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Socialist Review, October 1994

Matt Staples/h2>

Letters

‘Blood will tell’

 

From Socialist Review, No. 179, October 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

 

Phil Gasper is right when he states (September SR) that eugenics was adopted most enthusiastically (until Nazi Germany) in the United States. Yet the idea of eugenics was influential in Britain too.

From the start of the Industrial Revolution middle class reformers viewed with horror the increase in population among the urban poor.

At the same time belief in ‘good breeding’ flourished. The idea that ‘blood will tell’ is a common theme in the literature of the time. In Oliver Twist, for example, Oliver’s speech is perfect despite his upbringing in the workhouse – a clear sign of his good ancestry.

So it comes as no surprise that a class warrior like Churchill could toy with the idea of improving the nation’s stock by preventing criminals and the feeble-minded from having children.

What is surprising is that some of the foremost advocates of eugenics were leading lights in the socialist movement. The Fabian Society, led by Beatrice and Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw, argued that ‘socialist policy favours the strong’. They saw socialism as ‘a process of conscious social selection by which the industrial residuum is made manageable for some kind of surgical treatment’! Bernard Shaw advocated ‘sterilisation of the failures’. After exerting their influence on the British Labour Party the Webbs were to become keen supporters of Stalin.

It would be hard to find a vision of socialism further away from the socialism from below we are fighting for. It should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks socialism is something that can be done for the working class, rather than the result of our own struggle.

 

Matt Staples
Nottingham


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