What do Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells have in common? Are they all among the most eminent British personalities? Too obvious, but certainly not inaccurate. In reality what these and other leading figures of Western culture at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have in common is something very "uncomfortable" and little known to the general public. They were part of, or had something to do with, the Fabian Society. This is (because it still exists and also has a website) an association born in Victorian London in 1884 and today it represents the oldest British think tank and was part of the social democratic political-intellectual movement known as Fabianism (or Fabianism). The founders were Mr and Mrs Webb.
The singular name was a tribute to the Roman military strategist Quintus Fabius Maximus known as "The Staller", who contributed to the final defeat of the fearsome Hannibal at the hands of Publius Cornelius Scipio, known as "the African". Fabio's tactic was precisely to stall, that is to say to exhaust the enemy army and deprive it of forces waiting for the arrival of reinforcements during the battle between Rome and Carthage at Zama. These events were included in the Fabian Essays of 1889 containing the Fabian Society's program, which aimed to promote the elevation of the working classes to make them suitable to take control of the means of production and tend to socialism, but very gradually. It is precisely this last point that makes the difference with Marxism, which instead preaches a revolutionary change that shakes society from its foundations. Fabianism instead rejected both utopian and revolutionary ideas, opting for a more realistic pragmatism that could create an alternative to private ownership of the means of production.
It was precisely a few violent strikes and protests in that ruthless, industrializing London at the end of the 19th century that led the Fabians to reject the idea of revolution as a means of socialism, which could also be achieved through normal political procedures. These principles were the basis for the birth of the Labour Party in 1906, but the Fabian Society from the 1930s onward went through a slow and inexorable decline also due to the internal contradictions that real Soviet socialism posed in the socialist intellectuals of the time. Moreover, the success of communism and the proletarian and revolutionary movements inspired by Moscow eclipsed this movement with a much softer soul than Leninism first and Stalinism later.
The aim of the Fabians was to put an end to the economic disorder and abuse caused by capitalism, which in those years had its heart in London. The opulence of the big imperial companies was contrasted with the misery of the London suburbs, where even the youngest died of work in terrible conditions. Charles Dickens was also one of these exploited children and his works tell that reality all too well. Other political battles of the Fabians included the extension of health care and free education for all and, indeed, detailed labour legislation to curb child slavery.
Picture: Simon Harriyott