Chapter 6-Dirge For An Empire

Chapter 6 of the book Fabian Freeway.

Shortly after the atom bomb burst upon a war-weary world, the Labour Party swept to power in Britain by an overwhelming majority. Both events illustrated vividly the destructive possibilities of long-range research, a type of activity commonly regarded as harmless and benign. Conducted in relays by anonymous teams and applied with explosive effect at a psychological moment, modern Fabian Research more than any other factor assured the comeback of the Labour Party—which had been the third, then the second and was suddenly the first political party in England.

For a number of years prior to that disruptive climax, “research” had been the prime point of Fabian concentration. It flowed from the New Fabian Research Bureau (1) where the rejuvenated leadership and direction of the movement were centered. This source not only supplied a Socialist elite and its allies with tactical guidance on the climb to power, but also produced a series of strategic plans and programs that became the basis for public policy. Thus Fabian Socialists heading the victorious Labour Party in 1945 became the first government leaders in British history to employ privately controlled research as an official weapon for wrecking the economy of the nation and dissolving its far-flung system of Empire.

The process leading to such tragic results began unobtrusively in the summer of 1930. At that time a group of hard-core Socialists, representing many fields of Fabian endeavor, met in rustic privacy as guests of the Socialist Countess of Warwick at Easton Lodge in Essex, the idyllic setting for many a Fabian policy meeting until the spacious old building was finally torn down in 1948. There the cry of peacocks on well-tended lawns mingled with the insistent call of a neighboring cuckoo. Easton Lodge was just next door to East Glebe, country estate of the novelist and errant Fabian, H. G. Wells, where representatives of the Soviet Government were frequently entertained over the years (2) and where Maxim Gorki’s agent and common-law wife, Baroness Boudberg, a mysterious character who wore three wedding rings, was a regular visitor.

Before the house party at Easton Lodge ended, its busy guests had formed a Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda with Ernest Bevin as chairman. The Society was known to its familiars as ZIP— a quality it tried unsuccessfully to instill into the flagging and badly split Labour Party Government of the moment. When that government fell in 1931, ZIP–was transformed into the New Fabian Research Bureau which would plot the future course of Fabian fortunes at home and abroad.

Both organizations were initiated by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, an energetic husband-and-wife team aspiring to the mantle of the superannuated Webbs. Like so many Fabians of the new generation, G. D. H. Cole did not scruple to call himself a Marxist and an atheist. He proclaimed that the main effort of a Socialist government should be “to destroy confidence . . . in the prospect of sustained profits” by removing “the very foundations on which the opportunities for capitalist profit-making rest.” As a tutor at Oxford and the London School of Economics, Cole recruited a number of promising young disciples—one of whom, Hugh Gaitskell, M.P., became Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party as well as a top figure in the Socialist International.

An academic charmer, handsome, petulant and adored by Fabian women who gladly expended themselves in volunteer political work at his request, the alphabetical Cole was less ponderous but also less patient than Sidney Webb. Prolific in print, Cole was credited with having written ninety-one published books before his death in 1959. Some Socialist leaders, including Beatrice Webb, privately regarded his pert wife Margaret as the more able and tenacious member of the family team, and not wholly on the theory that the female of the Fabian species is deadlier than the male. The Cole household could have served as a model for the three-child family, which Fabian social theorists seek to popularize today—and which Professor Richard M. Titmuss, of the University of London faculty, recommends be encouraged by special family allowances in the far-off and primeval island of Mauritius. (3)

According to G. D. H. Cole, the collective leadership of the New Fabian Research Bureau included the most outstanding figures in the Fabian Socialist movement, some already well-known, others marked for future prominence. (4) Its first chairman was Clement Attlee, a member of the Fabian Society since 1909, who succeeded Ramsay MacDonald as Parliamentary Leader of the Labour Party and became Prime Minister of Britain. The vice chairman was C. M. Lloyd of the New Statesman, for the benefit of whose knowledgeable contributors the Bureau often collected material and even ghosted entire articles. G. D. H. Cole was honorary secretary, and his active assistant was young Hugh Gaitskell, whose labor of love for the Bureau was only briefly interrupted when he went to Austria in 1933-34 on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship. Professor Harold Laski and Leonard Woolf, who headed its international committee, joined the Bureau’s Executive the following year.(5)

The New Fabian Research Bureau proved to be another of those mysterious hybrids so dear to Fabian organizers and so difficult for outsiders to fathom. For eight years it led a nominally independent life as an affiliate but not a unit of the Fabian Society. Founded to perpetuate the tradition of Fabian “research” after the old Labour Research Bureau had been conveniently captured by Communists, it was the true repository of Fabian leadership during a period of transition and political reverses in Britain. Its modest offices staffed by pretty young volunteers sheltered a top-level Socialist brain trust seeking immunity from Labour Party discipline.

This arrangement offered continuity and privacy for the general staff of the Fabian Socialist movement, self-designated apostle to the gentiles of the English-speaking world. Subservient neither to the Labour Party nor the Fabian Society itself, the Research Bureau operated as a remote-control unit and planning body for both. Control was maintained through a system of interlocking memberships on the Executives of all three organizations, a system still faithfully copied by Fabian-inspired groups in the United States. Top authority, however, resided in the Research Bureau which issued its Executive-approved directives in the form of personal briefings, as well as custom tailored material for speeches, reports, resolutions, articles and books. For publicists and politicians too busy to do their homework or lacking literary skills, it was a most opportune arrangement. Few were aware how closely the functions of the Research Bureau’s Executive resembled those of a master-control unit like the Soviet Politburo, with which one leading Fabian or another usually maintained cordial relations.

With the blessing of the Webbs, Shaw, Henderson and the rest of the Fabian old guard, the New Fabian Research Bureau was formally launched at a House of Commons dinner on March 2, 1931. Sentimentalists noted that the founders’ group numbered about one hundred persons, approximately the size of the Fabian Society in 18&9 when the first Fabian Essays had been published. Without a qualm, the new Bureau pledged itself not to engage in direct propaganda, nor to take part in political or electoral activities. Subsequently it published pamphlets on such “nonpolitical” and “non-propagandist” topics as How to Win a Labour Majority, Labour Propaganda and Class Favoritism in the Armed Services.

Displaying the usual eagerness of Fabians to forgive past Communist aggression, the first field project sponsored by the new Research Bureau was a study of Soviet Russia, the land of full employment and forced labor by forgotten men. A select investigating team trailed the Webb cortege to Moscow in the summer of 1932. After being led around for six weeks by official guides, the team returned to write Twelve Studies in Soviet Russia. Like the Webbs’ book it included a lyric account of “Soviet justice,” evidently derived from similar official sources. As for the famine in the Ukraine, the team’s agricultural “expert,” John Morgan, perceived that dietary conditions on collective farms in the South left something to be desired; but he did not ascribe them to bad weather.(6)

One and all were uplifted at discovering among the Soviets “that sense of collective purpose and planning so notably lacking in England and the United States in 1932.” (7) A less publicized effect of the trip was to establish channels of communication between the Socialist Fatherland and the new Fabian leadership. Informed circles in Britain also aver that in the course of this visit arrangements were made for the return of the old Fabian-Labour Research Bureau files, purloined by the Soviet agent Rajani Palme Dutt and containing names, records and statistical data of special value to Socialists.

By 1934 the Fabian Society had turned over all its research activities and most of its propaganda work to the New Fabian Research Bureau. With the “nonpolitical” help of the Bureau, a number of Fabian intellectuals won parliamentary seats in the 1935 elections. That year the Labour Party formally renounced the slogan, “No Arms for a Tory Government,” but as a matter of practical politics the Party’s spokesmen and allies still contrived to delay every effort by patriotic Britons to rearm their country swiftly in the face of Hitler’s mounting military might. How much the Labour Party politicking and Fabian-fabricated propaganda in educational, trade union and social circles weakened the position of British diplomats and speeded the drift to war is a chapter Fabian historians prefer to pass over lightly. Those pacifist intrigues were calculated to transcend party lines and to enlist confused individuals at all levels of society.

Most people today have forgotten that Sir Oswald Mosley and his wife, the former Cynthia Curzon, were ardent Fabian Socialists in the nineteen-twenties and early nineteen-thirties. A wing of the Society shared their misplaced admiration for Hitler, who also called himself a Socialist. Even George Bernard Shaw—more intimately informed than some on Soviet trends, and possibly anticipating the Nazi-Soviet Pact—uttered warm words in favor of the former Austrian house painter. In the years leading up to World War II the Mosley faction, due in part to Sir Oswald’s elegant antecedents, succeeded in permeating certain upper-class circles and inducing them to oppose arms appropriations by Parliament.

As leader of a neo-Fascist Party in Britain today—a noise-making fringe organization which gives no evidence of mass support—Sir Oswald still appears to serve Fabian ends by indirection. His frequent rowdy weekend demonstrations tend to alarm moderate elements among British voters and give Socialists an- opportunity to picture themselves as the desirable happy medium between a largely fictitious right-extremism and a very real left-extremism that Fabians at no time have seriously opposed.

With the announcement of the Munich Pact, dictated as much by Britain’s military weakness as by the visible strength of the Nazi war machine, it became obvious to almost everyone that a general European war was imminent. Though Fabians have invariably depicted themselves as the world’s greatest peace lovers, their political philosophy obliged them to welcome the coming cataclysm as a priceless opportunity for Socialist expansion. Here was the long-awaited conflict which ( as Karl Marx had foretold, and as every Socialist devoutly hoped) would at last destroy the capitalist system and lead straight to social revolution in even the most persistently capitalist countries! In a mood of preparedness which they had notably failed to display in their country’s defense, Britain’s Fabian Socialists closed ranks and regrouped their forces in expectation of a postwar takeover.

After some preliminary palaver, the New Fabian Research Bureau and the Fabian Society agreed in 1938 to amalgamate, thus making a long-standing liaison official. The fifty-five year old Basis was scrapped in favor of a new constitution with more modern phrasing but identical aims, which remains the present constitution of the Society. After announcing as usual that “The Fabian Society consists of Socialists, “ the revised document stated:

“It therefore aims at the establishment of a society in which . . . the economic power of individuals and classes (shall be) abolished through the collective ownership and democratic control of the economic resources of the community. It seeks to secure these ends by the methods of political democracy.”

The new constitution also specified:

“The [Fabian] Society shall be affiliated to the Labour Party. Its activities shall be the furtherance of Socialism and the education of the public along socialist lines by the holding of meetings, lectures, discussion groups, conferences and summer schools; the promotion of research into political, economic and social problems, national and international; the publication of books, pamphlets and periodicals; and by any other appropriate means.” (9)

In self-defense, the rules of the modernized Society included the same “self-denying ordinance” adopted by the Research Bureau. No resolution of a political nature, taking a stand or calling for action, was to be issued in the name of the Society. Delegates to the Labour Party and other conferences were to be nominally uninstructed. Thus the Fabian Society retained freedom from Labour Party discipline, while its informally coached members could exert their influence separately or in concert within the Labour Party and other outside organizations.

The Research Bureau still remained supreme, being authorized to name nine members to the joint Executive “by co-option,” that is, without the formality of election by the Society’s general membership—a strange example of political democracy at work. It continued, as before, to transmit Executive-approved material to allegedly “independent” persons and organizations that might or might not be known as Socialist: a classic subterfuge reminiscent of that old master of the political black arts, Sidney Webb.

Though the total listed membership of the Fabian Society then numbered fewer than two thousand, every one was a hard-core Socialist, frequently boasting a personal following and a well-established reputation in the political, labor, education or communication fields. As a symbol of the Society’s longevity, the elderly Beatrice Webb was invited to serve as first president of the reconstituted body. Despite the rigged Moscow treason trials and blood-purges, the Nazi-Soviet Pact that triggered World War II, the rape of Finland, the seizure of Poland and the Baltic States, the old lady’s devotion to the Soviet Fatherland never wavered.

Other Fabians, who sometimes found such vagaries hard to explain, were almost indecently prompt in condoning them when the Nazis invaded Russia in June, 1941, and the Soviet Union became a wartime Ally of Britain. While Winston Churchill remarked wryly, “If the devil declared war on Hitler, I should feel obliged to mention him favorably in the House of Commons,” members of the Fabian Society took a more cordial view. Communist treachery and brutalities were forgotten in their delight at feeling together again. (10) Hastily the Research Bureau assembled a volume of essays entitled Our Soviet Ally and issued a best-seller pamphlet. Fabian lecturers, following the example of Victor Gollancz, stirred intellectual and trade union audiences by telling them that as allies of the “noble Socialist State” it now became their duty to achieve Socialism in Britain as rapidly as possible!

“Leave the conduct of the war to the Tory politicians, and prepare yourselves to take over at war’s end,” Fabian insiders were coolly instructed. Obviously, the advice was not meant to deter Fabian stalwarts from securing the best available civilian openings for themselves in the wartime Ministries and Civil Service; it rather urged them to utilize such positions for advancing postwar aims, as formulated by the Society’s War Aims Research Committee.

With the fall of the Chamberlain government in 1940, four veteran Fabians had already been named to the War Cabinet—Clement Attlee, Hugh Dalton, Arthur Greenwood (11) and Herbert Morrison. Four junior Ministers were Fabians, and more than a dozen others served as parliamentary private secretaries. As wartime Ambassador to Moscow, Beatrice Webb’s favorite nephew, Sir Stafford Cripps, labored to ensure the survival of the Socialist Fatherland. Cold-shouldered in public by the Russians, he continued to treat them with loving kindness.

While the war lasted, Fabians of Cabinet rank were obliged to render lip service to the War Government, which they did in a bland and superficially correct manner. At the same time, they were able to open many official doors to Fabians of secondary rank, who pursued their Socialist objectives freely. Various members of the Society, including Hugh Gaitskell and E. F. M. Durbin, climbed happily in the wartime Civil Service; while other Fabian Socialist nominees were planted in key spots on special commissions and investigative bodies. Sir William Beveridge, a protégé of the Webbs for over thirty years, bluntly asked Ernest Bevin, Minister of Labour, to put him in charge of a manpower survey for the United Kingdom, including colonial manpower. When his request was granted in 1940, the liberal Sir William quickly enlisted the services of G. D. H. Cole and a whole crew of Fabian researchers, who familiarized themselves at first hand with a wealth of current data relating to the working-class electorate.

In 1940, while the rest of the country was mourning the disaster at Dunkirk, the fertile planners of the Fabian War Aims Research Committee spawned a sinister offshoot—their own private Colonial Bureau! It was set up to deal directly with the colonial territories, then becoming increasingly involved in the war. Under cover of war’s confusion and Great Britain’s desperate need for support, this conspiratorial Bureau devoted itself to fostering nationalist movements in colonial areas—chiefly, but not exclusively, British. The Fabian Colonial Bureau (since renamed the Fabian Commonwealth Bureau) was established in October, 1940, as a separate section of the Society, with the globe-trotting Arthur Creech-Jones as chairman and Rita Hinden, Ph.D., as permanent secretary.

Although questions relating to India and Palestine were still routed to the Fabian Society’s Executive, the rest of the colonial world was the Bureau’s oyster and Africa its particular pearl. The first research pamphlet published by the Fabian Colonial Bureau, Labour and the Colonies, gave a Socialist twist to material obtained from the manpower survey. Its first book-length offering was Rita Hinden’s Plan for Africa; and it printed at least one pamphlet, America’s Colonial Record, by John Collier who headed the United States Government’s (American) Indian Bureau under Harold Ickes!

Flagrantly anti-imperialist, the Fabian Colonial Bureau fanned the sparks of discontent by publicizing every controversial aspect of British colonial rule—through parliamentary questions, briefing of M.P.’s for debate, letters to the press and a monthly journal, Empire. (12) During the war and after, it maintained personal contacts with a network of chosen native politicians, many already versed in Socialist doctrines derived from Fabian professors at English universities—including Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Tom Mboya, Secretary of Kenya’s KANU Party and Jomo Kenyatta,(13) leader of postwar Mau Mau atrocities in Kenya. While Great Britain battled for survival against the most efficient war machine in history, this strictly unauthorized, private Bureau had the hardihood to draft postwar plans for separating the colonies from the mother country, according to a gradualist Fabian timetable.

When a Labour Party Government was acclaimed in 1945, the chairman of the Fabian Colonial Bureau, Arthur Creech-Jones, was promptly posted to the Government’s Colonial Bureau—first as Assistant Secretary for the Colonies, then as Secretary. There he was at liberty to translate Socialist programs, privately concocted by Fabian researchers, into official action by the British Government. In a remarkably short time one jewel after another was plucked from the Imperial Crown, sometimes to the accompaniment of native turmoil and bloodshed—India first, then a succession of territories step by step. What the various colonial demands for independence, presented by a handful of highly articulate native leaders skilled at arousing the primitive masses, owed to Fabian tutelage and prodding is a question that still merits research. Certainly Great Britain’s postwar decision to divest herself progressively of her colonies (as the Fabian News proudly proclaimed) “owes more than can yet be properly assessed to painstaking Fabian work which permeated, in true Fabian tradition, the thinking, not only of the Labour Movement, but gradually of wider circles as well.” (14)

With the creation of the Fabian International Bureau in December, 1941, the structure of the mid-century Fabian Society was complete. Nominally, the International Bureau was organized as a secretariat and clearing house for Socialists in exile, who had found asylum in wartime London and dreamed of heading postwar governments in their homelands after liberation. Actually, it became the directing force of the Socialist International in which German Social Democrats had once played the leading role. Due to its interest in the political aspects of the various liberation movements and its connections with underground groups in the occupied countries, the Fabian International Bureau operated from the start under rules of extreme secrecy. No membership lists or details of its activities were ever published, although the names of its officers and Advisory Committee were always public property.

The first chairman of the International Bureau, which like the Colonial Bureau operated as a separate section of the Society with its own membership lists and affiliates, was Philip Noel-Baker, M.P.—a future Nobel peace prize winner like Dr. Martin Luther King and a Minister in the 1945-51 Labour Governments. This particular Bureau combined underground work with research in international matters; ran a lecture bureau that scheduled propaganda tours for selected publicists; and drafted plans for Britain’s postwar foreign policy, which it proposed to dovetail with an international Socialist policy in foreign affairs. Failing to take into account factors of power-politics, the Fabian International Bureau looked forward starry-eyed to an era of mutual trust and reciprocity between the Soviet Union and Britain after the war. For the United States, the Bureau advocated the scheme of Federal Union with Britain as a prelude to Socialist World Government—a Fabian doctrine promoted even before America entered the war by R. W. G. Mackay, member of the International Bureau’s first Advisory Committee, together with the well-known Anglo-American publicist, Clarence K. Streit.


The Labour Party’s return to power at war’s end was virtually assured three years earlier, as the result of a shrewdly planned and carefully stage-managed propaganda coup that bypassed the political truce which all parties in Britain had pledged themselves to respect during the war. On December 9, 1941, just two days after Pearl Harbor, t~ very social-minded Sir William Beveridge celebrated the ending of his War Manpower Committee with a cocktail party—”the high point,” as he remarked frivolously, “of a day which included a thirty-five minute personal interview with H. M. the King.” (15) On December 11, he submitted a basic memorandum to the Government regarding the cause and cure of poverty. Within a month, at the instigation of two Fabian Cabinet Ministers, Arthur Greenwood and Ernest Bevin, Sir William was appointed a one-man committee to report on the possibilities of ending poverty through a system of State-financed social insurance.

Since his youth, Fabian patronage had molded the career of Sir William (later Lord) Beveridge. Back in 1909, when Fabians were busily penetrating the Liberal Party, Sidney and Beatrice Webb had recommended “the boy Beveridge” to Winston Churchill, himself an active Liberal at the time. Ten years later Beveridge was the Webbs’ chosen candidate for director of their beloved London School of Economics. Before assuming that position, which he held from 1919 to 1937, Sir William recalls that Sidney Webb was the only trustee with whom he conferred. In 1923 Beveridge received a postcard from Graham Wallas—one of the original Big Four of the Fabian Society— informing him that Beardsley Ruml, a director of the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Fund, was en route to England and would make a special trip to Liverpool to confer with him. As a result of that meeting and the contacts ensuing from it, Sir William eventually extracted some millions of dollars from private foundations in the United States to endow chairs in the social sciences, as well as to erect the new buildings in Bloomsbury now occupied by the leftist school.

Sir William was something of a social lion in his later years. His Olympian dignity, conversational gifts and talent for moving in high society made him a priceless tool of Fabian permeation on both sides of the Atlantic. Always one of Beatrice Webb’s “obedient young men,” his reputation for profundity was assured by a succession of Fabian researchers and ghostwriters—who at one time included Harold Wilson, M.P. (16) Through the agency of this synthetic but imposing personage, the Fabian turtle struck—and struck hard enough to assure the political defeat three years later of the noblest Briton of them all, Sir Winston-Churchill!

Early in the war, a subcommittee of the Fabian Society had prepared a volume of essays on Social Security, edited by W. A. Robson of New Fabian Research but not published until 1943. All the material contained in those essays was presented to Beveridge in the form of “collective evidence” when the authors “testified” before Sir William and a group of interdepartmental employees called in for appearance’s sake to “assist” him. Such testimony formed the basis for a report signed and submitted by Sir William alone—”one man disguised as a Committee,” he noted gleefully, a situation without precedent in British Government circles. (17) Published in December, 1942, the widely-touted Beveridge Report had repercussions which in the opinion of Sir William and his friends quite eclipsed the painful war news of the day from North Africa.

In his effort to muster the virtually unarmed British people for the battles and sacrifices ahead, all that Winston Churchill had honestly been able to promise was blood, toil, tears and sweat. Unless and until the war was won, there was no security on earth; and in December, 1942, the outcome of the war was still problematical. Yet here was Sir William Beveridge offering everyone paradise unlimited, as if victory were already assured. He announced that poverty could and should be abolished through a species of State-administered insurance extending from the womb to the tomb. To a bomb-shattered, blitz-shocked nation and to the anxious troops overseas, his message was enticing. That was precisely what the Fabians, with their cynical grasp of mass psychology, had planned.

If the Beveridge Report had been shelved until after the war, as at first seemed likely, it might have caused little commotion. Fabian Socialists had no intention, however, of allowing their master stroke to be quietly deflected. Somehow, word of the Report’s “exciting” contents was leaked in advance to news correspondents, not by Sir William in person, but by a “friendly Embassy” to which he had submitted a preliminary draft. It was the friendly American Embassy, headed by John G. Winant—whose appointment as an “ideal Ambassador” to the Court of St. James had been suggested to President Roosevelt by the arch-Fabian, Harold Laski. (18) For several weeks following the news leak, Sir William was in disgrace and ignored by his government.

All at once, Beveridge was summoned to a press conference at which the Minister of Information, Brendan Bracken, presided. The same evening he was invited to discuss his report over a world-wide British Broadcasting Company hook up that reached the fighting troops abroad. Brendan Bracken, who had served as Winston Churchill’s private secretary, did not act in this instance without authorization. Pressure had been exerted by highly placed “friends” in America to insure the widest possible publicity for the Beveridge Report—pressure which Prime Minister Churchill, as a suppliant for United States war aid, was in no position to resist and to which he yielded without comment.

As Sir William himself confided, in a memoir modestly entitled Power and Influence: “My friend Mrs. Eugene Meyer of the Washington Post, when at last I did manage to get a copy to her by the Embassy bag, cabled to me on December 9 that the effect over there was electrifying. Professor A. D. Lindsay, just returned from a visit to America, wrote me on December 24 that he had found universal interest in the report all over the United States, and that President Roosevelt had talked of getting it made into a congressional document and having a million copies distributed. Though this did not happen, the British Government [sic] arranged with Macmillan”s in New York for an American edition to be printed at top speed and netted $5,000 for the [British] Treasury.”(19)

In Britain, the public boom of the report was fantastic—partly due to skillful briefing of the press, partly because the report itself played so shamelessly on the deep-rooted hopes and fears of ordinary Englishmen. Lord Pakenham, the Fabian peer and absentee Irish landlord who served as Sir William’s aide, admits to having been “extremely active” in his contacts with the newspaper world. Describing the effect of those news stones on the British housewife, His Lordship tells how, early in the morning after the Beveridge Report was made public, he stopped at a newspaper shop to see the headlines he had helped to plant. (20)

“Papers?” said the old lady in charge. “You don’t think I’ve got any left. It’s that Sir William Beveridge!”

“What’s he done now?” asked Lord Pakenham, pretending innocence as usual.

“It’s what he’s going to do!” answered the poor old lady. “He’s going to abolish want!”

In retrospect the whole performance seems a cruel farce, perpetrated for the shabbiest reasons of political advantage on a hungry and hopeful nation at war. Within a few weeks Sir William was the best-known character in England, more conspicuous for the moment than Sir Winston Churchill himself. A Gallup Poll showed that nineteen of every twenty adults in Britain had heard of his report, and the average Briton was dazzled by that picture of a bright, new world. Such results were not casually achieved. Lord Pakenham confesses that he alone made 250 speeches to help sell the Beveridge Report to the public; and other Fabian propagandists swung simultaneously into action throughout the land.

Shortly after its publication, the National Council of Labour (representing all trade unions), the Cooperative Union and the Labour Party unanimously approved the report, and called on the Government to introduce the necessary legislation for an overall program of cradle-to-grave “security”—literally, an impossibility in time of war or peace! Generously, the Fabian Society loaned its research secretary, Joan Clarke, to the Labour Party to aid in organizing a nationwide Social Security League and in keeping the issue alive among the voters. Whenever the agitation seemed in danger of subsiding, Fabian Members of Parliament on the Labour benches revived it by needling the War Government for an official statement of postwar intentions, and by demanding proof that government leaders could be “trusted” in that regard. Socialism was never mentioned—only social benefits. Most Englishmen were unaware that the blessings so freely promised must be paid for in time, not merely out of earnings but at the price of total dependence on a bureaucratic State.

On February 3, 1945, Arthur Creech-Jones, M.P., member of the Executive of the British Labour Party and chairman of the Fabian Colonial Bureau, addressed the 40th Anniversary dinner event of the League for Industrial Democracy at the Hotel Astor in New York City. There he announced brazenly: “We anticipate before long that our movement will be in power …. We believe that the time will not be very far after making of peace in Europe …. The movement is preparing for this great opportunity.” (21)

Before the year ended, his prediction had become a reality. To the astonishment of most of the world, the British people renounced their wartime leader, Winston Churchill. Instead, they voted into office a Labour Party government dominated by a secret society of Fabian Socialist intellectuals who were pledged to dissolve the Empire and the economic structure sustaining it. Only the Fabians and their friends showed no surprise. That little band of prophets knew in advance what the election returns would be. Through a combination of long-term “research,” a coldly calculated appeal to mass psychology and a deep-dyed duplicity, Socialism had achieved full power in Britain by “constitutional” means. While congratulating themselves on exploiting the methods of political democracy, Englishmen overlooked the fact that only a few years earlier the late Adolf Hitler’s party had been elected no less legally and democratically—and with equally firm intentions of subverting the constitution that made possible its rise to power.

So Britannia won the war and abandoned her symbol of victory. In doing so, she moved to release colonies which promptly developed into pensioners instead of assets—and of which many have since signed separate trade and “technical aid” treaties with Soviet Russia or its satellites. At the same time, Britons voted themselves quite cheerfully into Socialist bondage at home, transposing the major strains of “Rule Britannia” into a plaintive minor key. What had once been a stirring victory march became, for the time being, a dirge. So Britons never, never, never shall be slaves? Never? Well, hardly ever!


1. “Our research department has not yet discovered (though success is hourly expected) how to produce any virtue.” C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, The Macmillan Co., 1960), 1960 ed., p. 146, Letter XXIX.

2. Kingsley Martin, Harold Laski: A Biographical Memoir (New York, The Viking Press, Inc., 1953), pp. 52-53.

3. Richard M. Titmuss and Brian Abel-Smith assisted by Tony Lynes, Social Policies and Population Growth in Mauritius. A report to the Governor of Mauritius. (London, Methuen & Co., Ltd., no date).

4. G. D. H. Cole, “Remembering the New Fabian Research Bureau,” Fabian Journal, No. 19 (July, 1956), pp. 2-5 (Newsletter).

5. Ibid.

6. As late as 1946, Margaret Cole stated cold-bloodedly: “It was not until after the experiences of the winter of 1932-33 that the Soviet collective farming really got on its feet.” Margaret Cole, Beatrice Webb, (New York, Harcourt Brace, 19460, p. 195.

7. Margaret Cole, The Story of Fabian Socialism (London, Heinemann Educational Books, Ltd., 1961), pp. 228-229.

9. As a condition for full membership, the Fabian Society required that applicants be eligible for membership in the Labour Party. Associate memberships in the Society were provided for “members of other radical parties,” including the Communist Party.

10. Cole, op. cit., p. 270.

11. Arthur Greenwood’s son, Anthony Greenwood, M.P., became the Fabian Socialist Secretary of State for Colonies in the Labour Party Government of October, 1964.

12. “The Fabian Commonwealth Bureau,” Fabian News (April, 1958).

13. Nkrumah and Kenyatta also studied in Moscow.

14. “The Fabian Commonwealth Bureau,” Fabian News (April, 1958).

15. Lord Beveridge, Power and Influence (New York, The Beechhurst Press, Inc., 1955), pp. 306ff.

16. Beveridge, op. cit., p. 260.

17. Ibid., pp. 317-318.

18. Letter from Harold Laski to Felix Frankfurter, quoted by Kingsley Martin, op. cit., p. 139.

19. Beveridge, op. cit., p. 320.

20. Lord Pakenham, Born to Believe, An Autobiography (London, Jonathan Cape, 1953), pp. 125ff.

21. Forty Years of Education (New York, League for Industrial Democracy, 1945), p. 31.

Chapter 5 << | >> Chapter 7

Chapter 5-Sedition Between Two Wars

Chapter 5 of the book Fabian Freeway.

In 1918 a revitalized Labour Party marched to the polls in the “khaki election” and was spankingly defeated in a first test of strength. Confidently it plugged organizational loopholes and intensified its propaganda in labor and Liberal as well as university circles, where Fabian groups were transformed into “Labour Clubs.” Following the initial defeat, Sidney Webb in 1919 openly took charge of affairs as head of the Labour Party Executive, which sent him to Parliament in 1920 and 1922.

One of the industrious minor characters who went to the House of Commons with Webb was Harry Snell, offspring of agricultural laborers. Long a member of both the Fabian and Labour Party Executives, he had represented the Society many years before on the board of the London School of Economics. Besides being a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist, Snell was also a prime mover in American as well as British Ethical Culture Societies of the day, having long since abandoned the Protestant faith of his boyhood. His biography in Who’s Who contains the grim notation: “Recreations: None.”

Suddenly in January, 1924, to the surprise of almost everyone, the Labour Party was called to power as the better half of a Labour-Liberal coalition. The circumstances were peculiar and have never been satisfactorily explained. As against 258 Conservatives sent to Parliament, there were 191 Labourites and 158 Liberals. Over the protests of Lloyd George, the old war-horse, the Liberal Party chose to throw its votes to Labour instead of to the Conservatives. Some interpreted this move as an expedient on the part of the Liberals to rid themselves of Lloyd George. Others like Lord Grey, the former Foreign Minister who had seen the lamps go out in 1914, described it as a well-calculated risk.

Years of Fabian penetration and permeation of Liberal circles, including the long, close friendship of George Bernard Shaw with the Liberal Party leader, Lord Asquith, may also help to explain this curious domestic application of the balance-of-power theory, that is, throwing one’s weight behind the second strongest power. The volatile Lady Asquith, as well as Lord Lothian, accompanied Shaw in 1931 on his triumphal trek to Moscow; and in Shaw’s final years as a nonagenarian, the ever-loyal Margot Asquith was among the few surviving intimates who visited and cared for him.

The decision to back the Labour Party in 1924 proved suicidal for British Liberals of the day, recalling those gifted patricians of Imperial Rome who at the most unexpected moments chose to open their veins and watch their lifeblood ebb away. From its self-inflicted death-blow the Liberal Party has not yet recovered, growing more and more feeble until by 1945 it could muster only twelve seats in Parliament and no more than six in 1959.(1) Following World War I the Labour Party under Socialist tutelage usurped the Liberals’ reformist role, and thereafter every social reform introduced by the Fabian-steered Labour Party was carefully contrived to weaken one sector or another of the national economy.

Ramsay MacDonald, an ex-Fabian surrounded by Fabian advisers, became the first “Labour” Prime Minister in England’s history. His twenty-five man Cabinet contained at least five “old” Fabians of the London Society, and there were many more in lesser posts. Sir Sydney Olivier became Secretary of State for India. Sidney Webb—who with Beatrice had recently published a long essay entitled, The Decay of Capitalist Civilization, in which they declared that Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes had “called the moral bluff of Capitalism” (2)–became, of all things, President of the Board of Trade!

Climax to years of Socialist effort and scheming, the new administration proved premature and short-lived. MacDonald’s first go-round at 10 Downing Street lasted less than a year, owing largely to an indiscretion on the part of his supposed Soviet friends. By October his government had crashed spectacularly, in an atmosphere of popular excitement and fear, stirred by publication of the Zinoviev “Red Letter.”

So many shock waves have assailed the world’s nerves since then that people have almost forgotten the impact of the notorious Red Letter found in a Secret Service raid on the offices of Arcos, the Soviet Trade Bureau in London. Apparently the Zinoviev Letter was a directive from the Third International in Moscow, advising British Communists how to seize power from the “weak” government of MacDonald. Their coup was to be effected by disarmament and corrupting the allegiance of British military forces, as well as by arming the workingmen in key areas. Action was to be taken when the MacDonald-sponsored trade treaties with Russia were signed, possibly because Soviet merchant vessels could then more readily transport munitions for an insurrection.

Promptly denounced as a forgery by Communists, the Red Letter was considered genuine by the British public and by MacDonald himself, whose Foreign Office penned a protest to Rakovsky, the unofficial Soviet representative in London. Few Englishmen believed the time-honored British Secret Service to be guilty either of committing or abetting a public forgery. Although the contents of the Letter appeared fantastic, only the year before Germany had narrowly escaped a Moscow-planned Communist revolution—called off at the eleventh hour everywhere but in Hamburg, where the stop order arrived too later Events of 1923 in Germany supplied a pretext for the emergence of Adolf Hitler, who staged his first National Socialist demonstration that year in Munich. In Great Britain, publication of the ill-fated Zinoviev Letter merely insured the electoral defeat of Ramsay MacDonald, whose subsequent attitude towards the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics appeared to be no less compounded of “love and pity” than before.

The consensus of sober opinion is that publication of the Red Letter just three days before the election was purposefully timed by Opposition elements in the Civil Service; but that the document itself was authentic. The Fabian historian, C. Delisle Burns, asserted it was and said the Secret Service furnished a copy. (3) The former Fabian solicitor, Henry Slesser, confirmed this view. (4) George Bernard Shaw himself accepted the missive at face value, for in December, 1924, he published an open letter simultaneously in the Labourite Daily Herald of London and Izvestia of Moscow, informing the Russian comrades that British Socialists were quite capable of handling their own show and would appreciate not being embarrassed in future.

Shaw asked the Soviet Government “to tell Mr. Zinoviev plainly that he must choose definitely between serious statesmanship and cinematographic schoolboy nonsense if the Soviet Government is to be responsible for his proceedings, which will otherwise make Mr. Rakovsky’s position here almost impossible.” And he added, “From the point of view of English Socialists, the members of the Third International do not know even the beginnings of their business as Socialists.” Plain language from an old revolutionary to his fellows, and the fact that it was printed verbatim in the official newspaper Izvestia suggests that Shaw was already persona grata in the very highest circles in Moscow. Zinoviev at a later date paid with his life for this and other miscalculations.

The same puzzling ambivalence—a combination of love and occasional hatred which psychologists assert is characteristic of all true affairs of the heart—marked the attitude of Fabian Socialists towards Moscow throughout the nineteen-twenties and thirties, and exists today. Following the Russian Revolution, a wing of British industrial labor pressed increasingly for “Socialism Now,” threatening to upset the somewhat more gradual program envisioned by Webb.

Soviet agents were active and hospitably received in Labour as well as Fabian circles. One of the more conspicuous was Rajani Palme Dutt, a half-caste of mixed East Indian and Scandinavian parentage, who after perfecting his dialectic in Moscow worked from 1923 to 1926 with Fabians G. D. H. and Margaret Cole in the Labour Research Bureau, formerly the Fabian Research Department. The Bureau printed a monthly circular, a kind of leftist Ministry of Labour Gazette, intended to furnish factual ammunition for Socialists in their day-to-day political battles. Eventually Dutt ousted his Fabian hosts at which point Communists brazenly took over the Labour Research Bureau. Rajani Palme Dutt became editor of the Communist Labour Monthly and was listed in 1962 as vice president of the Communist Party of Britain; yet former Fabian colleagues refer to him without rancor as “that cuckoo in the Fabian nest.”

The General Strike of 1926 was touched off at Communist instigation by direct actionists in the Trades Union Council. (5) Once more Fabians yielded easily to pressure from the catastrophic Left. This revolutionary strike, which Fabians had not provoked but found it necessary to support, placed them in the same situation as a citizen of the French Revolution who was once seen racing down a Paris street in the wake of a milling crowd. When asked where he was going, he replied breathlessly, “I am their leader—I must follow them!”

During the strike emergency the Fabian-edited Daily Herald, then being run by one William Mellor ( an erstwhile nonconformist preacher), published the official strike newspaper, the Workers’ Gazette. Other Fabian publicists tried painfully to justify the very doubtful legality of a revolutionary general strike. When Cardinal Bourne, the Roman Catholic primate of England, expressed the view that the General Strike was unconstitutional and violated the Trade Union Act of 1906, he was publicly rebuked by Socialist Members of Parliament led by the nominally Catholic Fabian, John Scurr.

With the collapse of the strike movement, the emphasis shifted once more to politics, and there Fabians were in their element. Working-class groups, discouraged by the failure of direct action, and middle-class liberals, alarmed at what had seemed to be the first hot breath of revolution, turned to the Labour Party for salvation. Forgetting the debacle of 1924, the electorate was even prepared to approve the Labour Party’s Soviet-oriented foreign policy that still promised to provide full employment at home. In a few short years the Fabian Socialist tail was again in position to wag the trade-union dog.

By the summer of 1929 the Labour Party returned to power with the largest number of seats in the House of Commons, though still something less than a majority. Forty-seven seats were won by Fabians, of the forty-nine Fabians who ran. (6) Among them were such clever and ambitious younger men as Hugh Dalton, Herbert Morrison and Sir Stafford Cripps, a nephew of Beatrice Webb, who was to serve as president of the Fabian Society from 1950 to 1952.

The Fabian News for July, 1929, reported eight Fabians in the Cabinet and eleven Fabian Under Secretaries in the Government. Eleven out of seventeen new Labour peers, created to block possible veto of Labour Party measures in the Upper House, were veteran members of the London Fabian Society. They included the solemn Lord Henry Snell who was assistant to a delighted Sidney Webb, by then Lord Passfield, at the Colonial Office. That year also saw the publication of Fabian Tract No. 230, entitled Imperial Trusteeship. Signed by Lord Sydney Olivier, who had served in the West Indies and India, it advocated release of the colonies to independent native governments under Socialist tutelage and looked forward to eventual Socialist world control of raw materials. Owing to a relatively brief term in office, however, the Labour Party was compelled to postpone dismemberment of the Empire until a later date.

A feature of the 1929 elections was the part played for the first time by British women. Some seven hundred thousand new women voters joined the Labour Party, lured by the promise of jobs for their men and by various social benefits to be bestowed free of charge—except, of course,-for the eventual tax bill which was not mentioned. The Labour Party had been late in announcing support for women’s suffrage, even though a number of early suffragists like Inez Milholland and Annie Besant had been Fabians; yet it managed somehow to reap the benefits of the Liberal Party’s record in that field, as it did on the freedom-for-Ireland issue.

Among the first three Labour women to be elected to Parliament was the redoubtable A. Susan Lawrence, who had just written a novel, Clash, purporting to tell the inside story of the General Strike. Like her friend Ellen Wilkinson, later head of Preparatory Commission for UNESCO, “our Susan” was typical of those Fabian lady politicos with iron in their souls and a bright red bee in their bonnets, to whom secular Marxism was a substitute for religious profession. For thirty-three years of her life she sat on the Executive of the London Fabian Society. Long a member of the Labour Party Executive and active in garnering the women’s vote, she served as its chairman in 1930, gazing absently through her lorgnette at unruly males as in her youth she had disconcerted her professors at Newnham College. To a colleague Susan remarked significantly, ‘I don’t preach the Class War, I live it.” (7)

The common philosophical basis of Socialism and Communism was more evident to observers in 1929 and succeeding years than it had been before. All that distinguished many a Fabian Socialist from the local Communist gentry was the lack of a Communist party card and a preference for indirect over direct action. If a few like Ellen Wilkinson in 1929 (8) or Ivor Montague in 1941 (9) admitted to carrying the Communist party card as well, this was held to be their privilege, and an understanding Fabian Executive did not reprimand them.

Arthur Henderson, the Fabian politician, stage-managed the Labour Party’s return engagement of 1929. In the process he angled for Communist votes and placated the British Communist Party leader Harry Pollitt, who demanded “Socialism in every sentence” of the program. Henderson came to the Foreign Office pledged to European disarmament and recognition of Soviet Russia, as outlined in the Geneva protocol written by Fabian Socialist R. H. Tawney. Sharply reduced appropriations for the British armed services (shades of the Zinoviev Letter!) were advocated in 1928-29 as a means of paying for State-financed social welfare benefits, and a strange new type of internationalism that demanded “the sacrifice of national self-interest” was propounded.

For many months prior to becoming Foreign Minister the sonorous voiced Henderson, with other traveling Fabians, had been active in rebuilding the Socialist International—which, despite Ramsay MacDonald’s verbal sparring matches with the “giants of the Communist International, Radek and Bukharin,” displayed unwavering loyalty towards the Soviet Union in practical matters of trade and diplomacy. Even the Soviet Union’s wholesale dumping of commodities was defended by Sidney Webb, who described it as being “no more than the competition of cheaper commodities.”

Britain’s second Labour Government, like the first, was undone by its own contradictions. Caught in the grip of a world-wide depression, its Socialist leaders moved to cut the dole and raise taxes on the poor as well as the rich. Ramsay MacDonald resigned in 1931 only to join over his Party’s protest, a new disaster coalition composed of unfrocked Labourites, Conservatives and Liberals.

The Monarch who at Conservative Leader Stanley Baldwin’s request formally invited MacDonald to return to the Government—although his former party had just been definitely whipped at the polls—was denounced by the Left Wing for “interference.” For the first but by no means the last time, Fabian Socialists like Professor Harold Laski attacked the throne as an institution, calling it a “dignified hieroglyphic” and warning that future interference would be grounds for revolution. During the next few years Fabian faith in constitutional action waned visibly, as symbolized by the visits of the Webbs and Shaw to Moscow.

Organizationally, the Fabian Society could not help but suffer from the crushing defeat of the Labour Party with which it had allied itself so closely; yet like the Party it preserved the spark of life. Though its financial resources appeared to shrivel and provincial Fabian Societies in Britain—most of which had been turned into Labour Clubs—declined from 120 in the middle twenties to a mere six in the late thirties, the London Society and its Executive brain trust were far from extinct.

Like the tortoise, the Fabian Society had withdrawn temporarily into its shell, to emerge at a more favorable moment. The Fabian News still published notices of meetings, lectures, municipal and overseas Socialist activities; A. Emil Davies of the Fabian Executive continued to rally the morale and retain the support of hard-core Fabians; the individual members devoted themselves as assiduously as ever to world travel and a variety of left wing causes chiefly identified with the Popular Front activities of the thirties.

There was always a Fabian in the person of W. Stephen Sanders or Philip Noel-Baker at the International Labour Office in Geneva, and Fabian voices were prominent at the annual International Socialist congresses. A Fabian idol who had penetrated the Liberal Party years before and never resigned from it, the economist John Maynard Keynes, acquired immense prestige as a financial oracle. By turns he terrorized financiers with predictions of doom and induced his own and foreign governments to adopt policies of deficit spending calculated to assure the long-range destruction of the capitalist system he pretended to “save.” Fabian mischief makers of Marxist inspiration were by no means lacking during the Society’s apparent quiescence.

In the field of popular education, sometimes termed propaganda, individual members of the Society were never more dangerously active than during the years leading up to World War II. The Left Book Club—an enterprise similar to book clubs in the United States, in that it furnished pre-selected popular reading at cut-rate prices— proved a most profitable venture, both financially and propaganda-wise. Its political bias was plain from the fact that its first literary offering was a volume by Maurice Thorez, secretary of the Communist Party of France. So faithfully did its output-follow the Stalinist line that in the Daily Worker of London for May 9, 1936, Harry Pollitt, secretary of the British Section of the Communist Party, praised the Left Book Club as a project “worthy of support.”

In a few years its membership exceeded fifty thousand and its annual income neared $400,000—proof of a substantial following in Britain. Actually the circle reached by the Club was much wider, since subscribers were urged through the Left News to organize Left Book Groups in their neighborhoods for purposes of reading and discussion. In March, 1938, the Left News announced that 831 such groups had been formed under the wing of the Left Book Club. Whether Communist- or Socialist-led, their trend was frankly Marxist and clearly catastrophic. The fine lines of demarcation between one brand of Marxism and another were blurred in those days of the Popular Front.

What is interesting for purposes of this study is that the Selection Committee of the Left Book Club was controlled by three well-known members of the Fabian Executive. They were Victor Gollancz, publisher of Left Books who also published Left News and the Fabian News; Professor Harold Laski of the London School of Economics, who from 1946 to 1948 was chairman of the Fabian Society and in 1945 served as chairman of the Labour Party; and John Strachey, a frequent Labour Member of Parliament who became Minister of Food and Supply in the post-World War II Labour Government.

Concerning Strachey, the admiring Left News for March, 1938, wrote, “In American newspaper jargon John Strachey would be described as ‘Marxist No. 1′ and the title would be deserved.” His claim to that title might well have been challenged by Professor Harold Laski, whose revolutionary influence on the youth of many nations has proved so decisive a factor in our times. Laski is quoted by his personal friend and biographer, Fabian and late New Statesman editor Kingsley Martin, as saying to a questioner at one of his lectures: “My friend, we are both Marxists—you in your way and I in Marx’s!”

Both the late John Strachey and Professor Laski had occasion to deny under oath that they ever held membership in the Communist Party, and it may be inferred they spoke the truth. Such a technicality as a party card would merely have restricted the broad range of their privileged activities. When asked by a reporter for The New York Times (10) whether he preferred Socialism or Communism, Fabian John Strachey replied, “Like all Socialists, I believe that the Socialist Society evolves in time into the Communist society.” With this statement —which was echoed in 1962 by the American Communist, Gus Hall— most Fabians would feel compelled to agree.

Closely linked with the Left Book Club was a still more impudent contrivance known as the Christian Book Club, whose sole publisher was Fabian Victor Gollancz. Its general editor was the Dean of Canterbury, Dr. Hewlett Johnson, often referred to as the “Red Dean.” The first book this Club recommended for Christian readers was Soviet Socialism, A New Civilisation, by Sidney and Beatrice Webb—the same work which had been prepared with the aid of the Soviet Secret Police and which announced the Soviets’ fabled policy of tolerance towards religion. Members of the so-called Christian Book Club were also privileged to purchase virtually the whole list of the Left Book Club selections at the reduced prices.

The inference seemed to be that, since Christians were not overly bright, they could easily be led down the garden path to Socialism by a false appeal to ideals of brotherhood and social justice. In the Fabian Socialist movement, as in Soviet Marxism, there was always a strong element of political messianism, diametrically opposed to the religious messianism of One who proclaimed: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” Both Socialist and Communist literature stressed the supposedly communal character of early Christianity, undetectable to anyone familiar with the Epistles of St. Paul. Revolutionary Marxism, open or disguised, was presented as being the “Christianity of today.” Voluntary charity and renunciation of one’s own goods were confused with the forcible confiscation of other people’s property, as illustrated in the phrase of John Maynard Keynes, “the euthanasia of the rentier,” that is, the mercy-killing or painless extinction of those who live on income from invested capital.

From the beginning, the personal coolness of many Fabian leaders towards religion—ranging from polite agnosticism to the frank atheism of Shaw and Laski and the amorality of a Bertrand Russell—had been balanced by their far from indifferent attitude towards the religious-minded electorate. To churchgoers among the voting population, Sidney Webb had reasoned shrewdly, Socialist goals must be presented cautiously—in terms that did not appear to conflict with their religious beliefs. (11) Thus, Fabian News recorded that from 1891 to 1903 one Bruce Wallace, an honorary Minister of a Congregational Church, held a conference every Sunday afternoon, and after a fifteen-minute prayer service a Fabian lecturer spoke at considerably greater length. From chat day to this, a good many nonconformist ministers of the Gospel have deserted their pulpits to pursue political careers under the auspices of the Fabian Society, one of the most notable being Arthur Henderson who negotiated Britain’s recognition of Soviet Russia.

It was not accidental that the endless series of pamphlets launched by the Fabian Society were piously called “tracts,” like the earlier publications of the “Christian Socialists” in England. With the formation of the Labour Party, even Catholic workingmen could vote for Socialist programs without subscribing directly to a Socialist philosophy. Catholic Members of Parliament on the Labour benches were permitted to “vote their conscience” on such matters as birth control and aid to Catholic schools, which to most Fabians seemed of minor importance. Though the Fabian Graham Wallas differed with Webb on the school issue and found an early audience for his views in the United States, Sidney Webb and his successors were understandably reluctant to provoke any controversy chat might block their route to power by popular consent.

In this connection, however, it must be emphasized that Karl Marx is the natural father of all modern Social Democracy, not excluding those groups which for reasons of propriety choose to deny or dissemble the relationship. As the writings of Marx disclose, that herald of “the new social order” hated all religions with impartial fervor. Marx visualized the Class War—since his time a basic concept in both Socialist and Communist philosophy—as being essentially an inverted crusade against the Deity whose existence he denied. Non serviam (“I will not serve”), the phrase of Lucifer before the Fall, is innate in the dogmas of Marx.

The blasphemous slogan, “Religion is the opium of the people,” was emblazoned for years on a billboard overlooking Red Square. A fellow Georgian and boon companion of Stalin, Orjonokidze, headed the official Soviet Society of the Godless and fomented militant action against religion at home and abroad. Until his death he was a member of the Politburo, superior organ of Soviet policies which Christian Book Club readers in Britain were invited to approve.

Napoleon Bonaparte, product of an earlier revolution, reached somewhat different conclusions on the subject of religious faith. “Without religion, France would be a nation of highwaymen,” remarked Napoleon, who had retained few illusions about the perfectibility of human nature by government decree. Not yet arrived at chat pinnacle of power, the Fabian Society viewed religion less from the angle of the Public Prosecutor and more from the standpoint of the aspiring politician and social propagandist. For the most part its spokesmen prudently avoided outraging the beliefs of religious-minded persons, while soliciting their support for Socialist candidates and projects. The Christian Book Club was a unique but significant venture for which the Society, as usual, disclaimed any official responsibility.

The vogue of the Left Book and Christian Book Clubs in Great Britain declined with the announcement of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which plunged the world into war and ended the diversions of the Popular Front. More exacting tasks lay ahead for the Fabians, who organized, planned and plotted unceasingly during the whole of World War II to put a Labour Party Government into office at war’s end with Fabian Socialists at the helm. Harold Laski’s death a few years after the war was ascribed by his biographer, Kingsley Martin, to the fatigue induced by his intensive non-combat activities in a war-time era of political truce.


1. “Election Guide,” Socialist Commentary (October, 1964), p. 20.

2. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The Decay of Capitalist Civilisation (London, The Fabian Society and Allen and Unwin, 1923), p. 177.

3. C. Delisle Burns, A Short History of the World, 1918-1928 (New York, Payson and Clark, 1928), pp. 186-188.

4. Henry Slesser, Judgment Reserved (London, Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1941), pp. 96-98.

5. Margaret Cole, Beatrice Webb (New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1946), p. 157.

6. Fabian News (July 1929).

7. Fabian Quarterly (Summer, 1948), p. 23.

8. M. P. McCarran, Fabianism in the Political Life of Britain (Chicago, Heritage Foundation, 1954), p. 439.

9. Margaret Cole, The Story of Fabian Socialism (London, Heinemann Educational Books, Ltd., 1961), p. 277.

10. The New York Times (October 11, 1938).

11. Bernard Shaw, “Report on Fabian Policy,” Fabian Tract No. 70, 1896. “The Fabian Society endeavors to pursue its Socialist and Democratic objects with complete singleness of aim. For example: it has no distinctive opinions on the Marriage Question, Religion, Art, Abstract Economics, Historic Evolution, Currency or any other subject than its own special business of practical Democracy and Socialism.”

Chapter 4 << | >> Chapter 6

Chapter 4-A Chosen Instrument

Chapter 4 of the book Fabian Freeway.

The demonic spirits of the Fabian Society, Shaw and Webb, lived long enough to see a number of their destructive hopes fulfilled. Progress of their brainchild in the twentieth century far outstripped its fin de siecle promise. Still guarded in its movements and as nearly invisible as possible, the Society became the directing force of Socialism not only in Britain but throughout the Empire it schemed to dissolve. Leading Fabians had been making world tours since 1898, and since that time colonial units of the Society had multiplied and prospered. When the colonial administrators departed, native Fabians, educated at the London School of Economics, were ready and all too willing to take a hand in shaping Socialist-oriented Commonwealth governments.

In Britain the influence of the Society had grown steadily, if imperceptibly, until it dominated a major political party—a far cry from its small beginnings. Even in its fledgling years, however, the Society had been able to obtain cooperation whenever required from all domestic Socialist factions, because individual Fabians were active in each of these splinter groups. At one time or another, Fabian projects and candidates had received support from the Radical Clubs, the Progressives, the Cooperative Union, the National Reform League, the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party, and other left wing bodies. By refusing to identify itself with any of them, the Fabian Society survived them all and went on to larger things.

An exception to this rule was eventually made in the case of the Labour Party, founded and directed throughout its history by top-echelon Fabians. (Today, members of the Fabian Society must be eligible for membership in the Labour Party, though the reverse is not the case.) As Fabians gradually moved into positions of power with the support of British Labour, they have utilized that power for the advancement of Socialism abroad as well as at home.

It is not surprising that their first decisive action in foreign affairs was undertaken for the benefit of their brothers-under-the-skin in Moscow. The sweeping threat by British trade unions to “down tools” in 1920 was instigated by an arch-Fabian, Arthur Henderson. This threat effectively ended British military intervention in Russia and enabled the Bolsheviks to capture large stores of British-made munitions—a decisive factor in the survival of Bolshevik armed rule, as Joseph Stalin suggested in an interview with George Bernard Shaw and the Liberal Party leader, Lord Lothian,(1) later Ambassador to Washington.

Throughout the nineteen-twenties, Fabian-instructed Labour groups and Fabian Members of Parliament pressed for renewal of trade relations by Great Britain and other nations with Soviet Russia. Their pretext was that such trade would provide more employment for British workers and more votes for the Labour Party—though it is hard to see how revived commerce between the Soviet Union and Weimar Germany could have aided the British working man. What the Fabians aimed at was a three-cornered interchange between themselves, their Social Democrat confreres in Germany and the Soviet Socialist Republics, all leading, as Shaw remarked, “to Socialist control of trade at the consular level.”

Arthur Henderson, long a member of the Fabian Executive, was the Foreign Minister, who in 1929 engineered British diplomatic recognition of Bolshevik Russia and paved the way for similar recognition by the United States, in a period when the Soviets’ internal economy and external prestige were perilously low. Little was said or even hinted as to just how far such “cooperation” advanced the various Communist five-year plans and permitted the Soviet Union, with its technique of bloodbaths, intrigue, sedition, and guerilla warfare, to acquire the imperial status abandoned after World War II by England. It is noteworthy that Fabian publicists today no longer refer to Great Britain, but simply to Britain.

The once-imperial island, which no foreign force for a thousand years could violate, finally succumbed to Fabian guile. What Phillip’s Spain, Napoleon’s France, the Kaiser’s and Hitler’s Germany had all failed to achieve, a small band of home-grown Socialists peacefully accomplished. How Fabians performed this feat in approximately three-quarters of a century is a mystery that the Society would now prefer to dismiss as fiction. A glance at the record, however, confirms the facts and provides a neat object-lesson for other nations where allegedly “gentle” and “humane” Socialists aspire to power.

From the beginning, the destructive nature of Fabian Socialism was never made sufficiently clear to the British public. The good manners of the Fabians tended to veil their revolutionary purpose and render it improbable to all but the initiate. To gain popular sympathy, the Society concealed its will-to-power behind a series of apparently benign social welfare programs and preached the brotherhood of man for the attainment of purely material ends. Whenever possible, its members attached themselves to existing reform movements which in the long run gained prominence and preferment for Fabian leaders. In every decade of the twentieth century, Fabians have claimed the credit for every Liberal reform.

Thus, gradual and penetrating Socialism came to be accepted as mere reformism, and its practitioners escaped the censure directed at Socialists of the catastrophic school. As George Bernard Shaw announced in 1948, the Fabian Society was “still alive and doing its work, which is to rescue Socialism and Communism from the barricades.” One no longer even needed to read Marx and Engels in order to advance their programs. Cunningly, Fabian Socialism represented itself as “a constitutional movement in which the most respected citizens and families may enlist, without forfeiting the least scrap of their social or spiritual (sic) standing.”(2) To emphasize the Society’s regard for family ties, a single membership sufficed for both husband and wife. Their children, instructed in Fabian nurseries for adolescents, grew up into revolution without ever realizing there was any other way.

In the course of nearly four generations, some highly respected names in modern British letters and learning have been connected with the Fabian Society, either as dues-paying members or willing collaborators.(3) In the field of history, there were such gifted individuals as G. M. Trevelyan, Philip Guedalla, Arnold Toynbee. Philosopher-statesman Lord Haldane also belonged to the Society, according to a Fabian News obituary. There was R. H. Tawney, economist, social historian and long time member of the Fabian Executive, known for his personal piety, devotion to the Virgin Mary and bitter anti-capitalist bias. A whole series of Fabians held membership in the Royal Economic Society, which George Bernard Shaw and a few fellow Social Democrats had helped to launch many years before, and contributed regularly to its Journal edited for a time by John Maynard Keynes.

In science, the Society claimed Sir Julian Huxley as well as a number of Nobel prize winners, more noted for their scientific attainments than their political acumen. University tutors and professors were legion—among them such venerated figures as A. D. Lindsay, the Master of Balliol, and Sidney Ball, don of St. John’s, Oxford, until his death in 1918, and founder of the Oxford Social Club that sponsored Fabian lecturers. Military opinion was represented by the late Brigadier General C. B. Thomson, and Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, military correspondent for the Times and proponent of the theory of defensive warfare, who, in recent years, has addressed official Fabian Society gatherings.

Fabian poets included Maurice Hewlett and Rupert Brooke, the Cambridge undergraduate who died in military service during World War I. Among editors holding membership in the Society were Harold Cox, M.P., of the Edinburgh Review, A. J. Orage of the New Age, and S. K. Ratcliffe of the New Statesman, who also served as London representative of the New Republic. The publishing fraternity was represented by Raymond Unwin, of the firm of Allen and Unwin, whose books were reprinted in America by Macmillan; Leonard Woolf, husband of the well-known writer Virginia Woolf, and himself the author of a Fabian document, International Government, which was an early blueprint for the League of Nations; and Victor Gollancz of Left Book Club notoriety, who also published the Fabian News.

So many successful writers and publicists have been aligned with the Fabian Society that an innocent observer might easily have mistaken it for a kind of logrolling literary society. Among them were Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells, Rebecca West, John Galsworthy, Granville Barker, Harold Nicolson, St. John Ervine, Constance Garnett, (4) Francis Hackett, Jerome K. Jerome, Robert Dell, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, J. B. Priestley, J. C. Squire, Desmond McCarthy, Naomi Mitchison, and a host of others. They have ranged from the frankly Marxist John Strachey to the neo-Catholic Barbara Ward, propagandist for African nationalism. Even Monsignor Ronald Knox confessed to having joined the Oxford Fabian Society and G. K. Chesterton was once a Fabian, but both withdrew from the movement prior to their conversion to the Catholic faith.

As an authority on the subject has remarked, “Fabians appeared in so many desirable liberal (and cultural) connections that they could scarcely be believed to be subversive of private property or of liberty. (5). The London School of Economics, aided by grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, was growing to world renown as “the Empire on Which the concrete never sets.” Scant attention was paid to the fact that its lecturers in economics and the so-called political and social “sciences” were almost invariably Fabian Socialists or their bedfellows. Many persons who disagreed with its politics relished the good style and literary flair of the New Statesman–a weekly “journal of opinion” founded by the Webbs in 1913, financed, edited and written largely by Fabians though nominally independent of the Society.

In their mannerly, welfare-bent, cultivated and studious fashion, Fabian Socialists were progressively undermining the foundations of the British Empire and the age-old liberties of Englishmen as a more stridently revolutionary movement could hardly have succeeded in doing. “As much freedom as possible consistent with public control of the means of production” became their slogan: a formula that denies liberty itself as a basic human right, and begs the question as to how much of it is possible under State control of private initiative. Only Shaw, in his old age, warned that a great deal more regulation than most people anticipated, including stern restriction of trade union activity, would be inevitable in the elite-ruled Socialist state; but his realistic view of the promised land was dismissed as just another tired, Shavian paradox.

While the Fabian Society consists chiefly of middle class intellectuals, it has never been intolerant of affluence or noble birth if they furthered the Fabian cause. Peers like Lord Parmoor and Lord Henry Bentinck, offshoot of a famous Liberal family, graced the membership lists of the Society even before a Labour Party Government created its own non-hereditary peerage. One of the earliest aristocratic converts to Socialism had been the Countess of Warwick, young, beautiful and a friend of King Edward VII. The Countess was so much impressed by what her new-found friends were doing to “help the poor” that she donated her country house, Easton Lodge, to the Fabians for a perpetual weekend haven and conference center.

Earlier still, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Anglo-Irish convert to Socialism known as “the millionairess,” had been induced by Beatrice Webb to contribute a thousand pounds to the London School of Economics. As a reward, Beatrice Webb introduced her to the indigent Fabian, George Bernard Shaw, whose poverty was soon abolished by marriage to Charlotte Payne-Townshend. Before wedding her in a civil ceremony, Shaw insisted on extracting a marriage settlement from his Charlotte—a somewhat cold-blooded procedure, but a clear indication of how highly prized by Fabians was personal solvency. Shaw later earned substantial sums from his propagandizing plays and essays; but fortunately for him and many another Fabian, royalties and dowries were never a form of wealth marked for nationalization by the Society.

It was the wily Shaw who also perceived the possibility of utilizing the poor to finance the political advancement of Socialists. As early as 1893 he had been the first to propose using trade union funds to elect Socialists to Parliament—a scheme whose vast potential was not fully apparent in an era when only a small segment of British labor was organized. As the trade unions grew in numbers and wealth under Fabian-tutored leaders, the method suggested by Shaw would propel Fabian Socialists into positions of national control. Much slow, painstaking political and educational work by Fabians, culminating in a brand-new alignment of political parties in Great Britain, was necessary to bring those hopes to fruition.

When Fabian Essays was published in 1889, only a little over 10 per cent of Great Britain’s industrial workers belonged to trade unions. It was understandable—though not quite pardonable—that the Essays should have failed to include any mention whatever of the subject. This omission was hastily repaired with the publication in 1894 of a History of Trades Unionism by the Webbs, who saw the light in ample time to take advantage of it. As a practical step towards political power, the Labour Representation Committee was formed at Sidney Webb’s suggestion in 1899.

Despite its resounding title, that committee was at first no more than a representative collection of Socialist splinter groups, convoked to find ways and means of obtaining parliamentary seats for Socialists in the name of Labour. Discreetly, the Fabian Society sent only one delegate, the mole-like Edward R. Pease, A well-disciplined committeeman, Pease avoided controversy and in a shadowy way exerted much influence on organization through the years. The Society, as such, remained in the background.

One reason why the Fabian Society preferred to avoid the limelight was in order to avert any direct challenge to its leadership role in the Socialist movement. Another was the harsh fact that some Labour men, then as now, regarded the Society as being almost too high-toned for comfort. For a good many years its sole working-class member was a London house painter, W. L. Phillips, author of Fabian Tract No. 1, Why Are the Many Poor? As late as 1923 there was not one “proletarian” on the Fabian Executive; and even today there are still Divisional Labour Party leaders and agents in Great Britain to whom the term Fabian merely implies “that snob Society.”

Anonymity in the Labour Representation Committee involved no real sacrifice for the Society, because individual Fabians wearing other hats were on hand to defend its interests. Keir Hardie was there as head of the Independent Labour Party, at that early date the leading Socialist political party in Great Britain. Hardie was a member of the Fabian Society, though some called him undisciplined. Similarly, Ramsay MacDonald, who was chairman of the Committee and also headed the new Labour Party, belonged for some years to the Society. Arthur Henderson, a former Wesleyan minister and an admitted Fabian from 1912, was permanent treasurer of the Committee as well as MacDonald’s chief personal aide. Originally the British Labour Party, which grew out of this committee, was just another Socialist splinter group.

It was a strange masquerade, which deceived no one except the public, but in the end it served its purpose—namely, to decoy organized labor into the Fabian Socialist trap. Results were not immediately apparent, and patience was recommended. Though trade unions were urged to affiliate with the Committee, and the Independent Labour Party worked to infiltrate the trade unions, the first acceptance did not come until 1903, from the Gasworkers’ Union. Fabian historians complain that the initial fee for union affiliation was fixed much too low, provoking some difficulties when the Committee found itself obliged to raise the tariff. Socialists were finding that it cost more money to win elections than they had supposed.

The rather modest success of this committee in gaining seats for Socialists in the parliamentary elections of 1906 and 1911 justified its existence. During those years the Labour group in Parliament operated chiefly as a pressure bloc within the Liberal Party, and due to its relative weakness it was neither disliked nor feared. As yet, no one except its Fabian mentors could be sure whether the little Labour Party was an advance guard of Socialism or a mere appendage of Liberalism. It was the outbreak of war in 1914 that offered Fabian Socialism its big opportunity to organize a mass Labour Party on the home front, while the flower of old England was dying on the first traditional, thin, red battle lines.

Many years before, Karl Marx had predicted that a general European war would give Socialists an opening to capture power. That proved to be the case in Russia, and to a more limited extent in other parts of Europe. In England, the country where the capitalism of our era was born and originally demonstrated its dynamic force, the advance of Socialism was more deliberate. Not one, but two World Wars were needed to reduce that island fortress. Nevertheless, the Fabian tortoise, as if guided by Marxian precepts, moved during World War I to strike its first major blow. The men most responsible for inciting it were Sidney Webb and Arthur Henderson, who combined their treacherous efforts in a period of political truce to form a new-style Labour Party quite unlike the old semi-pressure group.

On August 6, 1914, the War Emergency Workers’ Committee was born and proved to be the most influential single event in the creation of the revised Labour Party. The Emergency Committee’s chairman, until he joined the Government, was Arthur Henderson; and its secretary was J. S. Middleton, Assistant Secretary of the Labour Party. Both were members and tools of the Fabian Society. While Sidney Webb held no official position on the War Emergency Workers’ Committee, his skill in drafting statements and bringing unlikely groups together under one roof assured him a leading role.

Looking more than ever like a tintype of Napoleon III, the aging but agile Sidney was cast for the role which suited him best—that of a mastermind behind the scenes, exerting influence without responsibility, the Gray Eminence of a Socialist mass party to be manipulated in Labour’s name. Within a week after the wartime Committee was set up, Webb had prepared and issued Fabian Tract No. 176, The War and the Workers, for distribution throughout the country. This tract urged branches of all participating groups to set up local Emergency Committees, presumably to defend the wartime and postwar living standards of labor and to help keep the working force on the production lines. It is noteworthy that a series of conferences on “Restoring Trade Union Conditions after the War” was held in Fabian Hall and the audiences heard Beatrice Webb and other Fabian Socialists reject the Whitley Council System of capital-labor-government cooperation.

The War Emergency Workers’ Committee, in effect, delivered organized British labor into Socialist hands. It embraced The Trades Union Congress and the General Federation of Trades Unions; the powerful Miners’, Railwaymen and Transport Workers’ Unions; the Cooperative Movement and Wholesale Society; the Women’s Labour League and Cooperative Guild; the London Trade Council; the National Union of Teachers—in addition to the Labour Party and the Socialist Societies. Joint local committees of all these organizations would provide the base for a new national party to include “workers of hand and brain.”

Not even the urgencies of wartime can explain why the Cabinet of Lloyd George was so incautious as to present the Labour Party and the Fabian Society with virtually unlimited access to future working-class votes. Obviously, both groups were considered innocuous, a public impression the Party and the Society had taken pains to foster. As far as the War Government was concerned, the Emergency Committee proved quite useful in the summer of 1915 when the penalty clause of the Munitions of War Act was found inapplicable to a large-scale work stoppage. Since Lloyd George could not jail 200,000 striking Welsh coal miners whose output was badly needed, he welcomed the Committee’s diplomatic intervention.

In December, 1915, Sidney Webb was named the Fabian Society’s official representative on the Labour Party Executive and his collaboration with Arthur Henderson became still closer. By war’s end the Labour Party had a skeleton network of local units reaching from the Shetlands to Land’s End. It also boasted a new constitution and an overall program, both the work of Fabians.

The circumstances that produced the Labour Party’s constitution should be remembered because they illustrate so plainly the emotional effect of the Russian Revolution on British Fabians. The 1917 Revolution was hailed as a victory by Socialists of every stripe throughout the world—even though it cost Allied lives by releasing a number of German Army Divisions for service on the Western Front! In his enthusiasm, Arthur Henderson asked permission for British Labour representatives to visit Sweden along with other Allied Socialists and confer with the Russian revolutionaries. When the War Cabinet bluntly refused such facilities, Henderson was so outraged that he sat down and, with Sidney Webb’s help, wrote the new constitution for the British Labour Party.

Promptly adopted in February, 1918, it established the Labour Party as a federation of affiliated bodies to include the trade unions, the Royal Arsenal Cooperative Society, the Socialist Societies and local Labour Party units. Only delegates of these constituent groups were entitled to sit on the Party Executive or vote at its congresses—a provision that forever excluded the mere Labour Party sympathizer and independent voter from any voice or influence in Party affairs. At the same time, its Fabian architects cleverly managed to identify the Labour Party with labor as such; so that anyone opposed to its Socialist program appeared by inference to be a foe of the working man.

It is interesting to note that a similar trick of language was exploited at a later date by the authors of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, who contrived to equate the Democratic Party in the United States with the idea of democracy, thereby implying that all opponents of Roosevelt’s policies were enemies of democracy itself—a prime example of false logic purveyed through mass suggestion.

The new Labour Party constitution accomplished the long-hoped-for Fabian fusion of trade unionists, who furnished the votes and the money, and Socialists who dictated policy. It was an unnatural creation resembling the two-faced pagan god Janus, with, in this case, one face looking to labor for power and the other looking to Socialism for heaven on earth. To bind labor more effectively to Socialism, Sidney Webb had organized his first “tutorial class” in 1916 at the London School of Economics. There he lectured on Fabian economics and “doctrineless” Socialism to Britain’s future trade union leaders—as G. D. H. Cole and Harold Laski did after him.

This so-called adult education movement, designed to bring the Socialist-oriented university professor and the labor movement together, had been initiated at Oxford in 1906 under the sponsorship of the Workers’ Educational Association. Sometimes described as the fruit of Edwardian liberalism, it was supported from the start by such eminent Fabian Socialist dons as A. D. Lindsay, R. H. Tawney and Sidney Ball.6 Fabian Society locals at Oxford and Cambridge sent their most promising young men and women to teach at Workers’ Educational Association evening courses in nearby working class centers. It was while teaching at such a school that Lord Pakenham, the Catholic Fabian, met his future bride, a niece of Lord Curzon.

Through the Adult School and the “Labour Church,” Socialist intellectuals were able in a single generation to shape the minds and politics of those who were to bring the trade unions into the Labour Party. Such men as Ernest Bevin, who headed the Transport and General Workers’ Union representing 4,000,000 electoral votes, and Emanuel Shinwell, who succeeded Ramsay MacDonald as the idol of the radical Clydesiders, had known only four or five years of grammar school education. (7)

While Shinwell claimed to have educated himself through reading at public libraries, Bevin supplemented his formal schooling, or the lack of it, by attending the Fabian-backed Adult School classes of the Bristol Town Council. (8) In after years, as Britain’s Foreign Minister, Bevin paid tribute to the Adult School movement and especially to his teacher, H. B. Lees-Smith, a Fabian Socialist labor theoretician who later served in the MacDonald government of 1929 and for a time during World War II was Acting Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party. A good many Labour M.P.’s of 1945 owed their “university education” to the Workers’ Educational Association and its offshoots. (9)

Fabians estimated that only 5 per cent of the working class was worthy of being groomed for leadership; but every member of their own handpicked Society was regarded as a potential leader in his chosen field. After 1918, Fabians wishing to enter politics would do so through the Labour Party. At the same time, the Society continued to disclaim responsibility for the political views or activities of its members—just as it also disclaimed responsibility for the tracts published under its imprint—asserting that the world movement towards Socialism was above and beyond mere individual or Party bias. This delicate distinction puzzled and sometimes irritated the more forthright trade union men.

The revolutionary program of the reborn Labour Party, which in essence has not changed to this day, was primarily the work of one Fabian, the durable Sidney Webb. In 1916 Sidney had published a series of “studies” on How to Pay for the War. There he proposed nationalizing mines and mineral production, railways and canals. He advocated a State Insurance Department, and a revolution in income taxes and inheritance taxes (in England called “death duties”). It was the first public announcement of what Fabian Socialism had in store for postwar Britain—and nearly all of its proposals have since been put into practice.

Less than two years later a special committee of the Labour Party Executive issued a report entitled “Labour and the New Social Order.” While embodying the suggestions previously made by Webb, it went a great deal further. Everyone familiar with Sidney’s cast of mind and style of writing recognized it as a product of his peculiar genius —even to the characteristic parade of capital letters. A subsequent president of the Fabian Society, the widow of G. D. H. Cole, has described this egregious document as being “purest milk of the Fabian word.”

It began by announcing cheerfully that, as a result of World War I, “the individualist system of capitalist production has received a deathblow.” And it continued:

“We of the Labour Party . . . must insure that what is to be built up is a new social order—based not on fighting but on fraternity—not on the competitive struggle for a means of bare life, but on a deliberately planned cooperation in production and distribution for the benefit of all who participate by hand and brain . . . not on an enforced domination over subject nations, subject races, subject colonies, subject classes or a subject sex ….”

The Four Pillars of the House that we propose to erect, resting upon the common foundation of the Democratic control of Society in all its activities, may be termed respectively:

(a) The Universal Enforcement of the National Minimum

(b) The Democratic Control of Industry

(c) The Revolution in National Finance

(d) The Surplus Wealth for the Common Good. (10)

Under those four discreetly phrased headings (Pillars), the intention of Fabian Socialists to destroy the competitive system of production, strip the Empire of its overseas possessions and vest control of all domestic activities in the State was spelled out with precision. The first Pillar covered most of the proposals for State” financed social “welfare” that Fabians had supported from time to time. The second Pillar advocated women’s suffrage, whose vote-getting potential the Fabians had been somewhat slow to recognize; abolition of the House of Lords; nationalization of land ownership, electric power, maritime and railway transport, and the mining and metals industries; and “elimination of private profit” from insurance and from the liquor trade.

The third Pillar supported confiscatory increases in taxation (including the capital levy) which in time would abolish private savings as well as private investment. The fourth Pillar foreshadowed the transformation of the British Empire into the British Commonwealth; limitation of armaments and abolition of profit in the munitions industry; an international court; international economic controls; international legislation on social matters—and finally, a supranational or “one world” authority. Many of the objectives listed under the fourth or final heading had appeared in a Fabian-prepared Labour Party pamphlet published in 1917 under the title Labour’s War Aims, which antedated and supplied the basis for Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. (11)

Labour and the New Social Order was a sweeping Fabian prospectus for the gradual and orderly achievement of Socialism in the Empire and the world—so thoroughly revolutionary in what it proposed to do that more sober Englishmen, if they knew of it at all, must have dismissed it as mere campaign verbiage. It is a document that deserves to rank with Mein Kampf or the Communist Manifesto as one of the most plain-spoken announcements of destructive intent ever framed. In June, 1918, it was adopted as the official program of the British Labour Party, and except in details, such as the temporary inclusion of a birth control plank in 1927, it has never been really changed.

Strangely enough, when the program was concocted, there were labor groups in Britain who favored an even speedier rate of nationalization. To please them, Arthur Henderson in September, 1919, asked Sidney Webb to submit a plan for nationalizing the whole of British industry. Arthur explained that it “would be better for electioneering,” but Sidney declined to oblige. Already Webb perceived, as some others did not, that by nationalizing certain key industries and at the same time securing State control of both finance and social welfare, total nationalization could be achieved in fact, if not in name.

The irony of it is that a majority of British labor today, after some unhappy experiences with State-administered industry and some snubbing at the hands of State-appointed managers, no longer demands speedy nationalization but, on the contrary, mistrusts and fears it. As a result, the late Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party and veteran member of the Fabian Executive, Hugh Gaitskell, M.P., was forced to take the alternate route conveniently left open by Webb and to stress the more oblique methods of attaining State capitalism, as foreseen in general, if not always in detail, by the Fabian master planner. (12) For this, Gaitskell was unfairly criticized as being a lukewarm Socialist by more impetuous elements among his own followers. The question of how to satisfy both Right and Left wings of the Labour Party, while presenting a bland non-Socialist face to the Liberals and Independent voters, is a dilemma he has bequeathed to his successor, Harold Wilson.

In origin, policy and leadership, the British Labour Party was definitely a creature and a creation of the Fabian Society, and remains so today. Guided by Fabian Socialist politicians, whose ties with the Society were seldom noted outside of official Fabian publications, that Party became the Society’s chosen instrument for wrecking the national economic structure and dismantling the overseas Empire.

still a literal statement of destructive intent.


1. Hesketh Pearson, Bernard Shaw, (London, Methuen & Co. LTD., 1961), p. 358.

2. George Bernard Shaw, “Sixty Years of Fabianism,” Fabian Essays, Jubilee Edition, (London, The Fabian Society and Allen and Unwin, 1945), p. 287.

3. All the names which follow are listed by official Fabian historians, Edward R. Pease and Margaret Cole, or recur frequently in the pages of the official Fabian publications, Fabian News and the Fabian Annual Reports.

4. Constance Garnett was a translator of Tolstoi and other pre-revolutionary Russian novelists.

5. M. P. McCarran, Fabianism in the Political Life of Britain, 1919-1931, (Chicago, Heritage Foundation, 1954), p. 439.

6. J. F. C. Harrison, Learning and Living, A Study in the History of the English Adult Education Movement, (London, Routledge and Kegen Paul, LTD., 1961), p 264.

7. Emanuel Shinwell, Conflict Without Malice, An Autobiography. (London, Odhams Press, Ltd., 1955), pp. 18-19.

8. Francis Williams, Ernest Bevin, Introduction by the Rt. Hon. Clement Attlee, O.M., C.H., M.P. (London, Hutchinson & Co., Ltd., 1952), pp. 15-22.

9. Margaret Cole, The Story of Fabian Socialism, (London, Heinemann Educational Books, LTD., 1961), p. 208 (footnote).

10. (Italics added.)

11. To be treated in a later chapter.

12. Hugh Gaitskell, M.P., “Socialism and Nationalisation,” Fabian Tract No. 300, (London, The Fabian Society, 1956)

Chapter 3 << | >> Chapter 5

Chapter 3-The Dangerous Fabians

Chapter 3 of the book Fabian Freeway.

That year, in the flush of his first faint triumph, Sidney Webb began courting Beatrice Potter, a statuesque and well-heeled bluestocking. The contrast between them, both in station and stature, was acute. Beatrice was one of eight daughters of a Canadian-railway magnate; while the mother of her pint-sized suitor had been a London hairdresser. Beatrice once dreamed of a quite different future, but an earlier romance with Joseph Chamberlain, the great reformist Mayor of Birmingham, proved ill-starred. Sidney would channel her pent-up intellectual energies and resentments into a lifelong attack against the social class which had wounded her pride.

In 1892 this formidable couple—”very clever, very conceited,” as an acquaintance remarked—agreed to merge their differences. The marriage was something of a milestone in Fabian history. It was not only because Beatrice, by a fortunate coincidence, had inherited an income of one thousand pounds a year in Canadian railway stocks, which relieved Sidney of the necessity of earning a living and enabled him to concentrate with quiet intensity on undermining the system that sustained him. Their union was also the prototype of a menage soon to become characteristic of the Fabian set—the husband-and-wife “partnership” that applied itself with peculiar devotion to shattering the existing scheme of things and remolding it nearer to the (Fabian) heart’s desire. It permitted a pattern of radical feminism combined with domesticity, and it proved appealing to ladies of strong views. The Fabian movement always emphasized the importance of female support, both personal and financial—though it alienated some by its insistence that all but the most prominent women should do their own housework.

With the publication of their History of Trades Unionism (which Lenin translated into Russian for his followers) the names of Sidney and Beatrice Webb began to appear jointly on a series of ponderous volumes intended to conduct the English-speaking world along the road to Socialism. Their intellectual progeny were numerous, and the effect on their own and succeeding generations was considerable. In addition, Beatrice Webb was closely identified with the development of a product known as Fabian Research. Organized fact-finding designed to lend weight to predetermined opinions was to provide the basis for Fabian propaganda, educational and political.

Fabian “research” as practiced by Beatrice Webb and her school combined the turgid German type of scholarship, noted for massive detail and much admired by nineteenth century intellectuals, with a kind of airy legerdemain. It specialized in reaching conclusions on social and economic topics which were quite unrelated to the facts themselves. These dangerous non sequiturs escaped challenge because the preliminary facts were often obtained from unimpeachable official sources and because they were so voluminous.

The Fabian way was to bury an opponent, when possible, under mountains of exhaustive detail. Fabian research supplied the content for the “educational” material distributed by the Society, a good deal of it in the form of tracts and pamphlets presenting the Fabian stand on successive issues of the day. At a later date Beatrice Webb was made formally responsible for setting up the Fabian Research Department, which in due time became infiltrated by Communists and in the end was abandoned to them.

The decade of the eighteen-nineties has been poetically referred to as the period of the Society’s “first blooming.” The phrase is apt if one recognizes the movement to be a species of deadly nightshade rather than a wholesome growth. It is true that provincial affiliates of the Society sprang up all over England and Scotland, and general membership soon exceeded two hundred—not a very impressive figure. In 1891, the Society began publishing the Fabian News, “for members only,” which is still published today.

A scattering of Fabians sat on town councils where, as “gas and water Socialists,” they agitated for municipal control of public utilities. They got themselves named to local school boards, where they did their bit towards steering the education of the common-school masses into Socialist channels. In London, Sidney Webb became a member of the County Council and Graham Wallas headed the School Management Committee of the School Board.

In those years Fabian lecturers roamed the hinterland. Book boxes and tracts were shipped in bulk from the newly-opened headquarters at Clement’s Inn. All that bleak superficial bustle helped to create an impression, still carefully fostered in the general press, that the Fabian Society was no more than a small, rather harmless, busybody organization chiefly involved in fraternal squabbles. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reality, the Society took only a passing interest in the new members who had drifted rather aimlessly into its ranks, and soon released many of them to other radical organizations of lesser status.(1) While it was concerned at all times with creating a favorable climate for Socialist opinion, the particular mission of the Fabian Society was to develop a Socialist elite—in short, to discover and mold the leaders of an evolving Socialist world.

It is on this point, rather than on their gradualist procedure, that the Fabians appear to differ most obviously from classic Marxists, though the difference may be more apparent than real. Fabians have insisted from the start that in advanced capitalist countries like England and the United States, Socialism must begin at the top and meet the industrial masses half way.

Hence, the Fabians’ emphasis on leadership, and their solicitude for higher education through which the leaders of the future were to be formed. The Fabian Society, which ceased publishing membership lists in 1945 to “assure privacy” to its many notables, has always contained the elite of left wing society, open and covert. It was no coincidence that when the Labour Party finally came to power in England, figures like Ramsay MacDonald and Clement Attlee, Sir Stafford Cripps, Herbert Morrison and a host of equal and lesser luminaries were found to have been Fabian-trained.

There was jubilation at Fabian headquarters when the first— though by no means the last—student group at Oxford was formed back in 1895. This one small chick caused more rejoicing than the whole brood of new provincial societies, since England’s great universities were traditionally the hatcheries for Members of Parliament and the Civil Service. By 1900 there were three more university groups, and as one academic generation followed another, quite a number of England’s future rulers submitted to brainwashing by Socialist tutors. In 1912, university students accounted for more than one-fifth of the Society’s membership, (2) with the Cambridge group led by such obviously coming young men as Hugh Dalton, a future chairman of the Labour Party, and Clifford Allen, later chairman of the Independent Labour Party. The priority which the Fabian Society gave to this proselytizing is evident from the fact that such leading members as R. H. Tawney, G. D. H. Cole, afterwards president of the Society, former Foreign Secretary Patrick Gordon Walker and Prime Minister Harold Wilson taught for years at Oxford, shaping the young mind to the Socialist idea.

Another pilot operation begun in the nineties and steadily expanded to the present day is the London School of Economics. The circumstances of its founding are worth examining because they furnish so clear an example of Fabian duplicity at work.

A benefactor of the Fabian Society, Henry Hutchinson, M.P., had committed suicide in the summer of 1894, leaving a hastily drawn will in which he bequeathed a trust of nine thousand pounds to further the “propaganda and other purposes of the Society.” As chairman of the Society, Sidney Webb was to be chairman of the Trust, but the will did not specifically authorize him to administer outlays. Without informing his colleagues of the precise terms of the will, Sidney proceeded to use the bulk of the money to establish the London School of Economics and Political Science. Nominally, the school was not established under the auspices of the Society, which, however, retained indirect control.

Before taking this step, Sidney privately consulted the well-known legal authority R. B. Haldane, Q.C. Haldane asked Webb point-blank if he was still a Socialist, and if the new school would really advance the cause of Socialism. On getting an affirmative answer to both questions, Haldane advised going ahead.

Nevertheless, the first Director of the School, who had been selected by Webb, solemnly assured the London Chamber of Commerce that “the School would not deal with political matters and nothing of a socialistic tendency would be introduced.(3) That this pledge was honored chiefly in the breach is evident from an entry in Beatrice Webb’s Diary of March, 1898. “The London School of Economics,” (4) she confided, “is growing silently but surely into a center of collectivist-tempered research and establishing itself as the English school-of economic and political science.”(5)

Since the Webbs themselves taught at the London School, it can be assumed that Beatrice knew the facts. Many other prominent Fabians have since served on its staff, including such leading lights of Socialism as Harold Laski, chairman of the Fabian Society from 1946 to 1948. Among Professor Laski’s students at the London School were two sons of a United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James: Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. in 1933 34 and John F. Kennedy in 1935-36.

Like the Catholic Society of Jesus—which the Fabian Society, being secular and materialistic in its approach, does not otherwise resemble —the basis for future action was so firmly defined in its first years that its subsequent growth was assured. A contemporary once said of Ignatius of Loyola, “When Ignatius drives a nail, no one can pull it out!”

Without attributing supernatural motives to the freethinking authors of the Fabian Society, it can be noted that the essential elements of purpose, organization and method on which the development of the Fabian movement depended were defined in its first decades, primarily by those two profane zealots, Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw. Despite the increased tempo and range of its present-day activities, the Fabian Society has not deviated in any essential way from the patterns initially devised for it. It remains today, as it was at its inception, a dangerously subtle conspiracy beneath a cloak of social reform.

Organizationally, the movement operated in ever-widening circles, like ripples in a pond. The Fabian Society of London was the mother society, source of programs, directives and propaganda which were handed down to the more variable local societies. The Executive Committee of the London Society constituted an inner circle with which the general membership enjoyed only fleeting contacts, at lectures, meetings, Easter, New Year’s, and Summer Schools or weekend seminars. Then came the handpicked membership. And finally, there was a very much larger and continually expanding ring of sympathizers, who supported immediate or long-range programs of the Society, in whole or in part.

The influence of the Fabian movement, which has always been more real than apparent, cannot be measured by the Society’s limited membership, but must be gauged by other factors. Such factors, for instance, as the practical influence each member was able to exert in his chosen profession or field of action. Even during the days when membership lists were published, the Society already operated to a large extent as an invisible and toxic force. As the Machiavellian Webb so often said, with an air of candid innocence, “the work of the Fabian Society is the sum of its members’ activities.”

At the heart of those concentric circles, ringed around and shielded from scrutiny, was the small, hard core of the Fabian leadership, which acknowledged no responsibility for the sometimes contradictory acts of individual members—even after stimulating such action. For almost fifty years Sidney Webb remained the guiding force of the Society, discreetly controlling its rather loose organizational reins and seldom letting his right hand know what the left was doing. Edward R. Pease, who replaced Sydney Olivier as general secretary from 1890 to 1924, remained Webb’s faithful watchdog, enforcing the authority and masking the often devious maneuvers of his small master.

The Society’s function from its earliest years coincided perfectly with the formula of Wilhelm Liebknecht, nineteenth century German Marxist: “to forecast a practical program for the intermediate period; to formulate and justify measures that shall be applicable at once and that will serve as aids to the new Socialist birth.” Grafting itself on the century-old British reform movement, the Fabian Society combined sociology with politics in an effort to propel its members into positions of national influence.

Unlike their European Socialist comrades, the Fabians established themselves as a private Society of limited membership rather than a political party. The Society was neither doctrinaire nor given to philosophical hairsplitting. All it exacted was a broad pledge of allegiance to Socialist goals, leaving each member free to justify them by any logic or philosophy he preferred. He was also free to join any political party he chose, provided he utilized every possible opportunity to further the Fabian cause. In fact, he was encouraged to do so, for political activity was only second to education on the Fabian agenda.

The practice of joining a political party for the sake of advancing Fabian programs, and of placing Fabians in elective and appointive posts, became known as “penetration.” Since the first loyalty of Fabians was to the Society, rather than to any party, their motives were sometimes suspect. Thus, Edward R. Pease was almost ejected from the Bradford Conference of 1893, when the Independent Labour Party was formed. He managed to remain and some years later was able to report that two-thirds of the Fabian Society belonged to the Independent Labour Party.(6)

After 1919 Fabians transferred their allegiance en bloc to the British Labour Party, at whose foundation other Fabians had assisted—and for all practical purposes the Independent Labour Party was no more. It remained a mere wandering voice on the far Left, calling for militant action when more “peaceful” Fabian programs seemed in danger of bogging down and, in effect, winning liberal support for the Fabian way as being “less dangerous.”

Fabian penetration of the Liberal Party of Great Britain, though less extensive, proved no less lethal. From 1903 Sir L. G. Chiozza-Money, a member of the Fabian Executive, went to Parliament as a Liberal. When Liberals came to power in the elections of 1906, twenty-nine seats in Parliament were held by Fabians. By 1911, forty-two Fabian Socialists sat on the Liberal-Labour benches. Eventually their intimate knowledge of Liberal constituencies enabled Fabians to divert a number of election districts to the upcoming Labour Party, and to aid the Labour Party in detaching trade union support from the Liberals. Penetration created new political alignments more profitable to the cause of Socialism.

What George Dangerfield called the strange death of liberal England (7) was hastened by the fact that the Fabian Society—on the strength of “tips” from its members in the Liberal Party, as well as gossip leaked from government offices—was able to release a steady barrage of printed matter politically damaging to Liberalism and its leaders. The intention and the effect was to build up the Fabian-dominated Labour Party that emerged full-blown after World War I.

A twin to “penetration” was the time-honored Fabian practice called “permeation.” Much favored by the ladies—Beatrice Webb actually believed she had invented it!—Fabian permeation dates from an era before women could vote. Permeation meant getting the ear of important or key persons and inducing them to push through some action desired by Fabians. It was not considered necessary that such persons be Fabians. Often it was preferable that they should be outsiders. The important thing was that they should act on the advice and instructions of Fabians. The rather startling appointment of Beatrice Webb to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law from 1905 to 1909 was an example of something achieved at second hand by permeation; for the unhappy official who named her to that post was neither aware of the lady’s Socialist bias nor her forceful nature. Permeation failed at this time to get her recommendations written into law, but the unauthorized printing of her Minority Report was a propaganda coup for the Society. Interestingly enough, the copy that went to the printer was in Sidney’s handwriting.(8)

One advantage of permeation, developed to a fine art by the Fabians, was that it could be practiced almost anywhere—at teas, dinners and weekend house parties, as well as in committee and board meetings. Doubtless the same black art was known under other names to the Medes and Persians, and was old in Cleopatra’s day. It has even been seen to rear its head along the social circuit in modern Washington. The Fabian Society, however, appears to have been the first organization ever to advocate this technique openly as an instrument of political policy.

A final pattern for the future, established by those two long-lived patriarchs of the Fabian Society, Sidney Webb and George Bernard Shaw, solved the problem of where Socialism is going. When all is said and done, where could it go? With many of the preliminary steps accomplished and the end plainly in sight, only one road would be open to the Socialists and it would lead inexorably to the Left. After the Directory, the Terror. After July, October. That is the historic pattern, and to date it has never varied.

Shaw and Webb, both hardened professionals, pointed out the way to their followers. It was no accident of old age that led them separately in 1931-32 to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and to full-throated capitulation. After some earlier expressions of distaste for Communist violence and the iron hand of Communist Party discipline, they could no longer restrain themselves from making public professions of their allegiance.

Perhaps they had always known what the journey’s end must be. Perhaps in their secret hearts they had been there all the time. At the turn of the century, Joseph Fels, a soap magnate from Philadelphia and an early member of the Fabian Society, (9) had, in 1907, loaned money to Russian revolutionaries at the time when Lenin quarreled with the majority of Russia’s Social Democrats and formed the “Bolshevik” wing of the party. In those struggling early days there had seemed to the Fabians to be no enemies on the left, and perhaps it has remained so.

Weighted with years and honors, the Webbs and George Bernard Shaw traveled royally to Moscow to announce their full support for the Soviet system of rationalized barbarism. Shaw, by then the dean of English letters, told Stalin that the words “the inevitability of gradualness” should be engraved on Lenin’s tomb. Webb, now Baron Passfield, exchanged ideas on colonial policy with Stalin, who had launched his own public career with a study of subject nationalities. In 1929-30 Webb had served as Britain’s Secretary of State for the Dominions and Colonies, and in 1930-31 as Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Among the poisoned fruits of the Webbs’ sojourn in the Socialist Fatherland was a two-volume work entitled Soviet Socialism—A New Civilization? (The question mark was dropped in later editions.) Even before publication, portions of the manuscript placed in the right hands helped to spark a movement leading to United States recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933. The Webbs had known Maxim Litvinoff, the Soviet Foreign Minister, and his British-born wife, the former Ivy Low, during that couple’s years of “exile” in London.

Like the character in Stendhal’s historical novel who rode through the Battle of Waterloo without being aware of it, the Webbs were present at a wholesale slaughter and did not see or choose to see it. Their visit to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1932 coincided with the huge man-made famine that swept the Ukraine and Crimea, where a minimum of two to three million persons was deliberately starved to death in order to hasten the Soviet program of farm confiscations. Such horrors were handily omitted from the Webbs’ encyclopedic volumes, whose publication was withheld until after the 1935 British elections. Their index refers to “famine, alleged.”

The actual sources of this book were revealed some years later, in testimony given to the Internal Security Subcommittee of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Appearing before that body on April 7,1952, Colonel I. M. Bogolepov, a former Soviet Army officer who had been attached from 1930 to 1936 to the Soviet Foreign Office, recalled his dealings with the Webbs. He stated bluntly that the entire text of the Webbs’ book had been prepared in the Soviet Foreign Office. Material for the chapter on Soviet prison camps, stressing the “humane” methods employed in those factories of death and minimizing the vast scale of their operations, was specially compiled by the Secret Police and also delivered through the Foreign Office to the learned couple. The Colonel happened to know these things because, as he explained with some amusement, he had done most of the ghostwriting himself in the line of duty.

Colonel Bogolepov added that after fleeing to the West he read the Webbs’ book with much interest and found they had used his prepared material almost verbatim. “Just a few changes for the English text, just a little bit criticizing!” he remarked ironically. Which is almost, but not quite, the last word on Fabian Research!

For some reason, their gyrations did not estrange the Webbs from the Fabian Society, or vice versa. When Sidney died in 1947, a few years after Beatrice, he left their joint estate of thirty thousand pounds to the Fabian Society and the London School of Economics. For services rendered, a grateful Labour Government interred the ashes of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who had been practicing atheists most of their lives, in the hallowed precincts of Westminster Abbey. Concerning the final disposition of Beatrice, who once wrote that “the character of Jesus has never appealed to me,” Shaw commented on a postcard to her niece, Barbara Drake: “B. must be sizzling to hear the name Jesus spoken over her!” Shaw, (10) carrying his defiance of everything holy into the hereafter, ordered his ashes to be scattered in the garden of his home at Ayot St. Lawrence “to make the soil of England more fertile for the growth of Socialism.”

At the Beatrice Webb House in Surrey, used today for Fabian Summer Schools and weekend conferences, there is a rather grotesque stained glass window ordered by Shaw in 1910. It depicts himself and Webb smashing the world with workingmen’s hammers. Among the Fabians kneeling below in attitudes of mock adoration is the novelist H. G. Wells, thumbing his nose irreverently but still close to the old gang. On a streamer overhead is the legend, “Remould it nearer to the hearts desire.” That much-quoted line comes, of course, from a quatrain in Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam:

Dear Love, couldst thou and I with fate conspire

To grasp this sorry scheme of things entire,

Would we not shatter it to bits, and then

Remould it nearer to the heart’s desire

To an outsider those verses might seem no more than a quaintly Victorian literary relic, but to the Fabians they are still a literal statement of destructive intent.


1. By 1893, in addition to the mother society in London, there were about 1,500 members organised in over seventy societies. But on its formation the Independent Labour Party absorbed most of these and by 1897 only eleven local groups remained. Fabian News (September, 1959).

2. One-third of the present-day membership is composed of university students.

3. Minutes of the Chamber’s Commercial Education Committee: Janet, Lady Beveridge, An Epic of Clare Market (London, Bell Publishers, 1960), p. 27.

4. Shortened form, in popular usage for London School of Economics and Political Science.

5. Beatrice Webb, Our Partnership (New York, Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd., 1948), p. 145.

6. Edward R. Pease, The History of the Fabian Society (London, A. C. Fifield, 1916), p. 208.

7. Also the title of his book.

8. Pease, op. cit., p. 213.

9. Listed as a Fabian in Fabian News (March, 1905).

10. In a letter dated January 14, 1948, and written just a few years before his death to Miss Fanny Holtzmann, a New York attorney, Shaw stated: “My dear Fanny: I am not a Cobdenite Liberal, but the very opposite, a Communist, though not a member of the so-called Communist Party.” Washington Post (February 3, 1948).

Chapter 2 << | >> Chapter 4

Chapter 2–Sowing the Wind

Chapter 2 of the book Fabian Freeway.

Part 1–Great Britain

One chilly October evening in 1883—the same year a Prussian-born war correspondent, free-lance economist and lifelong conspirator named Karl Marx died obscurely in London lodgings—sixteen young Britishers met for a parlor discussion of the higher things of life. They were guests of a twenty-six year old junior stockbroker, Edward R. Pease, who was bored with his job and with typical Victorian rectitude sought grounds for condemning it as immoral.

All were young, earnest, ambitious, of middle class origins and decent if by no means glamorous ancestry. All were groping for some sort of secular faith to replace the old God-given certainties as a basis for living and shaping their future careers. Like many restless young people of our own day, they hoped to find it in an atmosphere of mingled culture and social change. About half were personal friends of Pease and the rest were members of a budding cultural group called the Nuova Vita.

They had come to hear Thomas Davidson, a Scottish-born American and itinerant schoolmaster then visiting England, give a talk on “The New Life.” Known as the Wandering Scholar, Davidson was a man of considerable learning and personal magnetism. He had toyed with the philosophy of Rosmini, an Italian priest who tried to fuse the systems of St. Thomas Aquinas and Hegel. At the moment, te was also flirting with a species of Utopian Socialism in the manner of Robert Owen, who favored setting up ideal communities of choice and noble souls. (1) (With Owen, an Englishman who visited America, the term “Socialist” first came into general use in 1835. )

When Davidson returned to the New World to preside at various impromptu summer schools and to found the Educational Alliance on New York City’s lower East Side, he had left behind him in London a lasting monument to his visit. From that casual gathering on October 24, at 17 Osnaburgh Street, the Fabian Society of London was born. Its character, however, was not immediately apparent. After a few meetings, at which the possibility of forming a religious-type community without benefit of religion was discussed, the group voted to remain in the world.

Within a few years the more bohemian elements from the Nuova Vita drifted away. Among them were Edward Carpenter, the future poet laureate of British Socialism, and Havelock Ellis, harbinger of free love and forthright sexual discussion, whose impact on the morals of young intellectuals in his own time would prove similar to that of Freud after World War I. Leaders of the Fabian Society at a later date viewed Ellis uneasily as a threat to that image of respectability which was to prove their most highly prized asset. An examination of the early minutes book of the Fabian Society suggests that the name of Havelock Ellis has been carefully removed from the list of original signers of its credo. Scandals provoked by the unconventional love-life of certain early Socialist leaders evidently convinced the Fabian high command that an appearance of prudery was preferable.

From the outset, the nine young men and women who remained to found the Fabian Society had grandiose plans. Quite simply, they wanted to change the world through a species of propaganda termed “education,” which would lead to political action. To a rather astonishing degree they have been successful. For over three generations, members and friends of the Fabian Society have dedicated themselves to promoting an anglicized version of Marxism. Started as a discussion club, the Society has become the most important and long-lived Socialist organization in England. Without advertising the fact, it has also assumed leadership of a world-wide Socialist movement and is today the dominant influence in the Socialist International. Its originality lies in the techniques it has developed for permeating established institutions and penetrating political parties in order to win command of the machinery of power. Historically speaking, perhaps its most remarkable feat has been to endow social revolution with an aura of lofty respectability.

The hole-and-corner beginnings of the Fabian Society offered no clue to its destiny. In the tranquil and prosperous British Empire of the early eighteen-eighties, the future of Socialism appeared dim. The working classes were docile and churchgoing, the landed aristocracy was firmly entrenched. Only the middle class seemed apt for the Socialist bait, particularly the younger intellectuals and professionals. Lacking any profound group loyalties, their religious convictions shaken by popularized versions of Darwinism and scientific materialism, many yearned for some new creed to make life worth living. All over London discussion clubs, debating clubs, study clubs sprang up and bloomed ephemerally. Movements like Psychical Research, Vegetarianism, Spiritism and Theosophy flourished for a decade or two and declined.

Edward Pease, who in due time became the perennial general secretary and chronicler of the Fabian Society, had dabbled in such diversions and found them disappointing. During a Psychical Research expedition to a haunted house in Hampstead, where he tried and failed to locate a ghost, he struck up a friendship with Frank Podmore, the man who subsequently provided the Fabian Society with a name and a motto…. But it lent a touch of classical elegance to a tiny left wing organization, few of whose original members had attended England’s better public schools and universities.

The Fabian Society was named for Quintus Fabius Maximus, a Roman general and dictator who lived in the third century B.C. In his lifetime Fabius was nicknamed “Cunctator”—the Delayer—because of his delaying tactics against Hannibal in the second Punic War. By avoiding pitched battles at a time when Rome was weak, he won time for the Republic to build up its military strength. Though Fabius eventually met and defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Tarantum, he was not, in spite of what is often said today, “the patient vanquisher of Hannibal.” In fact, he died before Hannibal was decisively vanquished and Carthage destroyed. The final blow was dealt by a more aggressive and ruthless Roman, Scipio Africanus, a detail omitted from references to Fabius in the Society’s literature. In this respect, also, Fabius’ strategic role resembles that of the Society which has borrowed his name. (One cannot help wondering how the Roman patriot would have responded to the far from patriotic question posed by a well-known early Fabian, Graham Wallas: “When a man dies for his country, what does he die for?”)

The motto of the Fabian Society, published on page 1 of Fabian Tract No. 1, stressed the value of delayed action. It stated: “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.” Time and repetition have given this motto a spurious patina of antiquity, but no one has ever been able to cite a Latin text as its source. On the cover of many a Fabian publication it was shortened to read, “I wait long, but when I strike, I strike hard.” Usually it accompanied a sketch of an angry tortoise by the Fabian artist, Walter Crane, which first appeared on a Fabian Christmas card and has since been reproduced on literally millions of Fabian tracts and pamphlets distributed throughout the English-speaking world. So the tortoise became the heraldic device of the Society—emblem of persistence, longevity, slow and guarded progress towards a (revolutionary) goal. Not until the nineteen-sixties, for reasons best known to the Fabians themselves, did this tell-tale emblem abruptly cease to appear on the covers of most official Fabian publications.

Both name and motto were adopted on January 4, 1884, which may be presumed to be the actual founding date of the Society. It was half a dozen years before the program and leadership assumed definitive shape. Meanwhile, the deliberate tempo and very British complexion of the new Society distinguished it from the numerous small groups of foreign revolutionaries who took refuge in London throughout the nineteenth century and which invited surveillance by the police of several countries. Clever young Englishmen with a world to win obviously could not afford to be identified with foreign radicals, not if they hoped to attract any substantial following in Britain.

And yet, contrary to general belief, the gradualist policy of the Fabians did not conflict essentially with the doctrines of the lately deceased leader of world Socialism, Karl Marx. Had not Marx himself told German Communists in 1850 that it would take years “of civil strife and foreign wars not only to change existing conditions, but to change yourselves and make yourselves worthy of world power”? At an open meeting in Amsterdam reported by the Leipzig Volkstaat of October 2, 1872, Marx also said, “We know that we must take into consideration the institutions, the habits and the customs of different regions, and we do not deny that there are countries like America, England and—if I knew your institutions better I would perhaps add Holland—where the workers can attain their objectives by peaceful means. But such is not the case in all other countries.”

At least one original leader of the Fabian movement had been definitely exposed to Marxist doctrines before joining the Society. In May, 1884, when the organization was still in its infancy, there appeared at its meetings an impertinent young Irishman with flame-red hair and beard, of whom nobody had yet heard. The name of this apparition was George Bernard Shaw, and he claimed to be looking for a debate. In September of the same year he was admitted to membership and the following January was elected to the Fabian Executive.

Shaw was then twenty-eight years old, a free-lance journalist living on an occasional stipend. For nine years he had drifted from one leftist group and radical colony in London to another. In later life he was fond of telling how he was suddenly converted to Socialism in 1882 as the result of hearing a London lecture by Henry George, the American single-taxer and foe of “landlords.” Obviously, Shaw’s experiences as a penniless youth in the metropolis had not disposed him to love landlords, but he was stretching the truth when he dated his interest in Socialism from that lecture.

As early as 1879 he had joined the Zetetical Society, an offshoot of the Dialectical Society formed to explore the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx, though its alleged purpose was to discuss the works of John Stuart Mill. Before coming to the Fabians, Shaw had also belonged to a Marxist reading circle, politely called the Hampstead Historical Club, and had been at least a candidate member of the militantly Marxist Social Democratic Federation whose leader, Henry Mayers Hyndman, trailing clouds of costly cigar smoke, often visited Karl Marx at home.

Thereafter Shaw proceeded to school himself and others by making speeches on all the current issues about which he wished to be informed. For twelve years after joining the Society, he spoke as often as three times a week to audiences small and large, ranging from soapbox speeches on street corners to public debates in crowded halls, from formal papers before the nascent British Economic Association to four-hour addresses at large open-air meetings. As his mentors, he preferred to cite Henry George, or John Stuart Mill, the British Utilitarian; Professor W. S. Jevons, or David Ricardo, the early nineteenth century English economist from whom Marx derived his theory of surplus value.

Whether Shaw was ever personally acquainted with Karl Marx is not recorded. He could hardly have failed to see the ponderous Prussian in the reading room of the British Museum, where Marx was a fixture for nearly thirty years. Before and after joining the Fabians, Shaw, too, frequented the British Museum almost daily. There he read the first volume of Das Kapital in French and was vastly impressed by it; and there he became friendly with Marx’s daughter Eleanor, a dark, rather striking young Socialist, working as a copyist in the reading room for eighteen pence a day. It is hard to see how he could have avoided meeting her father—the more so because, throughout his long career, Shaw never displayed the least reticence about introducing himself to anyone he wished to know.

Failure to mention meeting or even seeing a man whose work had impressed him so profoundly is a significant omission, especially on the part of a notorious name-dropper like Shawl He refers casually to having once met Frederick Engels, Marx’s alter ego who remained in London to edit the posthumous portions of Das Kapital until his own death in 1892.

The possibility has been raised—and remains an interesting subject for speculation—that George Bernard Shaw, the self-styled mountebank with his Mephistophelian eyebrows and carefully cultivated air of diabolism, who in his later writings equated Jesus and Lenin, as spiritual leaders,(2) was commissioned by the fathers of Marxian Socialists to help found a select company for the propagation and defense of their Socialist views. Early in the game, Shaw confided to the German Socialist, Eduard Bernstein, that he wanted the Fabians to be “the Jesuits of Socialism.”(3)

Any serious consideration of Fabian Socialism must allow for the very real possibility that Communists early saw their opportunity to introduce Communism into America through the Anglo-Saxon tradition: enter at stage Left, the Fabian Society!

In any event, Shaw came into the Fabian Society as if propelled; promptly pushed himself into a position of leadership where he remained for decades; and to the end of his days retained a paternal and financial interest in its affairs. This was true even after his meteoric success as a playwright and propagandist prevented him from participating in its day-to-day activities. The average American of today, who knows Shaw chiefly as the author of Pygmalion, on which the libretto of My Fair Lady is based, may be surprised to learn that Socialism was the consuming passion of his rather anemic, vegetarian life.

Acidly outspoken on some matters, frankly blasphemous on others, the one subject on which he ever waxed sentimental was the Fabian Society. As a speaker, playwright and essayist, Shaw did more than any other human being to establish the fiction that the polite conspiracy called Fabian Socialism is a “peaceful, constitutional, moral and economical movement,” needing nothing for its “bloodless and benevolent realization except that the English people should understand and approve of it.”(4)

In January, 1885, Shaw introduced a friend into the Society whose contribution was to be as fateful as his own. This was Sidney Webb, a squat, dark, determined young clerk in the Colonial Office, with a photographic memory, a gift for assembling statistical data and a taste for political manipulation. Because his father, a bookkeeper from Westminster, had once served as a committeeman for John Stuart Mill, Webb claimed to have unique knowledge that Mill had died a Socialist.

As a boy Sidney Webb attended schools in Germany and Switzerland and presumably read German as fluently as English; yet he always took pains to disclaim any knowledge of or interest in the works of Karl Marx—although Shaw noted in his diary that in August, 1885, he and Webb together read the second volume of Das Kapital, just published in German. Webb’s disclaimer can therefore be doubted, especially in view of his monumental, if masked, contribution to the practical advancement of Marxist programs in England during his lifetime and the fact that his final work (written jointly with Mrs. Webb and the Soviet Foreign Office (5)) was a paean to the “new civilization” of the Soviet Union. Even his loving wife in her Diaries has charged Sidney with possessing a most “robust conscience.”

Shaw and Webb had met in 1879 at the Zetetical Society, when both were exploring the uses of Marxian dialectic as a weapon in debate. As Fabians, they formed a two-man team pacing each other like a pair of well-gaited carriage horses. They collaborated smoothly in the production of pamphlets, essays, and reports, drafted plans for political activity, and formulated internal and external policies of the Society in advance of executive meetings. Sidney Webb supplied the direction, George Bernard Shaw, the literary style.

Soon they were joined by a third friend, Sydney Olivier (afterwards Lord Olivier), also a clerk in the Colonial Office, who, many years later, was to become the Fabian-inspired Secretary of State for India. Like Sidney Webb, Olivier proved to be a fertile source of confidential information gleaned from official contacts in government service.(6) With the advent the next year of Graham Wallas, M.A.— future missionary-in-chief of Fabian-type Socialism in the United States—the first Fabian high command was complete.

The facility with which that oddly assorted quartet captured and retained the Society’s top leadership bears some resemblance to the methods of Marxist-Leninist factions in front organizations of the nineteen-thirties. It suggests that the Fabian Society may, in fact, have been the first Marxist innocent front in history. True, members of the Fabian Executive did not hesitate to damn the ghost of Karl Marx as they saw fit. With equal impunity they “damned each other’s eyes twelve months of the year,” yet remained loyal to the Society and its secrets. (7) Differences of opinion and verbal battles between individual Fabians were routine, yet did not preclude the factor of Fabian discipline. The half-humorous insults they tossed back and forth so lightly only served to veil the deadly seriousness of their common objectives.

These objectives were broadly outlined in the Basis, a credo to which every member from 1887 on was obliged to subscribe. With a single change it survived until 1938, when it was recast to become the constitution of the Society. All three versions began by announcing, “The Fabian Society consists of Socialists.” The original Basis went on to say:

“It [the Fabian Society] therefore aims at the reorganisation of society by the emancipation of land and Industrial Capital from individual and class ownership, and the vesting of them in the community for the general benefit…. The Society accordingly works for the extinction of private property in land…. The Society further works for the transfer to the Community of such Industrial Capital as can conveniently be handled socially. For the attainment of these ends the Fabian Society looks to the spread of Socialist opinions, and the social and political changes consequent thereon…. It seeks to achieve these ends by the general dissemination of knowledge as to the relation between the individual and Society in its economic, ethical and political aspects.”

Like other movements small in their beginnings but destined to cast a long shadow, the Fabian Socialist movement, which was called a Society, has never strayed from its original objectives. What the Basis proposed was nothing less than social revolution, to be achieved by devious means over a period of time rather than by direct action. Violence as an ultimate measure was not renounced—it simply was not mentioned. Religion was not attacked—it was merely ignored.

Cautiously phrased to disarm the unwary and to reassure any who might consider the term “social revolution” indiscreet, the Basis was probably the most genteel war cry ever uttered—but it was a war cry for all that! Propaganda and political action were the twin weapons by which Great Britain’s unwritten constitution was to be subverted and the traditional liberties of Englishmen exchanged for a system of State Socialism. More precise instructions for putting into effect the Fabian scheme for nationalization-by-installments were issued many years later in a volume by Sidney and Beatrice Webb boldly entitled A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain.

For so ambitious a plan to be launched by so small a group must have seemed slightly absurd at the start. Certainly it caused no alarm in 1887 among authorized spokesmen of an Empire on which the sun never set. How could a few conceited young people hope to overturn the basis of England’s mercantile power and, in fact, of civilization itself? And yet, less than twenty years before, an equally obscure group of assorted radicals had contrived to set up the Commune and ended by delivering Paris into the hands of the invading Prussian armies. That happened in France, however, a notoriously excitable country. Englishmen did things in a quite different fashion.

From the start, Fabian leaders were fully aware of the stamina of the system they hoped to abolish. They did not imagine, any more than Karl Marx or Lenin did, that Socialism could be achieved at one bound in a nation as strong as nineteenth century England. They did believe, however, that with some help, the people of Great Britain, and eventually the world, could be persuaded psychologically to accept Socialism as inevitable. It might take a long while, a full fifty years or more, but Fabians were willing to work and wait. Their time to strike, and strike hard, would come later.

In their first years the Fabians displayed as much irritation as the bearded Prussian, Karl Marx, had displayed towards some of his more impatient followers. They were furious at Henry Mayers Hyndman and his openly Marxist Social Democratic Federation for predicting so positively that the world-wide social revolution would take place on July 14th, 1889, the hundredth anniversary of the fall of the Bastille.

Failure of this widely advertised event to occur proved indirectly helpful to the early Fabian Society by bringing a number of embarrassed radicals and nervous liberals into the gradualist camp. Just before Christmas, the first edition of Fabian Essays, edited by Shaw and written by members of the Fabian inner circle, was published. On the strength of favorable book reviews by Fabian journalists (8) in such respected publications as the London Star, the Chronicle and the Edinburgh Review, the Essays attracted readers and stimulated some interest in Socialism. By 1890 the Fabian Society was definitely on its way, and it has never stopped since.


1. In a letter written some years afterwards to Morris R. Cohen eventually to occupy a chair of Philosophy at City College of New York, Davidson said: “That you are attached to Socialism neither surprises nor disappoints me. I once came near being a Socialist myself and in that frame of mind founded what afterwards became the Fabian Society. But I soon found out the limitations of Socialism. . . . I have not found any deep social insight or any high moral ideals among the many Socialists I know.” Memorials of Thomas Davidson, William Knight, ed., (Boston and London, Ginn and Company, 1907), p. 142.

2. George Bernard Shaw, “Preface on Bosses,” Complete Plays. With Prefaces (New York, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1962), Vol. VI, p. 202. (Dated August 28, 1935.)

3. Eduard Bernstein, My Years of Exile (New York, Harcourt & Co., 1921), p. 226.

4. George Bernard Shaw, “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” Seven Plays. With Prefaces and Notes (New York, Dodd, Mead and Company, 1951), p. 710.

5. Hearings of the Subcommittee on Internal Security of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Testimony of Col. I. M. Bogolepov, April 7, 1952.

6. Cf. S. G. Hobson Pilgrim to the Left (London, Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd., 1938). (See chap. VIII.)

7. Ibid.

8. Hubert Bland, H.. Massingham, and Harold Cox, M. P.

Chapter 1 << | >> Chapter 3

Chapter 1–Make Haste Slowly!

Chapter 1 of the book Fabian Freeway.


As A very young college graduate, searching for literary employment in the New York City of the middle nineteen-twenties, the author of this book happened to discover a colony called Turtle Bay. It included about a dozen remodeled town houses on East Forty-eighth and Forty-ninth Streets, arranged for gracious living before the phrase was current. One of the first modern restorations in the Forties and Fifties near the East River, it bloomed unexpectedly in a neighborhood of tenements and abandoned breweries. Evidently its builders were versed in the colonial history of Manhattan Island, when the entire region consisting of a few large farms had been known as Turtle Bay. For its twentieth century revivalists, the name had a double meaning.

The colony was planned by Mrs. John W. Martin (the former Prestonia Mann), wife of a British Fabian Socialist who had transferred his activities to the United States before the turn of the century. (The colony real estate was owned by Mrs. Walton Martin, nee Charlotte Honeywell, also of Boston, not a relative of Prestonia, but also thought to be a founder)! Founded as a quiet haven for a little group of serious thinkers, the Turtle Bay restoration listed among its early settlers the Pulitzer prize winning novelist, Ernest Poole, and several editors of the New Republic.

There was Philip Littell, whose family once owned the Living Age in Boston; Francis Hackett, popular Anglo-Irish biographer and book critic; and a perennial summer and fall tenant on leave from the University of Chicago English Department, Robert Morss Lovett. Some had permanent summer cottages and others were recurrent weekend guests at Cornish, New Hampshire, in the White Mountains, where they fraternized annually with Harvard alumni Edward Burling, Sr. and George M. Rublee, members of the same prosperous Washington law firm to which a future Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, belonged.

All were charming, witty, well-bred, industrious, solvent: clearly superior persons and all aware of the fact. The Harvard men among them typified in one way or another the revolt against New England Puritanism and utilized the Bible as a prime source of wit and humor. (Philip Littell named his canary Onan, because it scattered its seed.) These were the American cousins of a species commonly cultivated in England by the Fabian Society, because such individuals made Socialism appear attractive as well as respectable. Being socially beyond reproach, it would be difficult to attack them, however dubious the doctrines they favored.

Turtle Bay colonists of the twenties personally knew and admired a good many of the English Fabians, a fact frequently reflected in their writings. Ernest Poole had retired in 1918 from a six-year term as vice president of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, which changed its name in 1921 to the League for Industrial Democracy and was hailed at its 40th Anniversary dinner as “America’s Fabian Society.” (1) The chief activist among Turtle Bay residents was Robert Morss Lovett, whom the others affected to regard as an enfant terrible because of his pacifist stand during World War I.

Besides serving as literary editor of the New Republic six months of the year, Lovett was an official of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League for Industrial Democracy, the latter occasionally listed in British Fabian Society literature among its overseas branches. He was also a trustee of the American Fund for Public Service, known as the Garland Fund, which financed a swarm of so-called liberal organizations hospitable both to Socialists and covert Communists, as well as to old-fashioned social reformers. In those days, the terms “front organization,” and “fellow traveler,” were still unknown.

A central feature of Turtle Bay was its pleasant Italian-style garden, shared by all the residents and wonderfully green in spring. Set in the flagstone walk was a small figure of a turtle in mosaic with the inscription, Festina lente (“Make haste slowly”). To casual visitors, the turtle merely added a picturesque touch. Few recognized this unobtrusive little beast as an emblem of Britain’s Fabian Society, which, since its formation in 1884, has preached and practiced a philosophy of achieving Socialism by gradual means.

Over the years to the present, the Fabian turtle has won a series of gradual victories that could hardly have been predicted in 1920, when the possibility of Socialist control in England and the United States seemed remote to its own leaders. Even now the results are hardly credible to the great majority of people in this country.

In England the Fabian Society, numbering at most five thousand listed members, has succeeded in penetrating and permeating organizations, social movements, political parties, until today its influence pervades the whole fabric of daily life. At one time, with a Labour Government in power, 10 Cabinet Ministers, including the Prime Minister, 35 Under Secretaries and other officers of State, and 229 of 394 Labour Party Members of Parliament held membership in the Fabian Society. (2) After World War II Fabians presided, as England’s Winston Churchill declined to do, over the liquidation of Britain’s colonial empire, and today, through their control of opinion-forming groups at the highest levels, they play a powerful role in formulating foreign policy on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the United States the progress of the Fabian pilgrims, though more difficult to trace, has been impressive. On the whole, United States Fabians in public office have been more cautious than their British models about admitting that Socialism is their goal. The gradualist and freewheeling character of the movement, plus the generally unsuspicious nature of the American people where gift horses are concerned, has allowed our native Fabian Socialists to pursue their goals step by step without disclosing their direction. Their once slow and cautious pace has been gradually accelerated to a breakneck speed.

In the past, Fabians were more successful in capturing administrative than legislative posts in the United States. They have left their mark on three decades of legislation largely through a combination of Executive pressure and the allure of free spending. The interpretive role of the Judiciary and the power of Executive decree have assumed new importance for Fabian-inspired officials unable to legislate Socialism by more direct methods.

With the multiplication of Federal agencies and employees (2,515,870 Federal civilian employees in November, 1962, as compared to 605,496 in June, 1932 (3)), the progress of Fabianism through government channels was further veiled. Not only the general public but many public officials as well were confused, and still remain so. The Romans had a word for it–obscurantism–which means the purposeful concealment of one’s ultimate purpose.

By September, 1961, at least thirty-six high officials of the New Frontier Administration were found to be past or present members of an Anglo-Fabian-inspired organization calling itself Americans for Democratic Action. The tally included two Cabinet members, three White House aides, Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries in various departments of government, and holders of other policy-making posts ranging from ambassadors to the director of the Export-Import Bank.(4)

Americans sometimes wonder why so many members of a leftist elite occupy posts of great influence in Washington today. Others ask why United States spokesmen at home and abroad seem so often to be following policies counter to our traditional interests as a nation, and why in Cold War operations we so frequently lose by default to our declared mortal enemy, international Communism.

We will try to discover the honest answers to such puzzling questions. First, we will trace the movement represented by Americans for Democratic Action and related groups from its historic origin in British Fabianism to the present day. Second, we will make plain, beyond the shadow of any future doubt, the tactical service rendered by the Socialist International, with which the Fabian Society is allied, in advancing the ultimate goals of the Communist International.

A curious thing about our American Fabians—so reticent as public officials about admitting their Socialist motivation—is that in private life they tend to express themselves rather freely in signed articles for publications reaching a limited circle of readers. With research, it becomes possible to demonstrate their Socialist views in their own words. However, any attempts to confront them with the evidence or to interpret their programs in the light of their own confessed philosophy are promptly and vigorously denounced as “unfair,” if not downright wicked.

In the past thirty years a whole series of loaded epithets has been invented for that purpose, beginning with “reactionary” in the early nineteen-thirties and proceeding through “Fascist” and “McCarthyite” to “Birchite.” At present, “Right Wing extremist” is the automatic catchword applied to any person who seeks to expose or oppose the Socialist advance, and even to persons expressing the mildest sort of patriotic sentiments.

Still, men must be judged by what they advocate. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Pulitzer prize winner and Harvard history professor, writing on “The Future of Socialism” for the Partisan Review in 1947, said: “There seems to be no inherent obstacle to the gradual advance of Socialism in the United States through a series of ‘New Deals.'” Elsewhere he describes the New Deal as “a process of backing into Socialism.

In 1949 Schlesinger was advocating “liberal Socialism” and calling on a powerful state “to expend its main strength in determining the broad levels and conditions of economic activity.” Three years later he insisted that those who called him a Socialist were seeking to smear him; but he still asserted that he was a “New Dealer.” 6 In 1954 he contributed what the Fabian News described as “an important article on foreign policy” to the Fabian International Review.

From 1961 to 1964 Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was Administrative Assistant to the President of the United States. Since his case is by no means an isolated one, and since we have the example of England to show us what a well-placed group of dedicated Socialists can accomplish in transforming the economic and political life of a nation, it would seem reasonable to inquire where all this is leading us.

Where, indeed? In a rare moment of candor Gus Hall, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States, told us just where. Addressing a capacity audience of University of California students at the off-campus YMCA in January, 1962, Hall announced that the trend in the United States is towards Socialism, “not like in other countries but based on America’s background, and still Socialism.” And he predicted that “the United States will move gradually from Socialism to the higher state of Communism.”

Though he was then under criminal indictment for refusing to register as a foreign agent, pursuant to provisions of the McCarran Act, Hall seemed to consider this no more than a passing annoyance.

With Socialists of established respectability sitting in high places today in many countries, the Communists evidently feel they can afford to parry with a smile attacks on their own visible party organs. The Kremlin agents are unconcerned as long as an untouchable Socialist elite continues with increasing speed to prepare this nation and others for what Communists believe will be their own final victory.

Military men will recognize the procedure as an elementary tactic in warfare. An infantry commander only orders his front line troops into action after the territory to be occupied has been properly softened up by artillery and air-power based behind the lines. In the world-wide theater where Marxists wage class war, the Communists can be regarded as front line troops; while the Socialists serve as the big guns in the rear, firing over the heads of the men in forward positions and enabling them at a well-chosen moment to seize their objective rapidly.

It is a simple pattern, which any GI can recognize. Politically, it was the pattern of events in Czechoslovakia, in the Hungary of Bela Kun, even in Russia itself, where Socialist governments prepared the ground for a Communist seizure of power. Seen in this light, the value of the Socialist International to the Communist International becomes plain.

Popular confusion on the subject has given rise to a dangerous myth; namely, that a basic and irreconcilable enmity exists between Socialists and Communists. This is by no means true. Though superficially different and sometimes at odds about methods or timing, both are admittedly followers of the doctrines of Karl Marx or “Social Democracy” and they go together like a horse and carriage. In every country not yet under Communist control, the Socialists remain Communism’s most potent and necessary allies. In fact, if they did not exist, the Communists would have had to invent them.

When Khrushchev insulted British Fabians, his insult was in all likelihood a calculated one. His gesture only heightened their respectability and enhanced their ability to promote Marxist programs piecemeal. A survey of the Fabian record will disclose how often Fabian policies have had the effect of serving Communist objectives. It will show not only that Fabian tolerance for what was once called “the Soviet experiment” insured its survival and expansion, but also that avowed Communists have been personally tolerated in Fabian circles. Finally, it will reveal how often founders and leaders of the Fabian Society have, in their later years, openly traveled the road to Moscow.

This survey of Fabian Socialism is offered for people who feel they need to know where this country is heading and why. Since the movement is one about which many Americans are confused, and since an understanding and a healthy distrust of its activities seems vital to our survival as a nation, clarity is the prime objective.

As to why this writer feels called upon to undertake a task so apt to invite abuse and reprisals from persons who may feel themselves touched by it, the laconic last words of a New York newspaper editor at the turn of the century can be cited. He had killed his wife, and, asked why he did it, replied: “Somebody had to do it!”


1. Forty Years of Education (New York, League for Industrial Democracy, 1945), p. 56.

2. The General Election and After, Fabian Research Series, No. 102 (London, The Fabian Society, 1946).

3, Figures obtained from Legislative Reference Division, Library of Congress. (The payroll for Federal civilian employees for the month of November, 1962 was $1,295,088,000, an annual rate of 15.5 billion dollars. This annual payroll exceeds the total national budget for 1932. )

4. From a list compiled by Robert T. Hartmann, Washington Bureau of the Los Angeles Times, September, 1961.

5. Peter Minot, “Inside Schlesinger . . . Slingshot of the New Frontier,” Washington World (January 17, 1962).

Preface << | >> Chapter 2