Fabian Society is a British socialist organisation whose purpose
is to advance the principles of democratic socialism via gradualist
and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary
As one of the founding organisations of the Labour Representation
Committee in 1900, and as an important influence upon the Labour Party
which grew from it, the
Fabian Society has had a powerful influence on
British politics. Other members of the
Fabian Society have included
political leaders from countries formerly part of the British Empire,
such as Jawaharlal Nehru, who adopted Fabian principles as part of
their own political ideologies. The
Fabian Society founded the London
School of Economics and Political Science in 1895.
Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of
15 socialist societies affiliated with the Labour Party. Similar
societies exist in
Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), in
Douglas–Coldwell Foundation and the now disbanded League
for Social Reconstruction), in
Sicily (Sicilian Fabian Society) and in
New Zealand (The NZ Fabian Society).
1 Organisational history
1.2 Organisational growth
1.3 Early Fabian views
1.4 Second generation
2 Contemporary Fabianism
2.1 Influence on Labour government
2.2 Fabianism outside the United Kingdom
3.1 Executive Committee
3.3 Young Fabians
3.4 Fabian Women's Network
3.5 Local Fabians
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Blue plaque at 17 Osnaburgh St, where the Society was founded in 1884
Fabian Society was named after "Fabius the Delayer" at the suggestion
of Frank Podmore, above
Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, the original coat of arms
Fabian Society was founded on 4 January 1884 in
London as an
offshoot of a society founded a year earlier called The Fellowship of
the New Life. Early Fellowship members included the visionary
Victorian elite, among them poets
Edward Carpenter and John Davidson,
sexologist Havelock Ellis, and early socialist Edward R. Pease. They
wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified
living for others to follow. Some members also wanted to become
politically involved to aid society's transformation; they set up a
separate society, the Fabian Society. All members were free to attend
both societies. The
Fabian Society additionally advocated renewal of
Renaissance ideas and their promulgation throughout
The Fellowship of the New Life was dissolved in 1899, but the
Fabian Society grew to become the pre-eminent academic society in the
United Kingdom in the Edwardian era. It was typified by the members of
its vanguard Coefficients club. Public meetings of the Society were
for many years held at Essex Hall, a popular location just off the
Strand in central London.
Fabian Society was named — at the suggestion of Frank Podmore
— in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus
(nicknamed "Cunctator", meaning the "Delayer"). His Fabian strategy
sought gradual victory against the superior Carthaginian army under
the renowned general
Hannibal through persistence, harassment, and
wearing the enemy down by attrition rather than pitched, climactic
An explanatory note appearing on the title page of the group's first
For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when
warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when
the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting
will be in vain, and fruitless.
According to author Jon Perdue, "The logo of the Fabian Society, a
tortoise, represented the group’s predilection for a slow,
imperceptible transition to socialism, while its coat of arms, a 'wolf
in sheep’s clothing', represented its preferred methodology for
achieving its goal." The wolf in sheep's clothing symbolism was
later abandoned, due to its obvious negative connotations.[citation
Its nine founding members were Frank Podmore, Edward R. Pease, William
Clarke, Hubert Bland, Percival Chubb, Frederick Keddell, H. H.
Champion, Edith Nesbit, and Rosamund Dale Owen.
Havelock Ellis is sometimes also mentioned as a tenth founding member,
though there is some question about this.
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, Charles Marson, Sydney Olivier, Oliver Lodge, Ramsay MacDonald
and Emmeline Pankhurst. Even
Bertrand Russell briefly became a member,
but resigned after he expressed his belief that the Society's
principle of entente (in this case, between countries allying
themselves against Germany) could lead to war.
At the core of the
Fabian Society were Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
Together, they wrote numerous studies of industrial Britain,
including alternative co-operative economics that applied to ownership
of capital as well as land.
Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour
Representation Committee in 1900 and the group's constitution, written
by Sidney Webb, borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the
Fabian Society. At the meeting that founded the Labour Representation
Committee in 1900, the
Fabian Society claimed 861 members and sent one
The years 1903 to 1908 saw a growth in popular interest in the
socialist idea in Great Britain and the
Fabian Society grew
accordingly, tripling its membership to nearly 2500 by the end of the
period, half of whom were located in London. In 1912, a student
section was organised called the University
Socialist Federation (USF)
and by the outbreak of
World War I
World War I this contingent counted its own
membership of more than 500.
Early Fabian views
Fabian Society pamphlets advocating tenets of social
justice coincided with the zeitgeist of
Liberal reforms during the
early 1900s, including eugenics. 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 universal health care
system in 1911 and for the abolition of hereditary peerages in
Fabian socialists were in favour of reforming Britain's imperialist
foreign policy as a conduit for internationalist reform, and were in
favour of a capitalist 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 classrooms ... that the future
battles of the Empire for commercial prosperity are already being
In 1900 the Society produced Fabianism and the Empire, the first
statement of its views on foreign affairs, drafted by Bernard Shaw and
incorporating the suggestions of 150 Fabian members. It was directed
against the liberal individualism of those such as John Morley and Sir
William Harcourt. It claimed that the classical liberal political
economy was outdated, and that imperialism was the new stage of the
international polity. The question was whether Britain would be the
centre of a world empire or whether it would lose its colonies and end
up as just two islands in the North Atlantic. It expressed support for
Britain in the Boer War because small nations, such as the Boers, were
anachronisms in the age of empires.
In order to hold onto the Empire, the British needed to fully exploit
the trade opportunities secured by war; maintain the British armed
forces in a high state of readiness to defend the Empire; the creation
of a citizen army to replace the professional army; the Factory Acts
would be amended to extend to 21 the age for half-time employment, so
that the thirty hours gained would be used in "a combination of
physical exercises, technical education, education in civil
citizenship ... and field training in the use of modern weapons".
The Fabians also favoured the nationalisation of land rent, believing
that rents collected by landowners in respect of their land's value
were unearned, an idea which drew heavily from the work of American
economist Henry George.
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 socialist thought.
But the general idea is that each man should have power according to
his knowledge and capacity. [...] And the keynote is that of my fairy
State: From every man according to his capacity; to every man
according to his needs. A democratic Socialism, controlled by majority
votes, guided by numbers, can never succeed; a truly aristocratic
Socialism, controlled by duty, guided by wisdom, is the next step
upwards in civilisation.
— Annie Besant, a
Fabian Society member and later president of
Indian National Congress, 
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 India on Fabian socialism
lines. After independence from Britain, Nehru’s Fabian ideas
committed India to an economy in which the state owned, operated and
controlled means of production, in particular key heavy industrial
sectors such as steel, telecommunications, transportation, electricity
generation, mining and real estate development. Private activity,
property rights and entrepreneurship were discouraged or regulated
through permits, nationalisation of economic activity and high taxes
were encouraged, rationing, control of individual choices and
Mahalanobis model considered by Nehru as a means to implement the
Fabian Society version of socialism. In addition to Nehru,
several pre-independence leaders in colonial India such as Annie
Besant—Nehru's mentor and later a president of Indian National
Congress – were members of the Fabian Society.
Obafemi Awolowo, who later became the premier of Nigeria's now defunct
Western Region, was also a Fabian member in the late 1940s. It was the
Fabian ideology that Awolowo used to run the Western Region during his
premiership with great success, although he was prevented from using
it in a similar fashion on the national level in Nigeria. It is less
known that the founder of Pakistan, 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, considering the Fabian
ideal of socialism as impractical. In 1993, Lee said:
They [Fabian Socialists] were going to create a just society for the
British workers—the beginning of a welfare state, cheap council
housing, free medicine and dental treatment, free spectacles, generous
unemployment benefits. Of course, for students from the colonies, like
Singapore and Malaya, it was a great attraction as the alternative to
communism. We did not see until the 1970s that that was the beginning
of big problems contributing to the inevitable decline of the British
In the Middle East, the theories of
Fabian Society intellectual
movement of early-20th-century Britain inspired the Ba'athist vision.
The Middle East adaptation of Fabian socialism led the state to
control big industry, transport, banks, internal and external trade.
The state would direct the course of economic development, with the
ultimate aim to provide a guaranteed minimum standard of living for
all. Michel Aflaq, widely considered as the founder of the
Ba'athist movement, was a Fabian socialist. Aflaq's ideas, with those
of Salah al-Din al-Bitar and Zaki al-Arsuzi, came to fruition in the
Arab world in the form of dictatorial regimes in Iraq and Syria.
Salāmah Mūsā of Egypt, another prominent champion of Arab
Socialism, was a keen adherent of Fabian Society, and a member since
Fabian academics of the late 20th-century included the political
scientist Bernard Crick, the economists
Thomas Balogh and Nicholas
Kaldor and the sociologist Peter Townsend.
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, Roy Jenkins, Hugh Dalton,
Richard Crossman, Ian Mikardo, Tony Benn,
Harold Wilson and more
recently Shirley Williams, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Gordon Marsden
and Ed Balls.
Ben Pimlott served as its chairman in the 1990s. (A
Pimlott Prize for Political Writing was organised in his memory by the
Fabian Society and
The Guardian in 2005 and continues annually.) The
Society is affiliated to the Party as a socialist society. In recent
years the Young Fabian group, founded in 1960, has become an important
networking and discussion organisation for younger (under 31) Labour
Party activists and played a role in the 1994 election of Tony Blair
as Labour Leader. Today there is also an active Fabian Women's Network
and Scottish and Welsh Fabian groups.
On 21 April 2009 the Society's website stated that it had 6,286
members: "Fabian national membership now stands at a 35 year high: it
is over 20% higher than when the Labour Party came to office in May
1997. It is now double what it was when
Clement Attlee left office in
The latest edition of the
Dictionary of National Biography
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.
As of 2016, the
Fabian Society had about 7,000 members.
Influence on Labour government
With the advent of a Labour Party government in 1997, the Fabian
Society was 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's 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
offered a similar analysis of Balls's 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.
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
National Health Service
National Health Service 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, and
a new top rate of income tax of 50% was introduced in 2010.
In early 2017 Fabian general secretary, Andrew Harrop, produced a
report arguing the only feasible route for Labour to return to
government would be to work with the Liberal Democrats and Scottish
National Party. It predicted Labour would win fewer than 200 seats in
the next general election, the lowest since 1935, due to Brexit, lack
of support in Scotland, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s purported
unpopularity. This prediction was proven false in the general
election later in 2017 in which Labour won 262 seats.
Fabianism outside the United Kingdom
The major influence on the Labour Party and on the English-speaking
socialist movement worldwide, has meant that Fabianism became one of
the main inspirations of international social democracy. An American
Fabian Society was established in
Boston in February 1895 by Rev. W.
D. P. Bliss, a prominent Christian socialist. The group published
a periodical, The American Fabian, and issued a small series of
pamphlets. Around the same time a parallel organization emerged on
the Pacific coast, centered in California, under the influence of
socialist activist Laurence Gronlund.
Direct or indirect Fabian influence may also be seen in the liberal
Carlo Rosselli (founder, with his brother
of the anti-fascist group's Giustizia e Libertà), and all its
derivatives, such as the Action Party in Italy. The Community
Movement, created by the socialist entrepreneur Adriano Olivetti, was
then the only Italian party which referred explicitly to Fabianism,
among his main inspirations along with federalism, social liberalism,
fighting to partitocracy and social democracy.
During 2000 the Sicilian
Fabian Society was founded in Messina.
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Fabian Society is governed by an elected Executive Committee. The
committee consists of ten ordinary members elected from a national
list, three members nationally elected from a list nominated by local
groups, representatives from the Young Fabians, Fabians Women's
Network and Scottish and Welsh Fabians. There is also one staff
representative and a directly elected honorary treasurer from the
membership. Elections are held every other year, with the exception of
Young Fabians and staff representation, which are elected
annually. The executive committee meet quarterly. The executive
committee elect a chair and at least one vice chair annually to
conduct its business. The current chair of the
Fabian Society is Kate
Fabian Society have a number of employees based in their
headquarters in London. The secretariat is led by a general secretary,
who is the organisation's CEO. The staff are arranged into departments
including Research, Editorial, Events and Operations.
Main article: Young Fabians
Since 1960 members aged under 31 years of age are also members of the
Young Fabians. This group has its own elected Chair, executive
committee and sub-groups. The
Young Fabians are a voluntary
organisation that serves as an incubator for member-led activities
such as policy and social events, pamphlets and delegations. Within
the group are five special interest communities called Networks that
are run by voluntary steering groups and elect their own Chair and
officers. The current Networks are Finance, Health, International
Affairs, Education and Communications (Industry). It also publishes
the quarterly magazine Anticipations.
Fabian Women's Network
All female members of the
Fabian Society are also members of the
Fabian Women's Network. This group has its own elected Chair and
Executive Committee which organises conferences and events and works
with the wider political movement to secure increased representation
for women in politics and public life. It has a flagship mentoring
programme that recruits on an annual basis and its president is Seema
Malhotra, a Labour Party and Co-operative MP. The Network also
publishes the quarterly magazine, Fabiana, runs a range of public
speaking events, works closely in partnership with a range of women's
campaigning organisations and regularly hosts a fringe at the Labour
There are 45 local Fabian societies across the UK, bringing Fabian
debates to communities around the country. Many of these are
affiliated to their local constituency Labour party and have their own
executive bodies. These local branches are affiliated to the national
Fabians and local members have same voting rights as their national
In the early 1900s
Fabian Society members advocated the ideal of a
scientifically planned society and supported eugenics by way of
sterilisation. In an article published in
The Guardian on 14
February 2008 (following the apology offered by Australian Prime
Kevin Rudd to the "stolen generations"), Geoffrey Robertson
criticised Fabian socialists for providing the intellectual
justification for the eugenics policy that led to the stolen
generations scandal. Similar claims have been repeated in The
Spectator. However, these views on eugenics were not limited to
one group of people and were widely shared throughout the political
H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells was a member of the
Fabian Society from 1903 to
1908, he was a critic of its operations, particularly in his 1905
paper "The Faults of the Fabian" and parodied the society in his
1910 novel The New Machiavelli.
British politics portal
Labour Research Department
List of Fabian Tracts to 1915
List of think tanks in the United Kingdom
The New Age
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^ NZ Fabian Society
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^ Pease, 1916
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1884-1918. Cambridge University Press.
^ a b c Cole, Margaret (1961). The Story of Fabian Socialism. Stanford
University Press. ISBN 978-1163700105.
^ Pease, Edward R. (1916). The History of the Fabian Society.
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the British Left, Part 1. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 2006; p. 63.
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^ Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and Social Reform: English
Social-Imperial Thought 1895–1914 (New York: Anchor, 1968), p. 63.
^ a b Semmel, p. 61.
^ Semmel, p. 62.
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in India: Lessons of Government Failure and Entrepreneurial Success"
(PDF). Working Paper No. 170. Indian Council for Research on
International Economic Relations, New Delhi.
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Ideas in the Formation of Fabian
Socialist Doctrines, 1881–1889".
History: Reviews of New Books. 3 (10): 263.
^ a b Michael Barr (March 2000). "Lee Kuan Yew's Fabian Phase".
Australian Journal of Politics & History. 46 (1): 110–26.
^ Amatzia Baram (Spring 2003). "Broken Promises". Wilson Quarterly.
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
^ L. M. Kenny (Winter 1963–1964). "The Goal of Arab Unification".
International Journal. 19 (1): 50–61. doi:10.2307/40198692.
^ Kamel S. Abu Jaber (Spring 1966). "Salāmah Mūsā: Precursor of
Arab Socialism". Middle East Journal. 20 (2): 196–206.
^ Press release, A piece of Fabian history unveiled at LSE Archived 5
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London School of Economics
& Political Science Archives, Last accessed 23 February 2007
^ Andrew Walker, Wit, wisdom and windows, BBC News, Last accessed 23
^ Annual Report 2016 (PDF) (Report). Fabian Society. 2016. Retrieved 7
^ "The Fabian Society: a brief history". The Guardian. 2001-08-13.
ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-08-24.
^ Mark Wickham-Jones (2005). "Party Officials, Experts and
Policy-making: The Case of British Labour" (PDF). r/ French Political
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William Keegan By genre guardian.co.uk
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turns out to be the best policy". The Observer. London. Retrieved 2
Think tank calls for NHS tax". BBC News. 27 November 2000.
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12 January 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2012.
^ Harrop, Andrew (3 January 2017). Stuck - How Labour is too weak to
win and too strong to die (PDF) (Report). Fabian Society. Retrieved 26
^ Walker, Peter (2 January 2017). "Labour could slump to below 150
Fabian Society warns". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 June
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weak' to win an election: think tank". Reuters. Retrieved 26 June
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Third Edition. New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1897; pg. 578.
^ Leo Valiani, Socialismo liberale. Carlo Rosselli, tra Critica
Sociale e Fabian Society
^ Olivetti: comunitarismo e sovranità industriale nell’Italia
^ Sicilian Fabian Society
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rattles loudest in the left's closet". The Guardian.
Geoffrey Robertson (13 February 2008). "We should say sorry, too".
The Guardian. London.
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between the Wars". Oxford Review of Education. 9 (3): 213–22.
^ "How eugenics poisoned the welfare state The Spectator". The
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Eugenics and the Left". Journal of the
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^ H. G. Wells, The New Machiavelli, Dunfield & co., New York
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Party, 1888–1906. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
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1884–1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pease, Edward R. (1916). A History of the Fabian Society. New York:
E.P. Dutton & Co.
Radice, Lisanne (1984). Beatrice and Sidney Webb: Fabian Socialists.
Shaw, George Bernard, ed. (1931). Fabian Essays in Socialism. London:
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History. London: Fabian Society.
Wolfe, Willard (1975). From Radicalism to Socialism: Men and Ideas in
the Formation of Fabian
Socialist Doctrines, 1881–1889. New Haven,
CT: Yale University Press.
Wikisource has the text of a 1905 New International Encyclopedia
article about Fabian Society.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fabian Society.
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