done_,' was at once immediately
fruitful in many directions, and presently productive of many very
grave difficulties in the path of advancing Socialism." (Italics
mine.)[132]


Besides the obvious absurdities of such tactics, Mr. Wells points out
that they ignored entirely that reconstruction of legislative and local
government machinery which is very often an indispensable preliminary to
Socialization. He is speaking of such Socialism when he says:--


"Socialism has concerned itself only with the material
reorganization of Society and its social consequences, with
economic changes and the reaction of these changes on
administrative work; it has either accepted existing intellectual
conditions and political institutions as beyond its control or
assumed that they will obediently modify as economic and
administrative necessity dictates.... Achieve your expropriation,
said the early Fabians, get your network of skilled experts over
the country, and your political forms, your public opinion, your
collective soul will not trouble you."[133]


Here Mr. Wells shows that, while the practical difficulties of making
collectivism serve all the people were ignored on the one hand, the
first need of the people, political education, was neglected on the
other. It is true that during the first few years of its existence the
Fabian Society made a great and successful effort to educate public
opinion in a Socialist direction, but soon its leading members deserted
all such larger work, to support various administrative "experiments."

Mr. Wells referred to this same type of Socialism in his "Misery of
Boots":--


"Let us be clear about one thing: that Socialism means revolution,
and that it means a change in the everyday texture of life. It
_may_ be a very gradual change, but it will be a very complete one.
You cannot change the world, and at the same time not change the
world. You will find Socialists about, or at any rate men calling
themselves Socialists, who will pretend that this is not so, who
will assure you that some odd little jobbing about municipal gas
and water is Socialism, and backstairs intervention between
Conservative and Liberal the way to the millennium.... Socialism
aims to change, not only the boots on people's feet, but the
clothes they wear, the houses they inhabit, the work they do, the
education they get, their places, their honors, and all their
possessions. Socialism aims to make a new world out of the old. It
can only be attained by the intelligent, outspoken, courageous
resolve of a great multitude of men and women. You must get
absolutely clear in your mind that Socialism means a _complete
change, a break with history_, with much that is picturesque;
_whole classes will vanish_. The world will be vastly different,
with different sorts of houses, different sorts of people. All the
different trades and industries will be changed, the medical
profession will be carried on under different conditions,
engineering, science, the theatrical trade, the clerical trade,
schools, hotels, almost every trade, will have to undergo as
complete an internal change as a caterpillar does when it becomes a
moth ... a change as profound as the abolition of private property
in slaves would have been in ancient Rome or Athens." (The italics
are mine.)


Here is the exact opposite view to that which has been taught for many
years by the Fabian Society to no small audience of educated Englishmen
(and Americans). For there are comparatively few who have neither read
any of the Fabian pamphlets nor seen or read any of Bernard Shaw's plays
in which the same standpoint is represented.

Mr. John A. Hobson classes the Socialist and non-Socialist reformers of
Great Britain together as regards their opportunism.



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Keywords: socialists, nature, changes, leading, reaction, education, administrative, difficulties, achieve, fabians
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