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Lot #608
George Bernard Shaw

Incredible "Draft Manifesto" on World War I

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Estimate: $4000+
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Incredible "Draft Manifesto" on World War I

Handwritten manuscript in pencil entitled “Draft Manifesto,” fourteen pages, 8 x 10.5, no date but circa 1914-1915, signed on the reverse of the last page, “G. Bernard Shaw, 10 Adelphi Terrace, London, W. C.” The draft, in part: “We need not dwell on our share in the profound disappointment at the moral bankruptcy of civilization which is general throughout Europe. Pious expressions of horror at the wickedness of war are as little to the purpose now as patriotic expressions of devotion to the various Fatherlands which are burying their children by the hundred thousand. We who are Socialists, and, as such, have protected in season and out of season against the ruinous tendencies of Commercialism and Militarism, are nevertheless just as helplessly entangled in and identified with our respective nations as the most strenuous upholders of the existing order. We have had to go to the trenches with the rest; and we shall have to fight there with the utmost resolution of which we are capable until the peace which we all desire so earnestly is declared. We are all in the same tragic dilemma. If we in England oppose the war, weaken our country’s forces, and bring about its defeat, we shall not only lose all the authority and influence our propaganda has won for Socialism, but we shall confer such prestige on the Prussian military system and the Houses of Hohenzollern and Habsburg that they will gain more by this war than by that of 1870-71. On the other hand, if we throw all our energies into achieving a triumphant success for our own arms, we may make the Prussianizing element in our own Junker classes, already far too strong, irresistible. We have not forgotten the thirty years of reaction which was the price our working classes paid for Waterloo. The moral, logically, is that we should all play, not for defeat, not for victory, but for stalemate. Unfortunately this is impossible…

Let us set an example of definiteness. We cannot reject the phrases we have just quoted as unmeaning, and ourselves proffer equally unmeaning phrases denouncing conquest and annexation and demanding permanent peace and security. Our English diplomats, for whose actions we are nationally responsible, pledged our national honor to the Belgians that in the event of Germany marching troops into their territory, and of Belgium taking arms against Germany on the side of Britain and France, we should defend Belgium. We cannot without infamy refuse to make good our pledge. We are not the dupes of the statesmen who plead the obsolete treaty of 1839. For that ‘scrap of paper’ we would not consent to the shedding of a drop of blood…The case of Poland is still more complicated. If the Russian Government were to restore the national independence of Poland effectively, it would place the German Socialists in the awkward position of fighting to destroy that independence. If the Austro-German Alliance were to anticipate the Russian Government in such action, the British Socialists would be in the same difficulty. All Socialists, we assume, desire the liberation of Poland; and the interposition of a virtually independent Poland as a buffer state between Russia and Germany must be desired by many who are not Socialists. But this hardly helps us to any practical decision. It is impossible to say that Prussia deserves to be trusted more than Russia in the matter of liberation: both have oppressed Poland infamously. No English Socialist can reasonably declare against Russia, the ally of England, on behalf of Prussia. No German Socialist can declare against Austria, the ally of Germany, on behalf of England. Poland herself is gagged and cannot speak. The dilemma is complete: whilst the war continues, we must fight for our respective countries…

In the meantime we accept your friendly assurance as cordially as we offer you our own; and we beg you to use all your direct voting power and your influence over public opinion in Germany and in the United States to bring about the establishment of a European and North American Congress in which the questions at issue between the belligerent Powers can be defined and discussed. We feel that their mere definition would be an important step towards Peace. We do not believe that any of the Powers or Alliances is strong enough to defy Public Opinion by ignoring such a Congress, or, when confronted with it, to declare, bluntly and barely, that it is fighting for what it can seize by violence. We foresee that out of such a Congress might come, not only present Peace, but a permanent Supernational Tribunal and Legislature without which War will inevitably recur because the sword will remain the only arbiter to which nations can appeal. Finally we, the signatories of this communication, disclaim all hatred and malice as degrading war into mere murder, and desire no security for the future except our own powers of defence. We know that there are in your country as in ours persons who, in their more physical terror of war, demand that their enemies shall not only be withstood manfully, but basely disabled for generations to come. Even were such crimes possible, we are not among their advocates. Frankly, if the Prussian Government attacks us ten times in the next hundred years we shall fight it ten times; and we believe that every brave German will say as much to us…It is on those honorable terms that we hope to see peace restored, and that we look forward to a happy restoration of our ancient friendship.” Annotated on the back page by an unknown hand: "Tract format headed, Proof of G. B. S., The Hydro, Torquay." In very good to fine condition, with light soiling and handling wear, and two rusty paperclip impressions to the left edge.

Shaw was a regular summertime patron at the Hydropathic Hotel above Meadfoot Beach in Torquay, and, at the onset of war in August 1914, it was there that he began what is now considered his most controversial work. Over a three-month span, Shaw pored over official reports and books while compiling a lengthy pamphlet entitled ‘Common Sense About the War,’ a multifaceted piece that later appeared as a Special War Supplement to the New Statesman in November 14, 1914. Modeled on the work of Thomas Paine, ‘Common Sense,’ which called Great Britain and its allies equally culpable with the Germans, so rattled British patriotism with its antiwar sentiment that several libraries and bookstores removed Shaw’s works from their shelves. A follow-up of sorts, More Common Sense about the War, written in early 1915, was ultimately rejected by the New Statesman. Although the text of this particular manifesto differs from ‘Common Sense,’ its sharply delivered discourse on the complex relations of World War I aligns itself with Shaw’s divisive political commentary.

Auction Info

  • Auction Title: March Auction
  • Dates: #523 - Ended March 07, 2018

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