Bio of George Bernard Shaw, Famous Playwright and Socialist

George Bernard Shaw was born on July 26th in Dublin, son of George Carr Shaw. George Carr Shaw was a corn miller who made a very modest income. He was unable to pay for a proper education for his son due to an equal combination of poverty and alcoholism. Due to his unfortunate circumstances, Shaw attended local schools but was never given the opportunity to attend a proper university or receive higher education of any kind.

As a young adult, Shaw worked at an estate office in his hometown. He moved to London in 1876, hoping to further advance his writing career.

Throughout the next seven years, he composed five compelling yet unsuccessful novels. Disappointed, he turned to journalism and experienced a reasonable amount of success while writing for the Pall Mall Gazette.

The newspaper’s editor, William Stead took a liking to Shaw and his work. Stead’s interest in journalism was primarily related to power of the press in correlation with social reform. His political views and interests eventually stirred up Shaw’s own political curiosity, causing him to begin regularly attending lectures and meetings related to social reform.

In 1882, Shaw attended a lecture given by Henry George on land nationalization. This lecture was a turning point for Shaw and was the foundation on which he would build his ideas pertaining to socialism.

Shaw immediately joined the Social Democratic Federation and was introduced to a plethora of socialism-inspired works including the popular works and essays of Karl Marx. The theories and ethics described in Das Kapital immediately swayed Shaw and he became adamantly convinced that these principles could have a tremendous social impact, especially on the lower and middle classes.

Shaw became a quite active member of the Social Democratic Federation and quickly befriended others in the popular movement including Eleanor Marx, Annie Besant, William Morris , and Belfort Bax.

Shaw soon began lecturing on socialism. He lectured in meeting halls and on street corners, anywhere that would offer him the opportunity to speak. On November 13th, he participated in a demonstration in downtown London which resulted in a well-publicized demonstration known as the Bloody Sunday Riot. He was recorded later as saying that he appreciated the casual exchange of ideas and information but genuinely disliked any type of action which precipitated violence.

After a few years of vigorous activism, Shaw withdrew his efforts towards rigorous demonstrations and concentrated on work with the Fabian Society, who also believed that capitalism had given birth to an inefficient and unjust social hierarchy.

Other well-noted members of the Fabian Society included Annie Besant, Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, and Edward Carpenter. The members all agreed that rather than pursuing potentially violent upsurges to focus their efforts strategically upon assisting society in embracing socialism as painlessly and effectively as possible.

The Fabian group offered Shaw the opportunity to assist a great deal in fact finding and information authoring. They distributed a large quantity of pamphlets on a variety of social concerns. Many of these were researched and written independently by Shaw and printed, published, and distributed through the group.

These pamphlets included many popular titles by Shaw including “The Fabian Manifesto“, “The Impossibilities of Anarchism“, and “Socialism for Millionaires“. Inside the pamphlets, Shaw presented a plausible argument in favor of equality of income and the equitable division of property.

He believed that the possession of property was theft and, like Karl Marx, that capitalism was destined to fail. The only areas in which Shaw genuinely disagreed with Marx were in the method in which socialism should replace capitalism. While Marx preferred a radical, revolutionary uprising, Shaw believed that a gradual, peaceful evolution of society should be enacted.

Shaw worked tirelessly to build enthusiasm for and establish a freshly conceived political party whose purpose was to ultimately obtain socialism through a series of elections and governmentally ordained sanctions.

In 1893, Shaw played a key role in the assimilation and conceptualization of the Independent Labor Party. In early 1900, the Fabian Society and the Independent Labor Party joined forces and eventually formed the Labor Representation Committee. The party was able to support fifteen candidates in the same year’s elections and two of the candidates actually were elected to seats within the House of Commons.

Six years later, the party continued to boast success by electing twenty-nine successful candidates. Later the same year, the party changed names once again and formed what was commonly known as the Labor Party.

It was throughout this time period that George Bernard Shaw wrote and published the politically based plays which would eventually make him famous. Some of his early (and better-known) works include “Man and Superman“, as well as “John Bull’s Other Island“, and “Major Barbara“.

Each of these plays addressed social issues which were, at that time period, quite controversial. Topics such as extreme poverty, women’s rights, and worker’s rights were subjects frequently integrated into his extremely complex plot lines. Shaw instantly recognized the potential power and political influence associated with plays.

By interjecting his opinions and ideas into a media which was much more relaxed and inobservant than the typical demonstration-type activism he employed in the pamphlets, he was able to reach a much broader audience in a much more relaxed tone.

Another item which gained Shaw an extraordinary amount of attention during this time period was his controversial political pamphlet, “Common Sense About the War”. In concurrence with so many other socialists of the time period, Shaw openly opposed Britain’s involvement in World War I and spoke about his anti-war feelings candidly in the document.

Much to the government’s dismay, Shaw’s popularity as a playwright continued to grow after the publication of the controversial series of pamphlets. He successfully wrote numerous titles including “Back to Methuselah”, “Saint Joan”, “Heartbreak House”, and “Too True to be Good”. Each of these titles was deemed as successes by critics and in 1925, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for his obvious contribution to the literary community.

Even after his acclaimed success as a political activist and as a playwright, Shaw continued to author a multitude of pamphlets and books, all based upon social and political themes.

Many of these titles were published and received the same amount of acclamation as his previous works. These titles include the 1922 hit “The Crime of Imprisonment”, “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism”, and the 1944 release of “Everybody’s Political What’s What”.

George Bernard Shaw continued to be committed to the decline of capitalism and the acceptance of socialism until his death in November of 1950 and contributed greatly to the widespread interest relating to the subject throughout the early 1900s.

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