After reading this article you will learn about the importance of Fabian society.
The main factor behind the rise and growth of Fabian Socialism was to counteract the emergence of Marxian Socialism on the British soil.
The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 and all the major works of Marx and Engels were published between 1850 and 1883 when Marx died. Fabian Society came into being at the very beginning of 1884. By that time, Marx’s works were widely read and his brand of socialism was a much-talked subject.
The major works of Marx and Engels were translated into various European languages. The British people were determined to “save” their system of culture, tradition and politics from the “invasion” of Marxism or, more definitely, Marxian socialism.
On the contrary, they felt that socialism was the only way which could lift the people from the squalid condition and give them a decent living standard through the eradication of unemployment and exploitation.
The Fabian socialists wanted a type of socialism which would be in tune with the time-old tradition of Britain. This tradition is parliamentary democracy. Marx and Engels were philosophers and theoreticians. They were not serious at all how to popularize their doctrine of socialism.
This task was performed by Plekhanov, Lenin and a score of other leaders. But in Britain the Society shouldered the responsibility to propagate the basic principles of socialism and it also brought to light the evils of capitalism. Both Marx and Engels assertively predicted that because of its inherent contradiction capitalism would ultimately collapse.
The proletarians will fully utilize this situation and through revolutionary methods they will precipitate the collapse of capitalist system. The Fabians, on the other hand, were not at all eager in the collapse or breakdown of the capitalist system root and branch. They wanted to control it.
The publication of dozens of Fabian Tracts aroused sympathy and consciousness for and of socialism. In April 1884 the first Fabian Tract “Why are the many poor?” was published and within next few years 100,000 copies of this Tract were sold.
The sale of a pamphlet or a book might not always be a barometer of the popularity, but it is definitely a barometer of people’s interest about the idea contained in it.
There were top-ranking intellectuals and leading personalities behind the emergence and growing importance both of Fabian Society and Fabian Socialism. This considerably enhanced the prestige of the Fabian Society.
The popularity was not imposed from above, it was spontaneous. The association of persons like G. B. Shaw, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, H. G. Wells and the Webbs with the Society raised its status to a very high place.
The credit of the Society shall be counted from another angle. The necessity of planning for economic development or, more specifically, eradication of poverty, was strongly felt by the Society. The Society’s interest in planning was, of course, a sequel to miraculous success of the Soviet five year planning.
On the one hand, the Webbs wrote Soviet Communism – A New Civilization and on the other hand, W Arthur Lewis wrote a memorable small book The Principles of Economic Planning. Besides these two books there was another book on planning and price system.
It was Planning and Price Mechanism and the author was Meade. Needless to say that, in a bourgeois democratic state, planning is generally looked with suspicion. But for the first time in history Great Britain created an exception by giving serious and active thought to economic planning and this was done under the stewardship of the Fabian Society.
In the thirties of the last century the erstwhile Soviet Union adopted planning system for the purpose of time-bound economic development and, subsequently, several other countries of the Third World adopted planning system as a technique of economic development. However, the Fabian Society was the first in this field.
The Fabians’ contribution to political theory or political thought is less pronounced, but their contribution to practical working of government, efficient administration and economic activities of the state is really significant.
The overall deterioration of British society was an aftermath of the Industrial Revolution. Widespread evils of Industrial Revolution, mismanagement of economy and maladministration created indignation and suspicion in the minds of both Marxists and Fabians and this led them to think in terms of an alternative system.
So, instead of harping upon political obligation or the like, they concentrated their attention on how to build up an efficient administration and the foundation of a welfare state.
There is no doubt that the members of the Fabian Society seriously thought about the problems and miseries of the common people and the working class. One credit we must give to Fabian. They thought of the growing miseries of the people and started to find out a solution. In a sense the Fabians were, to some extent, practical- minded because they set up a society to implement the programmes.
The weakness was they wanted to keep the capitalist state structure intact and within it they desired to achieve socialist goals. And this was impossible. They failed to understand this simple truth. J. S. Mill, T. H. Green and several others were thinking about improving the economic conditions of the working people. But they did not start any practical programme.
Only the Fabian Society came forward with a well- chalked-out programme and clear policy, clarity which surpasses the ambiguities. The Fabians viewed the state mainly as an administration of public services and nationalized industries.
This is the most practical and useful function. As the source of coercive authority it will settle the disputes. But this was the secondary function to them. Today the enhanced role of the state envisaged by the Fabians may appear insignificant, but towards the end of the nineteenth and at the beginning of the twentieth century it was not insignificant, because there was a great wave of laissez- faire.
Many eminent persons have criticized Fabianism from more than one angle and many of these carry weight. Critics are of opinion that it is rather unfair to exaggerate the contribution of Fabian Society or importance of Fabian Socialism.
A comparison between Fabian Socialism and Marxian Socialism will reveal the unscientific character of the former. In a class society there shall always be an economically dominant class under whose control the base will always work and this base will determine the character of the superstructure.
Reforms, parliamentary initiative or factory legislation, experience teaches us, make certain concessions for the working class. But all these cannot free them from exploitation. Researchers have shown that the British Labour Party is dominated by Fabians and this party has come to power several times.
The Fabians believed that the emancipation of the working class was possible through evolutionary and parliamentary procedures. Many eminent persons ridiculed at the Fabian Society’s policy and programme. But the collapse of the Soviet system at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century has to some extent confirmed the objective and programme of the Fabians.
During the last one hundred years there had taken place remarkable progress in the financial conditions of the working class. This was chiefly due to the political consciousness and collective bargaining of the workers.
In all the capitalist countries the workers—by exerting pressures upon the industrialists have been able to ameliorate their economic conditions. The capitalists understand only one thing that is profit. They have no obligation to socialist principles or no sympathy for the sufferings of the workers. The subjugation of one nation by another nation was absolutely a non-issue to the Fabians.
The absence of national self-government never aroused any feeling or emotion in their mind. Shaw and Webb were impressed by the argument of efficiency and evolution.
The backward nations, in their opinion, would be benefited by their association with the civilized nations.
This argument today is untenable and highly condemnable. In 1895 the Webbs established the London School of Economics and Political Science and a staunch supporter of imperialism were appointed its director. Shaw once said “A Fabian must be an imperialist.”
The Fabians lent their unqualified support to the British policy towards South Africa. Their approach to imperialism was very much closer to Halford Mackinder’s theory of geopolitics. Shaw once said that the gobbling of nations was unfortunate but not immoral.
The Webbs were so much obsessed with imperialism that for a pretty long time they forgot Fabian Socialism and devoted their energy to the course of realpolitik.