teach others and take a practical part themselves by permeating all forms of local administration."
Well before the turn of the century, the Fabian Society had acquired both within Britain and internationally a reputation for offering a philosophy, a process, and a capacity for getting results. Overseas Fabian Societies were formed, most notably in Australia. How the society worked in practice is illustrated by its enduring campaign against poverty. The commitment of the original Fabians to overcoming poverty was manifest in the choice of the title for the first Fabian tract Why Are the Many Poor? ( 1884). Tract five, Facts for Socialists ( 1887), followed shortly, devoted in part to a statistical comparison of the conditions of the "Two Nations" within British society. More Fabian publications, and more Fabian energy, have been devoted to poverty than to any other topic. The outcome of the society's concern was in part the proposals for a "National Minimum," which Beatrice and Sidney Webb put forward in 1897 in their book Industrial Democracy. The appointment of Beatrice Webb to the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws by Prime Minister Balfour in 1905 was a further Fabian milestone, enabling her to produce the Minority Report, which Cole ( 1961) describes as "one of the greatest State papers of the century." Cole concludes: "All that is implied in the later phrase 'Social Security,' including some things not yet put into effect, is to be found in essence in the Minority Report of fifty years ago" (p. 139).
Following the rejection of the Minority Report by the Liberal government in 1909, the Fabians launched a National Committee for the Breakup of the Poor Law -- later the National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution -- which rapidly attracted over 16,000 members. The Minority Report and the activities of the National Committee failed in their objective of securing an immediate implementation of Webb's recommendations, but contributed massively to a climate of opinion in which change was inevitable. Forty years later, the Poor Laws were finally abolished and the modern welfare state was finally put in place by Clement Attlee's predominantly Fabian Labour government, on the basis of the wartime Beveridge Report. William Beveridge, a Liberal, wrote in Power and Influence in 1958 that the report "stemmed from what all of us have imbibed from the Webbs" (p. 86).
Subsequent Fabian experts such as Richard Titmuss, Brian Abel-Smith. Peter Townsend, and David Donnison have written widely about ways of further strengthening the welfare state and harnessing it more closely to the core Fabian value of a more equal society.
World War I gave rise to a historic friendship between Sidney Webb and the secretary of the Labour Party, Arthur Henderson. Webb and Henderson were brought together in the War Emergency Workers' National Committee, which Henderson chaired. Webb was the driving force behind the committee, and did most of its creative work. Joint action by Webb and Henderson gave the Labour Party a new constitution, which Cole ( 1961) describes as "a very 'Fabian' compromise" between the party's socialist and trade unionist adherents. Webb and Henderson were also the co-authors of a new party program, Labour and the New Social Order ( 1918), which represented in Cole ( 1961) view "as nearly as possible the purest milk of the Fabian word" (p. 172). The upshot was an enduring partnership between the Fabian Society and the Labour Party, which outlived the vicissitudes of economic slump, party schism, and war to emerge triumphantly in Attlee's Labour government. The partnership remains in force, and had its most recent manifestation in the policy taken to the 1992 elections by the then-Labour leader, and sometime Fabian Society Executive member, Neil Kinnock.
An amendment to the Fabian Society rules in 1939 -- known widely as the society's "self-denying ordinance" -- reads: "No resolution of a political character, expressing an opinion or calling for action, other than in relation to the running of the Society itself, shall be put forward in the name of the Society. Delegates to conferences of the Labour Party, or to any other conference, shall be appointed by the Executive Committee without any mandatory instructions." A further amendment requires that "all publications sponsored by the Society should bear a clear indication that they do not commit the Society, but only those responsible for preparing them." The changes marked the culmination of a process by which the Fabian Society had ceased increasingly to be a body advocating specific policies, as had been the case at its inception, and instead devoted itself to researching and publicizing ideas within a broad framework of democratic socialism and parliamentary democracy. In so doing, Fabianism was reinvented as being primarily about the method and process for social reform, and the Fabian Society reaffirmed its identity as the original political think tank.
Beveridge, William H., 1944. Full Employment in a Free Society. London: Allen & Unwin.
------, 1955. Power and Influence. New York: Beechhurst Press.
Booth, Charles, 1892. Life and Labor of the People in London. London: Macmillan.
Britain, Ian, 1982. Fabianism and Culture: A Study of British Socialism and the Arts 1884-1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cole, Margaret, 1961. The Story of Fabian Socialism. London: Heinemann.
Fabian Society, 1884. Why are the Many Poor? London: Fabian Society, Fabian Tract No. 1.
------, 1887. Facts for Socialists from the Political Economists and Statisticians. London: Fabian Society, Fabian Tract No. 5.