This article provides notes on Fabian socialism and Evolutionary socialism.
After a thorough analysis of the recorded history of the world Marx (1818-1883) and Engels arrived at the conclusion that the working class was always oppressed and exploited by the economically dominant class. They also said that since the interests of the two principal classes proletariat and bourgeois are irreconcilable.
The inevitable result is the struggle between these two classes. After the struggle the proletarians will set up a socialist society. So we find that socialist society can emancipate the people and, without struggle, socialist society can never come into existence.
Exploitation, struggle and setting up of a society with the avowed purpose of achieving socialism are all related issues and capitalism is associated with these concepts. Rather capitalism is the central figure or concept. But there are two vital issues emancipation of the working class and without struggle this is not possible.
The Fabian socialists of England admitted the necessity of a new socialist way which would combat the evils of society. But they firmly announced their disapproval of any revolution or destruction of capitalism.
Only the evolutionary tactics such as factory legislation, parliamentary commissions, and reforms could be adopted to serve the purpose. They also thought that these methods were more effective than the revolutionary methods.
Socialism achieved through these evolutionary tactics or gradual methods or reforms may aptly be called evolutionary socialism. In the evolutionary socialism there is no place of Marx’s class struggle or armed revolution. Nor could the Fabian Society rely on coercive method. Only through gradual tactics could socialist goals be achieved.
For the Fabians themselves, the aim remained the gradual transformation of capitalism into a form of welfare state which would find it necessary to take into ownership and control the means of production.
It is obvious that the Fabians realized that capitalism was the cause of post-Industrial Revolution evils. It could be rectified and amended and not destroyed and ended.
The gradualism to them was the only way. Almost in the same tone G. D. H. Cole and Rayomond Postgate have said “Fabianism was the new Benthamism, seeking the greatest happiness of the greatest number, not by means of laissez-faire, but through the collective control of the economic forces of society, and regarding socialism as simply the logical consummation of a progressive policy of social reform.”
It may naively be stated that Fabian socialism in an indirect way combines both Benthamise utilitarianism and Marxian socialism.
It says that by setting up a socialist society through evolutionary methods the lofty ideal the greatest good of the greatest number- could be achieved.
The methods of the Fabians were reformist, permeative and evolutionary. Persuasion and not coercion was the method advocated by them.
G. D. H. Cole elsewhere says:
“It envisaged socialism as a heap of reforms to be built by the droppings of a host of successive swallows who would in the end make a socialist summer.”
The method of the Fabian socialism is the peaceful way. Persuasion, parliamentary intervention and many other peaceful means will ensure the transition of society from capitalism to socialism.
The Fabian Socialists borrowed the idea of evolutionism from Darwin and Comte—who was its great ad vacates. The development or change of society, they viewed, in the light of evolution.
It has been observed by Lichtheim that the British socialists were positivists in that they regarded themselves as disciples of Comte. Comte does not make it clear that capitalism is to be destroyed or at least it should be controlled.
Of course, he has indirectly said that it should be progressively used. But his followers have asserted that a compromise between capital and labour is to be effected and, in that case, the destruction of capitalism will not be required.
The Fabian socialists believed that the reformers and Parliament would have to lake the leadership. Evolutionary methods are time-consuming, but, ultimately, they pay.
A pertinent question may arise here. Why did the Fabians select the reforming and evolutionary methods to achieve socialist goals? The simple answer is that in Britain there was a tradition of parliamentary democracy and liberalism.
The liberal institutions were not the instruments of achieving socialism, but they were always used to fight social, economic and political injustice.
The Fabians realized that only socialism could save the country and to that extent they were influenced by Marx. But simultaneously they realized that revolution or armed struggle was not the way. The Fabians were brought up in the tradition of liberalism and democratic forms and they did not want to throw them away.
The socialism envisaged by the Fabian Society is generally called evolutionary socialism because in this type of socialism there is no place of revolution or armed struggle or abruptness.
Socialism is the goal but it could be achieved step by step or gradually. It means that the democratic process is the best way to reach the socialist goals.
At the time of foundation the members of the Fabian Society were middle class people.
Bernard Shaw once said:
“We were than middle class all through. We know the middle class people are generally not in favour of revolution. Their weakness is for gradualism and reformism.”
Moreover, members of the society thought that revolution would ultimately lead to the predominance of working class. Bentham’s utilitarianism was meant for the participation of middle class people in the affairs of the state.
These middle class people towards the last decades of the nineteenth century came forward to establish their influence and to curtail the power of the capitalist class. For one reason or other, middle class men were firmly convinced that the capitalists would not be allowed further to control the society.
Fabian Socialism is the direct by-product of that mentality. Translation of middle class aspiration originated with Bentham and it, to a large extent, reached a comfortable position during Fabian movement.
This was encouraged by the contemporary intellectuals of England. Besides Bernard Shaw, there were professor Graham Wallas, noted author H. G. Wells, Annie Besant, Sidney Webb and his wife Beatrice Webb.
There were many other academicians. All of them did not look at the growth of capitalism with a favourable eye. It is interesting to note that the persons who were associated with the founding of Fabian Society were all great intellectuals and prominent personalities.
This indicates that these great luminaries of the nineteenth century Britain were, for one reason or other, dissatisfied with the activities of capitalism. They sincerely wanted an end not of capitalism but the activities of capitalism.
They wanted the reforms and to some extent the rehabilitation of capitalism but not its abolition. Because abolition of capitalism meant armed struggle and revolution.