Sunday, June 26, 2005

Who were the Fabians anyway?

Just read an essay by Eric Hobsbawm about the Fabian socialists. It made some pretty interesting points. In the first place, they weren't actually socialists because they believed in private property (according to EJH, although I find that a bit hard to believe). Secondly, they weren't actually very radical. They supported both the British imperial project and war (in the case of WWI). They saw themselves as a sort of counter/alternative to the Marxism that was popular on the British labour left of the time.

The ideas Hobsbawm cites don't actually sound that unreasonable:
1) "a certain conception of what constitutes a becoming livelihood in a given class of society and an income representing that standard."
2) "a life of fascinating interest to the faculty and in the consciousness of service rendered, rather than in accumulating riches for themselves and their descendents."
3) Most famously, the progressive and gradual elimination of poverty in society through education.

Of course, I'm not sure Hobsbawm, who makes the Fabians sound like middle-class moderates, isn't overstating his case to cast aspersions on anti-Marxists. However, since Marxism failed so dramatically and horribly, maybe the Fabians are worth re-reading.

3 comments:

fix buffalo said...

There were many, including Karl Korsch, that dabbled in fabianism and used it as a springboard into Marxism. I've often wondered if it was this early intro into social criticism that later fueled Korsch's octracism from the Party and in the eyes of many his redemption viz. other theorists that jumped off the deep end.

Rufus said...

Right, and even Shaw himself came to reject the Fabian Society for Marxism. But, there must have been some that went the other way. If the Marxists saw the Fabians as anti-Marxist, and the Fabians saw themselves the same way, there must have been some that crossed over to Kennedy-style anti-Communist liberalism after WWII.

fix buffalo said...

Rebecca West embraced HG Wells long enough to have a love child and her "Black Lamb, Grey Falcon" is sprinkled with liberalism. Her treatment of various crimes & trials of the 20th c including Nurnberg is way more insightful than Arendt's "Eichman" and expresses a strident anti-communist post war liberalism. Worth the read if you have the time before Saturday!