The Fabian Socialist Society (1884- )

On October 24, 1883, in London, a group of 17 wealthy Socialists gathered to discuss a ‘Fellowship of the New Life,’ which was based on the writings of scholar Thomas Davidson, who hoped to start some sort of monastic order. The group included:

  • George Bernard Shaw
  • 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 [E1]
  • 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 Psychichal 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.” At a time when there were 30,000 Socialist voters, after a few weeks they only had 20 members. In April, 1884, their first publication was distributed, a four-page pamphlet called Why Are We Poor?

In May 1884, journalist George Bernard Shaw (1864-1926) joined and soon became the leading figure of the Fabians. He was 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).

In March, 1885, Sidney Webb (1859-1947), then a clerk from the Colonial Office, joined; and in 1886, so did Graham Wallas. Shaw, Webb, Wallas, and Sidney Oliver became known as the ‘Big Four.’ The other faction, known as ‘The Fellowship,’ continued for 15 years under Davidson, with members such J. Ramsey MacDonald (who later became Prime Minister), Edward Carpenter, and Havelock Ellis.

In 1884, John W. Martin and Rev. W. D. P. Bliss moved to Boston (MA), and established a magazine known as The American Fabian. The move was an unsuccessful effort to bring the Fabian’s socialistic movement to New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Chicago.

In 1887, their pamphlet Facts for Socialists maintained that any person who knew the facts of Socialism, had no other choice but to be one. It was their best selling piece of propaganda. By 1889, 6500 tracts had been distributed, and 31 speakers had delivered 721 lectures. From 1891-92, there had been 3,339 lectures given by 117 Fabian members. Their membership rose to 400 by 1892, 681 in 1894, and 881 in 1899. They had 74 local chapters in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Spain, Denmark, and Germany.

In 1895, Sidney Webb founded the London School of Economics, which became a branch of the Univers

ity of London. Among its major contributors: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, and Mrs. Ernest Elmhirst, the widow of J. P. Morgan partner Willard Straight, who founded the socialist magazine New Republic.

In 1899, The Fabian Essays, the most noted work on Socialism, was written by seven influential members of the Society, and edited by George Bernard Shaw. It became the blueprint for socialistic legislation, and was later reprinted in 1908, 1920, 1931, and 1952.

In 1912, Webb established an independent journal called The New Statesman, and later became a leader in the Labour Party, writing Labor and the Social Order in 1918. He held several political offices, and was a disciple of John Stuart Mill, who served as the Secretary of the British East India Company.