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The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist Socialism

Summary:
The “Third Way”   “Stealth, intrigue, subversion, and the deception of never calling socialism by its right name” – George Bernard Shaw   An emblem of the Fabian Society: a wolf in sheep’s clothing   The Brexit referendum has revealed the existence of a deep polarization in British politics. Apart from the public faces of the opposing campaigns, there were however also undisclosed parties with a vested interest which few people have heard about. And yet, they have been instrumental in transforming Great Britain into a State based on the principles of democratic socialism. This happened when new ideas such as liberty, self-determination, the rights of man, parliamentary representation and constitutional government threatened the old order. Unfortunately, liberalism and capitalism were not victorious; instead, a “third way” was adopted, a notion developed and promoted by the Fabian Society.   The Origins of the Fabian Society The group emerged out of the British socialist movement, which became popular between the late 1800ds and 1914. Guided by socialist ideals, the group believes in a top-down approach to political rule, using government and intellectuals to bring about societal change.

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The “Third Way”

 

“Stealth, intrigue, subversion, and the deception of never calling socialism by its right name” – George Bernard Shaw

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismAn emblem of the Fabian Society: a wolf in sheep’s clothing

 

The Brexit referendum has revealed the existence of a deep polarization in British politics. Apart from the public faces of the opposing campaigns, there were however also undisclosed parties with a vested interest which few people have heard about.

And yet, they have been instrumental in transforming Great Britain into a State based on the principles of democratic socialism.

This happened when new ideas such as liberty, self-determination, the rights of man, parliamentary representation and constitutional government threatened the old order.

Unfortunately, liberalism and capitalism were not victorious; instead, a “third way” was adopted, a notion developed and promoted by the Fabian Society.

 

The Origins of the Fabian Society

The group emerged out of the British socialist movement, which became popular between the late 1800ds and 1914. Guided by socialist ideals, the group believes in a top-down approach to political rule, using government and intellectuals to bring about societal change.

The Society’s name was inspired by Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, also known as cunctator (“delayer”), for strategically delaying his attacks and waiting for the right moment to strike his enemies.

The Fabians too aimed for a slow, gradual transition and expansion of socialism, waiting to deliver strikes at opportune moments. The notion is reflected in one of the Society’s symbols, the tortoise.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismThe Fabian tortoise, which looks like a cuddly animal, until one considers the accompanying inscription: “When I strike, I strike hard”.

 

Among the Society’s illustrious members were George Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, Cecil Rhodes, Graham Walls, Sydney Olivier, the occultist Annie Besant (member of the Theosophical Society), John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx’s eldest daughter, Eleanor, as well as Lord Milner, and Sir Halford John Mackinder to name a few.

The Fabian Society’s membership included many prominent figures of the British intelligentsia, many of whom were influential leaders in the political and academic realms.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismBritain’s posh champagne socialists and founders of the Fabian Society – seated from left to right: Sidney Webb, Charlotte & Bernard Shaw, Beatrice Webb

Photo credit: LSE Library

 

How Did the Fabians Become so Influential?

The Fabians argued their doctrine would achieve democracy, social justice and freedom, when in fact it would do anything but. At its core, it is not really much different from Russian socialism or Nazism, the only distinction being that the Fabian movement promoted itself as non-violent and therefore catered to the intellectual class.

Throughout the 20th century, the group managed to gain support for its vision of a new kind of liberalism: one that is built upon central planning and state ownership, as opposed to free markets and respect for private property.

Thus Fabianism can be seen a modern euphemism for socialist statism. The group had profound influence on Britain’s political strategy and reshaped classical imperialism by incorporating leftist ideas of “social reform”, amalgamating the British social classes to create a unified and uniform British Empire that would rule the world.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismThe famous symbolism-filled stained glass window of the Fabian Society.  The inscription reads “remould it nearer to the heart’s desire”, in reference to the two figures hammering away at a globe. The wolf in sheep’s skin is cheekily placed between them, almost as if to say, “see how brazen we can afford to be about it”.

Photo credit: Beatrice Webb House

 

In fact, according to Fabian doctrine, Britain had the moral obligation to spread this ideology through imperialism.

In academic circles, the group established a strong foothold by creating and funding the London School of Economics. Its ideas were also propagated through the media and press. All these steps were seen as necessary to shape the mindset of future generations.

On the political front, the Fabian Society was among the socialist groups that formed the UK Labour Party in 1900. The party’s constitution was written by Fabian Sidney Webb and was heavily influenced by the founding documents of the Society.

The group’s growing political power and popularity eventually enabled it to promote its leftist ideas in parliament. In the Labour victory of 1945, 229 Fabians were elected. Many of them became ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Clement Attlee, a Fabian as well.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismPrime minister Clement Attlee, who defeated Churchill in the 1945 election. He set the UK on the socialist path envisioned by the Fabians – a wave of nationalization followed on the heels of his election, with the State beginning to run all sorts of industries. Not surprisingly, by the 1970s, the British economy was close to total collapse. The UK was rattled by one strike after another, inflation soared and once mighty industries had become a shadow of their former selves. Not even trash collection worked anymore and the refuse started piling up in the streets. The British people had finally seen enough and elected Margaret Thatcher in 1979. One often wonders why so many young people are pining for socialism today (see the strong support Bernie Sanders enjoys) – one of the main reasons is actually that they don’t remember it.

Photo credit: Yousuf Karsh

 

In the 1990s, the Fabians once again made their way into No.10 Downing Street, with the election victory of Tony Blair. The Society’s backing and support played a decisive role in the election outcome.

The Fabian Society was instrumental in creating the ideological platform of New Labour. It heavily influenced the party’s tax policies (including planning the staggering tax increase for NHS spending in 2000), and successfully manipulated government institutions and policymaking processes, promoting statism and government intervention in multiple levels of society.

Even today, with 200 of members of parliament belonging to the Fabian Society, we can clearly see how influential this ideology remains, which has inspired British politics over the past century.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismTony Blair, a representative of the “neo-conservative” version of socialism (note that many neo-conservatives in the US are supporting Hillary Clinton nowadays). These statists are more focused on warfare than on welfare, probably because it is an even greater racket.

Image by Steve Bell

 

Britain’s Chance to Revive Gladstone’s Liberalism

That brings us to the new UK Prime Minister, Theresa May. Tory socialism reflects the spirit of British politics, ever since it was formulated by Benjamin Disraeli back in the 1800s.

The Fabians, generally described it as “the belief in reformist-minded activist government, at once appealing to political sentiments commonly associated with both conservatism and socialism.” In a way it can be understood as the philosophy of “big government conservatism”, or in other words “neo-conservatism”.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismTory Party leader Benjamin Disraeli, the “original neo-conservative” – an imperialist through and through.

Photo via silvialicciardello.com

 

The main opponent of Disraeli was William Ewart Gladstone. He was a strong proponent of classic liberalism and stood almost alone against organizations pushing for a collectivist agenda.

But Gladstone was a strong fighter for the general public and believed true social justice and prosperity could only be achieved if the government loosened its grip on social and political life and adopted laissez-faire economics. It would seem his ideas fell on deaf ears, considering the direction the UK took over the past decades.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist SocialismLiberal Party leader William Ewart Gladstone, Disraeli’s main political rival and a proponent of classical liberalism.

Photo credit: London Stereoscopic Company

 

Now, however, Brexit has created the chance for a new start for Britain: the question is whether Britain will follow the old doctrine of British imperialism in accordance with Disraeli or if it will explore Gladstone’s path which would provide for a morally sound way for individuals and society to thrive.  As Gladstone put it:

 

“Nothing that is morally wrong can be politically right.”

 

As a historical side-note that that seems highly relevant for today: it is worth noting that Gladstone had the proper attitude toward the challenge London faced with respect to Ireland and Scotland. He believed that the people of Ireland and Scotland had the right to enjoy greater autonomy from England (he pushed for Irish home rule at great political cost to himself and his party).

For a variety of reasons Gladstone had been constrained by his former constituencies of Newark and Oxford to bring his message to voters. After losing his Oxford seat due to clerical opposition, he was returned for the seat of South Lancashire, a very large constituency.   Gladstone then launched his campaign at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall with the famous statement:

 

“At last, my friends, I am come among you unmuzzled.”

 

I believe we should look at Britain’s prospects with a positive and optimistic attitude, as there are surely a great many individuals with the potential to shape the future as positive role models prepared to challenge the old socialist establishment.

With a little bit of luck, we might see the rise of individual spirits and free-thinkers, with a much-needed, healthy dose of political incorrectness; people that will remember this great statesman and strive to bring back voluntarism, personal responsibility and free trade, principles Gladstone was committed to and defended all his life.

 

The Fabian Society and the Gradual Rise of Statist Socialism“Bowing him out” – Gladstone shows Disraeli the door after winning the 1880 election

(Source: Hathi Digital Library Trust/ Princeton University library).

Claudio Grass

Claudio Grass is a passionate advocate of free-market thinking and libertarian philosophy. Following the teachings of the Austrian School of Economics he is convinced that sound money and human freedom are inextricably linked to each other. He is one of the founders of GoldAndLiberty.com.

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