After reading this article you will learn about Fabian Society:- 1. Establishment of Fabian Society 2. Origin of Fabian Society 3. Basis.
Establishment of Fabian Society:
Only after a century of Industrial Revolution its undesirable and harmful consequences were so pervasive that almost all the people of the weaker sections came under these consequences. They were more or less deprived of the benefits of Industrial Revolution and began to think about a way out.
It was a type of nightmarish situation. People were deprived of bare necessities such as food, residence, health facilities etc. Specially the working class was the victim. In a word, all-round deterioration gripped the British society.
In this situation it was thought by a large number of men that the setting up of a socialist society could save men from this situation. Some of the historians conclude that in the year 1883 Thomas Davidson, an American school teacher, took the initiative of forming the Fabian Society.
But this view has been contested by many others who hold that practically the society came into being on January 4, 1884 and Frank Podmore was the founding father. Other persons who got the opportunity to celebrate the birth of the society were Edward Pease, and granddaughter of Robert Owen, Dale Owen. Subsequently Bernard Shaw, the Webb couple, H. G. Wells and Graham Wallas with their efforts and intellect graced the Fabian Society.
The term Fabian Society was coined by Frank Podmore. In ancient Rome there was a famous and brave general whose name was Quintus Fabius Maximus Vemecosus, also known as Cunctator (‘Delayer’).
There is a common and interesting story that Fabius Cunctator was an intelligent and cautious military general. Before taking any decision he thought of its various aspects of consequences and justifiability.
His advice was a man must wait for the right moment patiently. It might cause delay, but cautious and prudential methods are always fruitful. Frank Pod-more and few others who participated at the opening of the society took the advice of Fabius Cunctator to their heart.
They fully realized that in order to mitigate the sufferings of toiling masses, capitalism would be overthrown. But one must wait for the right action moment. A right action in a right moment would never go in vain.
In other words, it was thought that everyone must wait for the most opportune moment. Otherwise success would never be achieved.
Studying the various aspects of British society the Fabians came to believe that a strong action was to be taken against capitalist oppressors and exploiters. But that situation had not yet arrived.
Naturally they must wait for that situation. They must study the nature and activities of capitalists, their strength and purposes. It was necessary to bring people into confidence. So they wanted to launch an intensive propaganda against the wrongs of capitalism.
The Fabians declared that their purpose was to establish socialism and it was not an overnight job. Lichtheim has said that the Fabians whole-heartedly supported the advice and technique of Fabius Cunctator and that is why they paid maximum emphasis upon caution. Because of this cautiousness the Fabian approach was evolutionary, gradual and moderate. There is no place of revolutionary tactics in their approach.
Origin of Fabian Society:
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, particularly during the seventies and eighties, on the one hand, Herbert Spencer, with all his intelligence and enthusiasm, was advocating the non-intervention of state for the sake of individual’s liberty.
On the other hand, a vast section of the British populace was fighting tooth and nail to save themselves from growing miseries and sufferings created by the Industrial Revolution. During the fag end of his life John Stuart Mill gave, to some extent reluctantly, permission to state interferences. Then appeared the renowned Oxford idealist and professor of Moral Philosophy—T. H. Green.
He unequivocally announced that the rapid moral degradation and miseries suffered by the people were chiefly due to the economic poverty and deterioration of all sorts of values and principles. So resuscitation of all values and ideals was of primary importance. The state must intervene in favour of the untaught and underfed denizens of London city.
It is the moral responsibility of the state to consider whether the opening of wine shops was necessary at all. Green and his fellow idealists reached a firm conclusion that politics, morality and economics were not elements of watertight compartments.
The prevailing objective social, economic, political and other conditions inspired some intellectuals to search for a new ideology on the basis of which a new society could be built up whose sole purpose would be to free common people from all sorts of miseries.
Fabian society circulated its brand of socialism which is known to us as Fabian Socialism. It is so called because the Fabian society fathered it.
Laissez-faire, individualism and state’s non-intervention in man’s economic and other activities were the guiding principles of the economic and social order of the Victorian Age (1837-1901). But the slow movement of economic growth, the gradual and rapid increase of competition among the capitalists of different nationalities and the adoption of protective tariffs questioned the justifiability of free trade.
Moreover, intermittent depressions and critical unemployment situation created deep-rooted and widespread suspicion in the minds of the people about the efficacy of capitalism as a progressive economic system and its potentiality to fight the evils that had been created by the prevailing economic system capitalism. In a word, capitalism was faced with challenges in the last decades of nineteenth century.
We shall focus our attention on the dismal picture of the economy. There was a remarkable slow growth rate from mid-1870s to mid-1890s in England and this has been termed by many as the Great Depression.
“Economically its most pronounced feature was a deceleration of economic growth and a fall in prices of commodities.” Between 1850s and 1870s (early part) the average growth rate was 3 percent. But after 1870s it was halved.
The impact of this depression was not confined within the British Isles, it spread far and wide. As a result of depression the prices of agricultural commodities fell considerably, the wages of the agricultural labourer came down to miserable level.
This sector of the economy was looked upon as un-remunerative. Millions of people left the village to swell the urban population and industrial labour force. The economic depression hit hard the people of both rural and urban areas. There was a clear imbalance between the rural and urban areas. This was not a healthy sign for Britain.
“The depression had its effects on industry too. Growing competition from overseas rivals, a heavy export of capital and consequent under-investment at home, and a growing deficit on a trade balance were features which began to erode some of the self-confidence.”
Although England was industrially developed its technical education system was not up to mark. There was a gap between England and other West European countries, particularly Germany, so far as technical education was concerned.
The British capitalists wanted to expand foreign trade but there it had to face keen competition and it was difficult for them to reap the fruits of foreign trade fully. The depression might have been fought away. But the ways were beyond the reach of the authority.
The foreign trade could be expanded. But for this was required political subjugation. The growing national liberation movements in the Third World states stood on the way of political subjugation. In the home front there was very little scope of the expansion of market because depression and other factors had considerably curtailed the purchasing power of the people of urban areas.
The rural people were comparatively poor. Particularly the economic condition of the agricultural labourers was miserable. All these combinedly made the British economy miserable.
The unregulated capitalist economy was largely suspected as the root of the evils. The spread of Marx’s thought and ideas, on the one hand, evil effects of capitalism, and the failure of the Industrial Revolution to meet the necessary requirements of common and working people convinced the general mass of the necessity of governmental intervention.
Parliamentary commissions, factory legislations and social investigations were suggested as remedies to the evils of post-Industrial Revolution society. Welfare schemes were needed to meet the growing demands.
It was strongly felt and admitted that any civilized government must do something to give relief to its toiling and helpless masses. During the last decades of the nineteenth century, a sizeable section of the British society came to the conclusion that if the natural resources were properly utilized and wings of capitalism were cut, the miserable conditions of the poor people could be arrested.
Material condition could also be improved. Private enterprise should have freedom to conduct the economy but in the case of its failure the government must come forward to ensure the desired results. That is, private control over the economy cannot be allowed ad infinitum.
In this connection we can quote an observation of a Fabian socialist:
“All seemed to point to the fact that free market principles, the religion of economic individualism and laissez-faire could not coordinate the vast interdependent organization of modern industry. In many areas an extension of public responsibility was required and the setting up and funding of public administration which could provide the collective services the society required, and which it would not otherwise get.”
The Fabians formed a part of a ferment of social and political thought which began to reassess the ethical basis and effectiveness of both capitalism and liberalism in providing for the spiritual and physical needs of society.
Amidst the many voices which addressed the social and political questions of the day, the early Fabians emerged as a group. This group wanted political and administrative changes which were not directed to socialism but to a Socialist direction.
Very few enthusiastic persons took active interest about how to come out of the crisis. Those who took interests finally decided to set up a new society whose objectives and ideals would be to set up a socialist society.
In January 1884, a year after Marx died, handful of persons set up the Fabian Society and the socialist ideas propagated by it are known as Fabian Socialism.
The founding Fabians published the first Fabian tract under the title “Why Are the Many Poor?” The tract sold like hot cake. Within a year of its formation a number of great intellectuals joined the Fabian Society and most important of them were the “Big Four” Sidney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Oliver and Graham Wallas. These Big Four took the leading part in the Fabian movement.
During the first two or three years the Fabian Society confined its activities within discussion, analysis and debate. It could not make much headway in the practical field. After 1886, the Fabian Society decided to participate in the metropolitan politics.
Basis for the Fabian Society:
The Fabians agreed that “The competitive system assures the happiness and comfort of the few at the expense of the suffering of the many and that the society must be reconstituted in such a manner as to secure the general welfare and happiness.”
To this end they proposed the following principles which were issued in 1887 as the “Basis for the Fabian Society.” The “Basis” is a document containing the objectives and programmes of the Society. From the writings and activities we can draw the conclusion that the Fabians were quite serious about the function of the Society. They thought that the setting up of a socialist society in the Fabian way could emancipate people. Naturally they did not take the issue of socialism lightly or half-heartedly.
The “Basis” starts with the declaration – “The Fabian Society consists of socialists.” This declaration is significant. The members are all socialists and, therefore, their only goal is socialism.
Only the socialist path is the way of emancipation. The working of capitalism during the past centuries, particularly the century after the Industrial Revolution, was the chief cause of miseries and sufferings of masses of men.
The socialism which the Fabians professed to achieve was based on the obvious evolution of society which existed around them. It was not based on the speculation of German philosophers. It was not prefixed by “scientific”.
The edifice of Fabian Socialism was built upon the foundation of political and social institutions which existed in England. So when the Fabians pontifically declared themselves as socialists, the term had a particular connotation. The Fabians had no intention to alienate themselves from the tradition.
What are the objectives of the Fabian Society? The Society aims at the reorganization of society by the emancipation of land and industrial capital from individual and class ownership, and the vesting of them in the community for the general benefit.
In this way only can the natural and acquired advantages of the country be equitably shared by the whole people. Here it is clear that land and capital are the two important factors of production and these two must be released from the private ownership and be placed under the management of society for the common benefit. Feudalism and industrial capitalism both deprived the masses of their legitimate share in national wealth.
The society accordingly works for the abolition of private property in land and of consequent individual appropriation, in the form the rent, of the price for permission to use the earth, as well as for the advantages of superior soils and sites.
The society further works for the transfer to the community of the administration of such industrial capital as can conveniently be managed socially. For, owing to the monopoly of the means of production in the past, industrial inventions and the transformation of surplus income into capital have mainly enriched the proprietary class, the worker now being dependent on that class for leave to earn a living.
If these means be carried out without compensation (though not without such relief to expropriated individuals as may seem fit to the community), Rent and Interest will be added to the reward of labour, the idle class now living on the labour of others will necessarily disappear, and practical equality of opportunity will be maintained by the spontaneous action of economic forces with much less interference with personal liberty than the present system entails.
This general objective can be divided into three parts – there shall be no provision of paying compensation when the property, i.e., land and capital, is taken away. In special circumstances, compensation may be given.
Next, if land and capital are placed under the management of society, labourers will get the benefit of rent and interest. Finally, if the above objectives are carried out successfully the systems of idle class and unearned income will come to an end resulting in the emancipation of the exploited people.
For the attainment of these ends the Fabian Society looks to the spread of socialist opinions, and the social and political changes consequent thereon, including the establishment of equal citizenship for men and women.
It seeks to achieve these ends by the general dissemination of knowledge as to the relation between individual and society, in its economic, ethical and political aspects.
A cursory study of the above objectives reveals that so far as the objectives of Fabian Socialism and Marxian Socialism are concerned there is very little difference between the two varieties of socialism. But this should not lead one to jump upon the conclusion that both are without any difference.
The aim of both is the nationalization of the sources of production and to ensure the collective management. This will terminate the system of unearned income. The collective management will open the opportunities for the common people to share the reward derived from land and capital.
The fundamental point of disagreement between Fabian socialists and Marxian socialists relates to the method of attaining the socialist goals. Fabians insisted upon the evolutionary techniques whereas Marxists thought that only a class struggle leading to revolution could make an end of the system.
Marx did not treat socialism as an end. To him it was an intermediate stage between capitalism and communism. But to Fabians it was the goal or final stage.
The Fabian socialism can be called the extension of socialized liberalism or idealized liberalism propounded by Thomas Hill Green. Marxian socialism was indebted to British political economy, German idealism and Utopian Socialism.