Chapter 10-Putting The Silk Hat On Socialism

Chapter 10 of the book Fabian Freeway.

For a few years, the Bellamy cult spread like a brush fire across the United States. By November, 1890, its leaders reported 158 Nationalist clubs in twenty-seven states. Sixteen of these clubs were located in New York and sixty-five in California, which Laurence Gronlund exuberantly judged to be more nearly ripe for the Cooperative Commonwealth than any other state in the Union. The movement bypassed former Confederate states and made few overtures to the Catholic church, generally viewed in the nineteenth century as an immigrant church—notwithstanding the fact that Catholic colonists in Maryland and Pennsylvania had fought almost to a man in the War of Independence.

According to Edward Bellamy, his new social gospel was to be spread “not by foreign malcontents, but by Americans descended from generations of Americans.” In February, 1891, 165 chartered clubs existed throughout the country, a majority of them in the Far and Middle West. Fully fifty newspapers supported the Nationalist cause in whole or in part, and Sylvester Baxter declared you could not go into a major newspaper office in New York, Philadelphia or Boston without finding one or more Nationalists on the staff. Though the Atlantic remained aloof, other respected monthly magazines of the age opened their pages to Nationalist propaganda. Bellamy himself contributed a brief article to the North American Review on the “Progress of Nationalism in the United States.”(1)

The first issue of a brand-new periodical called The Literary Digest, launched in March, 1890, featured a lead article by General Francis A. Walker, president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and original president of the American Economic Association. It was a critique, mildly critical but none the less friendly, of that much-reviewed novel, Looking Backward. Early numbers of The Literary Digest were loaded with references to Nationalism in America and Socialism in Great Britain, though no connection between the two was inferred. There were items on Nationalist clubs in California and elsewhere; as well as an article by one Angelo Majorama on “Socialism in England,” reporting that “Socialism has invaded the Universities” and “in England is closely allied with religion.” And the reelection of Annie Besant to the London School Board was politely noted.

Repeatedly, the middle class character of the Nationalist clubs was stressed—especially in their own club notes, printed in a short-lived official monthly, The Nationalist. Started in Boston with fifty members, the clubs attracted some rather well-known personalities of the day; and the movement as a whole was stamped with the hallmark of New England culture. The membership of the Boston club was a good deal more impressive, if less cohesive, than the London Fabian Society’s had been at the time of its founding only five years earlier.

There was William Dean Howells, venerable and kindly dean of American letters;(2) the Reverend Edward Everett Hale, product of the Harvard Divinity School and scion of Mayflower Pilgrims, widely known as the author of that patriotic classic, The Man Without a Country; Hamlin Garland, writer of homespun tales from the mid-western prairies; and John Storr Cobb, a founder of the Theosophical Society in America. While subscribing to the club’s Socialist program, most of these respectable gentlemen were apparently unaware of the Marxist philosophy that prompted it. Each in his own fashion was a prototype of the non-analytical do-gooder who has contributed so liberally ever since to the spread of what Eleanor Marx called “unconscious Socialism” in America.

Like the Fabian Society of London, the Nationalist clubs welcomed members of both sexes, a somewhat daring innovation in a nineteenth century politico-cultural movement. Active women who joined the Boston club included Julia Ward Howe, author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, Frances E. Willard, reformer and temperance leader; Anne Whitney, the sculptress who made a bust of James A. Walker, president of Harvard University; Mary A. Livermore, editor and suffragette; and Lucy Stone, the feminist whose followers embarrassed three decades of hotel clerks by their insistence that married ladies should use their maiden names.

In Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Fall River, Massachusetts, it was said the best people in town attended Nationalist meetings. In San Francisco, a popular rabbi resigned from his synagogue to preach the tidings of Nationalism to Jew and Gentile alike. The Chicago club, which assembled by written invitation on May 6,1889, in the gilt and plush elegance of the recently opened Palmer House, was composed of merchants, bank officers, lawyers and other presumably solid citizens. Nationalist groups, like their cousins of the British Fabian Society, always claimed to have the working man’s welfare at heart, but apparently desired few personal contacts with him.

A handful of confirmed Socialists steered the organizational work and controlled policy statements. Besides Bellamy himself, they included Laurence Gronlund, the bridge from an earlier Marxism; Eltweed Pomeroy, owner of an industrial plant in New Jersey, who sponsored one of the country’s first employee profit-sharing schemes; and the Reverend W. D. P. Bliss, Fabian apostle to the clergy, who spent much of his time trying to convince various Protestant churchmen and their flocks that Christianity and Socialism were compatible in practice—contrary to what they might chance to read in Papal Encyclicals. (3) On Manhattan Island, Percival Chubb, a charter member of the London Fabian Society who sailed to America in 1888 and lived there till his death at the age of ninety-nine, proselyted cheerfully among the Ethical Culturists. (4)

In their delight at the movement’s sudden growth, its organizers failed to follow the cautious example of the English Fabians, who refused to identify their Society with the fortunes of any political splinter party. As a result, the Nationalist clubs were quickly absorbed into the People’s Party, which in the national elections of 1892 gleaned over a million votes and won twenty-two seats in the electoral college. William Dean Howells claimed that Edward Bellamy virtually founded the Populist Party, and indeed its platform clearly reflected the ideas of Looking Backward.

By the close of 1892, most of the Nationalist clubs had disappeared. By that time, also, Bellamy’s much-vaunted Americanism had begun to ring a bit hollow, thanks to an editorial of his which appeared in the Boston Globe for July 4, 1892. There he proclaimed that “in the year 1992… the Fourth of July will have ceased to be a popular holiday of much note.” He predicted “another Declaration of Independence in America” which “in importance will quite eclipse the document (great in its way as that was) promulgated in Philadelphia a hundred and sixteen years ago.” It would, he said, abolish distinctions between employer and employed, capitalist and proletarian, and put an end to economic inequality. Without specifying the precise day, month or year when this “newer and greater Declaration of Independence” would come, he announced: “I believe it will come and that society will be, peaceably or forcibly, conformed to its terms within the expectations of men now middle-aged.”

Those explosive remarks were made in an era when “the Glorious Fourth” was celebrated with picnics, parades and firecrackers everywhere in the United States, and when the day itself was regarded by adults and children alike as being only second in importance to Christmas. While Bellamy’s editorial was greeted with cheers by all convinced Socialists, including a close-knit group of upperclassmen and recent alumni of Harvard University who had succumbed to the Nationalist lure, it offended public opinion in Boston and the country as a whole. His prediction that society would be peaceably or forcibly transformed within a relatively few years rather deflated the claims made by Bellamy admirers, then and since, to the effect that he was “one of the most peaceful and humane revolutionists who ever lived.”

Partly because of this incident, partly because the novelty of the whole thing had worn thin, the Nationalist movement was soon extinct, despite efforts of Bellamy and his friends to revive it. Nevertheless, it accomplished the one practical purpose for which it had been so hastily launched. When the Congress of the United States, impelled by the violence-scarred Homestead and Pullman strikes, passed a law in 1894 declaring Anarchism illegal, Socialism escaped the prohibition.

Having caught the fancy, however fleeting, of many middle class folk in urban communities throughout the United States, Socialism had acquired some veneer of respectability. As Edward Bellamy noted in his introduction to the 1894 American edition of Fabian Essays, Nationalism was, chiefly, the form in which “scientific Socialism” had thus far been brought to the attention of the American people. Older, more literal Marxists were impressed in spite of themselves and agreed with something like relief that Bellamy had succeeded in “putting the silk hat on Socialism in America.”

To a number of younger men and women, Nationalism also provided the starting point for future careers in other Socialist-dominated enterprises to come. Along with the aging Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, such youthful sprigs as Mary Livermore and Mary Austin of the Boston Nationalist Club in time became pillars of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS), afterwards the League for Industrial Democracy. So did Florence Kelley of the New York club, who had studied Marxism in Switzerland. She became a self anointed crusader against child labor, and as chairman of the National Consumers League lobbied incessantly throughout the country for state and federal control of wages and working conditions.

William J. Ghent, a fellow member of New York’s Nationalist Club, and Algernon Lee of the Milwaukee club, became successive directors of the controversial Rand School of Social Science. From the Chicago club came Clarence Darrow, dramatic defender of the McNamara brothers and other accused dynamiters, and a charter member of the ISS; and Henry Demarest Lloyd, author of Wealth Against Commonwealth and an inspirer of the Public Ownership League of Chicago which eventually fathered the Tennessee Valley Authority. Lloyd’s son,-David Demarest Lloyd, followed in his papa’s footsteps, becoming Director of Research and Legislation in the Fabian-instigated Americans for Democratic Action (6) and serving just prior to his death in 1951 as a White House speech writer for Fair Deal President Harry S. Truman. By that time the Fabian technique of “penetration” had developed into a fine art in America.


For the time being, however, a good many budding radicals of Anglo-American stock and middle class education found that with the collapse of the Nationalist movement they had no place to go. When the need for a helping hand became evident, William A. Clarke of the London Chronicle and a member of London’s Fabian Executive was dispatched to assist those drifting American intellectuals who still dreamed of achieving a gradual and bloodless revolution in their native land. For the March, 1894, issue of The New England Magazine, highly rated in academic and literary circles, Clarke wrote an article simply entitled, “The Fabian Society.”

An able journalist and propagandist, William Clarke was well qualified to pen an official apology for the British Fabian Society in the United States. Almost casually, he brushed aside the view “still expressed sometimes in American newspapers, that the Socialist movement is largely made up of cranks and scoundrels.” On the contrary, he said, “In Marx, Lassalle, Rodbertus and others, the Socialist movement has been served by some of the best brains of our century …. I know the inside of the Socialist movement well, and it certainly numbers among its adherents the ablest men I know. The Fabian Society contains not a few of these men …. At present, almost all callings are represented in the Fabian Society of London and its forty-eight provincial societies …. Lawyers, artists, journalists, doctors, workingmen; clergymen, teachers, trade union leaders; literary people, shopkeepers, and persons of no occupation …. No millionaires … but quite a few well-to-do people. A large proportion are bright young men, and there are not a few bright and active women.”

This seems to have been the first public image of the London Fabian Society to be formally unveiled in America by one of its own leading spokesmen. The Society was falsely depicted as being no more than a mild-mannered reform movement—”not looking for the millennium or any perfectly blissful earthly paradise.” Its ultimate revolutionary aims, as expressed in the Basis, were not stated. What the article sought chiefly to convey was an impression that most Fabian Socialists were “educated, intelligent, of sweet disposition . . . people who enjoy books and music and the theater and good society. . . . The Socialist movement . . . has taught them there is a great suffering world beyond the four walls of home to be helped and worked for.” Clarke’s artful press agentry was not only a timely prelude to the American edition of Fabian Essays, which appeared the same year, but served in a general way to whitewash the Fabians and their friends at home and abroad.

Somehow he contrived to suggest that the still youthful London Fabian Society was a solid, long-established British institution: one that could serve (although he tactfully refrained from saying so) as a model for Socialist intellectuals aspiring to develop a similar leadership group in America. Just as soon as it became evident that Socialist activities in the United States were not going to be declared illegal, William Clarke offered his personal services in helping to found an American Fabian Society in Boston, with branches in other cities.

Early in 1895, the irrepressible W. D. P. Bliss—stimulated by a recent visit to London, where he had mingled happily with the Fabian masterminds and arranged for the publication by Sonnenschein of his own Handbook of Socialism–assumed the editorship of a new monthly journal, The American Fabian. Published by the Fabian Educational Company of Boston, it was to become the organ of a projected American Fabian League, as soon as such a body could be formed. Subscriptions were solicited from erstwhile Nationalists and other Socialist sympathizers on or off the university campuses, at the modest price of fifty cents a year—eighty cents if ordered jointly with The Dawn, a Christian Socialist sheet started by Bliss in 1889 Headquarters of the Fabian Educational Company were located at 241 Tremont Street by arrangement with the People’s Party Club of Boston.

A twenty-page monthly, more pretentious in format than the slim but durable little Fabian News of London, The American Fabian first saw the light of day in February, 1895. Disarmingly, the front page of its inaugural issue carried a photograph and profile of the British utopian philosopher, William Morris, who believed in embellishing social reform with art, poetry and other cultural adornments. The masthead featured a quotation from Mazzini, the Italian Anarchist: “The next great word is Association”—a seemingly innocent word which the Nationalists had employed in their platform as a synonym for nationalization.

On an inner page a new, long-term revolutionary objective of the journal’s founders was succinctly stated. It was not merely to rewrite the Declaration of Independence, as Bellamy had once suggested; but to effect a series of basic changes in the Constitution itself that would make possible the introduction of State Socialism step by step in the United States. With all the valor of inexperience the editors announced, more boldly than most of their modern counterparts would care to do today:

“We call our paper “The American Fabian” for two reasons: we call it Fabian because we desire to make it stand for the kind of educational Socialist work which is so ably done by the English Fabian Society …. We call our paper “The American Fabian” because our politics must in a measure differ from those of the English Fabians. England and America are alike in some things. in some things they are utterly unlike. England’s [unwritten] Constitution readily admits of constant though gradual modification. Our American Constitution does not readily admit of such change. England can thus move into Socialism almost imperceptibly. Our Constitution being largely individualistic must he changed to admit of Socialism, and each change necessitates a political crisis. This means the raising of great new issues. . . . .” (7)

Such far-reaching calculations were not wholly the fruit of American thinking, as can be deduced from the fact that the very next issue of The American Fabian printed the text of the London Fabian Society’s Basis. The “need” to alter the Constitution of the United States as a preliminary to radical social change was reaffirmed just three years later by the British Fabian Socialist, Ramsay MacDonald. Returned from a trip to America, he gave a talk on the United States at the London Fabian Society’s headquarters in Clement’s Inn. “The great bar to [Socialist] progress [in the United States],” said he, “is the written constitutions, Federal and State, which give ultimate power to a law court.” This assertion by a future Socialist Prime Minister of England was made on January 14, 1898; (8) and there is no reason to presume he or his Fabian associates in Britain and America ever deviated from that view.

To subvert the underlying principles of the United States Constitutions, Federal and State, which upheld the right to own and operate private property as a corollary of the Natural Law, was a project of real magnitude. When proposed in The American Fabian, most Americans deemed such a thing to be impossible—just as it seemed impossible that a handful of “gentle” Fabian intellectuals in England could seriously shake the foundations of the British Empire. Confession of intent to revise the Constitution in America of the eighteen-nineties appeared more visionary than alarming. If it was ever to be accomplished, it would have to be done obliquely, secretively and gradually over a period of years by a Socialist elite schooled to take advantage of every local and national crisis for their own covert ends.

The first step was to develop a leadership group and a receptive body of public opinion, through the organized promotion of Socialist thought and study. To that end, the April, 1895, issue of The American Fabian offered a tentative constitution for an American Fabian League. It was to be a federation of clubs, with national executive and publication committees but without other national officers. Any club working in any way to spread Socialist ideas or to advance any Socialist measures could join the American Fabian League by applying to the secretary of the Executive Committee.

The various local clubs or societies were free to organize in any manner they wished and choose their own special objectives, methods of work, and time of meetings. They could use any name they preferred, and could exercise full autonomy over their own members, who might or might not be outright Socialists. One thing, however, was essential: the American Fabian League constitution specified that in any club only those persons who communicate in writing to the Secretary of the Executive Committee their acceptance of the principle of ownership and conduct of industry by the community shall have a right to hold office in the National Executive Committee, or to vote in the National League ….” The Publications Committee would draft a program of “measures or subjects for the federated clubs to consider and study or agitate upon, month by month, in order to produce systematic concerted action.”

Here was the blueprint for a semi-secret national organization whose sole visible link with its members was The American Fabian. It is noteworthy that the magazine during its five-year existence printed few names except those of publicists already well-known. Club officers and personnel of the Executive Committee were not identified, and no membership figures were announced. Articles were generally unsigned, or signed with only an initial, except when reprinted from other periodicals. In fact, it was several years before The American Fabian ventured to print a list of its own contributing editors—all Socialists and former Nationalists. As of February, 1898, they were: Edward Bellamy, W. D. P. Bliss, Helen Campbell, Eltweed Pomeroy, (10) Henry Demarest Lloyd, Prestonia Mann, Professor Frank Parsons, (11) and Charlotte Perkins Stetson.

The Christmas issue of 1895 displayed a Nativity scene, captioned “The Birth of the First Socialist,” on the same page with a brief biography of the profoundly anti-religious Karl Marx. It also contained the following modest organizational items: “The Kensington Fabian group meets every Tuesday evening. Mr. Bliss is giving his course of lectures and the hall is filling up …. The Philadelphia group meets every Saturday at 1305 Arch Street…. The New York Society (formerly the Altrurian Society) meets every Wednesday evening at 10 East 33rd Street. It has weekly discussions and debates, and on January 8 will have a supper.”

No attempt was made to conceal the fact that the American movement maintained close ties with the British Fabian Society. A note in the same issue stated: “Mr. E. R. Pease, secretary of the London Society, writes us that if secretaries of American Fabian Societies will send him their names and addresses, he will send them the Fabian News and tracts as they appear. Let us accept this generous offer and bind the English and American movements together. We need not and should not copy the English movement, but surely we may learn from the older and parent movement.”(12)

Besides establishing direct contacts between the London Executive and key individuals in American Fabian groups throughout the country, the generous offer made by Pease had other uses. Both the Fabian News and the tracts issued by the British Society, which appeared to the general reader to have a purely informational and propagandist content, could be construed by the faithful as providing quiet but unmistakable directives from the fountainhead of Fabian Socialism in London. A full set of selected Fabian tracts for Americans was advertised at seventy-five cents in The American Fabian, bolstered by an admiring quotation from the Review of Reviews which said: “The peculiarity of the Fabian tracts is that every fact and statement in them has been verified [sic].”

The American Fabian League was not planned as a mass organization. Its avowed purpose was to unite all existing reform movements in America under the leadership of individual Socialists, who in turn received their instructions from a single national Executive Committee. The original program included planks on sound currency, a national eight-hour law, women’s suffrage, state employment bureaus and aid for the unemployed? and control over the sale of alcoholic beverages. Most of these proposals, since enacted into law, were not in essence Socialist. They simply made it easier for individual Socialists to penetrate labor, women’s and temperance groups, with a view to winning mass support for other, more far-reaching Socialist objectives outlined by the League’s Executive Committee.

Americans today may be surprised to find that the same Fabian program advocated a severely graduated income tax and a heavy and graduated inheritance tax, as well as a tax on land values. It also called for proportional representation, which aimed to give left wing splinter parties a voice in government, local and national; the initiative and referendum, which would permit legislation to be initiated outside of the legislatures; and “any Constitutional amendments that might be needed” to legalize the Fabian Socialist plan for America.

A strictly non-partisan approach to Socialism was recommended for the American Fabian League. This would leave individual Fabians free to join any political party, Socialist or otherwise, and work inside it to promote Socialist legislation. When W. D. P. Bliss, in his capacity as editor of The American Fabian, came out strongly for Bryan and free silver in 1896, he was rebuked by Edward R. Pease for committing the American Fabian movement to the platform of a political party.

Prestonia Mann, a well-to-do bluestocking who aspired to become the Madame Recamier of a Socialist salon, inherited the editorship of The American Fabian from Bliss. She had heartily endorsed the stand taken by Pease. “The British Fabian Society,” she wrote in a letter of December 30, 1896, to Henry Demarest Lloyd, “owes most of its strength to its steadfastness in standing by its determination not to be beguiled into becoming a political party …. We must follow the example of British Fabians.”

In April, 1898, The American Fabian, whose editorial offices had been transferred from Boston to New York, reported briefly: “Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the distinguished authors of a History of Trade Unionism and Industrial Democracy, arrived in New York last week. They will remain in the country for a few months, returning to London about Christmas by way of New Zealand and Australia.” Sydney Olivier, of the original Fabian Big Four, traveled with them as far as Washington on business for the British Colonial Office, (13) lending a spuriously official aura to their journey.

The Webbs encountered none of the disagreeable publicity which had attended the tour of Wilhelm Liebknecht and Eleanor Marx a dozen years before and which marked the visit of the Russian Socialist, Maxim Gorki, several years later. For one thing, they were properly married and acceptable in good society. For another, they shunned the limelight. With the caution and worldly wisdom that always characterized their personal behavior, they spoke at no mass meetings, made no conspicuous public appearances or political pronouncements. They lectured only to small groups of serious thinkers or handpicked audiences on university campuses, and mingled with leading lights of the American Economic Association whose books were regularly advertised in The American Fabian.

In New York City, they dined with Prestonia Mann, at whose summer place in the Adirondacks and town house in Manhattan upperclass Socialists met and mingled. The Webbs established the pattern for future visits to the United States by British Fabians, in which social diversion and Socialist purpose were discreetly combined.

In Chicago the Webbs stayed at Hull House as guests of the very ladylike spinster, Jane Addams, whose beautifully modulated voice and great, inscrutable dark eyes masked a defiant and firebrand spirit. Beatrice Webb recalled the event long afterwards im her diary (14)— failing to mention, however, that thereafter almost every British Fabian who visited the United States included a stop at Hull House on his schedule. Founded in 1889 and modeled after Toynbee Hall in London where so many members of the London Society made their first carefully limited contacts with slum dwellers, Hul1 House launched the social-settlement phase of the Socialist movement in America which afterwards spread to other cities. Like the earlier gospel missions, it combined the occasional soup kitchen and the supervised playground with indoctrination in a new gospel of “social reform.” It preceded by some fifty years the enactment of legislation creating politically administered city, state and federal welfare agencies; and, in addition to its many incidentally charitable aspects, it served as an early experimental laboratory for the Fabian-invented “social sciences.” By now the golden legend of Hull House has been so assiduously cultivated in book and story by friends and former residents that any attempt to expose its persistent Socialist connections would be viewed as a sacrilege. (15)

And yet, as a sympathetic historian records, the doors of Hull House were always open to social and economic “reformers” and political radicals. (16) There the Social Democratic Party was organized by Eugene V. Debs in 1898, to replace what American Fabians termed the “barbarous”(17) Socialist Labor Party headed by the Curacao-born and German-educated Marxist, Daniel De Leon—subsequently professor of International Law at Columbia University. Like future Socialist splinter parties, the short-lived Social Democratic Party sought to win working-class votes under the guidance of Socialist intellectuals; but in no sense represented the full spectrum of intellectual Socialism’s activities and aims in the United States.

A sudden upsurge of patriotic feeling in America preceded the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. In that atmosphere of hostility to all types of European penetration of the Western Hemisphere, it was once again obvious to sophisticated observers that no movement in the United States could survive which acknowledged foreign inspiration and leadership. Laurence Gronlund raised the question, saying he preferred to be known as a collectivist rather than a Fabian. So did the former Altrurian Society of New York, which had objected to the name Fabian because “it seemed English” and “because a successful Socialist movement in this country should be distinctly American.” (18) Evidently the Webbs reached a similar conclusion, and their tour of 1898 signaled the beginning of the end for The American Fabian— though not for the movement it had helped to form.

In the fall of that year John W. Martin—graduate of London University, former vestryman from Hackney and member of the Fabian Executive from 1894 to 1899—followed the Webbs to America. Nominally, he was to deliver a series of lectures arranged for his benefit by branches of the American Fabian League. (19) Additionally, his mission was to liquidate The American Fabian and to serve as a personal link between the surviving Executive Committee of the American Fabian League and the Fabian Executive of London. With Prestonia Mann, Martin edited the last issues of the journal under the joint pseudonym of “John Preston.” The final issue appeared in 1899, approximately a year after the death of Edward Bellamy.

Following the example of his London confreres—like himself of lower middle class origin—who improved their fortunes and social position by wedding women of property, John W. Martin duly married the energetic Prestonia Mann. Settling in New York, he dabbled in local school board politics and enjoyed the status derived from authorship of an occasional unpopular book. After gaining some slight notoriety in World War I as a financial backer of the Liberator magazine, he became, in his latter days, a consultant on international affairs at Rollins College. Martin and his wife appear to have remained lifelong Fabians, maintaining contacts with high-level Fabian Socialists, British and American, both in New York and at their ultimate retreat in Winter Park, Florida. (20)

Though the official organ of American Fabianism folded in 1899, the movement itself lived on in many seemingly disconnected small reform clubs across the nation. A Bellamy Memorial Meeting of June 7, 1898, presided over by William Dean Howells and described in The American Fabian, had been sponsored by a Fabian group calling itself The Social Reform Club. In September, 1898, W. D. P. Bliss was reported to be organizing a Union Reform League on the Pacific Coast, with tracts being prepared by Professor Commons of Syracuse University, Professor Frank Parsons of Boston University, Professor E. W. Bemis of the University of Chicago, and Dr. Charles B. Spahr of The Outlook. Already the name Fabian and even the name Socialist were being discarded as a matter of procedure—though as late as 1919 local groups calling themselves Fabian Societies were revived in Boston and Chicago.(21)

The brief public appearance of an American Fabian League in the eighteen-nineties coincided with what has been called the London Society’s first blooming. Just as some persons still aver that the Fabian Society of London—which not only dominates the British Labour Party today, but the Socialist International as well—died at the turn of the century; so it is misleadingly claimed that Fabian Socialism died long ago in America, at the time when the American Fabian League dropped out of sight. A conveniently premature death notice found its way into American encyclopedias—confirmed with tongue in cheek by such an authority on Socialist affairs as the late Morris Hillquit, himself a leading member of more than one Fabian-affiliated organization.(22)

The long-range objectives of Fabian Socialism in the United States were clearly and permanently defined in The American Fabian. Techniques for achieving them had still to be developed, along with the openings for putting those techniques into practice. From the first, it was recognized that the difficulties of organization in the United States were very great. Such difficulties were variously attributed to the size of the country; the diversity of races, religions and national! origins; the patriotic spirit innate in the majority of Americans; the opportunities for self-improvement offered by an expanding capitalist system. To this the secretary of the London Fabian Society, Edward R. Pease, who had no love in his heart for America, added contemptuously: “European countries with their great capitals have developed national brains. America, like the lower organisms, has ganglia for various purposes in various parts of its gigantic frame.”(23) The task of Fabian Socialism in America was to discover means of transmitting self-destructive impulses to those hidden ganglia.

By announcing its own apparent demise and voluntarily going underground at a well-chosen moment, the Fabian Socialist movement in America, steered and manipulated with cold-blooded determination by British Fabians, has succeeded in outliving its founders and in becoming an integral, potent and progressively more deadly tool of the international Socialist movement. The future was forecast by William Dean Howells in words that seem more ominous today than when they were spoken. Asked “What are the prospects for Socialism in America?” Howells replied: “As to that, who can say? One sees the movement advancing all around him, and yet it may be years before its ascendancy. On the other hand, it may be but a short time. A slight episode may change history. A turn here or a turn there, and we may find our nation headlong on the road to the ‘ideal’ commonwealth.” (24)

Howell’s statement was made in February, 1898. History has proved that Fabian Socialism in America, wearing the silk hat of respectability, did not end there. It was only the beginning.


1. Edward Bellamy, “Progress of Nationalism in the United States,” North American Review, CL (June 1892), pp. 362-363.

2. In February, 1898 William Dean Howells was quoted as saying: “It was ten years ago that I first became interested in the creed of Socialism. I was in Buffalo when Laurence Gronlund lectured there before the Fortnightly Club. Through this address I was led to read his book, The Cooperative commonwealth, and Kirkup’s article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Afterward I read the Fabian Essays; I was greatly influenced also by a number of William Morris’s tracts. The greatest influence, however, came to me through reading Tolstoi. Both as an artist and as a moralist I must acknowledge my deep indebtedness to him.” The American Fabian (February, 1898), p. 2. Published in an article signed G. for Gronlund.

3. In three Encyclicals Pope Leo XIII traced the social rules to be followed by Christian democrats: 1) In “Quod Apostolici Muneris,” December 28, 1878, he indicated that “the equality existing among the various members of society consists only in this: that al men have their origin in God the Creator, have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, and are to be judged and rewarded or punished by God exactly according to their merits or demerits.” 2) In “Rerum Novarum,” May 15, 1891, he affirmed that “the right of private property, the fruit of labor or industry, or of concession or donation by others is an incontrovertible natural right; and everybody can dispose reasonably of such property as he thinks fit.” 3) In “Graves de Communi,” January 18, 1901 he pointed out that “Totally different from the movement known as ‘Social Democracy,’ [Christian democracy] has for its basis the principles of Catholic faith and morals–especially the principle of not injuring in any way the inviolable right of private property.” These views of Leo XIII were specifically reaffirmed by his successor, Pope Pius X, in the “Motu Proprio on Popular Christian Action” given at Rome, December 18, 1903. Quotations cited above are form that document.

4. Percival Chubb was for many years Director of Education at the Ethical Culture High School in New York City. He retained his interest in Socialism and his membership in the Fabian Society of London to the end. In the August, 1923 issue of Fabian News the following personal note appeared: “Percival Chubb, who was the first secretary of the Fellowship of the New Life on its formation in 1883, is on a visit to London from America where he has resided since 1888. He would like to be remembered to any old friends still in the Society.

5. Had italicized, but now removed.

6. To be treated in detail in a later chapter.

7. Had italicized, but now removed.

8. Fabian News (February, 1898).

9. Had italicized, but now removed.

10. Eltweed Pomeroy was also president of the National Direct Legislation League.

11. Of Boston University.

12. The American Fabian (December, 1895), p. 5.

13. Fabian News (April, 1898).

14. Beatrice Webb, My Apprenticeship (London, Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd., 1919), p. 40.

15. On February 3, 1945, Robert Morss Lovett, president for nearly twenty years of the Fabian-affiliated League for Industrial Democracy and a long time resident of Hull House, sent a telegram on the occasion of the League’s fortieth anniversary, saying: “. . . I always regard my connection with the League as one of the happiest of my life–perhaps next to Hull House.” Forty Years of Education (New York, League for Industrial Democracy, 1945), p. 53.

16. Howard Quint, The Forging of American Socialism (Columbia, University of South Carolina Press, 1953), p. 320.

17. Papers of Henry Demarest Lloyd. Letter of Prestonia Mann to H. D. Lloyd, December 30, 1896. (University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois).

18. The American Fabian (April, 1895), p. 5.

19. The American Fabian (May, 1898), p. 12. Under the heading, “Proposed Fabian Lecture Tour,” it was announced: “Mr. John W. Martin, a member of the London Fabian Executive Committee, intends visiting this country this fall, if a sufficient number of lectures can be arranged for him. . . . Here will be an excellent opportunity for American groups or individuals to assist in propagating the faith by securing Mr. Martin for one or more lectures. Application for further information should be sent to Mr. J. W. Martin, 49 Downs Roads, London, N. E., or to Edw. R. Pease, Secretary of the Fabian Society, 276 Strand, London, W. C.”

20. Fabian Society 73rd Annual Report, July, 1955-June, 1956, contains a notation (p. 17) regarding “the death overseas of Dr. John Martin, who served on the Executive from 1894 to 1899 and founded the American Fabian Society [sic]–itself, alas, no more.”

21. Fabian News (April, 1919). Letter from Stuart Chase.

22. Fifty Years of Education, 1905-1955 (New York, League for Industrial Democracy, 1955). Morris Hillquit is listed as having served from 1908-15 as treasurer of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, later called the League for Industrial Democracy, which British Fabian Margaret Cole, The Story of Fabian Socialism (London, Heinemann Educational Books, Ltd., 1961), p. 347, designates as a connection of the London Fabian Society.

23. Edward R. Pease, History of Socialism (London, A. & C. Black, 1913), p. 341.

Max Beer, Fifty Years of International Socialism (London, Allen and Unwin, 1935), pp. 108-115. This book is dedicated to Fabian Professor R. H. Tawney.

24. The American Fabian (February, 1898), p. 2.

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