Fabian socialism is a type of socialism founded in 1884 in Britain. It sought use of the democratic framework to achieve gradual conversion to socialism. This approach originated from the movement for utopian socialism. Its nine founding members were Frank Podmore, Edward R. Pease, William Clarke, Hubert Bland, Percival Chubb, Frederick Keddell, Henry Hyde 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.
The Fabians were influential in forming the ideas of the British Labour Party.
The Fabian Society is generally regarded as a derivative of a group "Fellowship of the New Life", though there is some disagreement about this. The Society derives its name from Fabius Maximus, a Roman general known for his delaying tactics. This was at the suggestion of Frank Podmore.
Coat of Arms
Ideologically, Fabians are quite different than other brands of socialism. Fabian socialists prefer evolutionary tactics over revolutionary tactics. This is a direct rejection of one of the most important parts of Marxism. This is seen with their choice of name; being named after Roman General Fabius, who preferred tactics of harassment and wearing down his enemies rather than directly engaging with them. This is also seen in their choice of mascot: the tortoise. One iteration of the Fabian tortoise contains the inscription When I strike, I strike hard. The Fabian preference for evolutionary socialism(achieving full socialism in multiple stages instead of one stage) is also reiterated in a summary slogan which was coined by Sidney Webb: The Inevitability of Gradualness.
Inevitability of Gradualness
The phrase Inevitability of Gradualness is a phrase that was coined by Sidney Webb, probably in small talk after the publication of his highly influential 1889 essay The Historic Basis of Socialism. In Historic, he went into detail about the importance of gradualness.
Gradualness was also written about by Bernard Shaw. He wrote:
|“||The necessity for cautious and gradual change must be obvious to everyone here, and would be made obvious to everyone elsewhere if only the catastrophists were courageously and sensibly dealtwith in discussion. What then does a gradual transition to Social Democracy means specifically? It means the gradual extension of the franchise; and the transfer of rent and interest to the state, not in one lump sum, but by instalments.||”|
Permeation is another ideological trait of Fabianism.
Along with their viewpoint of evolutionary socialism, the Society's exclusivity is the second of two major disagreements with Marxist ideology. The Dictatorship of the proletariat is a major part of Marxism and pretty much any "worker" can join and be a part of "the cause", but Fabians are highly exclusive. In examining their early membership: Shaw, the Webbs, Pease, Podmore, etc etc, they were all members of high society, well off, and highly educated. Shaw, Besant, Nesbit and others were all authors and academics and the Webbs were intellectuals. Others, like Hubert Bland were born into well-off families. Edward Pease noted that "W.L. Phillips, a house-painter, at that time the only "genuine working man" in our ranks."
Since its inception, the Young Fabians generally target college-educated youth.
For the reasons of Fabian exclusivity, some Marxists look upon Fabians as being members of the proletarian class.
London School of Economics
- McCarran, Margaret Patricia Fabianism in the Political Life of Britain - 1919-1931 (1954)
- Martin, Rose Fabian Freeway: High Road to Socialism in the U.S.A. (1968)
- Webb, Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Industrial Democracy (Originally published in 1897, link goes to 1902 publication), a highly influential statement by British Fabians.
- Pease, Edward R. The History of the Fabian Society (1912)
- Cole, Margaret The Story of Fabian Socialism (1961)
- (1961) The Story of Fabian Socialism. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-1163700105.
- (1962) Fabian Socialism and English Politics, 1884-1918. Cambridge University Press.
- (1916) The History of the Fabian Society.
- (1993) Australia's First Fabians: Middle-class Radicals, Labour Activists and the Early Labour Movement. Cambridge University Press.
- The Rise and Fall of England: 11. The Fabian Thrust to Socialism. The Freeman (January 01, 1969).
- (2005) Fabianism and Culture: A Study in British Socialism and the Arts C1884-1918. Cambridge University Press.
- Podmore wrote: "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"
- (2015) The Collected Works of George Bernard Shaw: Plays, Novels, Articles, Lectures, Letters and Essays: Pygmalion, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Candida, Arms and The Man, Man and Superman, Caesar and Cleopatra, Androcles And The Lion, The New York Times Articles on War, Memories of Oscar Wilde and more. “When we put our system before the English public there was not a single word about Karl Marx or any other foreign Socialist. From beginning to end Fabian Socialism was worked out on English lines with English thought, on English facts.”
- (2000) Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th Century, 942-943.
- (2007) Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice, 541-543.
- (1889) Fabian Essays in Socialism.
- (1889) Fabian Essays in Socialism. “In the present Socialist movement these two streams are united: advocates of social reconstruction have learnt the lesson of Democracy, and know that it is through the slow and gradual turning of the popular mind to new principles that social reorganization bit by bit comes. All students of society who are abreast of their time, Socialists as well as Individualists, realize that important organic changes can only be (i) democratic, and thus acceptable to a majority of the people, and prepared for in the minds of all; (2) gradual, and thus causing no dislocation, however rapid may be the rate of progress; (3) not regarded as immoral by the mass of the people, and thus not subjectively demoralizing to them; and (4) in this country at any rate, constitutional and peaceful. Socialists may therefore be quite at one with Radicals in their political methods. Radicals, on the other hand, are perforce realizing that mere political levelling is insufficient to save a State from anarchy and despair. Both sections have been driven to recognize that the root of the difficulty is economic; and there is every day a wider consensus that the inevitable outcome of Democracy is the control by the people themselves, not only of their own political organization, but, through that, also of the main instruments of wealth production; the gradual substitution of organized cooperation for the anarchy of the competitive struggle; and the consequent recovery, in the only possible way, of what John Stuart Mill calls "the enormous share which the possessors of the instruments of industry are able to take from the produce."1 The economic side of the democratic ideal is, in fact, Socialism itself.”
- (2013) Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture. Stanford University Press, 113-115.
- The Fabian 'theory' of socialism. Marxists.org. “In the top layers of the Labour Party, a certain number of Fabian intellectuals and liberals who have joined out of despair, but in the first place it is to be firmly hoped that workers will sooner or later sweep this dross out, and in the second place the four-and-a-half million votes which are cast for the Labour Party are already today (with minor exceptions) the votes of British workers. As yet by no means all workers vote for their party. But it is almost solely workers who do vote for the Labour Party. By this we do not at all mean that the Fabians, the ILPers and the Liberal defectors exert no influence on the working class. On the contrary, their influence is very great but it is not fixed. The reformists who are fighting against a proletarian class consciousness are, in the final reckoning, a tool of the ruling class. Throughout the whole history of the British Labour movement there has been pressure by the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat through the agency of radicals, intellectuals, drawing-room and church socialists and Owenites who reject the class struggle and advocate the principle of social solidarity, preach collaboration with the bourgeoisie, bridle, enfeeble and politically debase the proletariat.”