After reading this article you will learn about the position of State in Fabian socialism.
In the British political system the state was out and out a bourgeois state ruled and fully controlled by the capitalists. But, on the contrary, in the socialism sponsored by Fabian Society the state must play a vital role and the common people and working class must have a say.
If the prevailing bourgeois state were to be kept intact, the state-sponsored socialism proposed by the Fabian Society would create conflict and problem. Some of the leading members of the Fabian Society were aware of it and sought a solution to this complex situation. H. G. Wells thought that in the proposed system of socialism the state must play a dominant role and this state must start with the capital letter “S”.
H. G. Wells and others were sure that if the state were not allowed to play the dominant role in the building up of socialism there is hardly any scope of achieving socialism. The interesting fact is that the actual role of the state in Fabian type of socialism was not clearly defined.
At the very beginning of the society its members took very little interest about the various aspects of state. Though it was set up in 1884 it took long thirty six years to publish a book on the social welfare state. In 1920, Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb published their famous book A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain.
The Webbs made serious attempt in the Constitution and also in their earlier work Industrial Democracy to describe the various functions of the state or, what they sometimes called, the political organization of society.
According to the Webbs there are three general and very significant functions of state or political institutions of society. The first is that the state is the repository of the coercive power.
It is minimum and essential power. With the help of this power the state exercises its authority to defend the sovereignty and integrity, maintains law and order and, finally, establishes justice. The state is the final arbiter of all disputes.
There is a second function and it is the “administration of public services and nationalized industries.” To the Fabians it was an important function. One of the goals of Fabian Society was the nationalization of industries.
After nationalization the state will take the full responsibility of the management of all nationalized industries. Finally, the state was to them an instrument for building up a future society.
The state must promote a civilization commensurate with socialist ideals.
The Webbs and many other front-ranking members of the Fabian Society were against the coercive power of state and, because of this, they were in favour of state without coercive power.
In the earlier centuries the state was mainly treated as the source of police power. The utilitarians and many other thinkers, in their inordinate zeal to safeguard individual freedom, recommended a considerable curtailment of the state authority.
The Webbs decided to traverse the same track.
In their Industrial Democracy we find them saying:
“With the change of time and the manifold objective conditions of society the character and functions of authority have undergone spectacular changes. What were originally the police powers has become increasingly administration of public services in fact merely house-keeping on a national scale. The Government has passed from an autocratic monarch, whether a person, a class or an official hierarchy, to whom we owe loyalty and obedience and has become, in these departments of its work, a busy house-keeper, whose object is to serve the citizens and to whom we owe only such adherence to common rules and such mutual considerations as will permit the civic household to be comfortable”.
To put the state within certain limits so that it cannot create obstructions to the attainment of socialist programmes the Webbs suggested a twofold division of functions. One part would deal with criminal law and political dominion and the other part with the social and economic administration.
The Webbs have no faith on civil service. The bureaucrats are conservative and secretive. The administration of nationalized industries is not to be vested in the hands of bureaucrats, but in a board of directors.
The Webbs also proposed a social parliament. The picture of the Fabian state drawn by the Webbs suffers from several shortcomings. First of all, Webbs’s reply to the question who govern Britain was “the bureaucracy.” Who ought to govern? The Webbs said everybody or nobody. The last answer indicates nothing. Actually, in Webbs’s time, the elites ruled Britain and even today they are ruling.
Only a handful of persons coming out of Oxford and Cambridge universities are at the helm of state administration. Secondly, the Webbs thought that only a coordinating body or a board of directors would be able to manage the nationalized industries. This is quite wrong. The management is so complex that untrained board of directors or coordinating body cannot properly shoulder the responsibility of management.
The dream of a socialist state will come true if a group of persons whose number will be quite adequate with proper training and missionary zeal were vested with the task of administration.
Here again the concept of elite appears. Whatever it may be, training is a vital part of the management of socialist state. The objection of the Webbs couple against bureaucracy is quite justified. But it is unfortunate that these learned members of the society failed to offer any pragmatic solution. What would be replaced in the vacant place of bureaucracy?
The controversy that raged the leading members of the Fabian Society still is to be found. If the intellectuals try to control the socialist system the entire administrative system will face problem because a well managed administration requires able and expert administrators who are called bureaucrats. Many of the Fabian socialists were wary of the dubious role of the bureaucrats.
The Fabian Society failed to offer an alternative to bureaucracy. The result was that in the socialist system of Britain (if it is to be called a socialist system at all) the bureaucracy came to control the entire political and economic systems. Even in the former Soviet Union the bureaucracy played the most crucial role in state administration.