This Day in History – January 4th, 1884

The Fabian Society is a British socialist organization whose purpose is to advance the principles of socialism via gradualist and reformist means. The society laid many of the foundations of the Labour Party and subsequently affected the policies of states emerging from the decolonization of the British Empire, most notably India and Singapore.

Originally, the Fabian society was committed to the establishment of a socialist economy, alongside a commitment to British imperialism as a progressive and modernizing force.

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Today, the society functions primarily as a think tank and is one of 15 socialist societies affiliated with the Labour Party. Similar societies exist in Australia (the Australian Fabian Society), in Canada (the Douglas-Coldwell Foundation and the now disbanded League for Social Reconstruction), in Sicily (Sicilian Fabian Society) and in New Zealand.

Fabian Logo

The Fabian Society logo, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The Fabian Society was founded on January 4th, 1884 in London as an offshoot of a society founded a year earlier called The Fellowship of the New Life. Fellowship members included poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, sexologist Havelock Ellis and the future Fabian secretary Edward R. Pease. They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow, but when some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society’s transformation, it was decided that a separate society, the Fabian Society, also be set up. All members were free to attend both societies. The Fabian Society additionally advocated renewal of Western European Renaissance ideas and their promulgation throughout the rest of the world.

The Fellowship of the New Life was dissolved in 1899, but the Fabian Society grew to become the pre-eminent academic society in the United Kingdom in the Edwardian era, typified by the members of its vanguard Coefficients club. Public meetings of the Society were for many years held at Essex Hall, a popular location just off the Strand in central London.

The Fabian Society, which favored gradual change rather than revolutionary change, was named – at the suggestion of Frank Podmore – in honor of the Roman general Fabius Maximus (nicknamed “Cunctator”, meaning “the Delayer”). His Fabian strategy advocated tactics of harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal.

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