The Intelligent Woman’s Guide

Cover of "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism," 1927. (Credit:  Eric Ravilious / Wikimedia Commons)

Cover of “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism,” 1927. (Credit: Eric Ravilious / Wikimedia Commons)

I have been getting my mind improved by examining, after many years of reading George Bernard Shaw, his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism.[1]

The book is Shaw’s political and economic testament after decades of proselytizing for Socialism. It is written for women because in America and England, men are supposed “to understand politics and economics and finance and diplomacy and all the rest of a democratic voter’s business on the strength of a Fundamentalist education that excites the public scorn of … Sioux chiefs.” In reality, the male citizen is “ashamed to expose the depths of his ignorance by asking elementary questions; and I dare not insult him by volunteering the missing information.” (xi)

First written in 1928, Shaw gives a lucid definition of Socialism: “an elaborate arrangement of our production and distribution of wealth in such a manner that all our incomes shall be equal.” (377) He was fully aware of the traditional charitable justification for his economic ideas: “The Communism of Christ, of Plato, and of the great religious orders, all take equality in material subsistence for granted as the first condition of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.” (94) As a believer in Creative Evolution, he perceived Socialism as necessary for the survival of the race: “No civilization can finally stand out against the bane of inequality.” (298)

Being a self-made millionaire, he spares no civility on capitalists: “The capitalists, though they are very angry when the hungry ask for Government help of any kind, have no scruples about asking it for themselves.” (312)

In chiding human nature for its “very strong vein of pure inhibitiveness” (which he called the “Inhibition Complex”), he throws light on human busybodies and power-mongers by an illuminating comparison: “Never forget the children in Punch, who, discussing how to amuse themselves, decided to find out what the baby was doing and tell it it mustnt.” [sic] (339)

George Bernard Shaw, Nobel laureate in Literature, 1925. (Credit:  The Nobel Foundation)

George Bernard Shaw, Nobel laureate in Literature, 1925. (Credit: The Nobel Foundation)

“The proper social use of brains,” Shaw continues, “is to increase the amount of wealth to be divided, not to grab an unfair share of it.” (331) And he follows with a warning: “There is a mysterious something in us called a soul, which deliberate wickedness kills, and without which no material gain can make life bearable.” (364)

About democracy Shaw reminds us: “Parliamentary constitutionalism holds good up to a certain point: the point at which the people who are outvoted in Parliament will accept their defeat.”

And about war and peace, he writes an immediately relevant passage to our days of drones warfare: “A single schoolboy militarist dropping a bomb from an aeroplane into a group of children will make an end of local pacifism in an instant until it becomes certain that the bomber and his employers will be called to account before competent and dreaded tribunal.” (449)

With typical faith and geniality, even if doubtful hope in the future, Shaw does not hesitate to quote Mark Twain: “It is never too late to mend. There is no hurry.” (392)


[1] Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (New York: Brentano’s Publishers, 1928).


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