4/4/08

Our Progressive Century (5)


The Fabian Society - Creeping Socialist British Invasion

The United States was not always a Progressivist nation. The beginning of Our Progressive Century started in Europe with the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, where long-repressed German socialism began to blossom and give birth to organized labor and militant class warfare on the continent. The Russian Revolution was still on the horizon. And the sun never set on the British Empire.

Non-native Progressivism was imported to the U.S. at the same time as socialism began to infect the entire world. Perhaps the most instrumental purveyors of the new thinking were members of the socialist Fabian Society, founded in 1884 by Frank Podmore and Edward Pease. Fabians believe in the slow, incremental progress of socialism. Over time, Fabian Society members founded what are now considered main-stream institutions such as the London School of Economics and the British Labour Party. The society is very active to this day.

Its members have included George Bernard Shaw (before AlGore, the only winner of both the Nobel Peace Prize and an Oscar), the author and friend-of-Teddy H.G. Wells, the short-term thinker and legendary economist John Maynard Keynes, the long-serving "Third Way" ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the current Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

History

In 1883 a group of British socialists had banded together to found a civic association called the Fellowship of the New Life (under the influence of Thomas Davidson). After a year, members wanted to pursue a political agenda, and two members - Podmore and Pease ( also a founder of London School of Economics) - founded the Fabian Society. The Fabians were opposed to the revolutionary theory of Marxism, holding that social reforms and socialistic “permeation” of existing political institutions would bring about the natural development of socialism. They eventually gave birth to the British Labour Party.

The society was founded on 4 January 1884 in London as an offshoot of a society founded in 1883 called The Fellowship of the New Life. Fellowship members wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. But when some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society's transformation, it was decided that a separate society, The Fabian Society, also be set up.

Among Fabian Society members were H.G. Wells, who was entertained by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, and the labor economist John Maynard Keynes, whose theories have been used to justify a massive expansion of government interventionism around the world ("In the long run, we are all dead.") and encroachment into the civic sphere ("The biggest problem is not to let people accept new ideas, but to let them forget the old ones.") for more than 70 years. Long-discredited schemes like "economic stimulus" are still observed in the United States, an homage to Keynesian socialism.

George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb joined soon after this and became its outstanding exponents. The group achieved recognition with the publication of Fabian Essays (1889), with contributions by Shaw, Webb, Annie Besant, and Graham Wallas. The Fabians were opposed to the revolutionary theory of Marxism, holding that social reforms and socialistic “permeation” of existing political institutions would bring about the natural development of socialism. Repudiating the necessity of violent class struggle, they took little notice of trade unionism and other labor movements until Beatrice Potter (who later married Sidney Webb) joined the group. They subsequently helped create (1900) the unified Labour Representation Committee, which evolved into the Labour party. The Labour party adopted their main tenets, and the Fabian Society remains as an affiliated research and publicity agency.

from wikipedia:

The Fabian Society is a British socialist movement, whose purpose is to advance the principles of Social democracy via gradualist, rather than revolutionary means. It is best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning late in the Nineteenth century and continuing up to World War I.

The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the Decolonisation of the British Empire, especially India. The society is still in existence today and forms a vanguard "Think tank" of the centre-left New Labour movement. It is one of fifteen socialist societies affiliated to the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and in past the League for Social Reconstruction) and New Zealand.

The Fellowship of the New Life was dissolved in 1898, but the Fabian Society grew to become the preeminent academic society in the United Kingdom in the Edwardian era, typified by the members of its vanguard Coefficients club.

Immediately upon its inception, the Fabian Society began attracting many prominent contemporary figures drawn to its socialist cause, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland, Edith Nesbit, Sydney Olivier, Oliver Lodge, Leonard Woolf, Ramsay MacDonald and Emmeline Pankhurst. Even Bertrand Russell later became a member. The two members John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White were delegates at 1944's United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, commonly known as the Bretton Woods Conference.

The group, which favoured gradual incremental change rather than revolutionary change, was named — at the suggestion of Frank Podmore — in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus (nicknamed "Cunctator", meaning "the Delayer"). His Fabian strategy advocated tactics of harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal Barca.

The first Fabian Society pamphlets advocating tenets of Social justice coincided with the zeitgeist of Liberal reforms during the early 1900's. The Fabian proposals however were considerably more progressive than those that were enacted in the Liberal reform legislation. The Fabians lobbied for the introduction of a minimum wage in 1906, for the creation of a Socialised healthcare system in 1911, and for the abolition of hereditary peerages in 1917.

Fabian socialists were in favour of an imperialist foreign policy as a conduit for internationalist reform and a welfare state modelled on the Bismarckian German model; they criticised Gladstonian liberalism both for its individualism at home and its internationalism abroad. They favoured a national minimum wage in order to stop British industries compensating for their inefficiency by lowering wages instead of investing in capital equipment; slum clearances and a health service in order for "the breeding of even a moderately Imperial race" which would be more productive and better militarily than the "stunted, anaemic, demoralised denizens...of our great cities"; and a national education system because "it is in the class-rooms that the future battles of the Empire for commercial prosperity are already being lost".

The Fabians also favoured the nationalization of land, believing that rents collected by landowners were unearned, an idea which drew heavily from the work of American economist Henry George.

Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1900, and the group's constitution borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the Fabian Society. At the Labour Party Foundation Conference in 1900, the Fabian Society claimed 861 members and sent one delegate.

In the period between the two World Wars, the "Second Generation" Fabians, including the writers R. H. Tawney, G. D. H. Cole, and Harold Laski, continued to be a major influence on social-democratic thought.

It was at this time that many of the future leaders of the Third World were exposed to Fabian thought, most notably India's Jawaharlal Nehru, who subsequently framed economic policy for one-fifth of humanity on Fabian social-democratic lines. It is a little-known fact that the founder of Pakistan, Barrister Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was an avid member of the Fabian Society in the early 1930s. Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore, stated in his memoirs that his initial political philosophy was strongly influenced by the Fabian Society. However, he later altered his views, believing the Fabian ideal of socialism to be too impractical.

Through the course of the 20th century the group has always been influential in Labour Party circles, with members including Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Anthony Crosland, Richard Crossman, Tony Benn, Harold Wilson, and more recently Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

The society's 2004 annual report showed that there were 5,810 individual members (down 70 from the previous year), of whom 1,010 were Young Fabians, and 294 institutional subscribers, of which 31 were Constituency Labour Parties, co-operative societies, or trade unions, 190 were libraries, 58 corporate, and 15 other—making 6,104 members in total.

The latest edition of the Dictionary of National Biography (a reference work listing details of famous or significant Britons throughout history) includes 174 Fabians.

Four Fabians, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, Graham Wallas, and George Bernard Shaw founded the London School of Economics with the money left to the Fabian Society by Henry Hutchinson. Supposedly the decision was made at a breakfast party on 4 August 1894. The founders are depicted in the Fabian Window designed by George Bernard Shaw. The window was stolen in 1978 and reappeared at Sotheby's in 2005. It was restored to display in the Shaw Library at the London School of Economics in 2006 at a ceremony over which Tony Blair presided.

Young Fabians

Members aged under 31 years of age are also members of the Young Fabians. This group has its own elected Chair and executive and organizes conferences and events. It also publishes the quarterly magazine Anticipations. The Scottish Young Fabians, a Scottish branch of the group, reformed in 2005.

Influence on Labour government

Since Labour came to office in 1997, the Fabian Society has been a forum for New Labour ideas and for critical approaches from across the party. The most significant Fabian contribution to Labour's policy agenda in government was Ed Balls' 1992 pamphlet, advocating Bank of England independence. Balls had been a Financial Times journalist when he wrote this Fabian pamphlet, before going to work for Gordon Brown. BBC Business Editor Robert Peston, in his book Brown's Britain, calls this an "essential tract" and concludes that Balls "deserves as much credit – probably more – than anyone else for the creation of the modern Bank of England"; William Keegan offers a similar analysis of Balls' Fabian pamphlet in his book on Labour's economic policy, which traces in detail the path leading up to this dramatic policy change after Labour's first week in office.

The Fabian Society Tax Commission of 2000 was widely credited with influencing the Labour government's policy and political strategy for its one significant public tax increase: the National Insurance rise to raise £8 billion for NHS spending. (The Fabian Commission had in fact called for a directly hypothecated "NHS tax" to cover the full cost of NHS spending, arguing that linking taxation more directly to spending was essential to make tax rise publicly acceptable. The 2001 National Insurance rise was not formally hypothecated, but the government committed itself to using the additional funds for health spending). Several other recommendations, including a new top rate of income tax, were to the left of government policy and not accepted, though this comprehensive review of UK taxation was influential in economic policy and political circles.

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