Growth of the Web

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 The Freeman, April 1955

“Growth of the Webb”, a book review of “Fabianism in the Political Life of Britain” by Sister M. Margaret Patricia McCarran. 612 pp. Chicago.

A well-known British historian, attempting to apologize for the enormous growth of the British Empire during the nineteenth century, declared that Britain had acquired her empire in a “fit of absence of mind.” True or not, this was not the cause of the British adoption of socialism. There was nothing haphazard about that. It was all planned that way, planned carefully and patiently, by the Fabian Society.

Sister McCarran’s work, which has the honor of being attacked by Representative Wayne Hays, was originally a Ph.D. thesis at the Catholic University of America. It is an exhaustive, almost day-by-day, investigation of the activities of the Fabians during the 1920’s. Not meant for light reading, it has enormous merit as an encyclopedic reference work on the society and its activities.

Many new insights emerge from this book. The general run of historians have propagated a myth that the Fabian Society, the General Staff of the socialist movement, dissolved during World War One and played no role thereafter. Sister McCarran shows that this myth was carefully cultivated by the Fabians themselves, the better to camouflage their actions. Actually, they played a great part in the political life of the 1920’s and continue to do so down to the present day. She also points out that this organization, which probably holds the world’s record for political leverage per member, began as a small group of mystics in 1883. It was the product of a merger of members of two spiritualist groups. The main one was an American organization called the Fellowship of the New Life, or Nuova Vita. The British founders were psychical researchers named Edward Pease and Frank Podmore. Some of the original founders wanted the society to become a monastic cultist “Order”; finally, however, they decided to remain in the world and mold it slowly but surely into socialism. What a tragedy for the world that the would be monastics, led by Havelock Ellis, did not win out! Others who participated early in the Nuova Vita were T. H. Green, John Dewey and Morris Cohen. The eventual roster of Fabian members in Britain reads like a galaxy of British scholars and intellectuals: among them have been Bertrand Russell, Sir Norman Angell, Harold Laski, Vera Brittain, J. B. Priestley, Virginia Woolf, George Catlin, Sir Ernest Barker, Herman Finer, R. H. Tawney, C. E. M. Joad, Graham Wallas, Rebecca West, Sir William Beveridge, Rupert Brooke, Barbara Wootton, G. M. Trevelyan and Arnold Bennett. One of the most striking parts of the book is the concluding passage, consisting of the testimony of the former Soviet diplomat Igor Bogolepov before the McCarran Internal Security Subcommittee, to the effect that Soviet Socialism, a New Civilization was written for its nominal authors, Beatrice and Sidney Webb-deans of the Fabian movement-by the Soviet Foreign Office and the Soviet secret police.

This little incident provides a fitting commentary on the aims and methods of Fabianism.


A Final Note:

Sister McCarran was the daughter of Senator Pat McCarran, the political boss of Nevada who was very closely linked to the organized crime syndicates controlling Las Vegas. Senator Wayne Hayes, a notorious Capitol Hill bully, went down in flames over a sex scandal in 1976. Karma? His secretary, a former Miss Virginia, Elizabeth Ray (who appeared nude in Playboy) is alleged to have told reporters “I can’t type. I can’t file. I can’t even answer the phone.” A book under her name called Washington Fringe Benefit was eventually published in the true “kiss and tell” tradition. For another interesting take on the Fabians, see this Joseph Stromberg book review.

12:34 pm on September 3, 2012