Chapter 13–Left Hands Across The Sea

Chapter 13 of the book Fabian Freeway.


Organizationally, Fabian Socialism struck roots in the United States with the founding of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society (ISS) in 1905. Earlier attempts to establish Fabianism in America, which for a time seemed so promising, had proved impermanent—possibly because they tried to cover too much ground too fast. Fabian gradualists had not yet discovered how to make haste slowly in America.

After nearly twenty years of experimenting with utopian front-organizations, social-reform clubs and secret study circles in ivied halls—of proselyting among writers, preachers, suffragists, settlement workers, university professors and assorted intelligentsia—the Fabian Socialist movement in the United States of 1905 was no more than a sprinkling of disconnected groups and scattered individuals. Robert Hunter, who became a member of the Executive Committee of the ISS but in the end renounced his ties with Socialism, has described the situation as he knew it in those early days:

When I was a resident at Hull House in Chicago, at Toynbee Hall in London, and at the University settlement in New York, I was drawn by some bond of sympathy into close association with the labor and socialist leaders of the three great cities. For many years at home and abroad, I passed from one group to another in a world little known at the time—a world almost exclusively occupied with social problems and their solutions. The groups in America were small and without influence; but in Europe the leaders were in Parliament, and lines were forming in preparation for the class conflicts which followed the World War.(1)

Over the years, a certain number of Americans had discreetly joined the Fabian Society of London, partly because of its snob appeal, partly because there did not seem to be any comparable organization at home. In Britain, the Fabian Society taught manners to raucous partisans of revolution and made university-trained men and women the spokesmen for a type of Socialism that to many seemed a substitute for or an adjunct of religion.

In America, a new Socialist Party, formed in 1902 by Eugene V. Debs and Morris Hillquit,(2) had polled a total of 400,000 votes in the presidential elections of 1904. When analyzed, much of that vote was found to have come from Russian-Jewish immigrants in the New York needle trades, who had streamed to America in the eighties and nineties, bringing with them European ideologies of revolt; (3) and from the remnants of outlawed Anarchist labor groups in the West who flocked into Big Bill Haywood’s newly organized Industrial Workers of the World. Despite an impressive showing at the polls, in the light of America’s election laws there was little prospect that Socialism could ever really come to power in the United States through a third party. For most of those who had voted the Socialist ticket, revolution was still the goal and violence was by no means abjured.

It was not by political platforms and programs, but as an alleged “educational” movement that Fabian Socialism gained a lasting foothold in the United States. Lessons in leftism for college students proved to be the magic formula that unexpectedly opened the door to future influence and respectability. Under the pretext of satisfying young peoples’ “normal desire” for information on the nature of Socialism, the ISS—which in 1921 changed its name to the League for Industrial Democracy (LID)—was able to establish itself unobtrusively as an American outpost and affiliate of the London Fabian Society.

Having endured more than half a century, it is today the oldest continuing Socialist society in the country—the deceptively mild and beneficent mother society from which a whole swarm of destructive activities and organizations has sprung. The LID in 1956 even supplied a chairman for the Socialist International.(4) At a succession of latter-day anniversary dinners, graced by an imposing array of higher educators, theologians, industrial union czars and public officials, the tale of its modest beginnings has been told and re-told.

Late in the afternoon of September 12, 1905, a hundred-odd dissatisfied adults and two college students gathered in a loft above Peck’s Restaurant in New York’s famed fish market district. Of the ten who signed the original call to the meeting, all but the youthful Jack London and Upton Sinclair had been moving spirits in the American Fabian League. (5) Some, like Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson and Clarence Darrow, had even helped to launch the first Bellamy Nationalist clubs, demonstrating a continuity in the Fabian movement, from its beginnings in this country, that persists to the present day. It is a species of profane apostolic succession, traceable directly to the first high priest of Fabian Socialism, Sidney Webb, and beyond him more mysteriously to the author of all Social Democracy—the diabolically inspired Karl Marx, seated in his London study with half a dozen black cats climbing up his arms and shoulders. (6)

Not only the signers of the call but those who responded to it were confirmed advocates of Socialism in quest of a following. Among them were such characters as William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Ella Reeve Bloor, who at a later date became leaders of the Communist Party in the United States. Their presence at the founders’ meeting of the ISS testified to the essential unity of all professing the Social Democratic faith, despite some differences on method, procedure and dogma which became increasingly acute during World War I and after the Russian Revolution.

This basic sympathy serves to explain certain otherwise mystifying features in the society’s subsequent history. Namely, its intensive efforts during the nineteen-twenties to furnish legal aid and subsistence for the then-illegal Communist Party of the United States; and the visible determination of ISS members, individually and collectively, since 1917 to insure the survival of the Socialist Fatherland, notwithstanding the fact that their organization ultimately took steps to bar known American Communists from its ranks.

From that first enthusiastic gathering at Peck’s Restaurant, the ISS was born. The object of the new venture was discreetly understated —a departure from previous techniques—yet broad enough to embrace many Socialist factions. It was declared to be purely “for the purpose of promoting an intelligent interest in Socialism among college men and women, graduate and undergraduate . . . and the encouraging of all legitimate endeavours to awaken an interest in Socialism among the educated men and women of the country.” Membership in the Socialist Party was not a prerequisite for membership in the ISS.

Jack London, flushed with his recent success as the novelist of the great outdoors and the darling of the conservationists, was the unanimous choice for president. J. G. Phelps Stokes and Upton Sinclair were elected vice presidents and Owen R. Lovejoy, reformer and Ethical Culturist, was treasurer. Morris Hillquit, Katherine Maltby Meserole, George Strobell and the Reverend George Willis Cooke were named to the Executive Committee. On the plea that the Executive of a collegiate society ought to include at least one undergraduate, Harry Laidler, then a student at Wesleyan, was added as an afterthought.

In various fumigated accounts of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society’s formation, one point is passed over lightly if not wholly suppressed. Nominally, the new organization existed chiefly to stimulate an interest in Socialism among undergraduates, who were to be organized in campus chapters or clubs under a centralized leadership. Yet only a few of its hundred or more founding members were primarily involved in collegiate activities. What, then, was the function of the ISS with reference to its adult founders and to the successive generations of college alumni who remained so firmly attached to it over the years?

Not for more than fifty years was its true purpose officially disclosed. By that time a substantial number of its trainees and “cooperators” had achieved influential posts in education and in government. (7) Others controlled the expenditure of multi-million dollar labor union funds. Their combined influence was widespread, and their personal respectability was assured. Only then was it considered safe to admit, in literature designed for student recruitment, that the ISS had actually been founded as an American Fabian Society (8)—a secret society of intellectuals, that would provide the leadership for a Fabian Socialist movement devoted to gaining political power in America, directly or indirectly. Just as in the London Fabian Society, individual members were expected to be politically active in their chosen spheres, while the ISS itself remained aloof from public controversy on electoral and policy matters.

Because British Fabians of the day gave top priority to the formation of student groups at Oxford and Cambridge, their American understudies now stressed the importance of recruiting bright and ambitious adolescents. Here, again, the ISS preferred to mask its motives. For years ISS spokesmen continued to protest that their intention was not to indoctrinate. To an attack in Collier’s, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson replied wittily but far from truthfully: “The primary aim of the society was to create students of Socialism, not to produce Socialists, and any who criticized this object must be classed with those medieval grammarians who wrote, ‘May God confound thee for thy theory of irregular verbs!’” (9) There is a marked similarity between his argument and the grounds sometimes given today for inviting Communist Party speakers to address campus audiences.

By way of further dissembling their proselyting zeal, student chapters of the ISS even adopted the practice of inviting an occasional speaker opposed to Socialism. In the organization’s Bulletin for 1912, Professor V. Karapetoff of Cornell University explained: “From an educational point of view, this is an excellent training for analysis and debate.” As a result, university administrations did not seriously interfere with the “peaceful activities” of the student chapters. At the same time, such undergraduate groups provided a buffer for Socialist professors, who had previously feared, with good reason, to expose themselves.

It was a full half century before the ISS finally conceded that from the first its intent had been fiercely and fervently missionary. In a fiftieth anniversary commemorative booklet, (10) inscribed to Dr. Harry Laidler “for a lifetime of dedicated service,” Mina Weisenberg acknowledged that the organization had always aimed to capture the heads and the hearts of the nation’s future leaders.(11) True, one did not need to be a Socialist in order to join a college club; but somehow—as in the earlier American Fabian League—only convinced Socialists were accepted as officers of campus chapters or were welcomed after graduation into the parent society.

On the proverbial shoestring, the ISS began its work among the colleges within a few months after its formation. Unlike European universities, which had fang been breeding-places for student Socialism, the undergraduate field in America was still largely a virgin one. Before the Intercollegiate Socialist Society arose, only two Socialist study groups for college students were known to exist in the United States. One had been started at the University of Wisconsin by William Leiserson, ultimately a chairman of the National Mediation Board, and Dan Hoan, future Socialist Mayor of Milwaukee. Both men became enduring members of the new Socialist Society.

The other group had been experimentally launched at the University of Chicago by William English Walling, who gained some prominence during his lifetime as a writer on labor politics and a member of the Labor Delegation to the Versailles Peace Conference. An ardent Socialist of the gradualist persuasion, Walling likewise became an inspirer and founder in 1909 of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In that enterprise, which during more than half a century has swelled to formidable dimensions, Walling was associated with W. E. B. Dubois, a Negro alumnus of Harvard (1890), who joined the ISS as an adult, became a well-known educator and eventually attached himself to the Communist apparatus. (12)

Walling’s chief claim to posthumous fame, however, derives from his book, American Labor and American Democracy, published in 1926 with an introduction by Professor John R. Commons. There he advanced a plan for effecting State Socialism in the United States under cover of the traditional “two-party system, rather than through a third party. That his plan was of interest to British Fabians is evident, since he lectured in 1929 at a Fabian Summer School in England.(13) William English Walling is generally regarded as a precursor of the present-day school of “democratic” action in American politics. He was among those who signed the original call leading to the founding of the ISS.

Another patriarch of “democratic” Socialism, Upton Sinclair, actively aided the ISS in its infancy. From his home at Princeton, New Jersey, in the fall and winter of 1905-08, Sinclair shipped out bundles of. Socialist propaganda, Fabian-fashion, to inquiring students and professors.

Then twenty-seven years old, Sinclair had just spent nine years as a wandering graduate and undergraduate student in universities from California to New York and had written five unknown novels. Immensely facile, persistent and energetic, he aspired to become an American Emile Zola, but never quite achieved it. In those journeyman years he was a protégé and house guest of Elizabeth Glendower Evans, whose well-appointed Boston home was simultaneously frequented by Florence Kelley and Judge Louis D. Brandeis.

At the moment, Sinclair was engaged in completing still another novel, The Jungle, a subsidized expose of conditions in the Chicago stockyards, which he wrote without ever having been in Chicago. His source was an early American Marxist, A. M. Simons, who had written a pamphlet, called Packingtown, six years before. Simons (14) did the “research” for Sinclair and served as a model for the election-night orator in the final pages of The Jungle. Because muckraking was just coming into style, and because President Theodore Roosevelt had a legitimate bone to pick with the meat packers dating from the beef scandals of the Spanish-American War, Sinclair’s sixth novel proved a sensation, catapulting him into a long and profitable career as a Socialist muckraker.

When President Theodore Roosevelt invited Upton Sinclair to come to Chicago as one of a commission to investigate the stockyards, the latter prudently declined. In his place, he sent Ella Reeve Bloor, “the little nut-brown woman” later known to Communists as Mother Bloor, whose son, Hal Ware, was to found a Communist espionage cell within the United States Department of Agriculture in 1934. Sinclair’s persistent connection with individuals who became well-known Communists eventually won for him a wide and enthusiastic audience in Soviet Russia, where his highly-colored literary cartoons of the American scene remained popular for decades after they were passe in America. In later life, he described such friendships with apparent frankness in memoirs that were serially published in the Rand School’s Institute of Social Studies Bulletin for 1952-53.

The most spectacular event in the first two years of the ISS was Jack London’s speaking tour of the colleges. This was something new in America, suggested by the British Fabian practice of having student clubs at Oxford and Cambridge sponsor visiting Socialist lecturers. The notion of expanding a single lecture into a coast-to-coast campus tour, however, was a distinctly American feature, which proved useful then and later to the new organization, since it allowed a single organizer, or at most a bare handful, to cover the country. In time, it would also provide income and outlets for peripatetic British Fabians—from S. G. Hobson in 1908 to Harold Laski in 1924-1949, to Herman Finer, John Strachey, Rebecca West, St. John Ervine, and a host of less well advertised English Socialists in more recent years.

So Jack London was merely the first m a long left-ward procession that to this day has never ended. Then at the peak of his literary popularity, a husky figure in an open-necked white flannel shirt, he looked as sturdily American as his native redwoods, although his mission was less indigenous. The day after his appearance at Yale University, the New Haven Register declared: The spectacle of an avowed Socialist, one of the most conspicuous in the country, standing on the platform of Woolsey Hall, was a sight for God and man!” Unabashed by such comments, Jack London retorted by inscribing himself in various hotel registers, “Yours for the Revolution!”—a flamboyant gesture that appealed to his immature audiences and to the wealthy hostesses who vied with each other in lionizing him.


During 1906, a number of student groups sprang up at Columbia, Wesleyan, Yale, Harvard and other colleges. Of these, the Columbia University crop proved in the long run to be of most direct service to the future “educational” work of the parent organization in New York City; while the Harvard club developed a top-level, largely undercover elite, more closely resembling and intimately allied to its progenitors of the British Fabian Society.

Charter members of the Harvard Socialist Club included Walter Lippmann, Kenneth MacGowan, Lee Simonson, Nicholas Kelley, Osmond Fraenckel and Heywood Broun; with Sam Elliott, Hiram Moderwell, John Reed, Robert Edmond Jones and others soon joining up.(15) “If anyone taking a bird’s-eye view of Cambridge at one o’clock in the morning were to see five or six groups of excited Harvard men gesticulating on various street comers, let him know that a Socialist club held a meeting that night,” wrote young Walter Lippmann in the Harvard Illustrated Review.

There is no evidence that any of the individuals mentioned ever renounced their allegiance to Socialism—with the possible exception of the New York World columnist, Heywood Broun, first president of the American Newspaper Guild. After serving for years on the Board of Directors of the League for Industrial Democracy (LID) and developing close ties with the Communists, (16) Broun finally became a near-deathbed convert to Catholicism. John Reed, now buried beside the Kremlin wall, openly threw in his lot with the Communists after 1917, becoming an employee of the “international revolutionary propaganda bureau” in Moscow. (17) Reputedly the victim of a typhus epidemic, John Reed left behind him a purported eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution, Ten Days That Shook The World—a potent piece of Soviet propaganda, now believed (like the Webbs’ later work on Soviet civilization) to have been of composite authorship.

Others of the group found it preferable after graduation to masquerade under the name of liberal. Nicholas Kelley sat from 1912 to 1933 on the Board of Directors of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society and the LID. Nevertheless, he became the liberal vice president and general counsel of the Chrysler Corporation (18)—first automobile company to capitulate in the industry-wide strike of the middle nineteen-thirties which was sparked by young Walter Reuther, who had been president of the Students’ League for Industrial Democracy (SLID) chapter at Wayne University.

Lee Simonson and Robert Edmond Jones helped to found the Theatre Guild in New York City, which popularized the plays of George Bernard Shaw according to techniques borrowed from the Moscow Art Theatre. Kenneth MacGowan, president of the Harvard Socialist Club in 1910, became a professor of Theater Arts at the University of California and a motion-picture producer.

Strangest of all and hardest to unravel is the tangled web of Walter Lippmann’s career—the lad who had seemed to be the brightest and most promising among the charter members of the Harvard Socialist Club and who gradually became so entrapped in his own obscurantism that in the end he found it difficult to express and maintain a plain-spoken position on any topic. Perhaps the case of Walter Lippmann best illustrates the secretive nature and frequently confusing surface manifestations of top-echelon Fabian Socialism in the United States.

Only son of well-to-do and cultured German-Jewish parents in New York City, the boy Lippmann was handsome, well mannered and remarkably but not offensively precocious. At Harvard he made a brilliant scholastic record, ingratiated himself with his professors, and joined a quantity of non-social clubs, being ineligible at that time for membership in the more exclusive Porcellian and Hasty Pudding Clubs. He did volunteer work at Hale House, a Boston settlement house where generations of young Harvard Socialists went to learn how the less fortunate lived.

With fellow members of the Harvard Socialist Club, Lippmann spent idyllic weekends at the country home of the Reverend Ralph Albertson, exponent of Christian Socialism and president of Twentieth Century Magazine. During the summer of 1909 the attractive, ambitious youth was received into the Fabian Society of London, (19) which watched over and promoted his subsequent career, judging him qualified for tasks of infiltration at the highest levels.

After graduation, Lippmann served briefly as aide to the Socialist mayor of Schenectady, New York. Thereafter he withdrew from the rough and tumble of Socialist Party politics to become a “liberal” interpreter of British Fabian Socialist policies—first to Democratic leaders in the Wilson Administration, later to financial pillars of the Republican Party. True, an uninstructed reader of Lippmann might find it difficult to form a clear picture of where he really stood. A painstaking analysis of his column, “Today and Tomorrow,” from 1932 to 1938 finds him taking favorable, unfavorable and neutral positions in somewhat bewildering succession on identical issues of the days. (20)

During those years he was engaged in penetrating the upper ranks of the American business and financial community and gaining the good will of industrial statesmen. Having supported his World War I chief in the War Department, Newton D. Baker, against Franklin D. Roosevelt for the 1932 Democratic nomination, Lippmann recouped his error by becoming a columnist for the Republican New York Herald Tribune and the author of “liberal” Republicanism. It was not only his function to let the conservatives know what the “other half thinks,” but also to let Socialists know what the conservatives thought and planned. (21)

Articles attacking him in the pro-Socialist weekly, The Nation, by LID members Amos Pinchot and Max Lerner merely aided him to win friends in other circles. (Pinchot variously called him “The Great Elucidator” and “The Great Obfuscator”!) Lippmann’s trip to Europe in the middle nineteen-thirties with Thomas W. Lamont of J. P. Morgan and Company appeared to confer the final accolade upon him. It is unjust, however, to assume as many did that Lippmann had abandoned his Socialist faith. A chronological sampling of his books and articles to date reflects, in a more or less guarded fashion, the changing policies of British Fabian Socialism—from the Wilsonian Fourteen Points and League of Nations to the Atlantic Community and regional federations; from outright defense of the Socialist Fatherland to the tacit assumption that Communism is here to stay; from advocacy of direct government operation of the basic means of production and exchange to indirect political control of the nation’s wealth through “cooperation” and voluntary renunciation of their historic role by leaders of private enterprise.

Forsaking any hope of political rewards at an early age, when the best he might have expected was to be named Ambassador to Turkey, Lippmann dedicated himself instead to reaching key persons in diplomacy, business and the academic world—and to benefitting unostentatiously from his private investments and an ample income derived from syndication of his column. Lippmann’s social success, fiscal good fortune and unerring gift for restricting his contacts to persons of importance, have naturally provoked some ill-natured comments from Socialists of lesser status, not privy to his lofty role in what H. G. Wells in The New Machiavelli called “the open conspiracy.” They fail to perceive his lifelong consistency as a penetrator and permeator par excellence, or to recognize his continuous service as a forecaster of Fabian fashions in thought and action. It must not be forgotten that Lippmann was the first American intellectual to advocate the use of applied psychology in promoting Socialism. He was also the first to introduce John Maynard Keynes to America, having helped to arrange for the publication in this country of Keynes’ early and mischievous work, The Economic Consequences of the Peace.(22)

Above all, Walter Lippmann has been the chief literary practitioner in this country of a tactic which the British Fabian Sidney Webb developed to a fine art in politics and which Vladimir Lenin himself approved on occasion, describing it as “one step backward, two steps forward.” This tactic was rediscovered and emulated in Washington in the early nineteen-sixties by both “liberal” Democrats and “modern” Republicans. Life magazine for March, 1961, reported that Walter Lippmann, rescued from apparently harmless desuetude, had become one of President John F. Kennedy’s favorite columnists and informal advisers. He survived Kennedy, so many years his junior, to become an adviser behind the scenes to President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Toward the public at large, Lippmann’s attitude does not differ materially from that which he expressed many years ago as president of the Harvard Socialist Club: “In a general way, our object was to make reactionaries standpatters; standpatters, conservatives; conservatives, liberals; liberals, radicals; and radicals, Socialists. In other words, we tried to move everyone up a peg. We preferred to have the whole mass move a little, to having a few altogether out of sight. (23) That year he circulated a petition requesting a course in Socialism, which was signed by three hundred students and which apparently bore fruit. In 1910 Professor Graham Wallas, one of the original Big Four of the London Fabian Society, was invited to deliver the Lowell Lectures at Harvard.

It was a time when American Fabian Socialism, still in the exploratory stage and unsure of its future, was seeking to discover techniques for moving the great mass of American public opinion in the direction of “peaceful” social revolution. The Harvard student group and its mentors, disturbed by press reactions to Jack London’s cheerful rowdiness, were beginning to ask themselves earnestly, as G. D. H. Cole did much later in a jocular vein:

How shall we educate the Americans

To admire the Fabian Socialist elegance . . . ?(24)

To such questions, Professor Graham Wallas seemed in his day to be the answer incarnate.

Wallas had been one of the first two instructors at the London School of Economics, when the number of its students could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. Conversational in his manner of teaching, smiling, insinuating and attractive, (25) he made a lasting impression on many young people at Harvard and some of their elders as well. His field was politics, which he treated primarily as a problem in social psychology. More than any other person, he initiated the psychological approach to Socialism, by which widely disparate elements of the population could be led, step by step and almost unawares, to accept and foster radical changes in the social, economic and political spheres. For Graham Wallas, as he wrote in The Great Society, the aim of social psychology was “to control human conduct!”

Superficially, Wallas appeared to be just another free-lance professor, unfettered by organizational ties or loyalties. He had purportedly severed all connections with the London Fabian Society in 1904, after tilting publicly with Sidney Webb on tariff policy and on the matter of municipal aid to Catholic schools—of which Wallas disapproved. In fact, however, he had taken upon himself an isolated mission of key importance. America was truly a land flowing with milk and honey, which must be subjugated before British Fabians could hope to build their own peculiar version of Blake’s Jerusalem in the New World as well as the Old. It was advisable, however, that any such schemes of conquest should not seem to originate with the London Fabian Society.

In his time, Wallas was a one-man Fabian International Bureau, beamed directly at the United States, fully thirty years before such a bureau was officially created. At intervals he returned to teach in the London School of Economics and to be warmly welcomed by old comrades. Through the select contacts which he cultivated on both sides of the water, Wallas proved helpful in securing appointments, fellowships and emoluments for individual British Fabians, as well as money from American foundations for expanding the London School. He also appears to have exercised some influence on Socialist-minded individuals already holding, or soon to hold, policy-making posts in Washington.

Demonstrating that Anglo-American Fabians never ceased to treat Wallas as one of themselves, Harold Laski, a future chairman of the London Society then teaching at Harvard, wrote on March 11, 1918, to Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A brief note came from Felix full of eagerness and a cry of joy about the general sanity and foresight of Graham Wallas. I wish he were back. (26) The “Felix” was, of course, the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, then counsel and secretary of President Wilson’s Mediation Commission, which had just issued its Report on Industrial Unrest.

During 1919 Graham Wallas was lecturing at the New School for Social Research in New York City. The school had recently been founded by the New Republic editor, Alvin Johnson, as an adult education center for the well-to-do and a haven for lame duck professors of the Socialist persuasion. In a letter of December, 1919, Wallas told Laski that Sir William Beveridge, as director of the London School of Economics, had just written to inquire about the prospects of Harold Laski’s working in London, and added: “I am suggesting to him that you should try to teach both at Oxford and in London.” (27) Sidney Webb also wrote urging that a post be found for Laski at the London School—a sign that Wallas and Webb still saw eye to eye on matters of importance to the London Society.

In recommending the psychological approach to control of public opinion, Graham Wallas set the tone for several generations of Fabian Socialist activity in America. He bequeathed his literary style and intellectual mannerisms to Walter Lippmann, for whom Wallas cherished high hopes that were only partially fulfilled. More significantly, the studied and carefully timed application of social psychology to practical politics, which furnished the impetus for Roosevelt’s New Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Johnson’s Great Society, can be traced to the ideas first instilled among Harvard “liberals” by Graham Wallas. Such latter-day developments as the Institute for Advanced Behavioral Studies at Stanford University—where respectable Socialists like Bruce Bliven, erstwhile editor of the New Republic, have been sustained in their declining years—sprang from the seeds sowed by Wallas over half a century before.

Friends recall Graham Wallas as a kindly and cultured English gentleman with a natural sweetness of disposition, (28) a useful trait in any missionary endeavor. Even Beatrice Webb, ordinarily acid in commenting on the cronies of Sidney’s bachelor days, described Wallas as “lovable.” It is instructive to note that ever since Wallas made his appearance on the American scene, the Fabian Socialist leadership in the United States has recognized the value and enjoyed its share of “lovable” characters—from August Claessens to Harry Laidler and Norman Thomas; from Robert Morss Lovett to John Dewey and the venerable, omnipresent Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr, Director Emeritus of Union Theological Seminary, whom it seemed difficult to credit with any destructive purpose.

Testifying before a Congressional Committee in 1956, Harry Laidler, who for some fifty years administered America’s counterpart of the London Fabian Society, suggested that the choice of such front personalities was deliberate. In a purely secular vein, Laidler cited the words of St. Francis de Sales: “You can catch more flies with one drop of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.”


Not only the taste of honey, but the newly organized opportunities for gaining prominence and/or success in their chosen fields captivated and held many gifted young intellectuals through the years. Continuity of membership, often handed down from father to son, and the steady acquisition of new blood well mixed with the old, proved to be as characteristic of the revitalized American Fabian movement as of the London Society. Walter Rauschenbusch (29) and his son Stephen, the Arthur M. Schlesingers, Senior and Junior, are only a few of the more outstanding examples.

Husband-and-wife teams, following in the footsteps of the Sidney Webbs and their coterie, flourished this side of the water. Among them were J. G. Phelps Stokes, an early president of the Intercollegiate Socialist Society, and his wife; Richard L. Neuberger and his wife Maurine, who successively became United States Senators from Oregon on the Democratic ticket; Paul H. Douglas, who served as president of the American Economic Association in 1947 and was elected United States Senator (D.) from Illinois the next year, and his wife Emily Taft Douglas, a former Congresswoman; Melvyn A. Douglas and his wife, Helen Gahagan Douglas, former actress and Congresswoman; Avraham Yarmolinsky and his wife, Babette Deutsch, the poetess, whose son, Adam, became a key Defense Department official in the Kennedy Administration. Thus the American Fabian movement, re-launched under such modest circumstances in 1905, has survived and snowballed to the present day through the polite tenacity of individuals and families.

Like the Fabian Society of London, the membership of the ISS and its successor, the League for Industrial Democracy, consisted of a few hundred publicists and public figures usually better known for their activity in related organizations than in the parent group; plus a much larger group of industrious but less widely trumpeted associates whose connection with the parent organization remained constant but vague. Membership lists of the LID have never been published, but from first to last the membership appears to have been more numerous than is commonly believed.

In 1955, on the occasion of the ISS’s 50th anniversary celebration, a “partial record of past and present collaborators” was officially made public by Mina Weisenberg. Inserted into the Congressional Record, this list provides a disturbing picture of persons in influential places, up to and including the White House itself, committed to the gradual but ever more rapid achievement of a so-called Cooperative Commonwealth in America.30 Here, among other things, is the key to the modern influx of Socialist-oriented university professors who have not only shaped the current philosophy of education in the United States but who—like Professors Alvin H. Hansen and Seymour E. Harris and a host of like-minded colleagues since 1932–have been called upon as Executive “consultants” to formulate and steer the policies of the United States Government.

It became a tacit tradition among native Fabians, open or covert, to promote not merely their friends and relatives but approved individuals often personally unknown to them yet known to the leadership of the American group. As trusty Fabian Socialists, frequently wearing the “liberal” or “progressive” label, established themselves gradually, firmly and increasingly in the professions, literature and popular journalism; in higher education and research; in reform movements, labor union leadership, politics and government service, they trained and carried their successors along with them. Thus the movement for “peaceful” social revolution in the United States expanded, becoming ever more diffuse and more difficult to pinpoint, until it assumed the aspect of a nationwide fraternity with a largely secret membership held together by invisible ties of ideology. Few outsiders realized this movement emanated always from a single center, whose unchanging aim was to supplant the constitutional American system of checks and balances with a collectivist state under Socialist International guidance.

It is noteworthy how many who subsequently became “valued leaders of thought in their respective fields,” (31) started their careers as collegiate leaders of Socialist clubs and devoted the whole of their lives, directly or indirectly, to furthering the same destructive cause. By 1910, when Harry Laidler became the first paid organizer of the ISS, that society admitted it was holding lectures and discussions and distributing literature through its chapters in fifteen universities. Two years later it reported forty-three chapters, (32) and by the time of World War I the tally had risen to sixty.(33)

Active officers of student clubs in that era, who became prominent in the intellectual ferment following the war, included: Inez Milholland, Mary Fox and Edna St. Vincent Millay, the bohemian poetess, of Vassar; Bruce Bliven of Stanford, who became a senior editor of the New Republic, and Freda Kirchwey (of Barnard) longtime editor of its sister left wing weekly, The Nation; Randolph Bourne’ the essayist, Paul Douglas, the liberal Senator, and Louis Lorwin, the columnist, all of Columbia; Isadore Lubin, of Clark, who became a Labor Department official in the New Deal Administration, together with Edwin Witte and David Saposs of Wisconsin. From 1945 to 1952 Dr. Lubin represented the United States on the United Nations Economic and Social Council.(34)

Amherst produced Evans Clark, afterwards of The New York Times and the Twentieth Century Fund; Ordway Tead, writer and lecturer, who became Research Director of the LID and served as chairman of the Board of Higher Education in New York City; and the Raushenbushes, father and son. (35) The father strove to perpetuate Socialist dogmas among the clergy, while the son helped to found the National Public Ownership League, which spawned the Tennessee Valley Authority and other schemes for political control of electric power.

There were also Broadus Mitchell of Johns Hopkins; Abraham Epstein of Pittsburgh, sometimes called “the little giant of social insurance”; Theresa Wolfson of Adelphi, long a professor of Economics at Brooklyn College; Otto Markwardt and William Bohn, then instructors at Wisconsin, the latter to become an editor of the Socialist New Leader; and others, too numerous to mention, coming from Ivy League colleges as well as land-grant colleges. Harvard University, though an acknowledged leader in the production of Socialist intellectuals, was far from being the unique source.

In those pre-World War I years British Fabian lecturers were already roaming the campuses and cities of America. Fiction by British Fabian authors, whom few Americans recognized as Socialists, headed the best seller lists. The novels of H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and John Galsworthy, the published plays of George Bernard Shaw, became standard reading matter for literate Americans and were favored as high school graduation gifts to boys and girls preparing for college.

Immediately after the war, publication in this country of two works by two British Fabian economists, J. M. Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace and R. H. Tawney’s The Acquistive Society, helped to popularize Marxian critiques of the economic and social order, even though the name of Marx was not mentioned. The “social unrest” that a number of serious thinkers hopefully predicted would follow the First World War and usher in a new world order was seized upon by Wilsonian liberals in America, abetted by Christian Socialist divines, as a pretext for advancing piecemeal the program outlined in Sidney Webb’s Labour and the New Social Order.

A generally tolerant attitude towards the Russian Revolution and a sophisticated indifference to its bloodier aspects, tempered by some public finger shaking, have characterized American Fabians from 1917 to the present day. The roots for this must be sought in the splintered history and joint Marxist-IWW origins of the Socialist movement in the United States. And for this movement the American Fabians, like their British tutors, attempted to provide intellectual leadership and direction behind a blandly respectable front.


1. Robert Hunter, Revolution (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1940), p. 6.

2. Morris Hillquit, New York; national secretary, Socialist Party of America; joint publisher, The Call; instructor, and lecturer, Rand School of Social Sciences; national council, League for Industrial Democracy; national committee, American Civil Liberties Union; one of original founders, Intercollegiate Socialist Society; contributing editor, Labor Age; chairman, Committee on Organization and Finance, Conference for Progressive Political Action. Railway Review, Chicago (January 27, 1923).

3. Mark Starr, “Garment Workers: ‘Welfare Unionism,’” Current History (July, 1954), Reprint by International Ladies Garment Workers Union. No page numbers.

4. The late Bjaarne Braatoy, a former president of the League for Industrial Democracy and a World War II staff member of the Office of Strategic Services, became chairman of the Socialist International in 1956. He died of a heart attack in 1957.

5. Signers of the original call were: Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Clarence Darrow, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, J. G. Phelps Stokes, B. O. Flower, Leonard O. Abbott, Oscar Lovell Triggs, William English Walling, Jack London and Upton Sinclair.

6. Max Beer, Fifty Years of International Socialism (London, Allen & Unwin, 1935), p. 137. Account of an interview with Maltman Barry, a contributor in the eighteen-seventies to the London Standard, who frequently visited Karl Marx at home.

7. See Appendix II.

8. From a prospectus of 1959-60 issued nationwide for the Students’ League for Industrial Democracy, under the masthead of the League for Industrial Democracy.

9. Italics were originally added, now removed.

10. Reprinted in full in the Congressional Record of October 12, 1962.

11. Italics were originally added, now removed.

12. Bela Hubbard, Political and Economic Structures (Caldwell Idaho, Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1956), p. 111.

13. Fabian News (July, 1929).

14. William A. Glaser, “A. M. Simons: American Marxist.” Institute of Social Studies Bulletin, Vol. I, No. 6, p. 67.

15. Forty Years of Education (New York, League for Industrial Democracy, 1945), p. 19.

16. J. B. Matthews, Odyssey of a Fellow Traveler (New York, Mt. Vernon Publishers, Inc., 1938), p. 272.

17. Senate Document No. 62, 66th Congress, Vol. III, p. 469. Testimony of Louise Bryant, wife of John Reed. According to Louise Bryant, Reed’s chief in the propaganda bureau was Boris Reinstein of Buffalo, New York, afterwards Lenin’s secretary.

18. See Appendix II.

19. Fabian News (October, 1909).

20. David Elliott Weingast, Walter Lippmann: A Study in Personal Journalism. With an introduction by Harold L. Ickes. (New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1949), pp. 61-77.

21. Ibid., p. 130.

22. Congressional Record (October 12, 1962), p. 22120.

23. Ibid.

24. Fabian Journal (February, 1951).

25. Max Beer, op. cit., pp. 82-83.

26. Holmes-Laski Letters, 1916-1935. With a foreword by Felix Frankfurter. DeWolf Howe, ed. (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1953), p. 141.

27. Kingsley Martin, Harold Laski: A Biographical Memoir (New York, The Viking Press, Inc., 1953), p. 38.

28. Max Beer, op. cit., pp. 82-83.

29. See Appendix II. Walter Rauschenbusch was from 1886 to 1897 pastor at the Second Baptist Church, New York City. There he read and was influenced by the works of Henry George, Tolstoi, Mazzini, Marx, Ruskin and Bellamy. In 1891-92 he spent some time abroad, studying economics and theology at the University of Berlin and industrial conditions in England. “There, through Sidney and Beatrice Webb, he became interested in the Fabian Socialist movement.” Dictionary of American Biography, Dumas Malone, ed. (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935), Vol. XV, pp. 392-393.

30. This official list is printed in full in Appendix II and merits detailed study.

31. Forty Years of Education, op. cit., p. 20.

32. Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism (New York, Funka and Wagnalls Co., Inc., 1910 Edition), p. 355.

33. Social Democratic Herald (May 11, 1912).

34. Alice Widener, Behind the U. N. Front (New York, The Bookmailer, 1962) p. 107.

35. Ibid. The father spelled his name Rauschenbusch; the son dropped the Germanic c.

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