The History of the Fabian Society
by Edward R. Pease
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The History of the

Fabian Society


Edward R. Pease

Secretary for Twenty-five Years

With Twelve Illustrations



The History of the Fabian Society will perhaps chiefly interest the members, present and past, of the Society. But in so far as this book describes the growth of Socialist theory in England, and the influence of Socialism on the political thought of the last thirty years, I hope it will appeal to a wider circle.

I have described in my book the care with which the Fabian Tracts have been revised and edited by members of the Executive Committee. Two of my colleagues, Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw, have been good enough to revise this volume in like manner, and I have to thank them for innumerable corrections in style, countless suggestions of better words and phrases, and a number of amplifications and additions, some of which I have accepted without specific acknowledgment, whilst others for one reason or another are to be found in notes; and I am particularly grateful to Bernard Shaw for two valuable memoranda on the history of Fabian Economics, and on Guild Socialism, which are printed as an appendix.

The MS. or proofs have also been read by Mrs. Sidney Webb, Mrs. Bernard Shaw, Sir Sydney Olivier, Graham Wallas, W. Stephen Sanders, and R.C.K. Ensor, to each of whom my cordial thanks are due for suggestions, additions, and corrections.

To Miss Bertha Newcombe I am obliged for permission to reproduce the interesting sketch which forms the frontispiece.


January, 1916.


Chapter I

The Sources of Fabian Socialism

The ideas of the early eighties—The epoch of Evolution—Sources of Fabian ideas—Positivism—Henry George—John Stuart Mill—Robert Owen—Karl Marx—The Democratic Federation—"The Christian Socialist"—Thomas Davidson

Chapter II

The Foundations of the Society: 1883-4

Frank Podmore and Ghost-hunting—Thomas Davidson and his circle—The preliminary meetings—The Fellowship of the New Life—Formation of the Society—The career of the New Fellowship

Chapter III

The Early Days: 1884-6

The use of the word Socialism—Approval of the Democratic Federation—Tract No. I—The Fabian Motto—Bernard Shaw joins—His first Tract—The Industrial Remuneration Conference—Sidney Webb and Sydney Olivier become members—Mrs. Annie Besant—Shaw's second Tract—The Tory Gold controversy—"What Socialism Is"—The Fabian Conference of 1886—Sidney Webb's first contribution, "The Government Organisation of Unemployed Labour"

Chapter IV

The Formation of Fabian Policy: 1886-9

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"

Chapter V

"Fabian Essays" and the Lancashire Campaign: 1890-3

"Fabian Essays" published—Astonishing success—A new presentation of Socialism—Reviewed after twenty-five years—Henry Hutchinson—The Lancashire Campaign—Mrs. Besant withdraws—"Fabian News"

Chapter VI

"To your tents, O Israel": 1894-1900

Progress of the Society—The Independent Labour Party—Local Fabian Societies—University Fabian Societies—London Groups and Samuel Butler—The first Fabian Conference—Tracts and Lectures—The 1892 Election Manifesto—The Newcastle Program—The Fair Wages Policy—The "Fortnightly" article—The Intercepted Letter of 1906

Chapter VII

"Fabianism and the Empire": 1900-1

The Library and Book Boxes—Parish Councils—The Workmen's Compensation Act—The Hutchinson Trust—The London School of Economics—Educational Lectures—Electoral Policy—The controversy over the South African War—The publication of "Fabianism and the Empire"

Chapter VIII

Education: 1902-5, and the Labour Party: 1900-15

Housing—"The Education muddle and the way out"—Supporting the Conservatives—The Education Acts of 1902 and 1903—Feeding School Children—The Labour Representation Committee formed—The Fabian Election Fund—Will Crooks elected in 1910—A Fabian Cabinet Minister—Resignation of Graham Wallas—The younger generation: H.W. Macrosty, J.F. Oakeshott, John W. Martin—Municipal Drink Trade—Tariff Reform—The Decline of the Birth-rate

Chapter IX

The Episode of Mr. Wells: 1906-8

His lecture on administrative areas—"Faults of the Fabian"—The Enquiry Committee—The Report, and the Reply—The real issue, Wells v. Shaw—The women intervene—The Basis altered—The new Executive—Mr. Wells withdraws—His work for Socialism—The writing of Fabian Tracts

Chapter X

The Policy of Expansion: 1907-12

Statistics of growth—The psychology of the Recruit—Famous Fabians—The Arts Group—The Nursery—The Women's Group—Provincial Fabian Societies—University Fabian Societies—London Groups revived—Annual Conferences—The Summer School—The story of "Socialist Unity"—The Local Government Information Bureau—The Joint Standing Committee—Intervention of the International Socialist Bureau

Chapter XI

The Minority Report, Syndicalism and Research: 1909-15

The emergence of Mrs. Sidney Webb—The Poor Law Commission—The Minority Report—Unemployment—The National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution—"Vote against the House of Lords"—Bernard Shaw retires—Death of Hubert Bland—Opposition to the National Insurance Bill—The Fabian Reform Committee—The "New Statesman"—The Research Department—"The Rural Problem"—"The Control of Industry"—Syndicalism—The Guildsmen—Final Statistics—The War

Chapter XII

The Lessons of Thirty Years

Breaking the spell of Marxism—A French verdict—Origin of Revisionism in Germany—The British School of Socialism—Mr. Ernest Barker's summary—Mill versus Marx—The Fabian Method—Making Socialists or making Socialism—The life of propagandist societies—The prospects of Socialist Unity—The future of Fabian ideas—The test of Fabian success

Appendix I

A. On the History of Fabian Economics. By Bernard Shaw

B. On Guild Socialism. By Bernard Shaw

Appendix II

The Basis of the Fabian Society

Appendix III

List of the names and the years of office of the ninety-six members of the Executive Committee, 1884-1915

Appendix IV

Complete List of Fabian publications, 1884-1915, with names of authors



Frontispiece, from a drawing by Miss Bertha Newcombe in 1895

The Seven Essayists

Mrs. Annie Besant, From a photograph

Hubert Bland, From a photograph

William Clarke From a photograph

(Sir) Sydney Olivier, From a photograph

G. Bernard Shaw, From a photograph

Graham Wallas, From a photograph

Sidney Webb, From a drawing

* * * * *

Edward R. Pease, From a photograph

Frank Podmore, From a photograph

Mrs. Sidney Webb, From a photograph

H.G. Wells, From a photograph

The History of the Fabian Society

Chapter I

The Sources of Fabian Socialism

The ideas of the early eighties—The epoch of Evolution—Sources of Fabian ideas—Positivism—Henry George—John Stuart Mill—Robert Owen—Karl Marx—The Democratic Federation—"The Christian Socialist"—Thomas Davidson.

"Britain as a whole never was more tranquil and happy," said the "Spectator," then the organ of sedate Liberalism and enlightened Progress, in the summer of 1882. "No class is at war with society or the government: there is no disaffection anywhere, the Treasury is fairly full, the accumulations of capital are vast"; and then the writer goes on to compare Great Britain with Ireland, at that time under the iron heel of coercion, with Parnell and hundreds of his followers in jail, whilst outrages and murders, like those of Maamtrasma, were almost everyday occurrences.

Some of the problems of the early eighties are with us yet. Ireland is still a bone of contention between political parties: the Channel tunnel is no nearer completion: and then as now, when other topics are exhausted, the "Spectator" can fill up its columns with Thought Transference and Psychical Research.

But other problems which then were vital, are now almost forgotten. Electric lighting was a doubtful novelty: Mr. Bradlaugh's refusal to take the oath excited a controversy which now seems incredible. Robert Louis Stevenson can no longer be adequately described as an "accomplished writer," and the introduction of female clerks into the postal service by Mr. Fawcett has ceased to raise alarm lest the courteous practice of always allowing ladies to be victors in an argument should perforce be abandoned.

But in September of the same year we find a cloud on the horizon, the prelude of a coming storm. The Trade Union Congress had just been held and the leaders of the working classes, with apparently but little discussion, had passed a resolution asking the Government to institute an enquiry with a view to relaxing the stringency of Poor Law administration. This, said the "Spectator," is beginning "to tamper with natural conditions," "There is no logical halting-place between the theory that it is the duty of the State to make the poor comfortable, and socialism."

Another factor in the thought of those days attracted but little attention in the Press, though there is a long article in the "Spectator" at the beginning of 1882 on "the ever-increasing wonder" of that strange faith, "Positivism." It is difficult for the present generation to realise how large a space in the minds of the young men of the eighties was occupied by the religion invented by Auguste Comte. Of this however more must be said on a later page.

But perhaps the most significant feature in the periodical literature of the time is what it omits. April, 1882, is memorable for the death of Charles Darwin, incomparably the greatest of nineteenth-century Englishmen, if greatness be measured by the effects of his work on the thought of the world. The "Spectator" printed a secondary article which showed some appreciation of the event. But in the monthly reviews it passed practically unnoticed. It is true that Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey, but even in 1882, twenty-three years after the publication of the "Origin of Species," evolution was regarded as a somewhat dubious theorem which respectable people were wise to ignore.

In the monthly reviews we find the same odd mixture of articles apposite to present problems, and articles utterly out of date. The organisation of agriculture is a perennial, and Lady Verney's "Peasant Proprietorship in France" ("Contemporary," January, 1882), Mr. John Rae's "Co-operative Agriculture in Germany" ("Contemporary," March, 1882), and Professor Sedley Taylor's "Profit-Sharing in Agriculture" ("Nineteenth Century," October, 1882) show that change in the methods of exploiting the soil is leaden-footed and lagging.

Problems of another class, centring round "the Family," present much the same aspect now as they did thirty years ago. In his "Infant Mortality and Married Women in Factories," Professor Stanley Jevons ("Contemporary," January, 1882) proposes that mothers of children under three years of age should be excluded from factories, and we are at present perhaps even farther from general agreement whether any measure on these lines ought to be adopted.

But when we read the articles on Socialism—more numerous than might be expected at that early date—we are in another world. Mr. Samuel Smith, M.P., writing on "Social Reform" in the "Nineteenth Century" for May, 1883, says that: "Our country is still comparatively free from Communism and Nihilism and similar destructive movements, but who can tell how long this will continue? We have a festering mass of human wretchedness in all our great towns, which is the natural hotbed of such anarchical movements: all the great continental countries are full of this explosive material. Can we depend on our country keeping free from the infection when we have far more poverty in our midst than the neighbouring European States?" Emigration and temperance reform, he thinks, may avert the danger.

The Rev. Samuel (later Canon) Barnett in the same review a month earlier advocated Free Libraries and graduated taxation to pay for free education, under the title of "Practicable Socialism." In April, 1883, Emile de Lavelaye described with alarm the "Progress of Socialism." "On the Continent," he wrote, "Socialism is said to be everywhere." To it he attributed with remarkable inaccuracy, the agrarian movement in Ireland, and with it he connected the fact that Henry George's new book, "Progress and Poverty," was selling by thousands "in an ultra popular form" in the back streets and alleys of England. And then he goes on to allude to Prince Bismarck's "abominable proposition to create a fund for pensioning invalid workmen by a monopoly of tobacco"!

Thirty years ago politics were only intermittently concerned with social problems. On the whole the view prevailed, at any rate amongst the leaders, that Government should interfere in such matters as little as possible. Pauperism was still to be stamped out by ruthless deterrence: education had been only recently and reluctantly taken in hand: factory inspection alone was an accepted State function. Lord Beaconsfield was dead and he had forgotten his zeal for social justice long before he attained power. Gladstone, then in the zenith of his fame, never took any real interest in social questions as we now understand them. Lord Salisbury was an aristocrat and thought as an aristocrat. John Bright viewed industrial life from the standpoint of a Lancashire mill-owner. William Edward Forster, the creator of national education, a Chartist in his youth, had become the gaoler of Parnell and the protagonist of coercion in Ireland. Joseph Chamberlain alone seemed to realise the significance of the social problem, and unhappily political events were soon to deflect his career from what then seemed to be its appointed course.

The political parties therefore offered very little attraction to the young men of the early eighties, who, viewing our social system with the fresh eyes of youth, saw its cruelties and its absurdities and judged them, not as older men, by comparison with the worse cruelties and greater absurdities of earlier days, but by the standard of common fairness and common sense, as set out in the lessons they had learned in their schools, their universities, and their churches.

It is nowadays not easy to recollect how wide was the intellectual gulf which separated the young generation of that period from their parents. "The Origin of Species," published in 1859, inaugurated an intellectual revolution such as the world had not known since Luther nailed his Theses to the door of All Saints' Church at Wittenberg. The older folk as a rule refused to accept or to consider the new doctrine. I recollect a botanical Fellow of the Royal Society who, in 1875, told me that he had no opinions on Darwin's hypothesis. The young men of the time I am describing grew up with the new ideas and accepted them as a matter of course. Herbert Spencer, then deemed the greatest of English thinkers, was pointing out in portentous phraseology the enormous significance of Evolution. Professor Huxley, in brilliant essays, was turning to ridicule the simple-minded credulity of Gladstone and his contemporaries. Our parents, who read neither Spencer nor Huxley, lived in an intellectual world which bore no relation to our own; and cut adrift as we were from the intellectual moorings of our upbringings, recognising, as we did, that the older men were useless as guides in religion, in science, in philosophy because they knew not evolution, we also felt instinctively that we could accept nothing on trust from those who still believed that the early chapters of Genesis accurately described the origin of the universe, and that we had to discover somewhere for ourselves what were the true principles of the then recently invented science of sociology.

One man there was who professed to offer us an answer, Auguste Comte. He too was pre-Darwinian, but his philosophy accepted science, future as well as past. John Stuart Mill, whose word on his own subjects was then almost law, wrote of him with respectful admiration. His followers were known to number amongst them some of the ablest thinkers of the day. The "Religion of Humanity" offered solutions for all the problems that faced us. It suggested a new heaven, of a sort, and it proposed a new earth, free from all the inequalities of wealth, the preventable suffering, the reckless waste of effort, which we saw around us. At any rate, it was worth examination; and most of the free-thinking men of that period read the "Positive Polity" and the other writings of the founder, and spent some Sunday mornings at the little conventicle in Lamb's Conduit Street, or attended on Sunday evenings the Newton Hall lectures of Frederic Harrison.

Few could long endure the absurdities of a made-up theology and a make-believe religion: and the Utopia designed by Comte was as impracticable and unattractive as Utopias generally are. But the critical and destructive part of the case was sound enough. Here was a man who challenged the existing order of society and pronounced it wrong. It was in his view based on conventions, on superstitions, on regulations which were all out of date; society should be reorganised in the light of pure reason; the anarchy of competition must be brought to an end; mankind should recognise that order, good sense, science, and, he added, religion freed from superstition, could turn the world into a place where all might live together in comfort and happiness.

Positivism proposed to attain its Utopia by moralising the capitalists, and herein it showed no advance on Christianity, which for nineteen centuries had in vain preached social obligation to the rich. The new creed could not succeed where the old, with all its tremendous sanctions, had completely failed. We wanted something fresh, some new method of dealing with the inequalities of wealth.

Emile de Lavelaye was quite correct in attributing significance to the publication of "Progress and Poverty," though the seed sown by Henry George took root, not in the slums and alleys of our cities—no intellectual seed of any sort can germinate in the sickly, sunless atmosphere of slums—but in the minds of people who had sufficient leisure and education to think of other things than breadwinning. Henry George proposed to abolish poverty by political action: that was the new gospel which came from San Francisco in the early eighties. "Progress and Poverty" was published in America in 1879, and its author visited England at the end of 1881. Socialism hardly existed at that time in English-speaking countries, but the early advocates of land taxation were not then, as they usually are now, uncompromising individualists. "Progress and Poverty" gave an extraordinary impetus to the political thought of the time. It proposed to redress the wrongs suffered by the working classes as a whole: the poverty it considered was the poverty of the wage workers as a class, not the destitution of the unfortunate and downtrodden individuals. It did not merely propose, like philanthropy and the Poor Law, to relieve the acute suffering of the outcasts of civilisation, those condemned to wretchedness by the incapacity, the vice, the folly, or the sheer misfortune of themselves or their relations. It suggested a method by which wealth would correspond approximately with worth; by which the reward of labour would go to those that laboured; the idleness alike of rich and poor would cease; the abundant wealth created by modern industry would be distributed with something like fairness and even equality, amongst those who contributed to its production. Above all, this tremendous revolution was to be accomplished by a political method, applicable by a majority of the voters, and capable of being drafted as an Act of Parliament by any competent lawyer.

To George belongs the extraordinary merit of recognising the right way of social salvation. The Socialists of earlier days had proposed segregated communities; the Co-operators had tried voluntary associations; the Positivists advocated moral suasion; the Chartists favoured force, physical or political; the Marxists talked revolution and remembered the Paris Commune. George wrote in a land where the people ruled themselves, not only in fact but also in name. The United States in the seventies was not yet dominated by trusts and controlled by millionaires. Indeed even now that domination and control, dangerous and disastrous as it often is, could not withstand for a moment any widespread uprising of the popular will. Anyway, George recognised that in the Western States political institutions could be moulded to suit the will of the electorate; he believed that the majority desired to seek their own well-being and this could not fail to be also the well-being of the community as a whole. From Henry George I think it may be taken that the early Fabians learned to associate the new gospel with the old political method.

But when we came to consider the plan proposed by George we quickly saw that it would not carry us far. Land may be the source of all wealth to the mind of a settler in a new country. To those whose working day was passed in Threadneedle Street and Lombard Street, on the floor of the Stock Exchange, and in the Bank of England, land appears to bear no relation at all to wealth, and the allegation that the whole surplus of production goes automatically to the landowners is obviously untrue. George's political economy was old-fashioned or absurd; and his solution of the problem of poverty could not withstand the simplest criticism. Taxation to extinction of the rent of English land would only affect a small fraction of England's wealth.

There was another remedy in the field. Socialism was talked about in the reviews: some of us knew that an obscure Socialist movement was stirring into life in London. And above all John Stuart Mill had spoken very respectfully of Socialism in his "Political Economy," which then held unchallenged supremacy as an exposition of the science. If, he wrote, "the choice were to be made between Communism[1] with all its chances, and the present state of society with all its sufferings and injustices, if the institution of private property necessarily carried with it as a consequence that the produce of labour should be apportioned as we now see it almost in inverse proportion to labour, the largest portions to those who have never worked at all, the next largest to those whose work is almost nominal, and so in descending scale, the remuneration dwindling as the work grows harder and more disagreeable until the most fatiguing and exhausting bodily labour cannot count with certainty on being able to earn even the necessities of life; if this or Communism were the alternative, all the difficulties, great or small, of Communism would be but as dust in the balance."[2] And again in the next paragraph: "We are too ignorant, either of what individual agency in its best form or Socialism in its best form can accomplish, to be qualified to decide which of the two will be the ultimate form of human society."

More than thirty years had passed since this had been written, and whilst the evils of private property, so vividly depicted by Mill, showed no signs of mitigation, the remedies he anticipated had made no substantial progress. The co-operation of the Rochdale Pioneers had proved a magnificent success, but its sphere of operations was now clearly seen to be confined within narrow limits. Profit-sharing then as now was a sickly plant barely kept alive by the laborious efforts of benevolent professors. Mill's indictment of the capitalist system, in regard to its effects on social life, was so powerful, his treatment of the primitive socialism and communism of his day so sympathetic, that it is surprising how little it prepared the way for the reception of the new ideas. But to some of his readers, at any rate, it suggested that there was an alternative to the capitalistic system, and that Socialism or Communism was worthy of examination.[3]

The Socialism of Robert Owen had made a profound impression on the working people of England half a century earlier, but the tradition of it was confined to those who had heard its prophet. Owen, one of the greatest men of his age, had no sense of art; his innumerable writings are unreadable; and both his later excursions into spiritualism, and the failure of his communities and co-operative enterprises, had clouded his reputation amongst those outside the range of his personality. In later years we often came across old men who had sat at his feet, and who rejoiced to hear once more something resembling his teachings: but I do not think that, at the beginning, the Owenite tradition had any influence upon us.

Karl Marx died in London on the 14th March, 1883, but nobody in England was then aware that the greatest figure in international politics had passed away. It is true that Marx had taken a prominent part in founding the International at that historic meeting in St. Martin's Town Hall on September 28th, 1864. The real significance of that episode was over-rated at the time, and when the International disappeared from European politics in 1872 the whole thing was forgotten.

In Germany Marxian Socialism was already a force, and it was attracting attention in England, as we have seen. But the personality of Marx must have been antipathetic to the English workmen whom he knew, or else he failed to make them understand his ideas: at any rate, his socialism fell on deaf ears, and it may be said to have made no lasting impression on the leaders of English working-class thought. Though he was resident in England for thirty-four years, Marx remained a German to the last. His writings were not translated into English at this period, and Mr. Hyndman's "England for All," published in 1881, which was the first presentation of his ideas in English, did not even mention his name. This book was in fact an extremely moderate proposal to remedy "something seriously amiss in the conditions of our everyday life," and the immediate programme was no more than an eight hours working day, free and compulsory education, compulsory construction of working-class dwellings, and cheap "transport" for working-class passengers. It was the unauthorised programme of the Democratic Federation which had been founded by Mr. Hyndman in 1881. "Socialism Made Plain," the social and political Manifesto of the Democratic Federation (undated, but apparently issued in 1883), is a much stronger document. It deals with the distribution of the National Income, giving the workers' share as 300 out of 1300 millions sterling, and demands that the workers should "educate, agitate, organise" in order to get their own. Evidently it attracted some attention, since we find that the second edition of a pamphlet "Reply" by Samuel Smith, M.P., then a person of substantial importance, was issued in January, 1884.

At the end of 1883 Mr. Hyndman published his "Historical Basis of Socialism in England," which for some time was the text-book of the Democratic Federation, but this, of course, was too late to influence the founders of the Fabian Society.

We were however aware of Marx, and I find that my copy of the French edition of "Das Kapital" is dated 8th October, 1883; but I do not think that any of the original Fabians had read the book or had assimilated its ideas at the time the Society was founded.

To some of those who joined the Society in its early days Christian Socialism opened the way of salvation. The "Christian Socialist"[4] was established by a band of persons some of whom were not Socialist and others not Christian. It claimed to be the spiritual child of the Christian Socialist movement of 1848-52, which again was Socialist only on its critical side, and constructively was merely Co-operative Production by voluntary associations of workmen. Under the guidance of the Rev. Stewart D. Headlam[5] its policy of the revived movement was Land Reform, particularly on the lines of the Single Tax. The introductory article boldly claims the name of Socialist, as used by Maurice and Kingsley: the July number contains a long article by Henry George. In September a formal report is given of the work of the Democratic Federation. In November Christianity and Socialism are said to be convertible terms, and in January, 1884, the clerical view of usury is set forth in an article on the morality of interest. In March Mr. H.H. Champion explains "surplus value," and in April we find a sympathetic review of the "Historic Basis of Socialism." In April, 1885, appears a long and full report of a lecture by Bernard Shaw to the Liberal and Social Union. The greater part of the paper is filled with Land Nationalisation, Irish affairs—the land agitation in Ireland was then at its height—and the propaganda of Henry George: whilst much space is devoted to the religious aspect of the social problem. Sydney Olivier, before he joined the Fabian Society, was one of the managing group, and amongst others concerned in it were the Rev. C.L. Marson and the Rev. W.E. Moll. At a later period a Christian Socialist Society was formed; but our concern here is with the factors which contributed to the Fabian Society at its start, and it is not necessary to touch on other periods of the movement.

Thomas Davidson[6] was the occasion rather than the cause of the founding of the Fabian Society. His socialism was ethical and individual rather than economic and political. He was spiritually a descendant of the Utopians of Brook Farm and the Phalanstery, and what he yearned for was something in the nature of a community of superior people withdrawn from the world because of its wickedness, and showing by example how a higher life might be led. Probably his Scotch common sense recoiled from definitely taking the plunge: I am not aware that he ever actually proposed that his disciples should form a self-contained community. In a lecture to the New York Fellowship of the New Life, he said, "I shall set out with two assumptions, first, that human life does not consist in material possession; and second, that it does consist in free spiritual activity, of which in this life at least material possession is an essential condition." There is nothing new in this: it is the common basis of all religions and ethical systems. But it needs to be re-stated for each generation, and so stated as to suit each environment. At the time that I am describing Davidson's re-statement appealed to the small circle of his adherents, though the movement which he started had results that he neither expected nor approved.

I have now indicated the currents of thought which contributed to the formation of the Fabian Society, so far as I can recover them from memory and a survey of the periodical literature of the period. I have not included the writings of Ruskin, Socialist in outlook as some of them undoubtedly are, because I think that the value of his social teachings was concealed from most of us at that time by reaction against his religious mediaevalism, and indifference to his gospel of art. Books so eminently adapted for young ladies at mid-Victorian schools did not appeal to modernists educated by Comte and Spencer.


[1] The words Communism and Socialism were interchangeable at that period, e.g. the "Manifesto of the Communist Party," by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, 1848.

[2] "Political Economy," Book II, Chap. i, Sec. 3.

[3] William Morris attributed to Mill his conversion to Socialism. See J.W. Mackail's "Life," Vol. II, p. 79.

[4] No. 1, June, 1883, monthly, 1d.; continued until 1891.

[5] Born 1847. Founded the Guild of St. Matthew 1877 and edited its organ, the "Church Reformer," till 1895. Member of the English Land Restoration League, originally the Land Reform Union, from 1883. Member of the London School Board 1888-1904; of the London County Council since 1907.

[6] See "Memorials of Thomas Davidson: the wandering scholar." Edited by William Knight. London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1907. Thomas Davidson was born in Aberdeenshire in 1840 of a peasant family; after a brilliant career at Aberdeen University he settled in America, but travelled much in Europe. His magnetic personality inspired attachment and admiration in all he came across. He lectured and wrote incessantly, founded Ethical Societies and Schools, and published several volumes on philosophical subjects, but his achievements were scarcely commensurate with his abilities. He died in 1900.

Chapter II

The Foundations of the Society: 1883-4

Frank Podmore and Ghost-hunting—Thomas Davidson and his circle—The preliminary meetings—The Fellowship of the New Life—Formation of the Society—The career of the New Fellowship.

In the autumn of 1883 Thomas Davidson paid a short visit to London and held several little meetings of young people, to whom he expounded his ideas of a Vita Nuova, a Fellowship of the New Life. I attended the last of these meetings held in a bare room somewhere in Chelsea, on the invitation of Frank Podmore,[7] whose acquaintance I had made a short time previously. We had become friends through a common interest first in Spiritualism and subsequently in Psychical Research, and it was whilst vainly watching for a ghost in a haunted house at Notting Hill—the house was unoccupied: we had obtained the key from the agent, left the door unlatched, and returned late at night in the foolish hope that we might perceive something abnormal—that he first discussed with me the teachings of Henry George in "Progress and Poverty," and we found a common interest in social as well as psychical progress.

The English organiser or secretary of the still unformed Davidsonian Fellowship was Percival Chubb, then a young clerk in the Local Government Board, and subsequently a lecturer and head of an Ethical Church in New York and St. Louis. Thomas Davidson was about to leave London; and the company he had gathered round him, desirous of further discussing his suggestions, decided to hold another meeting at my rooms. I was at that time a member of the Stock Exchange and lived in lodgings furnished by myself.

Here then on October 24th, 1883, was held the first of the fortnightly meetings, which have been continued with scarcely a break, through nine months of every year, up to the present time. The company that assembled consisted in part of the Davidsonian circle and in part of friends of my own.

The proceedings at this meeting, recorded in the first minute book of the Society in the handwriting of Percival Chubb, were as follows:—


"The first general meeting of persons interested in this movement was held at Mr. Pease's rooms, 17 Osnaburgh Street, Regent's Park, on Wednesday the 24th October, 1883. There were present: Miss Ford, Miss Isabella Ford [of Leeds], Mrs. Hinton [widow of James Hinton], Miss Haddon [her sister], Mr., Mrs., and Miss Robins, Maurice Adams, H.H. Champion, Percival A. Chubb, H. Havelock Ellis, J.L. Joynes, Edward R. Pease, Frank Podmore, R.B.P. Frost, and Hamilton Pullen.

"The proceedings were begun by the reading of Mr. Thomas Davidson's paper 'The New Life,' read by him at a former assemblage, and after it of the Draft of a proposed constitution (Sketch No. 2). [This has not been preserved.]

"A general discussion followed on the question as to what was possible of achievement in the way of founding a communistic society whose members should lead the new higher life foreshadowed in the paper just read. The idea of founding a community abroad was generally discredited, and it was generally recognised that it would not be possible to establish here in England any independent community. What could be done perhaps would be for a number of persons in sympathy with the main idea to unite for the purpose of common living as far as possible on a communistic basis, realising amongst themselves the higher life and making it a primary care to provide a worthy education for the young. The members would pursue their present callings in the world, but they would always aim to make the community as far as practicable self-contained and self-supporting, combining perhaps to carry on some common business or businesses.

"It was eventually arranged to further discuss the matter at another meeting which was fixed for a fortnight hence (Wednesday, 7th November). Mr. Podmore consented to ask Miss Owen [afterwards Mrs. Laurence Oliphant] to attend then and narrate the experiences of the New Harmony Community founded by [her grandfather] Robert Owen.

"It was suggested—and the suggestion was approvingly received—that undoubtedly the first thing to be done was for those present to become thoroughly acquainted with each other. A general introduction of each person to the rest of the company was made and the business of the meeting being concluded conversation followed,"

On November 7th, the second meeting was held, when a number of new people attended, including Hubert Bland, who, I think, had been one of the original Davidson group. Miss Owen was unable to be present, and a draft constitution was discussed.

"A question was then raised as to the method of conducting the proceedings. The appointment of a chairman was proposed, and Mr. Pease was appointed. It was suggested that resolutions should be passed constituting a society, and, as far as those present were concerned, designating its objects. Some exception was taken to this course as being an undesirable formality not in harmony with the free spirit of the undertaking, but meeting with general approval it was followed.

"After some discussion ... the following resolution was proposed and agreed to:—

"That an association be formed whose ultimate aim shall be the reconstruction of Society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities"

A Committee consisting of Messrs. Champion (who was not present), Ellis, Jupp, Podmore, and Chubb, and, failing Champion, Pease was appointed to draw up and submit proposals, and it was resolved for the future to meet on Fridays, a practice which the Society has maintained ever since.

The meeting on November 23rd was attended by thirty-one people, and included Miss Dale Owen, William Clarke, and Frederick Keddell, the first Secretary of the Fabian Society.

H.H. Champion[8] introduced the proposals of the Committee, including the following resolution, which was carried apparently with unanimity:—

"The members of the Society assert that the Competitive system assures the happiness and comfort of the few at the expense of the suffering of the many and that Society must be reconstituted in such a manner as to secure the general welfare and happiness,"

Then the minutes go on, indicating already a rift in the Society: "As the resolution referred rather to the material or economic aims of the Society and not to its primary spiritual aim, it was agreed that it should stand as No. 3, and that another resolution setting forth the spiritual basis of the Fellowship shall be passed which shall stand as No. 2."

It proved impossible to formulate then and there the spiritual basis of the Society, and after several suggestions had been made a new committee was appointed. Resolution No. 1 had already been deferred.

The next meeting was held on December 7th, when only fifteen were present. Hubert Bland occupied the chair, and Dr. Burns-Gibson introduced a definite plan as follows:—


Object.—The cultivation of a perfect character in each and all.

Principle.—The subordination of material things to spiritual.

Fellowship.—The sole and essential condition of fellowship shall be a single-minded, sincere, and strenuous devotion to the object and principle."

Further articles touched on the formation of a community, the supplanting of the spirit of competition, the highest education of the young, simplicity of living, the importance of manual labour and religious communion. Nine names were attached to this project, including those of Percival Chubb, Havelock Ellis, and William Clarke, and it was announced that a Fellowship would be formed on this basis, whether it was accepted or rejected by the majority. These propositions were discussed and no decision was arrived at.

Up to this point the minutes are recorded in the writing of Percival Chubb. The next entry was made by Frank Podmore, and those after that by Frederick Keddell.

We now arrive at the birthday of the Fabian Society, and the minutes of that meeting must be copied in full:—

"Meeting held at 17 Osnaburgh Street, on Friday, 4th January, 1884.

"Present: Mrs. Robins, Miss Robins, Miss Haddon, Miss C. Haddon, Messrs. J. Hunter Watts, Hughes, Bland, Keddell, Pease, Stapleton, Chubb, Burns-Gibson, Swan, Podmore, Estcourt, etc.

"Mr. Bland took the chair at 8.10 p.m.

"After the minutes of the previous meeting had been read and confirmed Dr. Gibson moved the series of resolutions which had been read to the Society at the previous meeting.

"Mr. Podmore moved as an amendment the series of resolutions, copies of which had been circulated amongst the members a few days previously.

"The amendment was carried by 10 votes to 4.

[Presumably the 4 included Burns-Gibson, Chubb, and Estcourt, who signed the defeated resolutions.]

"Mr. Podmore's proposals were then put forward as substantive resolutions and considered seriatim.

"Resolution I.—That the Society be called the Fabian Society (as Mr. Podmore explained in allusion to the victorious policy of Fabius Cunctator) was carried by 9 votes to 2.

"Resolution II.—That the Society shall not at present pledge its members to any more definite basis of agreement than that contained in the resolution of 23rd November, 1883.

"Carried unanimously.

"Resolution III.—In place of Mr. Podmore's first proposal it was eventually decided to modify the resolution of 7th November, 1883, by inserting the words 'to help on' between the words 'shall be' and the words 'the reconstruction.'

"Resolution IV with certain omissions was agreed to unanimously, viz.: That with the view of learning what practical measures to take in this direction the Society should:

"(a) Hold meetings for discussion, the reading of papers, hearing of reports, etc.

"(b) Delegate some of its members to attend meetings held on social subjects, debates at Workmen's Clubs, etc., in order that such members may in the first place report to the Society on the proceedings, and in the second place put forward, as occasion serves, the views of the Society.

"(c) Take measures in other ways, as, for example, by the collection of articles from current literature, to obtain information on all contemporary social movements and social needs.

"Mr. Bland, Mr. Keddell, and Mr. Podmore were provisionally appointed as an Executive Committee, to serve for three months, on the motion of Mr. Pease. A collection was made to provide funds for past expenses: the sum collected amounting to 13s. 9d."

It appears that Mr. Bland on this occasion acted as treasurer, though there is no record of the fact. He was annually re-elected treasurer and a member of the Executive Committee until he retired from both positions in 1911.

Thus the Society was founded. Although it appeared to be the outcome of a division of opinion, this was scarcely in fact the case. All those present became members, and the relations between the Fabian Society and the Fellowship of the New Life were always of a friendly character, though in fact the two bodies had but little in common, and seldom came into contact.

* * * * *

A few words may be devoted to the Fellowship of the New Life, which continued to exist for fifteen years. Its chief achievement was the publication of a quarterly paper called "Seedtime,"[9] issued from July, 1889, to February, 1898. The paper contains articles on Ethical Socialism, the Simple Life, Humanitarianism, the Education of Children, and similar subjects. The Society was conducted much on the same lines as the Fabian Society: fortnightly lectures were given in London and reported in "Seedtime."

In 1893 we find in "Seedtime" an Annual Report recording 12 public meetings, 4 social gatherings, a membership of 95, and receipts L73. During this year, 1892-3, J. Ramsay Macdonald, subsequently M.P. and Secretary and Chairman of the Labour Party, was Honorary Secretary, and for some years he was on the Executive. In 1896 the membership was 115 and the income L48.

The most persistent of the organisers of the New Fellowship was J.F. Oakeshott, who was also for many years a member of the Fabian Executive. Corrie Grant, later a well-known Liberal M.P., H.S. Salt of the Humanitarian League, Edward Carpenter, and his brother Captain Carpenter, Herbert Rix, assistant secretary of the Royal Society, Havelock Ellis, and, both before and after her marriage, Mrs. Havelock Ellis (who was Honorary Secretary for some years), are amongst the names which appear in the pages of "Seedtime,"

Mild attempts were made to carry out the Community idea by means of associated colonies (e.g. the members residing near each other) and a co-operative residence at 49 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury; but close association, especially of persons with the strong and independent opinions of the average socialist, promotes discord, and against this the high ideals of the New Fellowship proved no protection. Indeed it is a common experience that the higher the ideal the fiercer the hostilities of the idealists.

At Thornton Heath, near Croydon, the Fellowship conducted for some time a small printing business, and its concern for the right education for the young found expression in a Kindergarten. Later on an Ethical Church and a Boys' Guild were established at Croydon.

Soon afterwards the Fellowship came to the conclusion that its work was done, the last number of "Seedtime" was published, and in 1898 the Society was dissolved.


[7] Frank Podmore, M.A.—b. 1856, ed. Pembroke College, Oxford, 1st class in Science, 1st class clerk, G.P.O. Author of "Apparitions and Thought Transference," 1894, "Modern Spiritualism," 1902, "The Life of Robert Owen," 1906, etc. D. 1910.

[8] Mr. Champion took no further part in the Fabian movement, so far as I am aware. His activities in connection with the Social Democratic Federation, the "Labour Elector," etc., are not germane to the present subject. He has for twenty years resided in Melbourne.

[9] See complete set in the British Library of Political Science, London School of Economics.

Chapter III

The Early Days: 1884-6

The use of the word Socialism—Approval of the Democratic Federation—Tract No. 1—The Fabian Motto—Bernard Shaw joins—His first Tract—The Industrial Remuneration Conference—Sidney Webb and Sydney Olivier become members—Mrs. Annie Besant—Shaw's second Tract—The Tory Gold controversy—"What Socialism Is"—The Fabian Conference of 1886—Sidney Webb's first contribution, "The Government Organisation of Unemployed Labour."

The Fabian Society was founded for the purpose of "reconstructing society," based on the competitive system, "in such manner as to secure the general welfare and happiness." It is worth noting that the word "Socialism" had not yet appeared in its records, and it is not until the sixth meeting, held on 21st March, 1884, that the word first appears in the minutes, as the title of a paper by Miss Caroline Haddon: "The Two Socialisms"; to which is appended a note in the handwriting of Sydney Olivier: "This paper is stated to have been devoted to a comparison between the Socialism of the Fabian Society and that of the S.D.F." The Society, in fact, began its career with that disregard of mere names which has always distinguished it. The resolutions already recorded, advocating the reconstruction of society on a non-competitive basis with the object of remedying the evils of poverty, embody the essence of Socialism, and our first publication, Tract No. 1, was so thorough-going a statement of Socialism that it has been kept in print ever since. But neither in Tract No. 1 nor in Tract No. 2 does the word Socialism occur, and it is not till Tract No. 3, published in June, 1885, that we find the words "the Fabian Society having in view the advance of Socialism in England." At this stage it is clear that the Society was socialist without recognising itself as part of a world-wide movement, and it was only subsequently that it adopted the word which alone adequately expressed its ideas.

At the second meeting, on 25th January, 1884, reports were presented on a lecture by Henry George and a Conference of the Democratic Federation (later the Social Democratic Federation); the rules were adopted, and Mr. J.G. Stapleton read a paper on "Social conditions in England with a view to social reconstruction or development." This was the first of the long series of Fabian fortnightly lectures which have been continued ever since. On February 29th, after a paper on the Democratic Federation, Mr. Bland moved: "That whilst not entirely agreeing with the statements and phrases used in the pamphlets of the Democratic Federation, and in the speeches of Mr. Hyndman, this Society considers that the Democratic Federation is doing good and useful work and is worthy of sympathy and support." This was carried nem. con. On March 7th a pamphlet committee was nominated, and on March 21st the Executive was reappointed. On April 4th the Pamphlet Committee reported, and 2000 copies of "Fabian Tract No. 1" were ordered to be printed.

This four-page leaflet has now remained in print for over thirty years, and there is no reason to suppose that the demand for it will soon cease. According to tradition, it was drafted by W.L. Phillips, a house-painter, at that time the only "genuine working man" in our ranks. He had been introduced to me by a Positivist friend, and was in his way a remarkable man, ready at any time to talk of his experiences of liberating slaves by the "Underground Railway" in the United States. He worked with us cordially for several years and then gradually dropped out. The original edition of "Why are the many poor?" differs very little from that now in circulation. It was revised some years later by Bernard Shaw, who cut down the rhetoric and sharpened the phraseology, but the substance has not been changed. It is remarkable as containing a sneer at Christianity, the only one to be found in the publications of the Society. Perhaps this was a rebound from excess of "subordination of material things to spiritual things" insisted on by the Fellowship of the New Life!

The tract had on its title page two mottoes, the second of which has played some part in the Society's history. They were produced, again according to tradition, by Frank Podmore, and, though printed as quotations, are not to be discovered in any history:—

"Wherefore it may not be gainsaid that the fruit of this man's long taking of counsel—and (by the many so deemed) untimeous delays—was the safe-holding for all men, his fellow-citizens, of the Common Weal."

"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."

It has been pointed out by Mr. H.G. Wells, and by others before him, that Fabius never did strike hard; and many have enquired when the right time for the Fabians to strike would come. In fact, we recognised at that time that we did not know what were the remedies for the evils of society as we saw them and that the right time for striking would not come until we knew where to strike. Taken together as the two mottoes were first printed, this meaning is obvious. The delay was to be for the purpose of "taking counsel."

Tract No. 1, excellent as it is, shows a sense of the evil, but gives no indication of the remedy. Its contents are commonplace, and in no sense characteristic of the Society. The men who were to make its reputation had not yet found it out, and at this stage our chief characteristic was a lack of self-confidence unusual amongst revolutionaries. We had with considerable courage set out to reconstruct society, and we frankly confessed that we did not know how to go about it.

The next meeting to which we need refer took place on May 16th. The minutes merely record that Mr. Rowland Estcourt read a paper on "The Figures of Mr. Mallock," but a pencil note in the well-known handwriting of Bernard Shaw has been subsequently added: "This meeting was made memorable by the first appearance of Bernard Shaw."

On September 5th Bernard Shaw was elected a member, and at the following meeting on September 19th his first contribution to the literature of the Society, Pamphlet No. 2, was read. The influence of his intellectual outlook was immediate, and already the era of "highest moral possibilities" seems remote. Tract No. 2 was never reprinted and the number of copies in existence outside public libraries is small: it is therefore worth reproducing in full.


17 Osnaburgh Street, Regent's Park Fabian Tract No. 2


"For always in thine eyes, O liberty, Shines that high light whereby the world is saved; And though thou slay us, we will trust in thee."

London: George Standring, 8 & 9 Finsbury Street, E.C. 1884.


THE FABIANS are associated for spreading the following opinions held by them and discussing their practical consequences.

That under existing circumstances wealth cannot be enjoyed without dishonour or foregone without misery.

That it is the duty of each member of the State to provide for his or her wants by his or her own Labour.

That a life interest in the Land and Capital of the nation is the birthright of every individual born within its confines and that access to this birthright should not depend upon the will of any private person other than the person seeking it.

That the most striking result of our present system of farming out the national Land and Capital to private persons has been the division of Society into hostile classes, with large appetites and no dinners at one extreme and large dinners and no appetites at the other.

That the practice of entrusting the Land of the nation to private persons in the hope that they will make the best of it has been discredited by the consistency with which they have made the worst of it; and that Nationalisation of the Land in some form is a public duty.

That the pretensions of Capitalism to encourage Invention and to distribute its benefits in the fairest way attainable, have been discredited by the experience of the nineteenth century.

That, under the existing system of leaving the National Industry to organise itself Competition has the effect of rendering adulteration, dishonest dealing and inhumanity compulsory.

That since Competition amongst producers admittedly secures to the public the most satisfactory products, the State should compete with all its might in every department of production.

That such restraints upon Free Competition as the penalties for infringing the Postal monopoly, and the withdrawal of workhouse and prison labour from the markets, should be abolished.

That no branch of Industry should be carried on at a profit by the central administration.

That the Public Revenue should be levied by a direct Tax; and that the central administration should have no legal power to hold back for the replenishment of the Public Treasury any portion of the proceeds of Industries administered by them.

That the State should compete with private individuals—especially with parents—in providing happy homes for children, so that every child may have a refuge from the tyranny or neglect of its natural custodians.

That Men no longer need special political privileges to protect them against Women, and that the sexes should henceforth enjoy equal political rights.

That no individual should enjoy any Privilege in consideration of services rendered to the State by his or her parents or other relations.

That the State should secure a liberal education and an equal share in the National Industry to each of its units.

That the established Government has no more right to call itself the State than the smoke of London has to call itself the weather.

That we had rather face a Civil War than such another century of suffering as the present one has been.

It would be easy in the light of thirty years' experience to write at much length on these propositions. They are, of course, unqualified "Shaw." The minutes state that each was discussed and separately adopted. Three propositions, the nature of which is not recorded, were at a second meeting rejected, while the proposition on heredity was drafted and inserted by order of the meeting. I recollect demurring to the last proposition, and being assured by the author that it was all right since in fact no such alternative would ever be offered!

The persistency of Mr. Shaw's social philosophy is remarkable. His latest volume[10] deals with parents and children, the theme he touched on in 1884; his social ideal is still a birthright life interest in national wealth, and "an equal share in national industry," the latter a phrase more suggestive than lucid. On the other hand, he, like the rest of us, was then by no means clear as to the distinction between Anarchism and Socialism. The old Radical prejudice in favour of direct taxation, so that the State may never handle a penny not wrung from the reluctant and acutely conscious taxpayer, the doctrinaire objection to State monopolies, and the modern view that municipal enterprises had better be carried on at cost price, are somewhat inconsistently commingled with the advocacy of universal State competition in industry. It may further be noticed that we were as yet unconscious of the claims and aims of the working people. Our Manifesto covered a wide field, but it nowhere touches Co-operation or Trade Unionism, wages or hours of labour. We were still playing with abstractions, Land and Capital, Industry and Competition, the Individual and the State.

In connection with the first tracts another point may be mentioned. The Society has stuck to the format adopted in these early days, and with a few special exceptions all its publications have been issued in the same style, and with numbers running on consecutively. For all sorts of purposes the advantage of this continuity has been great.

* * * * *

On January 2nd, 1885, Bernard Shaw was elected to the Executive Committee, and about the same time references to the Industrial Remuneration Conference appear in the minutes. This remarkable gathering, made possible by a gift of L1000 from Mr. Miller of Edinburgh, was summoned to spend three days in discussing the question, "Has the increase of products of industry within the last hundred years tended most to the benefit of capitalists and employers or to that of the working classes, whether artisans, labourers or others? And in what relative proportions in any given period?"

The second day was devoted to "Remedies," and the third to the question, "Would the more general distribution of capital or land or the State management of capital or land promote or impair the production of wealth and the welfare of the community?" The Fabian Society appointed two delegates, J.G. Stapleton and Hubert Bland, but Bernard Shaw apparently took the place of the latter.

It met on January 28th, at the Prince's Hall, Piccadilly. Mr. Arthur J. Balfour read a paper in which he made an observation worth recording: "As will be readily believed, I am no Socialist, but to compare the work of such men as Mr. (Henry) George with that of such men, for instance, as Karl Marx, either in respect of its intellectual force, its consistency, its command of reasoning in general, or of economic reasoning in particular, seems to me absurd."

The Conference was the first occasion in which the Fabian Society emerged from its drawing-room obscurity, and the speech of Bernard Shaw on the third day was probably the first he delivered before an audience of more than local importance. One passage made an impression on his friends and probably on the public. "It was," he said, "the desire of the President that nothing should be said that might give pain to particular classes. He was about to refer to a modern class, the burglars, but if there was a burglar present he begged him to believe that he cast no reflection upon his profession, and that he was not unmindful of his great skill and enterprise: his risks—so much greater than those of the most speculative capitalist, extending as they did to risk of liberty and life—his abstinence; or finally of the great number of people to whom he gave employment, including criminal attorneys, policemen, turnkeys, builders of gaols, and it might be the hangman. He did not wish to hurt the feelings of shareholders ... or of landlords ... any more than he wished to pain burglars. He would merely point out that all three inflicted on the community an injury of precisely the same nature."[11]

It may be added that Mr. Shaw was patted on the back by a subsequent speaker, Mr. John Wilson, of the Durham Miners, for many years M.P. for Mid-Durham, and by no means an habitual supporter of Socialists.

The stout volume in which the proceedings are published is now but seldom referred to, but it is a somewhat significant record of the intellectual unrest of the period, an indication that the governing classes even at this early date in the history of English Socialism, were prepared to consider its claims, and to give its proposals a respectful hearing.

* * * * *

The early debates in the Society were in the main on things abstract or Utopian. Social Reconstruction was a constant theme, Hubert Bland outlined "Revolutionary Prospects" in January, 1885, and Bernard Shaw in February combated "The proposed Abolition of the Currency."

On March 6th a new departure began: a Committee was appointed to collect "facts concerning the working of the Poor Law," with special reference to alleged official attempts to disprove "great distress amongst the workers." It does not appear that the Report was ever completed.

On March 20th Sidney Webb read a paper on "The Way Out," and on the 1st May he was elected a member along with his Colonial Office colleague Sydney Olivier. On May 15th is recorded the election of Harold Cox, subsequently M.P., and now editor of the "Edinburgh Review."

The Society was now finding its feet. On April 17th it had been resolved to send a delegate "to examine into and report upon the South Yorkshire Miners"! And on the same day it was determined to get up a Soiree. This gathering, held in Gower Street, was memorable because it was attended by Mrs. Annie Besant, then notorious as an advocate of Atheism and Malthusianism, the heroine of several famous law cases, and a friend and colleague of Charles Bradlaugh. Mrs. Besant was elected a member a few weeks later, and she completed the list of the seven who subsequently wrote "Fabian Essays," with the exception of Graham Wallas, who did not join the Society until April, 1886.[12]

But although Sidney Webb had become a Fabian the scientific spirit was not yet predominant. Bernard Shaw had, then as now, a strong objection to the peasant agriculture of his native land, and he submitted to the Society a characteristic leaflet addressed: "To provident Landlords and Capitalists, a suggestion and a warning." "The Fabian Society," it says, "having in view the advance of Socialism and the threatened subversion of the powers hitherto exercised by private proprietors of the national land and capital ventures plainly to warn all such proprietors that the establishment of Socialism in England means nothing less than the compulsion of all members of the upper class, without regard to sex or condition, to work for their own living." The tract, which is a very brief one, goes on to recommend the proprietary classes to "support all undertakings having for their object the parcelling out of waste or inferior lands amongst the labouring class" for sundry plausible reasons. At the foot of the title page, in the smallest of type, is the following: "Note.—Great care should be taken to keep this tract out of the hands of radical workmen, Socialist demagogues and the like, as they are but too apt to conclude that schemes favourable to landlords cannot be permanently advantageous to the working class." This elaborate joke was, except for one amendment, adopted as drafted on June 5th, 1885, and there is a tradition that it was favourably reviewed by a Conservative newspaper!

The Society still met as a rule at 17 Osnaburgh Street, or in the rooms of Frank Podmore at 14 Dean's Yard, Westminster, but it was steadily growing and new members were elected at every meeting. Although most of the members were young men of university education, the Society included people of various ages. To us at any rate Mrs. James Hinton, widow of Dr. Hinton, and her sisters, Miss Haddon and Miss Caroline Haddon, seemed to be at least elderly. Mrs. Robins, her husband (a successful architect), and her daughter, who acted as "assistant" honorary secretary for the first eighteen months, lent an air of prosperous respectability to our earliest meetings. Mr. and Mrs. J. Glode Stapleton, who were prominent members for some years, were remarkable amongst us because they drove to our meetings in their own brougham! The working classes, as before mentioned, had but a single representative. Another prominent member at this period was Mrs. Charlotte M. Wilson, wife of a stock-broker living in Hampstead, who a short time later "simplified" into a cottage at the end of the Heath, called Wildwood Farm, now a part of the Garden Suburb Estate, where Fabians for many years held the most delightful of their social gatherings. Mrs. Wilson was elected to the Executive of five in December, 1884 (Mrs. Wilson, H. Bland, E.R. Pease, G. Bernard Shaw and F. Keddell), but after some time devoted herself entirely to the Anarchist movement, led by Prince Kropotkin, and for some years edited their paper, "Freedom." But she remained throughout a member of the Fabian Society, and twenty years later she resumed her Fabian activity, as will be related in a later chapter.

All this time the Socialist movement in England was coming into public notice with startling rapidity. In January, 1884, "Justice, the organ of the Democratic Federation," was founded, and in August of that year the Federation made the first of its many changes of name, and became the Social Democratic Federation or S.D.F. The public then believed, as the Socialists also necessarily believed, that Socialism would be so attractive to working-class electors that they would follow its banner as soon as it was raised, and the candidatures undertaken by the S.D.F. at the General Election in November, 1885, produced widespread alarm amongst politicians of both parties. The following account of this episode from Fabian Tract 41, "The Early History of the Fabian Society," was written by Bernard Shaw in 1892, and describes the events and our attitude at the time far more freshly and graphically than anything I can write nearly thirty years later.

After explaining why he preferred joining the Fabian Society rather than the S.D.F., Mr. Shaw goes on (pp. 4-7):—

"However, as I have said, in 1885 our differences [from other Socialists] were latent or instinctive; and we denounced the capitalists as thieves at the Industrial Remuneration Conference, and, among ourselves, talked revolution, anarchism, labour notes versus pass-books, and all the rest of it, on the tacit assumption that the object of our campaign, with its watchwords, 'EDUCATE, AGITATE, ORGANIZE,' was to bring about a tremendous smash-up of existing society, to be succeeded by complete Socialism. And this meant that we had no true practical understanding either of existing society or Socialism. Without being quite definitely aware of this, we yet felt it to a certain extent all along; for it was at this period that we contracted the invaluable habit of freely laughing at ourselves which has always distinguished us, and which has saved us from becoming hampered by the gushing enthusiasts who mistake their own emotions for public movements. From the first, such people fled after one glance at us, declaring that we were not serious. Our preference for practical suggestions and criticisms, and our impatience of all general expressions of sympathy with working-class aspirations, not to mention our way of chaffing our opponents in preference to denouncing them as enemies of the human race, repelled from us some warm-hearted and eloquent Socialists, to whom it seemed callous and cynical to be even commonly self-possessed in the presence of the sufferings upon which Socialists make war. But there was far too much equality and personal intimacy among the Fabians to allow of any member presuming to get up and preach at the rest in the fashion which the working-classes still tolerate submissively from their leaders. We knew that a certain sort of oratory was useful for 'stoking up' public meetings; but we needed no stoking up, and, when any orator tried the process on us, soon made him understand that he was wasting his time and ours. I, for one, should be very sorry to lower the intellectual standard of the Fabian by making the atmosphere of its public discussions the least bit more congenial to stale declamation than it is at present. If our debates are to be kept wholesome, they cannot be too irreverent or too critical. And the irreverence, which has become traditional with us, comes down from those early days when we often talked such nonsense that we could not help laughing at ourselves.


"When I add that in 1885 we had only 40 members, you will be able to form a sufficient notion of the Fabian Society in its nonage. In that year there occurred an event which developed the latent differences between ourselves and the Social-Democratic Federation. The Federation said then, as it still says, that its policy is founded on a recognition of the existence of a Class War. How far the fact of the working classes being at war with the proprietary classes justifies them in suspending the observance of the ordinary social obligations in dealing with them was never settled; but at that time we were decidedly less scrupulous than we are now in our ideas on the subject; and we all said freely that as gunpowder destroyed the feudal system, so the capitalist system could not long survive the invention of dynamite. Not that we are dynamitards: indeed the absurdity of the inference shows how innocent we were of any practical acquaintance with explosives; but we thought that the statement about gunpowder and feudalism was historically true, and that it would do the capitalists good to remind them of it. Suddenly, however, the Federation made a very startling practical application of the Class War doctrine. They did not blow anybody up; but in the general election of 1885 they ran two candidates in London—Mr. Williams, in Hampstead, who got 27 votes, and Mr. Fielding, in Kennington, who got 32 votes. And they made no secret of the fact that the expenses of these elections had been paid by one of the established political parties in order to split the vote of the other. From the point of view of the abstract moralist there was nothing to be said against the transaction; since it was evident that Socialist statesmanship must for a long time to come consist largely of taking advantage of the party dissensions between the Unsocialists. It may easily happen to-morrow that the Liberal party may offer to contribute to the expenses of a Fabian candidate in a hopelessly Tory stronghold, in order to substantiate its pretensions to encourage Labour representation. Under such circumstances it is quite possible that we may say to the Fabian in question, Accept by all means; and deliver propagandist addresses all over the place. Suppose that the Liberal party offers to bear part of Mr. Sidney Webb's expenses at the forthcoming County Council election at Deptford, as they undoubtedly will, by means of the usual National Liberal Club subscription, in the case of the poorer Labour candidates. Mr. Webb, as a matter of personal preference for an independence which he is fortunately able to afford, will refuse. But suppose Mr. Webb were not in that fortunate position, as some Labour candidates will not be! It is quite certain that not the smallest odium would attach to the acceptance of a Liberal grant-in-aid. Now the idea that taking Tory money is worse than taking Liberal money is clearly a Liberal party idea and not a Social-Democratic one. In 1885 there was not the slightest excuse for regarding the Tory party as any more hostile to Socialism than the Liberal party; and Mr. Hyndman's classical quotation, 'Non olet'—'It does not smell,' meaning that there is no difference in the flavour of Tory and Whig gold once it comes into the Socialist treasury, was a sufficient retort to the accusations of moral corruption which were levelled at him. But the Tory money job, as it was called, was none the less a huge mistake in tactics. Before it took place, the Federation loomed large in the imagination of the public and the political parties. This is conclusively proved by the fact that the Tories thought that the Socialists could take enough votes from the Liberals to make it worth while to pay the expenses of two Socialist candidates in London. The day after the election everyone knew that the Socialists were an absolutely negligeable quantity there as far as voting power was concerned. They had presented the Tory party with 57 votes, at a cost of about L8 apiece. What was worse, they had shocked London Radicalism, to which Tory money was an utter abomination. It is hard to say which cut the more foolish figure, the Tories who had spent their money for nothing, or the Socialists who had sacrificed their reputation for worse than nothing.

"The disaster was so obvious that there was an immediate falling off from the Federation, on the one hand of the sane tacticians of the movement, and on the other of those out-and-out Insurrectionists who repudiated political action altogether, and were only too glad to be able to point to a discreditable instance of it. Two resolutions were passed, one by the Socialist League and the other by the Fabian Society. Here is the Fabian resolution:

"'That the conduct of the Council of the Social-Democratic Federation in accepting money from the Tory party in payment of the election expenses of Socialist candidates is calculated to disgrace the Socialist movement in England,'—4th Dec., 1885."

The result of this resolution, passed by 15 votes to 4, was the first of the very few splits which are recorded in the history of the Society. Frederick Keddell, the first honorary secretary, resigned and I took his place, whilst a few weeks later Sidney Webb was elected to the vacancy on the Executive.

In 1886 Socialism was prominently before the public. Unemployment reached a height which has never since been touched. Messrs. Hyndman, Champion, Burns, and Williams were actually tried for sedition, but happily acquitted; and public opinion was justified in regarding Socialism rather as destructive and disorderly than as constructive, and, as is now often said, even too favourable to repressive legislation. In these commotions the Society as a whole took no part, and its public activities were limited to a meeting at South Place Chapel, on December 18th, 1885, addressed by Mrs. Besant.

In March, 1886, the Executive Committee was increased to seven by the addition of Mrs. Besant and Frank Podmore, and in April Tract No. 4, "What Socialism Is," was approved for publication. It begins with a historical preface, touching on the Wars of the Roses, Tudor confiscation of land, the enclosure of commons, the Industrial Revolution, and so on. Surplus value and the tendency of wages to a minimum are mentioned, and the valuable work of Trade Unionism—sometimes regarded by Guild Socialists and others nowadays as a recent discovery—is alluded to: indeed the modern syndicalist doctrine was anticipated: the workman, it is said, "has been forced to sell himself for a mess of pottage and is consequently deprived of the guidance of his own life and the direction of his own labour." Socialist opinion abroad, it says, "has taken shape in two distinct schools, Collectivist and Anarchist. English Socialism is not yet Anarchist or Collectivist, not yet definite enough in point of policy to be classified. There is a mass of Socialist feeling not yet conscious of itself as Socialism. But when the conscious Socialists of England discover their position they also will probably fall into two parties: a Collectivist party supporting a strong central administration, and a counterbalancing Anarchist party defending individual initiative against that administration. In some such fashion progress and stability will probably be secured under Socialism by the conflict of the uneradicable Tory and Whig instincts in human nature."

It will be noticed that even in this period of turmoil the Society was altogether constitutional in its outlook; political parties of Socialists and Anarchists combining progress with stability were the features of the future we foresaw.

By this time the Society was thoroughly aware of its relation to international socialism, and the remaining six pages of the tract are occupied by expositions of the alternatives above alluded to. "Collectivism" is summarised from Bebel's "Woman in the Past, Present, and Future," and is a somewhat mechanical scheme of executive committees in each local commune or district representing each branch of industry, elected by universal suffrage for brief periods of office and paid at the rate of ordinary workmen; and of a central Executive Committee chosen in like manner or else directly appointed by the local Communal Councils. The second part consists of "Anarchism, drawn up by C.M. Wilson on behalf of the London Anarchists." This is a statement of abstract principles which frankly admits that "Anarchists have no fears that in discarding the Collectivist dream of the scientific regulation of industry and inventing no formulas for social conditions as yet unrealised, they are neglecting the essential for the visionary,"

This tract was never reprinted, and, of course, it attracted no attention. It was however the first of the long series of Fabian tracts that aimed at supplying information and thus carrying out the original object of the Society, the education of its members and the systematic study of the reconstruction of the social system.

The spring of 1886 was occupied with arrangements for the Conference, which was held at South Place Chapel on June 9th, 10th, and 11th.

Here again a quotation from Bernard Shaw's "Early History of the Fabian Society" is the best description available:—


"You will now ask to be told what the Fabians had been doing all this time. Well, I think it must be admitted that we were overlooked in the excitements of the unemployed agitation, which had, moreover, caused the Tory money affair to be forgotten. The Fabians were disgracefully backward in open-air speaking. Up to quite a recent date, Graham Wallas, myself, and Mrs. Besant were the only representative open-air speakers in the Society, whereas the Federation speakers, Burns, Hyndman, Andrew Hall, Tom Mann, Champion, Burrows, with the Socialist Leaguers, were at it constantly. On the whole, the Church Parades and the rest were not in our line; and we were not wanted by the men who were organizing them. Our only contribution to the agitation was a report which we printed in 1886, which recommended experiments in tobacco culture, and even hinted at compulsory military service, as means of absorbing some of the unskilled unemployed, but which went carefully into the practical conditions of relief works. Indeed, we are at present trying to produce a new tract on the subject without finding ourselves able to improve very materially on the old one in this respect. It was drawn up by Bland, Hughes, Podmore, Stapleton, and Webb, and was the first of our publications that contained any solid information. Its tone, however, was moderate and its style somewhat conventional; and the Society was still in so hot a temper on the social question that we refused to adopt it as a regular Fabian tract, and only issued it as a report printed for the information of members. Nevertheless we were coming to our senses rapidly by this time. We signalized our repudiation of political sectarianism in June, 1886, by inviting the Radicals, the Secularists, and anyone else who would come, to a great conference, modelled upon the Industrial Remuneration Conference, and dealing with the Nationalization of Land and Capital. It fully established the fact that we had nothing immediately practical to impart to the Radicals and that they had nothing to impart to us. The proceedings were fully reported for us; but we never had the courage even to read the shorthand writer's report, which still remains in MS. Before I refreshed my memory on the subject the other day, I had a vague notion that the Conference cost a great deal of money; that it did no good whatever; that Mr. Bradlaugh made a speech; that Mrs. Fenwick Miller, who had nothing on earth to do with us, was in the chair during part of the proceedings; and that the most successful paper was by a strange gentleman whom we had taken on trust as a Socialist, but who turned out to be an enthusiast on the subject of building more harbours. I find, however, on looking up the facts, that no less than fifty-three societies sent delegates; that the guarantee fund for expenses was L100; and that the discussions were kept going for three afternoons and three evenings. The Federation boycotted us; but the 'Times' reported us.[13] Eighteen papers were read, two of them by members of Parliament, and most of the rest by well-known people. William Morris and Dr. Aveling read papers as delegates from the Socialist League; the National Secular Society sent Mr. Foote and Mr. [John M.] Robertson,[14] the latter contributing a 'Scheme of Taxation' in which he anticipated much of what was subsequently adopted as the Fabian program; Wordsworth Donisthorpe took the field for Anarchism of the type advocated by the authors of 'A Plea for Liberty'; Stewart Headlam spoke for Christian Socialism and the Guild of St. Matthew; Dr. Pankhurst dealt with the situation from the earlier Radical point of view; and various Socialist papers were read by Mrs. Besant, Sidney Webb, and Edward Carpenter, besides one by Stuart Glennie, who subsequently left us because we fought shy of the Marriage Question when revising our 'Basis.' I mention all this in order to show you how much more important this abortive Conference looked than the present one. Yet all that can be said for it is that it made us known to the Radical clubs and proved that we were able to manage a conference in a businesslike way. It also, by the way, showed off our pretty prospectus with the design by Crane at the top, our stylish-looking blood-red invitation cards, and the other little smartnesses on which we then prided ourselves. We used to be plentifully sneered at as fops and arm-chair Socialists for our attention to these details; but I think it was by no means the least of our merits that we always, as far as our means permitted, tried to make our printed documents as handsome as possible, and did our best to destroy the association between revolutionary literature and slovenly printing on paper that is nasty without being cheap. One effect of this was that we were supposed to be much richer than we really were, because we generally got better value and a finer show for our money than the other Socialist societies."[15]

Three members of Parliament, Charles Bradlaugh, William Saunders, and Dr. G.B. Clark, took part. The Dr. Pankhurst mentioned was the husband of Mrs. Pankhurst, later the leader of the Women's Social and Political Union.

The reference in the foregoing passage to the report on "The Government Organisation of Unemployed Labour," prepared concurrently with the organisation of the Conference, is by no means adequate. The Report attracted but little attention at the time, even in the Society itself, but it is in fact the first typically Fabian publication, and the first in which Sidney Webb took part. Much subsequent experience has convinced me that whenever Webb is on a committee it may be assumed in default of positive evidence to the contrary that its report is his work. Webb however maintains that to the best of his recollection the work was shared between Podmore and himself, the simple arrangement being that Podmore wrote the first half and Webb the second. The tract is an attempt to deal with a pressing social problem on constructive lines. It surveys the field, analyses the phenomena presented, and suggests practicable remedies. It is however a very cautious document. Webb was then old as an economist, and very young as a Socialist; none of the rest of the Committee had the knowledge, if they had the will, to stand up to him. Therefore we find snippets from the theory of economic "balance" which was universally regarded as valid in those days.

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