Fabian Society logo
|Formation||January 4, 1884|
|Legal status||Unincorporated membership association|
|Purpose||It aims to promote greater equality of power, wealth and opportunity; the value of collective action and public service; an accountable, tolerant and active democracy; citizenship, liberty and human rights; sustainable development; and multilateral international cooperation|
|Headquarters||London, United Kingdom|
|Subsidiaries||Young Fabians, Fabian Women's Network, Scottish Fabians, around 60 local Fabian Societies|
|Affiliations||Labour Party, Foundation for European Progressive Studies|
The Fabian Society is a British socialist organisation whose purpose is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary overthrow. As founders of the Labour Party in 1900, the Fabian Society has influenced British policy to the present day, from the postwar creation of the modern welfare state to the election of Tony Blair. Later members of the Fabian Society included Jawaharlal Nehru and other leaders of new nations created out of the former British Empire, who used Fabian principles to create socialist democracies in India, Pakistan, Nigeria and elsewhere as Britain decolonised after World War II.
The Fabian Society founded the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1895 "for the betterment of society," now one of the leading institutions in the world, an incubator of influential politicians, economists, journalists, prime ministers and liberal billionaires.
Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of 15 socialist societies affiliated with the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), in Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and the now disbanded League for Social Reconstruction), in Sicily (Sicilian Fabian Society) and in New Zealand (The NZ Fabian Society).
The Fabian Society was founded on 4 January 1884 in London as an offshoot of a society founded a year earlier called The Fellowship of the New Life. Early Fellowship members included the visionary Victorian elite, among them poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, sexologist Havelock Ellis, and early socialist Edward R. Pease. They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. Some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society's transformation; they set up a separate society, the Fabian Society. All members were free to attend both societies. The Fabian Society additionally advocated renewal of Western European Renaissance ideas and their promulgation throughout the world.
The Fellowship of the New Life was dissolved in 1899, but the Fabian Society grew to become the pre-eminent academic society in the United Kingdom in the Edwardian era. It was typified by the members of its vanguard Coefficients club. Public meetings of the Society were for many years held at Essex Hall, a popular location just off the Strand in central London.
The Fabian Society was named—at the suggestion of Frank Podmore—in honour of the Roman general Fabius Maximus (nicknamed "Cunctator", meaning the "Delayer"). His Fabian strategy sought gradual victory against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal through persistence, harassment, and wearing the enemy down by attrition rather than head-on battles.
An explanatory note appearing on the title page of the group's first pamphlet declared:
For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless.
According to author Jon Perdue, "The logo of the Fabian Society, a tortoise, represented the group’s predilection for a slow, imperceptible transition to socialism, while its coat of arms, a 'wolf in sheep’s clothing', represented its preferred methodology for achieving its goal." The wolf in sheep’s clothing symbolism was later abandoned, due to its obvious negative connotations.
Its nine founding members were Frank Podmore, Edward R. Pease, William Clarke, Hubert Bland, Percival Chubb, Frederick Keddell, H. H. Champion, Edith Nesbit, and Rosamund Dale Owen. Havelock Ellis is sometimes also mentioned as a tenth founding member, though there is some question about this.
Immediately upon its inception, the Fabian Society began attracting many prominent contemporary figures drawn to its socialist cause, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Charles Marson, Sydney Olivier, Oliver Lodge, Ramsay MacDonald and Emmeline Pankhurst. Even Bertrand Russell briefly became a member, but resigned after he expressed his belief that the Society's principle of entente (in this case, between countries allying themselves against Germany) could lead to war.
At the core of the Fabian Society were Sidney and Beatrice Webb. Together, they wrote numerous studies of industrial Britain, including alternative co-operative economics that applied to ownership of capital as well as land.
Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1900 and the group's constitution, written by Sidney Webb, borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the Fabian Society. At the Labour Party Foundation Conference in 1900, the Fabian Society claimed 861 members and sent one delegate.
The years 1903 to 1908 saw a growth in popular interest in the socialist idea in Great Britain and the Fabian Society grew accordingly, tripling its membership to nearly 2500 by the end of the period, half of whom were located in London. In 1912 a student section was organised called the University Socialist Federation (USF) and by the outbreak of World War I this contingent counted its own membership of more than 500.
Early Fabian views
The first Fabian Society pamphlets advocating tenets of social justice coincided with the zeitgeist of Liberal reforms during the early 1900s, including eugenics. The Fabian proposals however were considerably more progressive than those that were enacted in the Liberal reform legislation. The Fabians lobbied for the introduction of a minimum wage in 1906, for the creation of a universal health care system in 1911 and for the abolition of hereditary peerages in 1917.
Fabian socialists were in favour of reforming Britain's imperialist foreign policy as a conduit for internationalist reform, and were in favour of a capitalist welfare state modelled on the Bismarckian German model; they criticised Gladstonian liberalism both for its individualism at home and its internationalism abroad. They favoured a national minimum wage in order to stop British industries compensating for their inefficiency by lowering wages instead of investing in capital equipment; slum clearances and a health service in order for "the breeding of even a moderately Imperial race" which would be more productive and better militarily than the "stunted, anaemic, demoralised denizens ... of our great cities"; and a national education system because "it is in the classrooms ... that the future battles of the Empire for commercial prosperity are already being lost".
In 1900 the Society produced Fabianism and the Empire, the first statement of its views on foreign affairs, drafted by Bernard Shaw and incorporating the suggestions of 150 Fabian members. It was directed against the liberal individualism of those such as John Morley and Sir William Harcourt. It claimed that the classical liberal political economy was outdated, and that imperialism was the new stage of the international polity. The question was whether Britain would be the centre of a world empire or whether it would lose its colonies and end up as just two islands in the North Atlantic. It expressed support for Britain in the Boer War because small nations, such as the Boers, were anachronisms in the age of empires. In order to hold onto the Empire, the British needed to fully exploit the trade opportunities secured by war; maintain the British armed forces in a high state of readiness to defend the Empire; the creation of a citizen army to replace the professional army; the Factory Acts would be amended to extend to 21 the age for half-time employment, so that the thirty hours gained would be used in "a combination of physical exercises, technical education, education in civil citizenship ... and field training in the use of modern weapons".
The Fabians also favoured the nationalisation of land rent, believing that rents collected by landowners in respect of their land's value were unearned, an idea which drew heavily from the work of American economist Henry George.
It was at this time that many of the future leaders of the Third World were exposed to Fabian thought, most notably India's Jawaharlal Nehru, who subsequently framed economic policy for India on Fabian socialism lines. After independence from Britain, Nehru’s Fabian ideas committed India to an economy in which the state owned, operated and controlled means of production, in particular key heavy industrial sectors such as steel, telecommunications, transportation, electricity generation, mining and real estate development. Private activity, property rights and entrepreneurship were discouraged or regulated through permits, nationalisation of economic activity and high taxes were encouraged, rationing, control of individual choices and Mahalanobis model considered by Nehru as a means to implement the Fabian Society version of socialism. In addition to Nehru, several pre-independence leaders in colonial India such as Annie Besant—Nehru's mentor and later a president of Indian National Congress - were members of the Fabian Society.
Obafemi Awolowo, who later became the premier of Nigeria's now defunct Western Region, was also a Fabian member in the late 1940s. It was the Fabian ideology that Awolowo used to run the Western Region during his premiership with great success, although he was prevented from using it in a similar fashion on the national level in Nigeria. It is less known that the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was an avid member of the Fabian Society in the early 1930s. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, stated in his memoirs that his initial political philosophy was strongly influenced by the Fabian Society. However, he later altered his views, considering the Fabian ideal of socialism as impractical. In 1993, Lee said:
They [Fabian Socialists] were going to create a just society for the British workers—the beginning of a welfare state, cheap council housing, free medicine and dental treatment, free spectacles, generous unemployment benefits. Of course, for students from the colonies, like Singapore and Malaya, it was a great attraction as the alternative to communism. We did not see until the 1970s that that was the beginning of big problems contributing to the inevitable decline of the British economy.
In the Middle East, the theories of Fabian Society intellectual movement of early-20th-century Britain inspired the Ba'athist vision. The Middle East adaptation of Fabian socialism led the state to control big industry, transport, banks, internal and external trade. The state would direct the course of economic development, with the ultimate aim to provide a guaranteed minimum standard of living for all. Michel Aflaq, widely considered as the founder of the Ba'athist movement, was a Fabian socialist. Aflaq's ideas, with those of Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Zaki al-Arsuzi, came to fruition in the Arab world in the form of dictatorial regimes in Iraq and Syria. Salāmah Mūsā of Egypt, another prominent champion of Arab Socialism, was a keen adherent of Fabian Society, and a member since 1909.
Through the course of the 20th century the group has always been influential in Labour Party circles, with members including Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Anthony Crosland, Roy Jenkins, Hugh Dalton, Richard Crossman, Ian Mikardo, Tony Benn, Harold Wilson and more recently Shirley Williams, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Gordon Marsden and Ed Balls. The late Ben Pimlott served as its Chairman in the 1990s. (A Pimlott Prize for Political Writing was organised in his memory by the Fabian Society and The Guardian in 2005 and continues annually). The Society is affiliated to the Party as a socialist society. In recent years the Young Fabian group, founded in 1960, has become an important networking and discussion organisation for younger (under 31) Labour Party activists and played a role in the 1994 election of Tony Blair as Labour Leader. Today there is also an active Fabian Women's Network and Scottish and Welsh Fabian groups.
On 21 April 2009 the Society's website stated that it had 6,286 members: "Fabian national membership now stands at a 35 year high: it is over 20% higher than when the Labour Party came to office in May 1997. It is now double what it was when Clement Attlee left office in 1951".
The latest edition of the Dictionary of National Biography (a reference work listing details of famous or significant Britons throughout history) includes 174 Fabians. Four Fabians, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Graham Wallas, and George Bernard Shaw founded the London School of Economics with the money left to the Fabian Society by Henry Hutchinson. Supposedly the decision was made at a breakfast party on 4 August 1894. The founders are depicted in the Fabian Window designed by George Bernard Shaw. The window was stolen in 1978 and reappeared at Sotheby's in 2005. It was restored to display in the Shaw Library at the London School of Economics in 2006 at a ceremony over which Tony Blair presided.
Influence on Labour government
With the advent of a Labour Party government in 1997, the Fabian Society was a forum for New Labour ideas and for critical approaches from across the party. The most significant Fabian contribution to Labour's policy agenda in government was Ed Balls's 1992 pamphlet, advocating Bank of England independence. Balls had been a Financial Times journalist when he wrote this Fabian pamphlet, before going to work for Gordon Brown. BBC Business Editor Robert Peston, in his book Brown's Britain, calls this an "essential tract" and concludes that Balls "deserves as much credit – probably more – than anyone else for the creation of the modern Bank of England"; William Keegan offers a similar analysis of Balls's Fabian pamphlet in his book on Labour's economic policy, which traces in detail the path leading up to this dramatic policy change after Labour's first week in office.
The Fabian Society Tax Commission of 2000 was widely credited with influencing the Labour government's policy and political strategy for its one significant public tax increase: the National Insurance rise to raise £8 billion for National Health Service spending. (The Fabian Commission had in fact called for a directly hypothecated "NHS tax" to cover the full cost of NHS spending, arguing that linking taxation more directly to spending was essential to make tax rise publicly acceptable. The 2001 National Insurance rise was not formally hypothecated, but the government committed itself to using the additional funds for health spending.) Several other recommendations, including a new top rate of income tax, were to the left of government policy and not accepted, though this comprehensive review of UK taxation was influential in economic policy and political circles, and a new top rate of income tax of 50% was introduced in 2010.
Fabianism outside the United Kingdom
The major influence on the Labour Party and on the English-speaking socialist movement worldwide, has meant that Fabianism became one of the main inspirations of international social democracy. Direct or indirect influence of the Fabians came on a lot of political movements elsewhere; for example, the liberal socialism of Carlo Rosselli (founder, with his brother Nello Rosselli, of the anti-fascist group's Giustizia e Libertà), and all its derivatives, such as the Action Party in Italy. The Community Movement, created by the socialist entrepreneur Adriano Olivetti, was then the only Italian party which referred explicitly to Fabianism, among his main inspirations along with federalism, social liberalism, fighting to partitocracy and social democracy.
During 2000 the Sicilian Fabian Society was founded in Messina.
The Fabian Society is governed by an elected Executive Committee. The committee consists of ten ordinary members elected from a national list, three members nationally elected from a list nominated by local groups, representatives from the Young Fabians, Fabians Women's Network and Scottish and Welsh Fabians. There is also one staff representative and a directly elected Honorary Treasurer from the membership. Elections are held every other year, with the exception of the Young Fabians and staff representation which are elected annually. The Executive Committee meet quarterly. The Executive Committee elect a Chair and at least one Vice Chair annually to conduct its business.
The Fabian Society have a number of employees based in their headquarters in London. The secretariat is led by a General Secretary who is the organisation's CEO. The staff are arranged into departments including Research, Editorial, Events and Operations.
Since 1960 members aged under 31 years of age are also members of the Young Fabians. This group has its own elected Chair, executive committee and sub-groups. The Young Fabians are a voluntary organisation that serves as an incubator for member-led activities such as policy and social events, pamphlets and delegations. Within the group are five special interest communities called Networks that are run by voluntary steering groups and elect their own Chair and officers. The current Networks are Finance, Health, International Affairs, Education and Communications (Industry). It also publishes the quarterly magazine Anticipations.
Fabian Women's Network
All female members of the Fabian Society are also members of the Fabian Women's Network. This group has its own elected Chair and Executive Committee which organises conferences and events and works with the wider political movement to secure increased representation for women in politics and public life. It has a flagship mentoring programme that recruits on an annual basis and its President is Seema Malhotra, a Labour Party and Co-operative MP. The Network also publishes the quarterly magazine, Fabiana, runs a range of public speaking events, works closely in partnership with a range of women's campaigning organisations and regularly hosts a fringe at the Labour Party conference.
In the early 1900s Fabian Society members advocated the ideal of a scientifically planned society and supported eugenics by way of sterilisation. In an article published in The Guardian on 14 February 2008 (following the apology offered by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the "stolen generations"), Geoffrey Robertson criticised Fabian socialists for providing the intellectual justification for the eugenics policy that led to the stolen generations scandal. However, this stands as an independent criticism of Fabianism as no other prominent lawyers, historians or political figures have been found to draw any such conclusion, other than Robertson himself. Such views on socialism, inequality and eugenics amongst 20th century Fabians was not a phenomenon limited to one individual or group of people; these were widely shared throughout a broad political spectrum.
Although H. G. Wells was a member of the Fabian Society from 1903 to 1908, he was a critic of its operations, particularly in his 1905 paper "The Faults of the Fabian," and parodied the society in his 1910 novel The New Machiavelli.
- Ethical movement
- Keir Hardie
- Labour Research Department
- List of Fabian Tracts to 1915
- List of think tanks in the United Kingdom
- New Statesman
- The New Age
- George Thomson (1 March 1976). "THE TINDEMANS REPORT AND THE EUROPEAN FUTURE" (PDF).
- Margaret Cole (1961). The Story of Fabian Socialism. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804700917.
- NZ Fabian Society
- Edward R. Pease, A History of the Fabian Society. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1916.
- Pease, 1916
- "The History of Essex Hall by Mortimer Rowe, Lindsey Press, 1959, chapter 5". Unitarian.org.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- Quoted in A.M. McBriar, Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884–1918.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966; p. 9.
- Perdue, Jon B. (2012). The War of All the People: The Nexus of Latin American Radicalism and Middle Eastern Terrorism (1st ed.). Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books. p. 97. ISBN 1597977047.
- Cole, Margaret (1961). The Story of Fabian Socialism. Stanford University Press . ISBN 978-1163700105.
- McBriar, Alan M. (1962). Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884-1918. Cambridge University Press.
- Pease, Edward R. (1916). The History of the Fabian Society.
- Matthews, Race (1993). Australia's First Fabians: Middle-class Radicals, Labour Activists and the Early Labour Movement. Cambridge University Press.
- See The Webbs on the Web bibliography
- Kevin Morgan, Labour Legends and Russian Gold: Bolshevism and the British Left, Part 1. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2006; p. 63.
- A full list of Fabian pamphlets is available at the Fabian Society Online Archive
- Fabian Society Archived 7 December 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
- Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought 1895–1914 (New York: Anchor, 1968), p. 63.
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- Dunham, William Huse (1975). "From Radicalism to Socialism: Men and Ideas in the Formation of Fabian Socialist Doctrines, 1881–1889". History: Reviews of New Books. 3 (10): 263. doi:10.1080/03612759.1975.9945148.
- Michael Barr (March 2000). "Lee Kuan Yew's Fabian Phase". Australian Journal of Politics & History. 46 (1): 110–126. doi:10.1111/1467-8497.00088.
- Amatzia Baram (Spring 2003). "Broken Promises". Wilson Quarterly. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
- L. M. Kenny (Winter 1963–1964). "The Goal of Arab Unification". International Journal. 19 (1): 50–61. doi:10.2307/40198692. JSTOR 40198692.
- Kamel S. Abu Jaber (Spring 1966). "Salāmah Mūsā: Precursor of Arab Socialism". Middle East Journal. 20 (2): 196–206. JSTOR 4323988.
- Press release, A piece of Fabian history unveiled at LSE, London School of Economics & Political Science Archives, Last accessed 23 February 2007
- Andrew Walker, Wit, wisdom and windows, BBC News, Last accessed 23 February 2007
- Mark Wickham-Jones (2005). "PARTY OFFICIALS, EXPERTS AND POLICY-MAKING: THE CASE OF BRITISH LABOUR" (PDF). r/ French Political Science Association.
- Sunder Katwala (14 September 2003). "Observer review: The Prudence of Mr Gordon Brown by William Keegan | By genre | guardian.co.uk Books". London: Politics.guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- Andrew Rawnsley, columnist of the year (22 December 2001). "Honesty turns out to be the best policy". The Observer. London. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- "Think tank calls for NHS tax". BBC News. 27 November 2000. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- "In defence of earmarked taxes – FT 07/12/00". Samuelbrittan.co.uk. 15 December 1994. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
- Leo Valiani, Socialismo liberale. Carlo Rosselli, tra Critica Sociale e Fabian Society
- Olivetti: comunitarismo e sovranità industriale nell’Italia postbellica
- Sicilian Fabian Society
- Freedland, Jonathan (17 February 2012). "Eugenics: the skeleton that rattles loudest in the left's closet". The Guardian.
- Geoffrey Robertson (13 February 2008). "We should say sorry, too". The Guardian. London.
- L.J. Ray (1983). "Eugenics, Mental Deficiency and Fabian Socialism between the Wars". Oxford Review of Education. 9 (3): 213. doi:10.1080/0305498830090305.
- Diane Paul (Oct–Dec 1984). "Eugenics and the Left". Journal of the History of Ideas. University of Pennsylvania Press. 45 (4). JSTOR 2709374.
- Christopher Badcock (2008). "Eugenics" (PDF). London School of Economics and Political Science.
- Taunton, Matthew. "H G Wells's politics". The British Library. Retrieved 2016-10-05.
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- David Howell, British Workers and the Independent Labour Party, 1888–1906. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983.
- A.M. McBriar, Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884–1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.
- Edward R. Pease, A History of the Fabian Society. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1916.
- Lisanne Radice, Beatrice and Sidney Webb: Fabian Socialists. London: Macmillan, 1984.
- George Bernard Shaw (ed.), Fabian Essays in Socialism. London: Fabian Society, 1931.
- George Bernard Shaw, The Fabian Society: Its Early History.  London: Fabian Society, 1906.
- Willard Wolfe, From Radicalism to Socialism: Men and Ideas in the Formation of Fabian Socialist Doctrines, 1881–1889. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975.
|Wikisource has the text of a 1905 New International Encyclopedia article about Fabian Society.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fabian Society.|
- Official website
- Finding Aid for the Fabian Society archives, British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics
- Fabian Society and Young Fabian Collection, British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics
- Annual Reports 1894-1918
- Fabian Tracts 1893-1990