Socialism: Fabian and Marxist Socialism!
Fabian socialism is a variety of socialism. For the propagation of socialist ideals and ideas the Fabian Society was formed in 1883 (some say that it was established in 1884). The purpose of the Fabian Society was to reach the goals of socialism through evolutionary or parliamentary process and to avoid revolution or armed struggle.
A large number of the nineteenth century intellectuals of Britain were the founders of Fabian socialism and at the top of the list was G. D. H. Cole (1889- 1959). Besides Cole there was Sidney Web (1859-1959). Besides Cole there was Sidney Web (1859-1947), Beatrice Webb (1858-1943). The Fabian socialists did not favour the revolutionary methods for setting up socialism. They believed that the parliamentary methods would produce far better results.
This can be better said in the words of G. D. H. Cole: “I am not a communist but a good Fabian socialist precisely because I fear that a communist revolutionary by sweeping too much away, would enthrone in the minds of the new generation the iron spirit of the mass- producing machine, whereas a milder socialist revolution could bring to the control of the machine the liberal spirit that values difference and reckons suffering at a high rate in the scale of things to be put down”.
It is amply clear from Cole’s observation that he had no quarrel with the objectives of revolutionary socialism. His objection is against the methods of revolutionary socialism. The primary method of this variety of socialism is armed struggle and violence. Large number of people, Cole and his associates claimed, had strong apathy against violence.
Programme of Fabian Socialism:
Fabian socialism envisages a complete restructuring of society and the restructuring relates to the economic, political and social systems:
(1) The socialists (especially the Marxists) thought of capturing the state power because in their judgment it was the instrument of exploitation. But the Fabians did not see or treat the state in that light. They felt the necessity of state and it was the ultimate arbiter of all disputes. Though powers shall be rested in the hands of state it would have no opportunity to exercise it arbitrarily.
(2) Another programme of the Fabian socialists is that economic power should be so restructured as to reduce the economic inequalities among classes and people to a minimum and tolerable level. Fabian’s advocacy for nationalisation of key industries does not surprise us. But they did not support the management of the entire economy by the state.
(3) Fabian programmes also include the spread and propagation of socialist ideas and ills of unbridled capitalism among the masses of men. Without it, Fabians believed, setting up of socialism or implementation of poverty-reducing programmes would never be possible.
(4) The functions of the state would be to improve the conditions and make way for the advent of socialism and not to curb freedom.
(5) Fabian Socialism s plan was to transfer the rent and wealth from the hands of the minority to the hands of the general public.
(6) The Fabians fully realised the ills of capitalism, but they did not want its abolition. Rather, they preferred a chained capitalism.
(7) The controls of the state or parliament over the economy shall be ensured to stop the development of aberration.
Methods of Fabian Socialism:
The main difference between revolutionary socialism and evolutionary socialism rests in the method of setting up socialist society. The Fabian socialism which is a branch or form of evolutionary socialism, believes that mainly through parliamentary processes socialists’ goals can be achieved. Parliamentary processes denotes universal adult franchise, periodic election, vote, to send representatives through elections, to enact law by parliament etc.
It further means a that parliament will make law specifying the working hour, wages of the labourer, amount of profit and other details which the industries must strictly follow. Any aberration from the general rules laid down by parliament will be followed by severe strictures. There are also democratic methods of changing society.
These include to launch peaceful agitations, protests and strikes. People can oppose the illegal measures of the capitalists and through agitation they can force the capitalists either to change the methods or to amend so that the interests of the workers are protected. Introduction of reforms is another democratic method.
The government may introduce certain reforms with the promises of far-reaching results and these reforms can change the economic system of the society. In liberal systems there is ample scope to participate in the political and other functions of the state and through this participation the people can put a check upon the industrialists and at the same time create pressure upon the authority. The capitalists may or will reconsider their policies and the state will force them.
Socialism and Gradualism:
Evolutionary socialists (read Fabian socialists) were optimist about the founding of socialism through democratic methods. The logic of the democratic method appeared to the evolutionary socialists irresistible. They were also optimist that revolution or armed struggle or violence can ensure temporary benefit or relief but in the long run revolution may cause disastrous results such as it may destroy the good or normal relations among various sections of people, or it may cause havoc.
For these reasons the Fabian socialist laid stress on the democratic methods. Such methods are absolutely gradual in nature. In gradualism, it has been asserted, there is no place of abruptness. The socialists will proceed step by step and in every step people will participate in the gigantic task of building socialist society. The workers will fight for the extension of democratic rights such as franchise, periodic election etc.
The broadened democracy will open the opportunities for the people to participate in the affairs of state. It. means expansion of democracy. People will get more and more rights and this will ensure equality. Both political and economic equality will ultimately be facts.
The pressure of democratic forces will compel the capitalists to come to the terms of the workers. Needless to say that all these will not appear in the scene abruptly, they will make their appearance gradually. Thus socialism is closely linked with democratic methods and the latter are undoubtedly gradual. Hence socialism and gradualism are connected.
Definition and Bases:
We shall now start an analysis of a very controversial and vast aspect of socialism. From the study of history of social development Marx formed the conclusion that in every epoch there were two main classes in society, one was exploiting class and the other was exploited.
The first was numerically small but economically powerful and the latter was numerically big but economically weak. Because of the material reasons there were always conflicts between the two opposite classes and the conflict reached the zenith in the industrial society when the class structure assumed clear forms.
The economically powerful class by dint of its position to control economy also controlled the policies and state. The numerically greater class because of its weak economic and political position continued to be exploited by the powerful class. Marx and Engels—for the emancipation—devised a system or type of society which would be able to emancipate the common people from this exploitation.
This system (based or economic and political) is popularly known as socialism because both of them were convinced that only a socialist society could bring about a relief for the workers. Thus to Marx and Engels socialism was a type of social system meant to effect an emancipation for all oppressed people. This socialism is based on “scientific principles” and that is why it is also called scientific socialism.
The scientific principles are the materialist conception of history and, dialectical materialism. The scientific principles are the driving forces of social, economic and political actions and all these lead to the establishment of socialism.
Historical materialism designates that view of the course of history which seeks the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all important historic events in the economic development of society, in the changes in the modes of production and exchange, in the consequent division of society into distinct classes and in the struggle of these classes against one another.
In Socialism Utopian and Scientific Engels further states that the materialist conception of history (or historical materialism) starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life … and the exchange of things produced is the basis of all social structure.
The final causes of all social changes and the political revolution are to be sought, not in men’s minds, not in men’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in the changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch.
The above is the briefest exposition of historical materialism. Engels has used two very important words social changes. In order to study the social changes the materialist aspect of society is to be studied thoroughly and seriously. He also mentions political revolution. Social changes are to be caused by political revolutions.
We can confidently designate social change as socialism. For effecting social change (or revolutionary socialism) the only way is revolution which Engles calls political. It is political because the revolutionaries will seize power of the state (which is political) through the instrumentality of revolution.
A very important element of Marx’s theory of socialism is dialectical materialism. Dialectic is defined as the theory of the union of opposites. The term was originally used by the Greek philosophers and it was largely used and popularised by Plato who used it in debate between him and his disciples. Hegel (1770-1831) used the concept to explain the “world spirit”.
He believed that history amounted to the unfolding of the world spirit. According to Hegel world spirit moves through thesis which means proposition, the antithesis denies or in Hegelian term negates and synthesis embraces the truth which contains in both thesis and antithesis. Hegelian dialectic was used not only to explain spirit but also idealism.
Marx rejected Hegel’s application of dialectic to idealism but accepted the central idea of dialectic—that is thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Engels has made a difference between Hegelian dialectic and Marxian dialectic.
The old dialectic looked upon the previous history as a crude heap of irrationality and violence. It discussed the movement of ideas from one stage to the next stage. It ignored that fact that there could not be any idea without matter.
At first there was matter and this created an idea or impression in the mind of man. Applying dialectic to the study of society and its stages of development Marx said that originally (that is ancient communist society) there were no classes and such a society in the account of Marx was thesis.
The emergence of classes led to the division of society into opposite classes that resulted in class conflict. This was due to the clash of interests between the classes and it is antithesis. Through class struggle the proletariat class will capture state power, abolish class structure and finally establish classless society which is synthesis.
Birth of Socialism:
The study of history commencing from primitive communism—unfolds the interesting fact that the social development evolves from one stage to another and it has reached, in Marx’s time, the industrial society. But according to Marx this is not the final stage because the industrial society contains the seeds of conflict which is the stage of antithesis. This stage can never be the penultimate stage of social development—until and unless synthesis stage is reached – dialectic will go on from one stage to a higher one.
In Marx’s account communism is the final phase of social progress and when society will reach that phase dialectic will stop (at least for some time). Socialism, according to Marx and Engels, is an intermediate phase between capitalism and communism.
From the analysis of Marx we come to know that the arrival of socialism (as well as communism) is inevitable. At an industrial society, the progress cannot stop. An industrial society is never a contradiction—free and conflict—free society and chiefly because of that reason dialectic’s movement will not stop.
Moreover, from the study of history Marx arrived at the conclusion that in past no “imperfect” society has stopped to move. Here the word imperfect has been used in special sense. A society characterised by contradictions is not to be called perfect. Only a communist society is perfect.
We thus find that scientific analysis is actively present behind the emergence of socialism. Marx has said that though socialism and later on communism were inevitable, this does not mean that workers and socialists have nothing to do. They will not fall from sky.