What is the Fabian Society?

The Fabian Society is the single oldest radical socialist group in England. More than that, it can accurately be termed the oldest organization for political research that currently exists in the world. The Fabian Society began life as an unnamed anonymous group of some of the best-known and most influential British leftists alive in the 1880’s. The very first meetings, in a paradoxical twist of fate, actually took place inside home of a stockbroker. That stockbroker was named Edward Pease and his life making money off the backs of the labor of the working class led him to become quite disillusioned with the stage of Adam Smith-style economics of the rich. The founding Fabians were not just devoted to introducing a new economic state of mind into capitalist Britain, but they were also utopians of a sort. Many were members of the famous Fellowship of New Life community led by the Scotsman Thomas Davidson. It would not be until 1884 that member Frank Podmore suggested the group should name itself after the Roman general Quintus Fabius Cunctator. Why so? Because Fabius had made a name for himself by being one of the originators of guerilla warfare, preferring smaller scale strategic strikes against the enemy over the idea of massive soldiers marching into war.

The Fabian Society, therefore, has remained consistent in its dedication to the concept that radical change is best accomplished slowly over time through small victories than by trying the tack of full scale revolutionary overthrow of the status quo. In this way, the Fabian Society has had success in influencing government policy far better than other more famous and radically charged radical political organizations. The Fabians attempt to direct change through policy reform. While this is hardly as exciting as lobbying Molotov Cocktails in the street or hopping aboard Greenpeace boats to block whaling ships, the fact that the Fabians are still alive and relatively well perhaps says much. The primary methodology of establishing a wave of radical change has been through their much-heralded tracts. One of the very first of these booklet-length political tracts published by the Fabian Society was something called simply A Manifesto and it was written by none other then George Bernard Shaw. Indeed, the author of many of the Fabian Society’s tracts was George Bernard Shaw, and several others were written by other high-profile British literary lights.

Over the years, the Fabian Society grew in stature and influence. In fact, the Fabian Society was part of the fabric of political theory and thought that would eventually result in the creation of the British Labour Party. The Fabians primary role in the rose to power of the Labour Party would in the form of becoming the Party’s agent of research, as well as the agent for education and agitation. The 1930’s witnessed the Fabians falling off substantially in terms of influence, and barely survive into the war years. The post-war years may be fairly said to be the glory years for the Fabians as so many of their liberal theories were adopted and finally put into practice. By the time Margaret Thatcher ascended to introduce the New Conservatism of Reaganomics, however, the corruption that had ingratiated itself into the liberal welfare state had made diminished their power once again. In fact, they have not quite ever recovered from the damage to England done by the Thatcherites and the conservatism of Labour Party PM Tony Blair was essentially a slap in the face of the founding tenets of the Fabians.