The Fabian Society is a British socialist intellectual movement best known for its initial ground-breaking work beginning in the late 19th century and then up to World War I. Similar societies exist in Australia and New Zealand.
Fabianism focused on the advancement of socialist ideas through gradual influence and patiently insinuating socialist ideology into intellectual circles and groups with power.
The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party in this time-period and is still in existence today.
The society was founded on January 4, 1884 in London, England as an offshoot of a society founded in 1883 called The Fellowship of the New Life.
Fellowship members included poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, sexologist Havelock Ellis and future Fabian secretary Edward Pease. They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. But when some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society's transformation, it was decided that a separate society, The Fabian Society, also be set up. All members were free to attend both societies. The Fellowship of the New Life disbanded sometime in the early 1890s but the Fabian Society grew to become the pre-eminent intellectual society in the United Kingdom in the Edwardian Era.
Immediately upon its inception it began attracting many intellectuals drawn to its socialist cause, including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland, Edith Nesbit, Sydney Olivier and Emmeline Pankhurst. Even Bertrand Russell later became a member.
The group, which favoured gradual rather than revolutionary change, was named in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator (nicknamed "the Delayer"), who advocated tactics involving harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal Barca.
Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1900 and the group's constitution, written by Shaw, was borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the Labour Party. At the Labour Party Foundation Conference in 1900, the Fabian Society claimed 861 members and sent one delegate.
In the period between the two World Wars, the "Second Generation" Fabians—including the great writers R. H. Tawney, G. D. H. Cole and Harold Laski—continued to be a major influence on social-democratic thought.
Through the course of the 20th century the group has always been influential in Labour Party circles, with members including Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Anthony Crosland, Richard Crossman, Tony Benn, Harold Wilson and more recently Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
In recent years the Young Fabian group, founded in 1960, has become an important networking and discussion organisation for younger (under-31) Labour Party activists and played a role in the 1994 election of Tony Blair as Labour Leader.
The society's 2004 annual report showed that there were 5810 individual members (down 70 from the previous year), of whom 1010 were Young Fabians, and 294 institutional subscribers (of which 31 were CLPs, Co-operative societies, or trade unions), 190 were libraries, 58 corporate, and 15 other), making 6104 members in total. The society's net assets were £86,057, its total income £486,456, and its total expenditure £475,425. There was an overall surplus for the year of £1031.
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