From International Socialism (1st series), No.8, Spring 1962, p.31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Story of Fabian Socialism
A reading of this book will do nothing to convince non-revisionists that the main stream of Fabian thought has been anything other than ‘benevolent, bourgeois and bureaucratic’ (Beatrice Webb’s description). Not only has its history to bear the support given to the South African War, its part in the 1902 Education Act and its indifference to the General Strike, it also has such ‘fringe aberrations’ as the Webbs’ embracement of Stalinism and Shaw’s adulation of Fascist Italy to its name. Further, it quickly drove away from its ranks its first breath of fresh air in the form of Guild Socialism, on which event Mrs. Cole passes the judgement that the Guild Socialists ‘displayed (a) naive belief in the virtues and abilities of Trade Unionists ... and of factory elected representatives.’
The book, which is very well written, also takes in movements connected in various ways with the Fabian Society, such as the Socialist League and the Labour Research Department. In so doing Mrs. Cole certainly illustrates the extent of Fabian influence and puts the personal contribution of the Webbs, which was much less than is often thought, in proper perspective; however, this fact means that the indictment of others must be harsher. It would be foolish to decry the vast amount of research the Society has contributed to the Labour movement, but on the whole this book only doubly confirms one’s worst suspicions of the part played by the Fabian mainstream in weakening the theoretical and class bases of British socialism.
The most objectionable aspect of Mrs. Cole’s work is her ‘We’ve-been-through-it-all-and-it-just-doesn’t-work’ supercilious condemnation of Marxist tendencies. For all this the book is an important one, and it is fortunate that its publication coincides with Ralph Miliband’s indictment of ‘Labourism’. Read in conjunction these two books, in their different ways, can teach us a lot.
Last updated on 1 March 2010