The New Fabians

By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Before the Russian Revolution, the Communist Party had two wings: Bolshevik and Menshevik. The Bolsheviks believed in the immediate establishment of socialism through violence. The Mensheviks (who also called themselves social democrats) argued for a gradual, non-revolutionary path to the same goal. Liberty and property were to be abolished by majority vote.

The Bolsheviks won, but after committing unimaginable crimes, they have pretty much disappeared. The Mensheviks, however, are taking over America.

At a recent town meeting in Hyde Park, New York, Bill Clinton was asked about a national sales tax (also called a value-added tax or VAT). Clinton — who is happily imposing income, corporate, energy, inheritance, and other taxes — said he could not include a VAT “right now.” There is “only so much change a country can accommodate at the same time.”

Our local Menshevism has its roots not in Lenin’s Russia, but in the London of 1883, when a group of go-slow socialists founded the Fabian Society. Headed by the appropriately named Herbert Bland, its most famous members were playwright George Bernard Shaw, authors Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and artist William Morris.

The Fabians took their name from Quintus Fabius Maximus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War by refusing to fight large set-piece battles (which the Romans had lost against Hannibal), but only engaging in small actions he knew he could win, no matter how long he had to wait.

Founded the year of Marx’s death to promote his ideas through gradualism, the Fabian Society sought to “honeycomb” society, as Fabian Margaret Cole put it, with disguised socialist measures. By glossing over its goals, the Fabian Society hoped to avoid galvanizing the enemies of socialism.

Unlike revolutionary Marxists, the Fabian socialists also knew the workings of British public policy. As the original policy wonks,” they did much research, drew up plans, wrote pamphlets and books, and made legislative proposals, drawing on their allies in universities, churches, and newspapers for help. They also trained speakers, writers, and politicians, and Sidney Webb founded the London School of Economics in 1895 as headquarters for this work.

Although the Fabian Society never had more than 4,000 members, they originated, promoted, and steered through parliament most of British social policy in the last 80 years. The result was a wrecked economy and society, until Margaret Thatcher began to defabianize England.

The Fabians succeeded in their goal of establishing the “provider state,” a welfare state that would care not just for the poor, but also for the middle class, from cradle to grave.

Whether it was workmen’s compensation, old-age pensions, unemployment benefits, or socialized medicine, the Fabians always stressed “social reform,” noted John T. Flynn. They “saw early the immense value of social reform for accustoming the citizens to looking to the state for the correction of all their ills. They saw that welfare agitation could be made the vehicle for importing socialist ideas into the minds of the common man.”

Another Fabian innovation: social reform invariably involved some sort of “insurance”. People were induced to accept socialism through the model of the insurance company.

Real insurance companies, relying on a random distribution of accidents, pool money to make the world less uncertain for all of us. Pool everyone’s wealth in the state — the Fabian argued — and we could be happy, healthy, and wise.

Aneurin Bevan, the Fabian cabinet minister in the post-war Labor government who imposed the National Health Service, actually argued that it would drastically increase everyone’s life span, eventually warding off death indefinitely.

The real Fabian vision of the state had been shown, however, in Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? published in 1935 (the question mark was removed from the title after the first edition). The book praised Stalin’s U.S.S.R. as a virtual Heaven on earth.

As fellow Marxists, if of a different stripe, the Webbs were bound to approve of Stalinism — the end if not the means. “The Fabians were in a sense better Marxists than Marx was himself,” said Joseph Schumpeter. “To concentrate on the problems that are within practical politics, to move in step with the evolution of things social, and to let the ultimate goal take care of itself is really more in accord with Marx’s fundamental doctrine than the revolutionary ideology he himself grafted upon it.”

Bill Clinton was trained by modern Fabians during his Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. Carroll Quigley, his mentor at Georgetown, was also a sort of Fabian. Perhaps this is why Clinton calls higher taxes “contributions,” government spending “investment,” blind obedience to him “patriotism,” and private property owners “special interests.”

Clearly socialism is what Clinton means by “change.” As E. J. Dionne has said, “President Clinton’s economic plan is a blueprint for recasting” our society into a “social democracy.”

For example, just as trade unions were about to die a merciful death in American economic life, Clinton signed several executive orders to ensure their prospering at the expense of property owners.

In his first budget, Clinton called on us to sacrifice ourselves to the government. The Fabians said the same, advocating, in the words of Beatrice Webb, the “transference” of “the emotion of self-sacrificing service” from God to the state.

Like other social democrats, Clinton lies to the public. He says that taxing the rich will have no effect on middle class wealth. But concentration of private capital at the top of the social hierarchy is good. It makes everyone better off. Plundering that wealth may lead to more equality, but it’s an equality of poverty.

Clinton has already shown his disdain for the market economy by berating drug companies for their prices and threatening controls on them (while expanding the welfare programs that drive these prices higher).

As to Hillary’s health and medical commission, we will get something more socialist than our present system, but short of the total state. More controls will come later.

The Fabian stained glass window, now installed at Beatrice Webb House in Surrey, England, shows George Bernard Shaw and Sidney Webb reshaping the world on an anvil, with the Fabian coat of arms in the background: a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That wolf is now at our door.