In October 1883 Edith Nesbit and Hubert Bland decided to form a socialist debating group with their Quaker friend Edward Pease. Fabian Society British socialist society. An outgrowth of the Fellowship of the New Life (founded 1883 under the influence of Thomas Davidson), the society was developed the following year by Frank Podmore and Edward Pease. George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb joined soon after this and became its outstanding exponents.
The group achieved recognition with the publication of Fabian Essays (1889), with contributions by Shaw, Webb, Annie Besant, and Graham Wallas. The Fabians were opposed to the revolutionary theory of Marxism, holding that social reforms and socialistic “permeation” of existing political institutions would bring about the natural development of socialism. Repudiating the necessity of violent class struggle, they took little notice of trade unionism and other labor movements until Beatrice Potter (who later married Sidney Webb) joined the group. They subsequently helped create (1900) the unified Labour Representation Committee, which evolved into the Labour party. The Labour party adopted their main tenets, and the Fabian Society remains as an affiliated research and publicity agency.
They were also joined by Havelock Ellis and Frank Podmore and in January 1884 they decided to call themselves the Fabian Society. Podmore suggested that the group should be named after the Roman General, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who advocated the weakening the opposition by harassing operations rather than becoming involved in pitched battles.
The Fabians believed that capitalism had created an unjust and inefficient society. They agreed that the ultimate aim of the group should be to reconstruct “society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities”.
The Fabians adopted the tactic of trying to convince people by “rational factual socialist argument”, rather than the “emotional rhetoric and street brawls” of the Social Democratic Federation. The Fabian group was a “fact-finding and fact-dispensing body” and they produced a series of pamphlets on a wide variety of different social issues.
On 27th February 1900, Edward Pease represented the Fabian Society at the meeting of socialist and trade union groups at the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street, London. After a debate the 129 delegates decided to pass a motion to establish “a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips, and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to cooperate with any party which for the time being may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour.”
To make this possible the Conference established a Labour Representation Committee (LRC). This committee included two members from the Independent Labour Party, two from the Social Democratic Federation, one member of the Fabian Society, and seven trade unionists. Some members of the Fabian Society had doubts about this and Edward Pease personally paid the affiliation dues.
In 1912 Beatrice Webb established he Fabian Research Department. Its first secretary was Robin Page Arnot. He was later replaced by William Mellor. As Paul Thompson pointed out in his book, Socialist, Liberals and Labour (1967): “Its secretary was William Mellor and another leading member G. D. H. Cole, both young Oxford Fabians and both Guild Socialists. Together in April 1913 and March 1914 they led two attempts to disaffiliate the Fabian Society from the Labour Party. They failed, but when Cole resigned in 1915 he was able to take the Research Department with him, thus depriving the Fabian Society of its most talented younger members and resulting in its subsequent stagnation in the 1920s.”
Today, the society is a vanguard think tank of the New Labour movement. It is one of 15 socialist societies affiliated to the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and in the past the League for Social Reconstruction) and New Zealand.
In the period between the two World Wars, the “Second Generation” Fabians, including the writers R. H. Tawney, G. D. H. Cole and Harold Laski, continued to be a major influence on social-democratic thought.
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 social-democratic lines. Obafemi Awolowo who later became the premier of Nigeria’s 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 but was prevented from using it on a national level in Nigeria.
It is a little-known fact that the founder of Pakistan, Barrister 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, believing the Fabian ideal of socialism to be impractical.
Among many current and former Fabian academics are the late political scientist Bernard Crick, the late economists Thomas Balogh and Nicholas Kaldor and the sociologist Peter Townsend. prominent contemporary figures drawn to its socialist cause, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, George Orwell, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland, Edith Nesbit, Sydney Olivier, Oliver Lodge, Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf, Ramsay MacDonald and Emmeline Pankhurst.
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