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The History of the Fabian Society By Edward R. Pease Characters: 47622

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The Formation of Fabian Policy:


The factors of success; priority of date; the men who made it-The controversy over policy-The Fabian Parliamentary League-"Facts for Socialists"-The adoption of the Basis-The seven Essayists in command-Lord Haldane-The "Essays" as lectures-How to train for Public Life-Fabians on the London School Board-"Facts for Londoners"-Municipal Socialism-"The Eight Hours Bill"

The Society was now fully constituted, and for the next three years its destiny was controlled by the seven who subsequently wrote "Fabian Essays." But it was still a very small and quite obscure body. Mrs. Besant, alone of its leaders, was known beyond its circle, and at that period few outside the working classes regarded her with respect. The Society still met, as a rule, at the house of one or other of the members, and to the founders, who numbered about 20, only about 67 members had been added by June, 1886. The receipts for the year to March, 1886, were no More than £35 19s., but as the expenditure only amounted to £27 6s. 6d., the Society had already adopted its lifelong habit of paying its way punctually, though it must be confessed that a complaisant printer and a series of lucky windfalls have contributed to that result.

The future success of the Society was dependent in the main on two factors then already in existence. The first was its foundation before there was any other definitely Socialist body in England. The Social Democratic Federation did not adopt that name until August, 1884; the Fabian Society can therefore claim technical priority, and consequently it has never had to seek acceptance by the rest of the Socialist movement. At any later date it would have been impossible for a relatively small middle-class society to obtain recognition as an acknowledged member of the Socialist confraternity. We were thus in a position to welcome the formation of working-class Socialist societies, but it is certain that in the early days they would never have welcomed us.

Regret has been sometimes expressed, chiefly by foreign observers, that the Society has maintained its separate identity. Why, it has been asked, did not the middle-class leaders of the Society devote their abilities directly to aiding the popular organisations, instead of "keeping themselves to themselves" like ultra-respectable suburbans?

If this had been possible I am convinced that the loss would have exceeded the gain, but in the early years it was not possible. The Social Democrats of those days asserted that unquestioning belief in every dogma attributed to Marx was essential to social salvation, and that its only way was revolution, by which they meant, not the complete transformation of society, but its transformation by means of rifles and barricades; they were convinced that a successful repetition of the Commune of Paris was the only method by which their policy could prevail. The Fabians realised from the first that no such revolution was likely to take place, and that constant talk about it was the worst possible way to commend Socialism to the British working class. And indeed a few years later it was necessary to establish a new working-class Socialist Society, the Independent Labour Party, in order to get clear both of the tradition of revolutionary violence and of the vain repetition of Marxian formulas. If the smaller society had merged itself in the popular movement, its criticism, necessary, as it proved to be, to the success of Socialism in England, would have been voted down, and its critics either silenced or expelled. Of this criticism I shall have more to say in another place.[16]

But there was another reason why this course would have been impracticable. The Fabians were not suited either by ability, temperament, or conditions to be leaders of a popular revolutionary party. Mrs. Besant with her gift of splendid oratory and her long experience of agitation was an exception, but her connection with the movement lasted no more than five years. Of the others Shaw did not and does not now possess that unquestioning faith in recognised principles which is the stock-in-trade of political leadership:[17] and whilst Webb might have been a first-class minister at the head of a department, his abilities would have been wasted as a leader in a minority. But there was a more practical bar. The Fabians were mostly civil servants or clerks in private employ. The methods of agitation congenial to them were compatible with their occupations: those of the Social Democrats were not. Indeed in those days no question of amalgamation was ever mooted.

But it must be remembered by critics that so far as concerns the Fabian Society, the absence of identity in organisation has never led to such hostility as has been common amongst Continental Socialists. Since the vote of censure in relation to the "Tory Gold," the Fabian Society has never interfered with the doings of its friendly rivals. The two Societies have occasionally co-operated, but as a rule they have severally carried on their own work, each recognising the value of many of the activities of the other, and on the whole confining mutual criticism within reasonable limits.

The second and chief reason for the success of the Society was its good fortune in attaching to its service a group of young men, then altogether unknown, whose reputation has gradually spread, in two or three cases, all over the world, and who have always been in the main identified with Fabianism. Very rarely in the history of voluntary organisations has a group of such exceptional people come together almost accidentally and worked unitedly together for so many years for the furtherance of the principles in which they believed. Others have assisted according to their abilities and opportunities, but to the Fabian Essayists belongs the credit of creating the Fabian Society.

For several years, and those perhaps the most important in the history of the Society, the period, in fact, of adolescence, the Society was governed by the seven Essayists, and chiefly by four or five of them. Mrs. Besant had made her reputation in other fields, and belonged, in a sense, to an earlier generation; she was unrivalled as an expositor and an agitator, and naturally preferred the work that she did best. William Clarke, also, was just a little of an outsider: he attended committees irregularly, and although he did what he was persuaded to do with remarkable force-he was an admirable lecturer and an efficient journalist-he had no initiative. He was solitary in his habits, and in his latter years, overshadowed by ill-health, he became almost morose. Hubert Bland, again, was always something of a critic. He was a Tory by instinct wherever he was not a Socialist, and whilst thoroughly united with the others for all purposes of the Society, he lived the rest of his life apart. But the other four Essayists, Sidney Webb, Bernard Shaw, Graham Wallas, and Sydney Olivier, then and for many years afterwards may be said to have worked and thought together in an intellectual partnership.[18] Webb and Olivier were colleagues in the Colonial Office, and it is said that for some time the Fabian records-they were not very bulky-were stored on a table in Downing Street. For many years there were probably few evenings of the week and few holidays which two or more of them did not spend together.

In 1885 or early in 1886 a group which included those four and many others formed a reading society for the discussion of Marx's "Capital." The meetings-I attended them until I left London-were held in Hampstead, sometimes at the house of Mrs. Gilchrist, widow of the biographer of Blake, sometimes at that of Mrs. C.M. Wilson, and finally at the Hampstead Public Library. Later on the Society was called "The Hampstead Historic," and its discussions, which continued for several years, had much to do with settling the Fabian attitude towards Marxian economics and historical theory.[19]

It was this exceptional group of leaders, all intimate friends, all loyal to each other, and to the cause they were associated to advocate, and all far above the average in vigour and ability, that in a few years turned an obscure drawing-room society into a factor in national politics.

* * *

At the meeting on June 19th, 1886, at 94 Cornwall Gardens, Sydney Olivier assumed the duties of Secretary, and the minutes began to be written with less formality than before. It is recorded that "Graham Wallas read a paper on Personal Duty under the present system. A number of questions from Fabians more or less in trouble about their souls were answered ex cathedra by Mr. Wallas, after which the Society was given to understand by G.B. Shaw that Joseph the Fifth Monarchy Man could show them a more excellent way. Joseph addressed the meeting for five minutes, on the subject of a community about to be established in British North America under the presidency of the Son of God. Sidney Webb, G. Bernard Shaw, Annie Besant, [the Rev.] C.L. Marson and Adolph Smith discussed the subject of the paper with especial reference to the question of buying cheap goods and of the employment of the surplus income of pensioners, after which Graham Wallas replied and the meeting dispersed,"

William Morris lectured on "The Aims of Art" on July 2nd, at a public meeting at South Place Chapel, with Walter Crane in the chair; and Belfort Bax was the lecturer on July 17th.

The first meeting after the holidays was a memorable one, and a few words of introduction are necessary.

In normal times it may be taken for granted that in addition to the Government and the Opposition there is at least one party of Rebels. Generally there are more, since each section has its own rebels, down to the tiniest. In the eighties the rebels were Communist Anarchists, and to us at any rate they seemed more portentous than the mixed crowd of suffragettes and gentlemen from Oxford who before the war seemed to be leading the syndicalist rebels. Anarchist Communism was at any rate a consistent and almost sublime doctrine. Its leaders, such as Prince Kropotkin and Nicholas Tchaykovsky, were men of outstanding ability and unimpeachable character, and the rank and file, mostly refugees from European oppression, had direct relations with similar parties abroad, the exact extent and significance of which we could not calculate.

The Socialist League, founded in 1885 by William Morris, Dr. Edward Aveling, and others, as the result of a quarrel, mainly personal, with the leaders of the Social Democrats, soon developed its own doctrine, and whilst never until near its dissolution definitely anarchist, it was always dominated by the artistic and anti-political temperament of Morris. Politically the Fabians were closer to the Social Democrats, but their hard dogmatism was repellent, whilst Morris had perhaps the most sympathetic and attractive personality of his day.

The crisis of the Society's policy is described in the following passage from Shaw's "Early History,":-

"By 1886 we had already found that we were of one mind as to the advisability of setting to work by the ordinary political methods and having done with Anarchism and vague exhortations to Emancipate the Workers. We had several hot debates on the subject with a section of the Socialist League which called itself Anti-State Communist, a name invented by Mr. Joseph Lane of that body. William Morris, who was really a free democrat of the Kropotkin type, backed up Lane, and went for us tooth and nail. Records of our warfare may be found in the volumes of the extinct magazine called 'To-day,' which was then edited by Hubert Bland; and they are by no means bad reading. We soon began to see that at the debates the opposition to us came from members of the Socialist League, who were present only as visitors. The question was, how many followers had our one ascertained Anarchist, Mrs. Wilson, among the silent Fabians. Bland and Mrs. Besant brought this question to an issue on the 17th September, 1886, at a meeting in Anderton's Hotel, by respectively seconding and moving the following resolution:

"'That it is advisable that Socialists should organize themselves as a political party for the purpose of transferring into the hands of the whole working community full control over the soil and the means of production, as well as over the production and distribution of wealth.'

"To this a rider was moved by William Morris as follows:

"'But whereas the first duty of Socialists is to educate the people to understand what their present position is and what their future might be, and to keep the principle of Socialism steadily before them; and whereas no Parliamentary party can exist without compromise and concession, which would hinder that education and obscure those principles, it would be a false step for Socialists to attempt to take part in the Parliamentary contest.'

"I shall not attempt to describe the debate, in which Morris, Mrs. Wilson, Davis, and Tochatti did battle with Burns, Mrs. Besant, Bland, Shaw, Donald, and Rossiter: that is, with Fabian and S.D.F. combined. Suffice it to say that the minutes of the meeting close with the following significant note by the secretary:

"'Subsequently to the meeting, the secretary received notice from the manager of Anderton's Hotel that the Society could not be accommodated there for any further meetings.'

Everybody voted, whether Fabian or not; and Mrs. Besant and Bland carried their resolution by 47 to 19, Morris's rider being subsequently rejected by 40 to 27."

A short contemporary report written by Mrs. Besant was published in "To-day" for October, 1886, from which it appears that "Invitations were sent out to all Socialist bodies in London," and that the irregularity of the proceedings alluded to by Shaw was intentional. The minutes of the proceedings treat the meeting as in ordinary course, but it is plain from Mrs. Besant's report that it was an informal attempt to clear the air in the Socialist movement as well as in the Society itself.

In order to avoid a breach with Mrs. Wilson and her Fabian sympathisers, it was resolved to form a Fabian Parliamentary League, which Fabians could join or not as they pleased; its constitution, dated February, 1887, is given in full in Tract No. 41; here it is only necessary to quote one passage which describes the policy of the League and of the Society, a policy of deliberate possibilism:-

"The League will take active part in all general and local elections. Until a fitting opportunity arises for putting forward Socialist candidates to form the nucleus of a Socialist party in Parliament, it will confine itself to supporting those candidates who will go furthest in the direction of Socialism. It will not ally itself absolutely with any political party; it will jealously avoid being made use of for party purposes; and it will be guided in its action by the character, record, and pledges of the candidates before the constituencies. In Municipal, School Board, Vestry, and other local elections, the League will, as it finds itself strong enough, run candidates of its own, and by placing trustworthy Socialists on local representative bodies it will endeavour to secure the recognition of the Socialist principle in all the details of local government."

Its history is narrated in the same Tract:-

"Here you have the first sketch of the Fabian policy of to-day. The Parliamentary League, however, was a short-lived affair. Mrs. Wilson's followers faded away, either by getting converted or leaving us. Indeed, it is a question with us to this day whether they did not owe their existence solely to our own imaginations. Anyhow, it soon became plain that the Society was solidly with the Executive on the subject of political action, and that there was no need for any separate organization at all. The League first faded into a Political Committee of the Society, and then merged silently and painlessly into the general body."

Amongst the lecturers of the autumn of 1886 were H.H. Champion on the Unemployed, Mrs. Besant on the Economic Position of Women, Percival Chubb, Bernard Shaw on "Socialism and the Family"-a pencil note in the minute book in the lecturer's handwriting says, "This was one of Shaw's most outrageous performances"-and, in the absence of the Rev. Stopford Brooke, another by Shaw on "Why we do not act up to our principles"

A new Tract was adopted in January, 1887. No. 5, "Facts for Socialists," perhaps the most effective Socialist tract ever published in England. It has sold steadily ever since it was issued: every few years it has been revised and the figures brought up to date; the edition now on sale, published in 1915, is the eleventh. The idea was not new. Statistics of the distribution of our national income had been given, as previously mentioned, in one of the earliest manifestoes of the Democratic Federation. But in Tract 5 the exact facts were rubbed in with copious quotations from recognised authorities and illustrated by simple diagrams. The full title of the tract was "Facts for Socialists from the Political Economists and Statisticians," and the theme of it was to prove that every charge made by Socialism against the capitalist system could be justified by the writings of the foremost professors of economic science. It embodied another Fabian characteristic of considerable importance. Other Socialists then, and many Socialists now, endeavoured by all means to accentuate their differences from other people. Not content with forming societies to advocate their policy, they insisted that it was based on a science peculiar to themselves, the Marxian analysis of value, and the economic interpretation of history: they strove too to dissociate themselves from others by the adoption of peculiar modes of address-such as the use of the words "comrade" and "fraternal"-and they were so convinced that no good thing could come out of the Galilee of capitalism that any countenance of capitalist parties or of the capitalist press was deemed an act of treachery.

The Fabians, on the other hand, tended to the view that "we are all Socialists now." They held that the pronouncements of economic science must be either right or wrong, and in any case science was not a matter of party; they endeavoured to show that on their opponents' own principles they were logically compelled to be Socialists and must necessarily adopt Fabian solutions of social problems.

"Facts for Socialists" was the work of Sidney Webb. No other member possessed anything like his knowledge of economics and statistics. It is, as its title implies, simply a mass of quotations from standard works on Political Economy, strung together in order to prove that the bulk of the wealth annually produced goes to a small fraction of the community in return either for small services or for none at all, and that the poverty of the masses results, not as the individualists argue, from deficiencies of individual character, but, as John Stuart Mill had declared, from the excessive share of the national dividend that falls to the owners of land and capital.

* * *

After the settlement, by a compromise in structure, of the conflict between the anarchists and the collectivists, the Society entered a period of calm, and the Executive issued a circular complaining of the apathy of the members. Probably this is the first of the innumerable occasions on which it has been said that the Society had passed its prime. Moreover, the Executive Committee were blamed for "some habits" which had "a discouraging effect" on the rest of the Society, and it was resolved, for the first, but not the last time, to appoint a Committee to revise the Basis. The Committee consisted of the Executive and eight added members, amongst whom may be mentioned Walter Crane, the Rev. S.D. Headlam, and Graham Wallas. It is said that after many hours of discussion they arrived by compromise at an unanimous report, and that their draft was accepted by the Society without amendment. The report was presented to a meeting on June 3rd, 1887, of which I, on a visit to London, was chairman. It is unfortunate that the record of this meeting, at which the existing Basis of the Society was adopted, is the only one, in the whole history of the Society, which is incomplete. Possibly the colonial policy of the empire was disturbed, and the secretary occupied with exceptional official duties. Anyway the minutes were left unfinished in June, were continued in October, and were never completed or recorded as confirmed. The proceedings relating to the Basis were apparently never written. There is no doubt, however, that the Basis was adopted on this occasion, it is said, at an adjourned meeting, and in spite of many projects of revision it has with one addition-the phrase about "equal citizenship of women"-remained the Basis of the Society to the present time.[20]

The purpose of the Basis has been often misunderstood. It is not a confession of faith, or a statement of the whole content and meaning of Socialism. It is merely a test of admission, a minimum basis of agreement, acceptance of which is required from those who aspire to share in the control of a Society which had set out to reconstruct our social system. The most memorable part of the discussion was the proposal of Mr. Stuart Glennie to add a clause relating to marriage and the family. This was opposed by Mrs. Besant, then regarded as an extremist on that subject, and was defeated. In view of the large amount of business transacted before the discussion of the Basis began, the debate cannot have been prolonged.

It is easy enough, nearly thirty years later, to criticise this document, to point out that it is purely economic, and unnecessarily rigid: that the phrase about compensation, which has been more discussed than any other, is badly worded, and for practical purposes always disregarded in the constructive proposals of the Society.[21] The best testimony to the merits of the Basis is its survival-its acceptance by the continuous stream of new members who have joined the Society-and it has survived not because its upholders deemed it perfect, but because it has always been found impracticable to put on paper any alternative on which even a few could agree. In fact, proposals to re-write the Basis have on several occasions been referred to Committees, but none of the Committees has ever succeeded in presenting a report.

* * *

At the end of the year the sole fruit of the Parliamentary League was published. It is Tract No. 6, entitled "The True Radical Programme" and consists of a declamatory criticism of the official Liberal-Radical Programme announced at Nottingham in October, 1887, and a demand to replace it by the True Radical Programme, namely, adult (in place of manhood) suffrage, payment of Members of Parliament and election expenses, taxation of unearned incomes, nationalisation of railways, the eight hours day, and a few other items. "The above programme," it says, "is sufficient for the present to fill the hands of the True Radical Party-the New Labour Party-in a word, the Practical Socialist Party," It is by no means so able and careful a production as the Report on the Government Organisation of Unemployed Labour.

In April, 1888, the seven Essayists were elected as the Executive Committee, Graham Wallas and William Clarke taking the places of Frank Podmore and W.L. Phillips, who retired, and at the same meeting the Parliamentary League was turned into the Political Committee of the Society; and Tract 7, "Capital and Land," was approved. This tract, the work of Sydney

Olivier, is a reasoned attack on Single Tax as a panacea, and in addition contains an estimate of the total realised wealth of the country, just as "Facts for Socialists" does of its income. This, too, has been regularly revised and reprinted ever since and commands a steady sale. It is now in its seventh edition.

Meanwhile the series of meetings, variously described as Public, Ordinary, and Private, was kept on regularly twice a month, with a break only of two months from the middle of July. Most of the meetings were still held in the houses of members, but as early as November, 1886, an ordinary meeting was held at Willis's Rooms, King Street, St. James's, at that time an ultra-respectable rendezvous for societies of the most select character, keeping up an old-fashioned ceremonial of crimson tablecloths, elaborate silver candlesticks, and impressively liveried footmen. Having been turned out of Anderton's Hotel, the Society, on the application of Olivier, was accepted solemnly at Willis's, probably because the managers regarded the mere fact of our venturing to approach them as a certificate of high rank in the world of learned societies.

One meeting of this period is perhaps worthy of record. On 16th March, 1888, Mr. R.B. Haldane, M.P., subsequently Secretary of State for War and Lord Chancellor, addressed the Society on "Radical Remedies for Economic Evils." In the pages of the "Radical," Vol. II, No. 8, for March, 1888, can be found a vivid contemporary account of the proceedings from the pen of Mr. George Standring, entitled "Butchered to Make a Fabian Holiday." After describing the criticism of the lecture by Sidney Webb, Mrs. Besant, and Bernard Shaw the report proceeds:-

"The massacre was concluded by two other members of the Society and then the chairman called on Mr. Haldane to reply. Hideous mockery! The chairman knew that Haldane was dead! He had seen him torn and tossed and trampled under foot. Perhaps he expected the ghost of the M.P. to rise and conclude the debate with frightful jabberings of fleshless jaws and gestures of bony hands. Indeed I heard a rustling of papers as if one gathered his notes for a speech; but I felt unable to face the grisly horror of a phantom replying to his assassins; so I fled."

It should be added that Mr. Standring did net become a member of the Society until five years later.

By the summer of 1888 the leaders of the Society realised that they had a message for the world, and they decided that the autumn should be devoted to a connected series of lectures on the "Basis and Prospects of Socialism" which should subsequently be published.

There is no evidence, however, that the Essayists supposed that they were about to make an epoch in the history of Socialism. The meetings in the summer had been occupied with lectures by Professor D.G. Ritchie on the "Evolution of Society," subsequently published as his well-known volume "Darwinism and Politics." Walter Crane on "The Prospects of Art under Socialism," Graham Wallas on "The Co-operative Movement," and Miss Clementina Black on "Female Labour." At the last-named meeting, on June 15th, a resolution was moved by H.H. Champion and seconded by Herbert Burrows (neither of them members) calling on the public to boycott Bryant and May's matches on account of the low wages paid. This marks the beginning of the period of Labour Unrest, which culminated in the Dock Strike of the following year.

The first meeting of the autumn was held at Willis's Rooms on September 21st, with the Rev. S.D. Headlam in the chair. The Secretary read a statement indicating the scope of the course of the seven lectures arranged for the Society's meetings during the autumn, after which the first paper, written by Sidney Webb on "The Historical Aspect of the Basis of Socialism," was read by Hubert Bland. Webb had at that time started for a three months' visit to the United States, in which I accompanied him. Mr. Headlam was the chairman throughout the course, except on one occasion, and the lectures continued fortnightly to the 21st December. It does not appear that any special effort was made to advertise them. Each lecture was discussed by members of the Society and of the S.D.F., and with the exception of the Rev. Philip Wicksteed there is no evidence of the presence of any persons outside the movement then or subsequently known to fame.

* * *

The preparation of "Fabian Essays" for publication occupied nearly a year, and before dealing with it we must follow the history of the Society during that period.

The first lecture in 1889 was by Edward Carpenter, whose paper, "Civilisation: Its Cause and Cure," gives the title to perhaps his best known volume of essays. Another interesting lecture was by William Morris, entitled "How Shall We Live Then?" and at the Annual Meeting in April Sydney Olivier became the first historian of the Society with an address on "The Origin and Early History of the Fabian Society," for which he made the pencil notes on the minute book already mentioned.

The seven Essayists were re-elected to the Executive, and in the record of proceedings at the meeting there is no mention of the proposed volume of essays.

It is, however, possible to give some account of the organisation and activities for the year ending in March, 1889, since the first printed Annual Report covers that period. It is a four-page quarto document, only a few copies of which are preserved. Of the Society itself but little is recorded-a list of lectures and the bare statement that the autumn series were to be published: the fact that 6500 Fabian Tracts had been distributed and a second edition of 5000 "Facts for Socialists" printed: that 32 members had been elected and 6 had withdrawn-the total is not given-and that the deficit in the Society's funds had been reduced.

A favourite saying of Sidney Webb's is that the activity of the Fabian Society is the sum of the activities of its members. His report as Secretary of the work of the "Lecture Committee" states that a lecture list with 33 names had been printed, and returns made by 31 lecturers recorded 721 lectures during the year. Six courses of lectures on Economics accounted for 52 of these. The "Essays" series of lectures was redelivered by special request in a room lent by King's College, Cambridge, and also at Leicester. Most of the other lectures were given at London Radical Working Men's Clubs, then and for some years later a much bigger factor in politics than they have been in the twentieth century.

But an almost contemporary account of the life of Bernard Shaw, probably the most active of the leaders, because the least fettered by his occupation, is given in Tract 41 under the heading:


"We had to study where we could and how we could. I need not repeat the story of the Hampstead Historic Club, founded by a handful of us to read Marx and Proudhon, and afterwards turned into a systematic history class in which each student took his turn at being professor. My own experience may be taken as typical. For some years I attended the Hampstead Historic Club once a fortnight, and spent a night in the alternate weeks at a private circle of economists which has since blossomed into the British Economic Association-a circle where the social question was left out, and the work kept on abstract scientific lines. I made all my acquaintances think me madder than usual by the pertinacity with which I attended debating societies and haunted all sorts of hole-and-corner debates and public meetings and made speeches at them. I was President of the Local Government Board at an amateur Parliament where a Fabian ministry had to put its proposals into black and white in the shape of Parliamentary Bills. Every Sunday I lectured on some subject which I wanted to teach to myself; and it was not until I had come to the point of being able to deliver separate lectures, without notes, on Rent, Interest, Profits, Wages, Toryism, Liberalism, Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Trade-Unionism, Co-operation, Democracy, the Division of Society into Classes, and the Suitability of Human Nature to Systems of Just Distribution, that I was able to handle Social-Democracy as it must be handled before it can be preached in such a way as to present it to every sort of man from his own particular point of view. In old lecture lists of the Society you will find my name down for twelve different lectures or so. Nowadays I have only one, for which the secretary is good enough to invent four or five different names. Sometimes I am asked for one of the old ones, to my great dismay, as I forget all about them; but I get out of the difficulty by delivering the new one under the old name, which does as well. I do not hesitate to say that all our best lecturers have two or three old lectures at the back of every single point in their best new speeches; and this means that they have spent a certain number of years plodding away at footling little meetings and dull discussions, doggedly placing these before all private engagements, however tempting. A man's Socialistic acquisitiveness must be keen enough to make him actually prefer spending two or three nights a week in speaking and debating, or in picking up social information even in the most dingy and scrappy way, to going to the theatre, or dancing or drinking, or even sweethearting, if he is to become a really competent propagandist-unless, of course, his daily work is of such a nature as to be in itself a training for political life; and that, we know, is the case with very few of us indeed. It is at such lecturing and debating work, and on squalid little committees and ridiculous little delegations to conferences of the three tailors of Tooley Street, with perhaps a deputation to the Mayor thrown in once in a blue moon or so, that the ordinary Fabian workman or clerk must qualify for his future seat on the Town Council, the School Board, or perhaps in the Cabinet. It was in that way that Bradlaugh, for instance, graduated from being a boy evangelist to being one of the most formidable debaters in the House of Commons. And the only opponents who have ever held their own against the Fabians in debate have been men like Mr. Levy or Mr. Foote, who learnt in the same school."

But lecturing was not the only activity of the Fabians. There were at that time local Groups, each comprising one or a dozen constituencies in London and its suburbs. The Groups in a corporate capacity did little: but the members are reported as taking part in local elections, County Council, School Board, and Vestry, in the meetings of the London Liberal and Radical Union, the National Liberal Federation, the Metropolitan Radical Federation, the Women's Liberal Federation, and so on. This was the year of the first London County Council Election, when the Progressive Party, as it was subsequently named, won an unexpected victory, which proved to be both lasting and momentous for the future of the Metropolis. The only overt part taken by the Fabian Society was its "Questions for Candidates," printed and widely circulated before the election, which gave definiteness and point to the vague ideas of Progressivism then in the air. A large majority of the successful candidates had concurred with this programme. A pamphlet by Sidney Webb, entitled "Wanted a Programme," not published but printed privately, was widely circulated in time for the meeting of the National Liberal Federation at Birmingham, and another by the same author, "The Progress of Socialism," stated to be published by "the Hampstead Society for the Study of Socialism," is reported as in its second edition. This pamphlet was later republished by the Fabian Society as Tract No. 15, "English Progress Towards Social Democracy."

Mrs. Besant and the Rev. Stewart Headlam, standing as Progressives, were elected to the School Board in November, 1888, when Hubert Bland was an unsuccessful candidate.

Finally it may be mentioned that a Universities Committee, with Frank Podmore as Secretary for Oxford and G.W. Johnson for Cambridge, had begun the "permeation" of the Universities, which has always been an important part of the propaganda of the Society.

At the Annual Meeting in April, 1889, the Essayists were re-elected as the Executive Committee and Sydney Olivier as Honorary Secretary, but he only retained the post till the end of the year. I returned to London in October, was promptly invited to resume the work, and took it over in January, 1890.

In July another important tract was approved for publication. "Facts for Londoners," No. 8 in the series, 55 pages of packed statistics sold for 6d., was the largest publication the Society had yet attempted. It is, as its sub-title states: "an exhaustive collection of statistical and other facts relating to the Metropolis, with suggestions for reform on Socialist principles," The latter were in no sense concealed: the Society still waved the red flag in season and out. "The Socialist Programme of immediately practicable reforms for London cannot be wholly dissociated from the corresponding Programme for the kingdom." This is the opening sentence, and it is followed by a page of explanation of the oppression of the workers by the private appropriation of rent and interest, and an outline of the proposed reforms, graduated and differentiated income tax, increased death duties, extension of the Factory Acts, reform of the Poor Law, payment of all public representatives, adult suffrage, and several others.

Then the tract settles down to business. London with its County Council only a few months old was at length waking to self-consciousness: Mr. Charles Booth's "Life and Labour in East London"-subsequently issued as the first part of his monumental work-had just been published; it was the subject of a Fabian lecture by Sidney Webb on May 17th; and interest in the political, economic, and social institutions of the city was general. The statistical facts were at that time practically unknown. They had to be dug out, one by one, from obscure and often unpublished sources, and the work thus done by the Fabian Society led up in later years to the admirable and far more voluminous statistical publications of the London County Council.

The tract deals with area and population; with rating, land values, and housing, with water, trams, and docks, all at that time in the hands of private companies, with gas, markets, City Companies, libraries, public-houses, cemeteries; and with the local government of London, Poor Law Guardians and the poor, the School Board and the schools, the Vestries, District Boards, the County Council, and the City Corporation. It was the raw material of Municipal Socialism, and from this time forth the Society recognised that the municipalisation of monopolies was a genuine part of the Socialist programme, that the transfer from private exploiters to public management at the start, and ultimately by the amortisation of the loans to public ownership, actually was pro tanto the transfer from private to public ownership of land and capital, as demanded by Socialists.

Here, in passing, we may remark that there is a legend, current chiefly in the United States, that the wide extension of municipal ownership in Great Britain is due to the advocacy of the Fabian Society. This is very far from the truth. The great provincial municipalities took over the management of their water and gas because they found municipal control alike convenient, beneficial to the citizens, and financially profitable: Birmingham in the seventies was the Mecca of Municipalisation, and in 1882 the Electric Lighting Act passed by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was so careful of the interests of the public, so strict in the limitations it put upon the possible profits to the investor, that electric lighting was blocked in England for some years, and the Act had to be modified in order that capital might be attracted.[22]

What the Fabian Society did was to point out that Socialism did not necessarily mean the control of all industry by a centralised State; that to introduce Socialism did not necessarily require a revolution because much of it could be brought about piecemeal by the votes of the local electors. And secondly the Society complained that London was singularly backward in municipal management: that the wealthiest city in the world was handed over to the control of exploiters, who made profits from its gas, its water, its docks, and its tramways, whilst elsewhere these monopolies were owned and worked by public authorities who obtained all the advantages for the people of the localities concerned. Moreover, it may be questioned whether the Fabian advocacy of municipalisation hastened or retarded that process in London. In provincial towns municipalisation-the word of course was unknown-had been regarded as of no social or political significance. It was a business matter, a local affair, a question of convenience. In London, partly owing to Fabian advocacy and partly because London had at last a single representative authority with a recognised party system, it became the battle ground of the parties: the claim of the Socialists awakened the Individualists to opposition: and the tramways of London were held as a trench in the world-wide conflict between Socialism and its enemies, whose capture was hailed as an omen of progress by one side, and by the other deplored as the presage of defeat.

"Facts for Londoners" was the work of Sidney Webb, but there is nothing in the tract to indicate this. The publications of the Society were collective works, in that every member was expected to assist in them by criticism and suggestion. Although several of the tracts were lectures or papers written by members for other purposes, and are so described, it was not until the issue in November, 1892, of Tract 42, "Christian Socialism," by the Rev. S.D. Headlam, that the author's name is printed on the title page. The reason for the innovation is obvious: this tract was written by a Churchman for Christians, and whilst the Society as a whole approved the conclusions, the premises commended themselves to but a few. It was therefore necessary that the responsibility of the author should be made clear.

The autumn of 1889 is memorable for the great strike of the London Dockers, which broke out on August 14th, was led by John Burns, and was settled mainly by Cardinal Manning on September 14th. The Fabian Society held no meeting between July 19th and September 20th, and there is nothing in the minutes or the Annual Report to show that the Society as such took any part in the historic conflict. But many of the members as individuals lent their aid to the Dockers in their great struggle, which once for all put an end to the belief that hopeless disorganisation is a necessary characteristic of unskilled labour.[23]

Arising out of the Dock Strike, the special demand of the Socialist section of trade unionists for the next four or five years was a legal eight hours day, and the Fabian Society now for the first time recognised that it could render substantial assistance to the labour movement by putting into a practicable shape any reform which was the current demand of the day.

At the members' meeting on September 20 a committee was appointed to prepare an Eight Hours Bill for introduction into Parliament, and in November this was published as Tract No. 9. It consists of a Bill for Parliament, drawn up in proper form, with explanatory notes. It provided that eight hours should be the maximum working day for Government servants, for railway men, and for miners, and that other trades should be brought in when a Secretary of State was satisfied that a majority of the workers desired it. The tract had a large sale-20,000 had been printed in six months-and it was specially useful because, in fact, it showed the inherent difficulty of any scheme for universal limitation of the hours of labour.

The Eight Hours Day agitation attained larger proportions than any other working-class agitation in England since the middle of the nineteenth century. For a number of years it was the subject of great annual demonstrations in Hyde Park. It commended itself both to the practical trade unionists, who had always aimed at a reduction in the hours of labour, and to the theoretical socialists, who held that the exploiter's profits came from the final hours of the day's work. The Fabian plan of "Trade Option" was regarded as too moderate, and demands were made for a "Trade Exemption" Bill, that is, a Bill enacting a universal Eight Hours Day, with power to any trade to vote its own exclusion. But the more the subject was discussed, the more obvious the difficulties became, and at last it was recognised that each trade must be dealt with separately. Considerable reductions of hours were meantime effected in particular industries; an eight-hour day became the rule in the Government factories and dockyards; the Board of Trade was empowered to insist on the reduction of unduly long hours of duty on railways; finally in 1908 the Miners' Eight Hours Act became law; and the demand for any general Bill faded away.

The autumn meetings were occupied by a course of lectures at Willis's Rooms on "A Century of Social Movements," by Frank Podmore, William Clarke, Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland, and Mrs. Besant, and with the beginning of the year 1890 we come to the publication of "Fabian Essays," and a new chapter in the History of the Society.


[16] On this passage Shaw has written the following criticism, which I have not adopted because on the whole I do not agree with it: "I think this is wrong, because the Fabians were at first as bellicose as the others, and Marx had been under no delusion as to the Commune and did not bequeath a tradition of its repetition. Bakunin was as popular a prophet as Marx. Many of us-Bland and Keddell among others-were members of the S.D.F., and I was constantly speaking for the S.D.F. and the League. We did not keep ourselves to ourselves; we aided the working class organisations in every possible way; and they were jolly glad to have us. In fact the main difference between us was that we worked for everybody (permeation) and they worked for their own societies only. The real reason that we segregated for purposes of thought and study was that the workers could not go our pace or stand our social habits. Hyndman and Morris and Helen Taylor and the other bourgeois S.D.F.-ers and Leaguers were too old for us; they were between forty and fifty when we were between twenty and thirty."

[17] On this passage Shaw comments, beginning with an expletive, and proceeding: "I was the only one who had any principles. But surely the secret of it is that we didn't really want to be demagogues, having other fish to fry, as our subsequent careers proved. Our decision not to stand for Parliament in 1892 was the turning point. I was offered some seats to contest-possibly Labour ones-but I always replied that they ought to put up a bona fide working man. We lacked ambition."

[18] See "The Great Society," by Graham Wallas (Macmillan, 1914), p. 260.

[19] For a much fuller account of this subject, see Appendix I. A.

[20] See Appendix II.

[21] See Fabian Tract 147, "Capital and Compensation," by Edw. R. Pease.

[22] See "Fabian Essays," p. 51, for the first point, and Fabian Tract No. 119 for the second.

[23] See "The Story of the Dockers' Strike," by Vaughan Nash and H. (now Sir Hubert) Llewellyn Smith; Fisher Unwin, 1890.

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From a photograph By Savony of New York


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