On the front lines of change, since 1884.
But We've come a long way since Beatrice and Sidney Webb.
The Fabian Society is the world's oldest political think tank, founded in London in 1884 by the leading lights of Victorian-era British socialism. While it is a think tank, it is also a mass membership organisation open to all. It went on to help found the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, out of which grew the Labour Party itself.
From the beginning, the Fabian Society has been an official part of the Labour Party as a socialist society, which means it has voting rights at national Labour Conferences and a permanent voice in Party affairs. We use this voice to advocate for the abolition of class society and the creation of a socialist commonwealth. For over a hundred years, we have worked towards this goal in accordance with the principles of democracy, pluralism, economic reform, and critical, evidence-based policymaking.
The Fabians' unusual name came at the suggestion of medical researcher and founder Frank Podmore, who highlighted these committments to careful planning and timing with reference to the Roman general Fabius:
"For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless."
Fabian thinking has had a central place in Labour Party policymaking over several generations of evolution. Early Fabians were instrumental in the development of the workers' movement in Britain from the ground up by publishing the Fabian Tracts, a long-running series of easy-to-read articles which introduced millions of British workers to the main principles of socialism, feminism, birth control, suffragism, and economic democracy.
But early Fabians made apologies for then-popular programs of imperialism and eugenics. They also took an insufficiently critical view of Stalin's policies in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. All this, plus an overall attitude of elitism, puts the early Fabian movement into tension with some modern values, as well as with the core organising principle of mass membership and internal democracy, which is designed to bring everyones' views to the forefront. As such, there is a sharp line between Fabian socialism of the early 20th century and Fabianism today.
The Society's global impact was cemented by the Fabian and Indian independence leader Jawaharlal Nehru - colleague of Ghandi, founder and first President of the Republic of India, whose government he based on Fabian principles.
In the middle of the 20th century, the Fabian Society and its key thinkers like Anthony Crosland charted a moderate, reformist course, designed to manage capitalism in an age of record-breaking growth. In many respects, the "postwar consensus" around which the welfare state reached the peak of its fame was the result of Fabian thinking, especially Crosland's major study, The Future of Socialism. This work, and Fabian work since, was fired by a committment to "revisionism", that is, to overturning and criticising past assumptions, even one's own.
Through to the 1990s, Fabianism remained a product of Crosland's thinking, despite the blows which the welfare state vision of socialism has sufferred since Crosland's core assumption that strong economic growth would continue indefinitely was knocked down in the early 1970s. Crosland's Fabianism only came under systematic revision with Tony Blair's coming to power. Since the Blair era the Fabians have been associated with the centre-left of the Labour Party.
Today, the Fabians as a whole are largely in search of a new "future of socialism". Inspired by revisionist principles, but held fast by a committment to the classless society, Fabians of the "fourth" generation - those of the new millennium - are undertaking a systematic re-evaluation of the meaning and depth of British socialism in the age of globalisation, financialisation, austerity, de-industrialisation, and private monopoly power.
The North East London Fabians are an affiliate of the national Fabian Society with formal rights and an independent, self-governing status. We are looking for new socialist ideas and policies that suit the needs of our time, and we are charting a course for how to make them work for London. More information about what we stand for is available here.
The views of individual Fabians are their own, and any views shared by NELF members may not necessarily reflect the views of the national Society, which itself is committed to pluralism and does not impose views on members.
Find out more about who we are, how we work and what we do by following the links.
If you're interested in being a part of our work, consider joining, donating, sponsoring or becoming a Friend today.