In modern literature and journalism the reader will often find a mention of the Fabians. It is as well to know exactly to what this name refers.
The Fabian Society was a movement of mainly middle and upper class intellectuals, established in 1884 to spread socialist ideas among what they called, perhaps patronisingly, ‘the educated classes’. Some may think it odd that a purely socialist movement should eradicate the working classes from its audience. Their aim, they said, was to work out the application of socialist principles to intelligent Britain.
Among early Fabians were the playwright and journalist George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950), and Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1859 – 1947, 1858 – 1943). Soon after the outbreak of the Russian Bolshevik revolution, and especially after news came that the Leninists had elimated the entire Russian royal family at Ekaterinburg, the Fabians publicly rejected revolutionary Marxism. They believed that socialism must triumph in the end, as a natural sequel to universal suffrage. In the case of many European countries they were right, though countries that early chose socialism, such as Sweden and Britain, were soon to learn that socialist ideology and democracy are an unwise and rather thorny mix. The Fabians also believed that socialism must come to all states, even though the process might require a lengthy process of political evolution. They were right about the long process, but wrong about socialism coming inevitably to all states. Some have managed to struggle through the twentieth century and the first ten years of the twenty-first without any socialism at all, though the list is few. Cynics might suggest that each country needs a strong dose of socialism in order to evaluate its benefits.
The Fabians invented the lost Athenian art of never saying what one actually means, and wrapping truths or untruths up in a mass of verbal diarrhoea. Sidney Webb, for instance, described the long process of political evolution as ‘the inevitability of gradualness’, a phrase worthy of Tony Blair himself.
The Fabians devised schemes for municipal socialism, and for the improvement of working conditions, the latter being an excellent idea in post-industrial revolution England. The Society won acclaim in 1889 with the publication of Fabian Essays, and was one of the constituent elements of the ‘Labour Representation Committee’ (later re-named the Labour Party in 1900. Later it tended to act as a ‘specialised research agency’ for the Labour Party. Conspiracy fans have always liked that adjective ‘specialised’, because it might indicate a great deal . . . or nothing at all, which is the classic socialist game of chess.
If you are asked where the name ‘Fabian’ came from you can say it was derived from Quintus Fabius Maximus, a Roman general involved in the 2nd Punic War (218 – 201 BC), who tried to avoid full scale battles with the Carthaginians, preferring to weaken them by harassing operations. In Spain, minister Rubalcaba has used the same Fabian tactics since (and before) the eleventh of March, 2004. If the Fabian Society existed today, Alfredo de Rubalcaba would be a prominent member.