This collection consists of material relating to the principle functions of the Fabian Society. It includes correspondence; early papers and memorials; minutes and papers of the executive committee, the finance and general purposes committee and the home research committee; and material relating to lectures, publications, local societies, schools and conferences, groups and bureaux of the society, relations with the Labour Party, conferences, biographies of early members, and information gathered on electoral constituencies and issues in local government.
Fabian Society Archives
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Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
The Fabian Society was founded on 4 January 1884 by Edward Pease and his friends, who wanted to found a "Fellowship of the New Life". The name 'Fabian Society' was derived from that of Quintus Fabius Cunctator, whose policy of holding his forces in reserve until the optimum moment for attack was considered worthy of emulation. The society's aim was "to help on the reconstruction of society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities". This was to be achieved by holding meetings to read papers, hear reports on current political matters and discuss social problems; by delegating members to attend other meetings held to discuss social subjects, to attempt to disseminate their own views at such meetings and to report back to the society on the outcome; and by collecting articles concerning social movements and needs from contemporary literature as a source of factual information. The Society's early members included George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Emmeline Pankhurst and H G Wells.
Soon after its foundation the society established the Fabian News in order to keep members informed of what was going on in the society. This was later followed by the Fabian Quarterly and the Fabian Journal . A publishing firm called Palm and Pine was established in 1938. This was originally independent of the society, but became Fabian Publications Ltd in 1942. It published Society literature until it was dissolved fourteen years later. The society also spread its message by organising public lectures, conferences and various schools.
The Fabian Society is the oldest socialist organisation in Britain, but does not itself issue policy statements or put forward candidates for election to local or national government. Therefore, the society became affiliated to the Labour Party, although it also collaborated with the Independent Labour Party on specific projects. From 1949 onwards, it became customary for the Fabian Society to hold a tea meeting at the Labour Party Conference, at which guests were addressed by a leading Fabian politician.
There have been a number of special interest groups within the society, and these produced their own research and publications. When women's suffrage was a burning issue, a separate Women's Group was established. Similarly, the Fabian Nursery was set up in response to a perceived need to encourage the younger members of the society.
The society has also absorbed a number of organisations that were established independently of it. The New Fabian Research Bureau was set up by G.D.H. Cole with the support of Arthur Henderson as a separate organisation. It developed its own methods of research and propaganda and became much more effective than the original society. After eight years the Fabian Society and the New Fabian Research Bureau amalgamated. However the Fabian Society took on many of the ideas and methods of the New Fabian Research Bureau and these continue to influence it.
The Fabian Colonial Bureau also functioned as a separate organisation from the Fabian Society. The Fabian Society made it an annual grant which was later augmented by the TUC and the Labour Party. The bureau acted as a clearing house for information on colonial affairs and became a pressure group acting for colonial peoples. The bureau was renamed the Commonwealth Bureau in 1958. In 1963 it was amalgamated with the International Bureau and a few years later absorbed back into the main society.
The Fabian International Bureau was set up along the same lines as the Colonial Bureau. The aim of the bureau was the exchange of views on socialist subjects and the future of Europe after the war. After 1945 the main interest of the Bureau was the part that Britain should play in Europe, Anglo-American and Anglo-Soviet relations. During the 1960's they widened their scope to include defence, international agreements, the Common Market, aid to developing countries and the Labour Parties foreign policy.
The Home Research Committee was set up in 1943 to co-ordinate the committees and sub-committees working on social, economic and political issues in Britain. The committee produced reports, pamphlets and submitted evidence to Royal Commissions. They also distributed detailed questionnaires to members on these issues.
The Fabian Society continues to influence political thought in the UK. In the 1990s the society was a major influence in the modernisation of the Labour Party. Its report on the constitution of the Party was instrumental in the introduction of 'one member one vote' and made the original recommendation for the replacement of Clause IV. Since the 1997 general election there have been around 200 Fabian MPs in the Commons, amongst whom number nearly the entire Cabinet, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Clare Short.
For a more extensive history of the Fabian Society, see Pugh and Mackesy's catalogue of the papers.
This collection is arranged by subject and committee as follows: A. Correspondence; B. Early Papers and Memorials; C. Executive Committee and Lectures; D. Finance and General Purposes Committee; E. Publications; F. Local Societies; G. Schools and Conferences; H. Groups; J. Bureaux; K. Home Research; L. Labour Party Relations; M. Other Material (including photographs and other illustrative material, press cuttings, and index cards).
Transferred in 1995 from Nuffield College, Oxford.
Other Finding Aids
Printed handlist and online catalogue available.
Output from CAIRS using template 14 and checked by hand on February 1, 2002
British Library, Manuscript Collections, holds letters relating to the Fabian Society, 1906-1915 (Ref: Add MSS 62992). There are also numerous collections of the archives of local Fabian Societies, which are often held by county and local record offices (see National Register of Archives for further information).
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright is held by the Fabian Society.
Deposits are ongoing.