Today marks the 130th anniversary of the Fabian Society, which was founded in London in 1884. The Fabian society was set up in order to advance socialist principles by gradualist means- they did not believe in revolution to bring about change and first untied as a debating group. The membership was mainly middle class and attracted celebrities such as George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells and Annie Besant, who you can read more about in our galleries due to her work on the Bryant and May Match Girls Strike of 1888.
We exhibit a Fabian display in our main galleries set up on Beatrice Webb’s desk. Along with her husband, Sidney, the Webb’s were among the early founding members of the Fabian Society. They pioneered social research and wrote many pamphlets and books on social improvement and history- some presumably from this desk. We hold a number of Fabian pamphlets and posters in our collection, some of which are displayed on Webb’s desk, including ‘The Necessary Basis of Society’ by Sidney Webb, a pamphlet produced for Fabian Women and a poster for a discussion in 1906 expressing sympathy with the Russian Revolutionists at which a Fabian member was speaking.
Over the next decade, the society continued to grow and went on to establish the London School for Economics which was founded in 1895 in order to, as Sidney Webb pointed out “teach political economy on more modern and more socialist lines than those on which it had been taught hitherto”.
Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 (later the Labour Party), claiming 861 members and the group’s constitution, written by Sidney Webb, borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the Fabian Society. The society continued to provide much of the intellectual stimulus for the Labour Party and its popularity grew accordingly, tripling its membership to nearly 2500 by the end of 1908.
Throughout the course of the twentieth century, the group has stayed influential in left circles- every Labour Prime Minister has been a Fabian. Today, the society is affiliated to the Labour Party as a socialist society and exists mainly as a think-tank for developing political ideas. The Fabian’s publish a wealth of material such as reviews, essays, comment pieces, pamphlets and books as well as providing a space for open minded debate.