More Fabian Notes. With Some Fabian Notions

The following letter from a gentleman who suggests that our regard for common honesty will move us to the desired point of publication has been passed to me. If he had appealed to our regard for an uncommon honesty it would have been more to the point. However, here is the communication : —

Dear Comrade,

I am a regular reader of the “Standard” (the monthly, not the daily), and in the current issue I see that one of the features of the March issue is to be an interesting letter on “Why Every Other Political Party is Hostile to the S.P.G.B.”

In part the answer is supplied by some of the writings in the Party’s official organ—your own paper. I admire unfettered thinking, and clear, incisive writing, but I wish to lodge a respectful protest against the column-and-a-half entitled “Fabian Notes” in the February issue. It embodies either a ridiculous misapprehension of a sentence used by Mr. H. Snell (and quoted), or a wilful distortion of his obvious meaning—for the purpose of discrediting the Fabians in general. Even if an individual member did entertain the ideas attributed to Snell, it is grossly unfair to brand the whole society on such evidence.

The quotation from Snell’s speech was as follows : “The government of the future will be by experts and we, naturally, want to be the experts.” In this sentence, “we” most certainly means Socialists generally, and not members of the Fabian Society in particular. Under the Socialist State (unless people should revert to a very simple life—which is unlikely), it is certain that experts will be needed—in manufacture, in the arts, and even in distribution. There will be no government in any sense approximating to the present class government. And during the transitional stage, which has now commenced (with the growth of trusts on the one hand, and of municipal enterprises on the other), it is equally certain that experts are needed ; and it was to this aspect that Snell’s remark had special reference, for if one thing seems specially obvious in this matter, it is that the workers—the real producers—will receive a nearer approximation to justice under a Socialist than under an individualist; but, just as obviously, the Socialist expert is likely to be passed over, if his principles are known and put into practice. The implication is, that the experts must be converted to Socialism, just as the workers must be : and in this direction the Fabian Society is doing sound work (although its work covers much ground in other directions also).

Whether, under Socialism, the expert would be paid at a higher rate than the “ordinary” worker, is a question which is really not raised by Mr. Snell. I would give my own answer to the question by asking another: Why should he be ? That his abilities are of a less common kind than those of the men who work under his direction, supplies no ethical claim for special treatment. Generally speaking, the work of the expert (as of the artist) is agreeable : he is impelled to do it: and he will give his best howsoever he be rewarded. I, and many who think like me, would have a high reward accorded to the scavenger rather than to the expert.

Your leading article, “The Quintessence of Socialism,” gets to the root of the matter. Until all industries are socialised, arid their control won by the workers, the nationalisation (or municipalisation) of isolated industries will be of little service. The best to be hoped of the latter is that conditions shall be somewhat superior to those in the corresponding privately-owned industries—and even that is too seldom attained. The moral is : Unite, for Socialism and Democracy; accept all palliatives offered, but be sparing of thanks, for the most that will be conceded falls far short of the just claims of the workers.

Nevertheless, to preach hatred of the bourgeoisie or the so-called “upper” classes or to foster misunderstandings or “bad feeling” between class and class is both impolitic and immoral. All classes include Socialists—genuine Socialists. So far as the well-to-do are concerned—the people who stand to gain nothing tangible from the victory of Socialism—I ask, why decry those who adhere to the cause “for righteousness sake,” and for no other reason ?

Yet another, and a practical reason for preaching class-consciousness rather than class-hatred, is the immense numbers of “hangers-on” of the wealthy—those who produce useless luxuries for the “upper” classes or who minister directly to their comfort. These, too, are underpaid and oppressed : and the serious part of it is that they are rapidly increasing (in consequence of the growing aggregation of wealth in capitalistic hands). Yet their apparent interest, in the immediate future at any rate, lies in perpetuating existing conditions. These also need to be converted—must be converted, if Socialism is to be won ; for they are too numerous to be disregarded. At present they appear to be about the most impermeable classes of the whole community : they are unlikely to be moved by mere rancorous abuse of their “masters,” but in the long run they must be amenable to reason. (As my letter has dealt largely with an attack on the Fabian Society, I may say—to anticipate a possible gibe—that I do not think the Society either tries or expects to make much impression on the classes in question—though ultimately, perhaps, the impression may be made through their masters).

Whilst preaching the Class War, then, it is imperative that the constructive and idealistic side of Socialism should also be emphasised. In the Socialist State, none (save the shirkers) will be worse off than at present—in all that really makes the happiness of existence : but it will uplift the toilers almost beyond their most daring visions.

I plead, therefore, for union and co-operation within the movement—with free but not ill-natured criticism of each other when differences arise.
Yours fraternally,


As the blushing author of the article referred to I beg to thank “Fabian Free” for his “free but not ill-natured criticism,” the more so because with almost overwhelming magnanimity he gives me the choice of two labels, I am, it seems, either a liar or a fool—whichever I please. (As a lover of “clear, incisive writing” “Fabian Free” will appreciate the merit these easily understood terms possess over “ridiculous misapprehension” and “wilful distortion.”) And that is very sweet and comradely in my good-natured critic. There have been gentle Fabians who have given me no such freedom of selection.

But notwithstanding this much appreciated concession for the sake of “union and co-operation within the movement,” (which the gods forbid that I should attempt to disturb), I will venture a free and not ill-natured rejoinder in the hope that I may be successful in making my “grossly unfair” conduct appear a little less reprehensible. I hope “Fabian Free” will bear with me.

Now it seems that when Mr. Snell said “we naturally want to be the experts” who will govern in the future, he most certainly meant Socialists generally and not Fabians in particular. Did he ? And how does “Fabian Free” know that ? Will he be greatly surprised to learn that Mr. Snell “most certainly” meant nothing of the sort ?

When Mr. Snell made the statement he was describing the special function of the Fabian Society as distinguished from all other Socialist and pseudo-Socialist parties whose origin and work he was at the moment outlining. If his words had any meaning at all they made it emphatically clear that Mr. Snell was of the opinion that the particular duty laid upon the Fabian Society on whose behalf he was speaking, was that of the training of the expert who was, he thought, to govern in the future.

This may, of course, be a wilful distortion or a ridiculous misapprehension of the function of, and grossly unfair to, the Fabian Society, but that is not my affair. “Fabian Free” had better take the matter up with his Executive Committee, who will then probably restrain their unhappy fugleman. But I think it more likely that “Fabian Free” will receive the shocking intimation that the Executive of his Party share Mr. Snell’s view. In which case “Fabian Free” will perhaps apologise to Mr. Snell and withdraw from the Fabian Society—and perhaps not. However that may be, I trust he will not trouble to apologise to me. I don’t matter. Besides, I’m used to being called names—especially by good-natured comrades of other parties. It’s their little way of ensuring union and cooperation in the movement.

For the rest, “Fabian Free” does not appear to have profited by his regular reading of this paper, and therefore fails to realise that “clear and incisive” style which is his admiration and our normal method. His meaning is often, if he will allow me to say so, obscure, and is not made more apparent by repeated use of the word “obviously” or its equivalent. It is a little—may I say—ludicrous, to keep on making the strenuous assertion that obviously it is so-and-so when obviously it isn’t. It is like crying peace when there is no peace. But I will try my ‘prentice hand at digging his argument out.

Let us assume Mr. Snell meant what “Fabian Free” says he meant. So. “The government of the future” applies only to the transition stage. It is for this stage that the Socialist expert is required. Yet in this stage “Fabian Free” agrees the working class can be little if anything better off. Why ? Because while capitalism holds the causes of poverty and working-class unhappiness remain. Therefore your Socialist expert under capitalist conditions, because he can do no more than administer capitalist laws, is of no more use than a non-Socialist expert. And as under Socialism “there will be no government in any sense approximating to the present,” the Socialist governmental expert of the transition period will then find himself without visible means of subsistence !

It seems to a plain person like myself a dreadful waste of effort to labour in the conversion and training of Socialist governmental experts who are useless to day and for ever. They had far better take my advice and apply themselves to the acquisition of some useful trade.

And I cannot allow “Fabian Free” for one purpose to limit Mr. Snell’s statement to a certain machinery in a certain stage and for another to apply it in a broader sense to a different stage. I am quite ready to have at him with a free and not ill-natured criticism on any question of working-class interest he likes to raise, but he must keep to his premise or definitely relinquish it. If Mr. Snell’s statement referred, as I believe it did, to government under Socialism,—that at any rate was the impression left not with myself alone, by Mr. Snell’s clear and incisive oratory,—”Fabian Free” may deal with my article from that standpoint, and I will deal with him—very happy for the chance, I’m sure. (And then perhaps I shall be able to get him to explain what the Dickens he means by his Socialist expert under Socialism being overlooked because his principles were known.) If the statement referred to the ante-Socialist period, as “Fabian Free” asserts, then the question of the remuneration of the governmental bureaucrat does not arise. The industrial expert under Socialism is a different person from the governmental expert. The first, adequately defined, may be allowed. The second is the person we are talking about. If “Fabian Free” desires to drub me on him, let him wade in. I’ve still got an old pencil stump and a piece of paper left to me by the friendly broker’s man.

“Fabian Free’s sixth par is, I admit, a fair contribution to incisive writing and displays at once the unfortunate misapprehensions existing in the writer’s mind. To talk of hatred of the bourgeoisie being impolitic and immoral is piffle. The hatred is simply an expression, a natural and inevitable expression, of detestation of what “Fabian Free” admits is a wrong, viz., the subjugation and robbery of one class by another. To point this out and emphasize its purport is not immoral—if there be any meaning left in that ill-used word. Nor is it impolitic—unless “Fabian Free” desires to suggest that it is unwise to tell the truth. True all (read both) classes may prima facie, include Socialists, but members of the capitalist class are only Socialists to the extent that they vacate their class position and go over to the working class.

I will argue this point at greater length if “Fabian Free” wishes it, later, and will only say here that the number of people who are Socialists “for righteousness sake,” large though it appears to “Fabian Free,” will dwindle almost to a vanishing point under scrutiny, and come out from the ordeal mainly as a congregation of individuals who have decided that anyhow, to use “Fabian Free’s” own words, they will not be worse off under Socialism, but might be considerably better. Holding as we do that material interests are, in the final analysis, at the root of all human actions, we can quite understand the existence of men in the ranks of the bourgeoisie who can see the advantages of Socialism, and are prepared to fight their own class in order to realise it. Their help is not rejected, but it is not necessarily of more consequence than the help of a similar number of the working class. On the other hand, however, it must not be forgotten that men of the capitalist class have come out ostensibly to help but actually to wreck, if possible, the working-class movement. Therefore, recruits from that quarter should be dealt with circumspectly.

The important point to be remembered in this connection is, that the Socialist movement is absolutely and entirely a working-class movement. It expresses the struggle of the working class against the exploiting capitalist class, and must finally result in the triumph of the workers and the extermination of the capitalists.

Nor can we gild the Socialistic pill for the benefit of the flunkey class. Their material interests will probably keep them bound to their masters until pressure of economic forces, already perceptibly operating, compels them to see that their sole hope, also lies in Socialism. They will have to swallow the pill willy-nilly. And if they then discover, as they will, that there is nothing nauseating in the operation, so much the better.

For our part we will tell them the truth (when we can get at ’em) as straight and clear as we tell it to any other section of the people. That is our business—the only reason for our existence. And not even for “Fabian Free,” much though we should value his union and co-operation, will we depart from our habit of calling a spade a spade, or a labour misleader a fraud, or a Fabian a bureaucrat, or an I.L.P.-cum-L.R.C’er a man on the bounce, or an S.D.F. palliative-monger a confusionist.

And that, gentle “Fabian Free,” if you particularly want to know, is in brief the reason why every other party is opposed to the S.P.G.B. and the S.P.G.B. is opposed to every other party.


Leave a Reply