Shaw defines Socialism

Socialism is an opinion as to how the income of the country should be distributed. Its distribution is not a natural phenomenon; it is a matter for arrangement, subject to change like any other arrangement. It has been changed within living memory to an extent that would have seemed incredible and scandalous to Queen Victoria, and is still being changed from year to year. Therefore what we have to consider is not whether our distribution shall be altered or not, but what further changes are desirable to attain a prosperous stability. This is the closed question which re-opened in the nineteenth century under the banner of Socialism but it is one on which everyone should try to form an original opinion without prompting from Socialism.

Bernard Shaw, from the introduction to The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, writing in 1928.

My italics. And, surely, the part in italics is central to the whole debate. Indeed, it is a point that has to be taken by all parties if we are even to have a debate. Too many people, drunk on the discovery that some equations have solutions, think there is some moral force to the fixed point theorems that say that markets clear, and they conclude that therefore capitalism is natural and just, and that socialism is perverse. [They overlook the fact that the fixed-point theorems apply only imperfectly to the noisy data that we are cursed with in the real world, but that is by-the-by. They seem also to miss the point that Labour is human and capital is not. More to the point...] It is curious, is it not, that the Right -- who set so much store by our right to choose -- seem to think it applies only to deodorants, toothpaste and other consumer effects, but not to anything of real importance such as our capacity to determine what kind of Social Contract we want. Whatever happened to the idea that The People are Sovereign?

I love Shaw - i always have. He is a profoundly reasonable person masquerading as a wind-up artist rather than the other way round.

Click here for last week's bon mot
Click here for next week's bon mot

Return to Thomas Forster's home page