on his seventith birtday
George Bernard Shaw
July 26, 1926
Of late years the public have been trying to tackle me in every way they possibly can, and failing to make anything of it they have turned to treating me Bs a great
man. This is a dreadful fate to over- take anybody. There has been a distinct attempt to do it again now, and for that reason I absolutely decline to say anything about the celebration of my seventieth birthday. But when the Labor Party, my old friends the Labor Party, invited me here I knew that l should be all right.
Now, however, we have built up a constitutional Party. We have built it up on a socialistic basis. My friend, Mr. Sidney Webb, Mr. Macdonald and myself said definitely at the beginning that what we had got to do was to make the Socialist Party a constitutional party to which any respectable God-fearing man could belong without the slightest compromise of his respectability. We got rid of all those traditional that is why Governments in the present day are more afraid of us than they were of any of the Radical people.
Our position is a perfectly simple one and we have the great advantage of understanding our position. We oppose socialism to capitalism.
According to the capitalists, there will be a guara11tee to the world that every man in tile country would get a job. They didn‘t contend it would be a well-paid job, because if it was well paid a man would save up enough one week to stop working the next week, and they were determined to keep a man working the whole time on a bare subsistence wage - and, on the other hand, divide an accumulation of capita1.
They said capita1ism not only secured this for the working man, but, by insuring fabulous wealth in the hands of a small class of people, they would save money whether they liked it or not and would have to invest it. That is capitalism, and this Government is always interfering with capitalism. Instead of giving a man a job or letting him starve they are giving him doles - after making sure he has paid for them first. They are giving capitalists subsidies and making all sorts of regulations that are breaking up their own system. All the time they are doing it, and we are telling them it is breaking up, they don‘t understand.
We say in criticism of capitalism: Your system has never kept its promises for one single day since it was promulgated. Our production is ridiculous. We are producing eighty horsepower motor cars when many more houses should be built. We are producing most extravagant luxuries while children starve. You have stood production on its head. Instead of beginning with the things the nation needs most, you are beginning at just the opposite end. We say distribution has become so glaringly ridiculous that there are only two people out of the 47,000,000 people in this country who approve of the present system of distribution-one is the Duke of Northumberland and the other is Lord Banbury.
We are opposed to that theory. Socialism, which is perfectly clear and unmistakable, says the thing you have got to take care of is your distribution. We have to begin with that, and private property, if it stands in the way of good distribution, has got to go.
A man who holds public property must hold it on the pub1ic condition on which, for instance, I carry my walking stick. I am not al1owed to do what I like with it. I must not knock you on the head with it. We say that if distribution goes wrong, everything else goes wrong-religion, morals - government. And we say, therefore (this is the whole meaning of our socialism}, we must begin with distribution and take all the necessary steps.
I think we are keeping it in our minds because our business is to take care of the distribution of wealth in the worId1 and I tell you, as I have told you be fore, that I don‘t think there are two men, or perhaps one man, in our 47,000,000 who approves of the existing distribution of wealth. I will go even further and say that you will not find a single person in the whole of the civilized world who agrees with the existing system of the distribution of wealth. It has been reduced to a blank absurdity.
I think the day will come when we will be able to make the distinction between us and the capitalists. We must get certain leading ideas before the people. We should announce that we are not going in for what was the old-fashioned idea of redistribution, but the redistribution of income. Let it always be a question of income.
I have been very happy here to night. I entirely understand the distinction made by our Chairman to night when he said you hold me in social esteem and a certain amount of personal affection. I am not a sentimental man, but l am not 1nsensible to all that. I know the value of all tl1at, and it gives me, now that 1 have come to the age of seventy (it will not occur again and I am saying it for the first time), a great fee1ing of pleasure that l can say what a good many people can‘t say.