Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Power of Ideas and Gradualism in Britain

The Fabian Society was founded in 1884 as an intellectual movement concerned with the research, discussion and publication of ideas by a wealthy group of socialists promoting non-Marxist evolutionary socialism i.e. centre-left.

The aims of the Fabian Society were developed by Sidney J. Webb from what Jewish Englishman John Ruskin (1819-1900) taught at Oxford University. Ruskin was a teacher at the Working Men's College (founded in 1854 by Christian-Socialist philosopher J. F. D. Maurice), a professor of Fine Arts at Oxford, an artist and writer. He based his views on those of Socialist Robert Owen.

The Fabian Society was an outgrowth of the Fellowship of the New Life (FNL) in 1883, the object of which had been 'the cultivation of a perfect character in each and all’. The Fellowship of the New Life was based on the writings of scholar Professor Thomas Davidson, who hoped to start some sort of monastic order. Members of FNL included:
• George Bernard Shaw, a free-thinking Marxist-atheist writer whose plays contained socialistic references, an ideology he pursued after hearing a speech by American economist Henry George in 1882 and reading Marx's Das Kapital. He later won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.
• Graham Wallas, a classical scholar
• Sidney James Webb, a civil servant and influential socialist
• Edward Pease
• Havelock Ellis
• Frank Podmore
• Annie Besant, a member of the Theosophical Society
• John Galsworthy
• R.H. Tawney
• G.D.H. Cole
• Harold Laski
• Israel Cohen, a Jewish writer
• Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), a Jewish playwright and novelist, who in 1910 wrote the play The Melting Pot, which was a propaganda play showing how Americans discriminated against Blacks and Jews.

Some of these people were also members of the Society for Psychical Research, an organization dedicated to spiritualism research, which was founded in 1882.

On November 7, 1883, this group met to discuss the establishment of an organization "whose ultimate aim shall be the reconstruction of Society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities." However, they split into two factions, and on January 4, 1884, one of the factions established a group known as the Fabian Society. On January 25th, one member, J. G. Stapleton, delivered their first lecture, called "Social Conditions in England, With a View to Social Reconstruction or Development."

Fabians thought of themselves as a small elite group which would permeate the existing institutions of society, produce and influence the real leaders in all spheres of life, and guide social development toward its collectivist goal with the "inevitability of gradualness."

Unlike the Marxists who were in a hurry to come to power through direct confrontation with established governments, the Fabians were willing to take their time, to come to power without direct confrontation, working quietly and patiently from inside the target governments. To emphasize this strategy, and to separate themselves from the Marxists, they adopted the turtle as their symbol. And their official shield portrays an image of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

When the Fabian Society in Britain was founded, its members Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb and Bernard Shaw in turn created the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1895 as a branch of the University of London, after a bequest to the Fabian Society of some money in 1894.

The LSE is often regarded as the world's most prestigious social science institution. Among its major contributors are the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust.

New Republic was an idea described by H.G. Wells (1866-1946) as "a sort of outspoken Secret Society ... an informal and open freemasonry," made up of the educated class, whose common goals would lead to the creation of a new World State, thus saving the human race from disaster. Edward Pease, Secretary of the Fabians, wrote to H. G. Wells on January 10, 1902, to say that Webb and his wife, Beatrice, were the "pioneers of your New Republic." Wells joined the Fabian Society in 1903.

In 1928, Wells wrote "The Open Conspiracy: Blueprints for a World Revolution" which was an elaboration of ideas from his 1926 book The World of William Clissold, which gave a seven-point program for the development of the "new human community".

The character, William Clissold, had called his project for world revolution, the "open conspiracy," which meant:

"...the establishment of the economic world-state by the deliberate invitation, explicit discussion, and cooperation of the men most interested in economic organization, men chosen by their work, called to it by a natural disposition and aptitude for it, fully aware of its importance and working with the support of an increasing general understanding ...

It is not a project to overthrow existing governments by insurrectionary attacks, but to supersede them by disregard. It does not want to destroy them or alter their forms but to make them negligible by replacing their functions. It will respect them as far as it must. What is useful of them it will use; what is useless it will efface by its stronger reality; it will join issue only with what is plainly antagonistic and actively troublesome."

His plan was to be accomplished by "an intelligent minority ... without the support of the crowd and possibly in spite of its dissent..."

The Open Conspiracy was Wells' perspective of his New Republic, which represented a classless World State that controlled everything. Its establishment would be accomplished by "functional men, men of high natural intelligence and professional competence, who performed the creative and managerial work of the world." They were recruited from "the men and women whose knowledge, skill, creative gifts made them indispensable to modern society" who would "gradually have the reins of power into their hands."

The revolution was to begin through the "formation of small groups of friends, family groups, groups of students and employees or other sorts of people meeting and conversing frequently in the course of normal occupations." They were to "enlarge themselves and attempt to establish communications with kindred groups for common ends."

He further elaborated:

"The Open Conspiracy will appear first, I believe, as a conscious organization of intelligent, and in some cases wealthy men, as a movement having distinct social and political aims, confessedly ignoring most of the existing apparatus of political control, or using it only as an incidental implement in the stages, a mere movement of a number of people in a certain direction, who will presently discover, with a sort of surprise, the common object toward which they are all moving. In all sorts of ways, they will be influencing and controlling the ostensible government." - Modern History Project.

Fabianism was and has been through-and-through managerial, technocratic and ‘plannist’. It is a philosophy of which was the inculcation of ideas is necessary to enhance individual character and eventually the broader society. An early Fabian publication wrote that they wished to be the ‘Jesuits of Socialism’. The gospel was order and efficiency. According to Fabians, people should be treated kindly and should be run only by competent experts.

The Fabians were working towards a new world by indoctrinating young scholars who would eventually rise to power in various policy-making positions throughout the world by infiltrating educational institutions, government agencies, and political parties.

Their strategy was called the "doctrine of inevitability of gradualism," which meant that their goals would be gradually achieved. So gradual, that nobody would notice, or "without breach of continuity or abrupt change of the entire social issue." The secret was evolution, not revolution, or what Webb called "permeation." One of the founding members, George Bernard Shaw (whose mistress, Florence Farr, was a member of the secretive and Masonic Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), revealed that their goal was to be achieved by "stealth, intrigue, subversion, and the deception of never calling Socialism by its right name."

The Fabians believed that capitalism had created an unjust and inefficient society. They agreed that the ultimate aim of the group should be to reconstruct "society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities".

The Fabians rejected the revolutionary socialism of H.M. Hyndman and the Marxist Social Democratic Federation and were concerned with helping society to move to a socialist society "as painless and effective as possible".

The Fabians adopted the tactic of trying to convince people by "rational factual socialist argument", rather than the "emotional rhetoric and street brawls" of the Marxist Social Democratic Federation. In fact, that's how they got their name.

The name "Fabian" originated from the Roman Consul, General Quintus Fabius Maximus, the Cunctator (‘Delayer’), who through patient, cautious, delaying and elusive tactics, during the early phases of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE), enabled the Roman army to regroup and defeat Hannibal’s stronger Carthaginian army. Fabius Cunctator's strategy which was to guide the Fabians was summarized in Frank Podmore's words: "For the right moment you must wait…when the time comes you must strike hard."

In military strategy, Fabian strategy is a strategy that seeks to buy time and wear down an enemy by carefully avoiding direct confrontation, pitched battles and decisive contests.

The founders of the Fabian Society discussed and formulated "Ideas about racial improvement by selecting out the efficient…and Shaw was working on these 'eugenic' notions in his new play ‘Man and Superman’. Beatrice Webb called it 'the most important of all questions, the breeding of the right sort of man.'

"…Above all they were avowed elitists, intolerant of the cumbersome and apparently wasteful processes of democracy, who wanted to see England ruled by a superior caste which matched an enlightened sense of duty with a competence to govern effectively. All of them, moreover, shared Sidney's belief -- which had led him to spend so much effort on London education and on the School of Economics -- that social improvement depended upon the training of the superior manpower needed to carry out schemes of reform. Shaw was suggesting in his latest play that universal suffrage was a disaster, putting power in the hands of the 'riff-raff' and… Webb who could not wait until a new race of supermen had been bred up to establish the millennium, felt that improved education and intelligent politics would at least start the necessary process of regeneration." - Arthur Westcott, "Life and Letters of Brook Foss Westcott."

From the first Fabian Tract (Why are the Many Poor?) and the original Fabian Essays, published in 1889 in the wake of the Match Girls' Strike, the Society has been characterized by a passionate commitment to social justice and a belief in the progressive improvement of society.

The Fabian Society joined with trade unionists in 1900 to found the Labour Party, to which it has remained affiliated ever since, while its editorial and financial independence have made it a consistent source of constructive, critical debate across the political left.

Fabian pamphlets first proposed a minimum wage in 1906, the National Health Service in 1911, and the abolition of hereditary peers in 1917. The Parliamentary Labour Party was said to ‘look just like an enormous Fabian school’ after Labour’s 1945 landslide with over 200 Fabians elected to Parliament (a feat repeated in 1997).

Graduates under the Rhodes Scholarship are ideologically Fabians (see more details under the ‘Legacy of Cecil John Rhodes’). They are deliberately middle-class in composition and appeal. They were and are not for building any mass movement at all. 

Fabians, like Rhodes Scholars today, are a small group who permeate the existing institutions of society, influence the real leaders in all spheres, and guide social development.

No comments: