Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Reconstituted Socialist Party of Great Britain (1991) Summer School Lectures - Sidney Webb.

Barriers to Socialism: The Russian Dictatorship and the Webbs’ New Civilisation.

The parlous state of Socialism in the 21st century is largely a result of two disastrous political ideas stemming from the late 19th and early 20th centuries; one beginning in 1884 with the establishment of the Fabian Society with its rejection of revolutionary Socialism in favour of a middle-class elite permeating society with social reforms; and the other in 1903 with the publication of Lenin’s WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, a book which repudiated Marx’s political principle that the establishment of Socialism had to be the conscious and political work of the working class themselves.

Only the Socialist Party of Great Britain, established in 1904, has kept alive the revolutionary Socialist ideas of Marx, the rejection of social reforms as a stepping stone to Socialism and the dismissal of political leadership whether benign or dictatorial. Although the SPGB is a small Socialist Party we have insisted that the task at hand is to make Socialists, build up a principled Socialist Party and for a Socialist majority to use the vote and Parliament to gain control of the machinery of Government, including the armed forces in order to replace capitalism with Socialism.

The two anti-socialist strands; Fabianism and Leninism, eventually intertwined when, in 1932 at the invitation of the new Soviet Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Irvan Maisky, Sidney Webb, author of the Labour Party’s 1918 constitution and his wife Beatrice, visited Russia. They were to return again another two years later in 1934.

From the Webbs experience of Russian capitalism they published “SOVIET COMMUNISM: A NEW CIVILISATION?” True, the book did criticise Stalin’s Russia; a whole chapter was devoted to “liquidations”, but they certainly saw the Russian dictatorship positively within the framework of their own Fabian ideas and beliefs.

As Beatrice Webb wrote in her diary:

Granted the need for violent revolutions, Soviet Communism embodies Fabian policy: Fabian consumers’ economics and Fabian emphasis upon the application of science to social institutions, and Fabian dislike for emotional and libertarian utopias. Indeed, the followers of Lenin have outplanned the Webbs: and it was our belief in a planned social order that was caricatured in the Webbvillew and damned and derided by the anarchist revolutionary movement of 1910-1914”. (B. Webb, Diary (unpublished), 3rd May 1934 in Sidney and Beatrice Webb, R. Harrison pp35-73 in SOCIALISM AND THE INTELLIGENTSIA 1880-1914 ed. C. levy1987).

There have been several studies of the Webbs' relationship with Stalin’s Russia. The latest offering comes from Professor Kevin Morgan entitled THE WEBBS AND SOVIET COMMUNISM (Lawrence and Wishart 2006). As with other left-wing academic writing there is no mention of The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the stand the SPGB took against the Russian dictatorship and its supporters in Britain. Partly this is a result of the influence of the unrepentant Stalinist historian, Professor Eric Hobsbawn (acknowledged in the preface of Morgan’s book for his “scholarship”) whose negative influence casts a dark shadow over the writing of working class history and Socialism. And partly it is the poor standards of current history writing where primary source material is not researched competently. After all, most texts written by the Socialist Party of Great Britain exist in the British Library, the Marx Memorial Library and other collections. They are not hard to find.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain had long recognised the anti-Socialist politics of the Fabians. In the SPGB’s “THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN MANIFESTO TO THE WORKING CLASS” of 1905, the Party declared:

The Fabian Society too poses as a Socialist organisation. They tell us that their Society “consists of socialists”. It s indeed composed of middleclass men who naturally deny the existence of the class struggle. They believe in permeating the capitalist class with Socialism, and hold that the tendency of society is towards government by the experts. Whenever they take part in elections they run as Progressives-or as anything but Socialists. Their tendency therefore is towards the rule of the bureaucrats, or that section of the educated middle-class. The Fabians are the cult of the civil service, and are neither Socialist in name nor in fact. Fabianism is not of the working class and is merely a manifestation of the intellectual bankruptcy of the capitalist class. They can be left to their devices

Eric Hobsbawn, whose professional career as a historian began with a doctorate on the Fabians left out of his thesis an account of the SPGB’s criticism of the Fabians. After a life time distorting what Socialism is and what it is not Hobsbawn announced that “Socialism has failed” (GUARDIAN Friday 10th April 2010). He wrote that the idea of “a planned socialism uncontaminated by private profit-seeking” is now “bankrupt”. What is “bankrupt” is the belief that you can have a State regulated capitalism which can smooth over the contradictions of capitalism while avoiding the class struggle. Left to their own devices the Fabians failed just as the Russian dictatorship failed.

In fact a planned Socialism has never existed because the attempt by the State to plan commodity production and exchange is not Socialism but Capitalism. And it is also a fact, conveniently forgotten by Professor Hobsbawn that Russian capitalism was not hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world market but was structured within it. During the 1920’s, for example, US businesses like General Electric and International Harvester began to enter the centrally planned Soviet market place; Henry Ford signed a contract to build an automobile factory. By 1928 a quarter of all foreign investment in the Soviet Union was American, and trade in American agricultural and industrial equipment was substantial. In the 1930’s Roosevelt wanted trade with Stalin’s Russia to offset the Great depression and the threat posed by the expansion of Japan.

Nevertheless Professor Morgan’s book serves as a timely reminder of the harm left wing politics had on the spreading of Socialist ideas and the culprits like the Webbs and Hobsbawn who must all bear a heavy responsibility for “Socialism” now being such a hated and reviled word.

Was “Soviet Communism” a new civilisation? On what grounds did the Webbs believe that Soviet Russia was a radical break with the past?

The Webbs claimed that any new civilisation must offer three new characteristics:

• A new structure of social institutions

• New property relations

• Transformation of religious beliefs into a secular morality of doing good

A New Structure?

The Webbs believed that the Soviet Union, through the Communist Party, had extended the recommendations they had made in their pamphlet a CONSTITUTION FOR THE SOCIALIST COMMONWEALTH OF GREAT BRITAIN. Of course the Webbs had no intention of advocating Socialism. They were captivated by the war economy of 1914-1918 which they believed showed that a regulated capitalism was more efficient than a private capitalism (see chapter VII The Waste of Capitalism p.324-328 1920). The Webbs wanted capitalism to be administered by technocrats; experts in organising men and women. In short a regulated capitalism of ordered efficiency.

They wrote:

this is in fact not a state in the old sense of the word, but an organised plan for living which the people as a whole adopt…a highly elaborate and extremely varied texture of many kinds of collective organisation, by the universal membership of which the interests and desires of all the different sections of the population will be fulfilled in a manner and to a degree never yet attained in any other community (SOVIET COMMUNISM: A NEW CIVILISATION? p. 450).

The Russian Communist Party represented for the Webbs a positive professional elite noting that it had something of the character of the Samurai Vocation for Leadership; the self-recruiting aristocracy of disinterested public service portrayed by H G wells in his MODERN UTOPIA of 1905 (loc cit, p.909). Apparently when the Webbs lived at Passmoor Corners, they kept a large picture of Stalin prominently on the wall of an alcove. (As an aside there has been an attempt to read Orwell’s 1984 as a critique of the Fabians and in particular the Webbs. The Fabians were established in April 1884 while the novel 1984 begins in the same month and so on).

What was the reality of the Russian Communist Party? Was there a new political structure? The answer to both these two questions was an emphatic No!

Foremost was the negative effect of the Russian dictatorship on the working class. The Russian dictatorship was faced with entrenched political and economic problems in the administration of a backward capitalist country.

In order to justify their ant-Socialism actions they misleadingly described “state capitalism” as “Socialism”. Instead of advocating Socialist principles and building up socialists within the working class that pursued nationalisation policies. And those who opposed their antisocialist politics were faced with imprisonment, suppression, exile and death.

As the Socialist Party of Great Britain said at the time; the negative consequences of the Russian Dictatorship was two-fold; a failure to impose “Socialism” on a non-Socialist working class and through their contempt of democratic institutions, the use of political violence and coup d’états the Russian Dictatorship: “played a considerable part in helping other opponents of democracy –the Nazis –to power”.(see Socialist Party of Great Britain, QUESTIONS OF THE DAY, 1942 p. 66)

New Property Relations?

The Webbs thought that the Soviet Union was based upon new property relations because of the apparent absence of landlords, rentiers and industrial capitalists. They thought that the government control of industry represented new property relations. This error is evident in early Fabian tracts.

In a pamphlet “ENGLISH PROGRESS TOWARDS SOCIAL DEMOCRACY” Sidney Webb announced that capitalism was solely “competing private individuals, stimulated by the prospect of securing the rent and interest gratuitously” (Fabian tract 15, p.4 quoted in LABOUR'S TURNING POINT 1880-1900 E. J. Hobsbawn p.49 1974). And in a report on Fabian policy presented to the Congress of the Second International held in London in 1896, drafted by G B Shaw, we are told that the object of the Fabian society was the socialisation or state control of industry “as to make the livelihood of the people entirely independent of private Capitalism” (FABIAN TRACT 70 ibid pp 36-57).

However, capitalism is a form of social organisation in which commodity production is undertaken by wage labour for the purpose of accumulating capital via profits realised by selling commodities on the market. This process holds whether the social relationship between worker and capital takers the form of workers and private individuals; workers and joint-stock companies; workers and co-operatives and workers and State enterprises like coal mining.

The Webbs inability to understand that exploitation of wage labour took place in Russia derived in part from Fabians own peculiar view of exploitation in contrast to Marx’s Labour Theory of Value. In the winter of 1884-5 the reverend Phillip Wicksteed persuaded the Fabians that the labour theory of value was untenable. The Fabians did not accept the Jevonian explanation of utility in its entirety because the consequence would have been to accept that capital and labour are remunerated in proportion to their respective contributions to production.

Instead the Fabians extended David Ricardo’s theory of rent to cover the relationship between capitalists and workers in industry. The theory was first put forward by Sydney Webb in THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS in January 1888 and popularised by bernard Shaw in the 1889 Fabian essays in socialism (see Fabian Socialism: a Theory of Rent as Exploitation, D. M. Ricci THE JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES Vol. 9, No. 1 Nov., 1969 pp 105-121 University of Chicago Press and Fabianism in RADICAL POLITICAL ECONOMY: AN INTRODUCTION TO ALTERNATIVE ECONOMICS: Brian Burkett1984.).

Rent was used by the Fabians to refer to that portion of income which accrued to its recipient without work of sacrifice on his part, without cost to him; for example the interest from inherited bonds. To The Fabians, rent is any income “received without concomitant and commensurable work; rent permits some people to live at the expense of others. A rentier is a freeloader, and the number of such people –financiers, stockholders, absentee landlords, heirs to fortune and skill –is a Fabian index to social injustice prevalent under capitalism” (Ricci ibid 109). The only institution which escapes the peculiar Fabian net of exploitation is the State as employer. And here the Webbs confused the State as employer with Socialism.

The Webbs extended their theory of rent to Soviet Russia. They argued that it was the State's responsibility to acquire rent for the good of everyone rather than individuals. And they admired Stalin’s Russia for acquiring this rent through its control of agricultural and industrial production. The Webbs also supported the use of monopolies in Russia -believing that the negative impact of lower prices brought about by competition was always borne by the workers. They argued that State monopolies had more room to treat the workers better.

The reality in Russia was altogether different. Taylorism had already been employed by Lenin in the Russian State industries. In April 1918 Lenin published an article in ISVESTIYA, which included the introduction of a card system for measuring the worker’s productivity. Lenin was insistent on the introduction of Taylorism into Soviet factories. He said:

We must raise the question of piece-work and apply and test it in practice; we must raise the question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system; we must make wages correspond to the total amount of goods turned out.” (THE IMMEDIATE TASKS OF THE SOVIET GOVERNMENT March 1918 marxists.org)

And in the same year Lenin wrote:

…we must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system. Unquestioning submission to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of the labour process…the revolution demands, in the interests of Socialism (sic), that the masses unquestionably obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process (M. Brinton THE BOLSHEVIKS AND WORKERS CONTROL page 16).

Similar sentiments about the “will of the leader” were to resurface in Hitler’s MEIN KAMPF, a book influenced by the political tactics of the Bolshevik’s seizure of power.

Managers in Russian State enterprises were given unrealistic production targets in order to meet the mystical five year plans which in turn meant a greater intensity and extension of the rate of exploitation particularly through the process of “Stakhovianism”. Workers in Russia worked under poor conditions and trade unions were a tool of the State used against the interest of the working class. Nationalised industries did not treat workers better but exploited workers as ruthlessly as if they had been employed in the private sector. And workers did resist; there were strikes even though Stalin fatuously claimed that when workers went on strike in Russia they were striking against themselves (wapedia.strike action.mobi).

There have been many recent studies of the class struggle in Stalin’s Russia. Two in particular, by Jeffrey Rossman, associate Professor of History at Virginia university, are particularly worth reading; WORKERS RESISTANCE UNDER STALIN: CLASS AND REVOLUTION ON THE SHOP FLOOR (Harvard university press 2005) and "THE TEIKOVO COTTON WORKERS' STRIKE OF APRIL 1932: CLASS, GENDER AND IDENTITY POLITICS IN STALIN'S RUSSIA." Russian Review 56, no. 1 (1997): 44-69

Part of the Webbs problem was their idiotic belief that nationalisation equalled Socialism. This preposterous idea had already been ridiculed by Engels:

It is simply a partisan falsification by the Manchester bourgeoisie to call every interference of the State in free competition “socialism”: protective tariffs, guilds, tobacco monopolies, nationalisation of certain branches of industry, the merchant navy, the royal porcelain factory. We should criticise this, but not believe it. If we do the latter and develop a theory on that basis, then the theory will collapse along with its premises i.e. with the simple proof that the supposed Socialism is nothing but feudal reaction on the one side and, on the other, an excuse to print money with the side effect of transforming as many proletarians as possible into employees and pensioners of the state, and organising an army of workers alongside the disciplined army of war and of civil servants (Engels to Bernstein LETTERS ON CAPITAL p 206 1983).

The Webbs understanding of capitalism was superficial based as it was on the repudiation of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value in favour of the subjective utility of value advocated by Jevons.

The deliberate political shift in emphasis from commodity production to consumption by the individual consumer was a “marginalist revolution” against Marx associated with William Stanley Jevons in Britain and Leon Walras and Carl Menger on the continent.

Jevon’s published THEORY OF POLITICAL ECONOMY in 1971 according to which “value depends entirely on utility” and more specifically “on the final degree of utility” (p. 165). It was Jevons who dropped the adjective “political” from political economy. Politics was too dangerous. Economics should be a-historical and non-political. Certainly a reading of an economic text should not lead to social revolution. Instead harmonious mathematical equations, supply and demand curves and abstract utility led to a justification of capitalism; the best of all possible worlds.

As a consequence of Jevons, Marx theory of value was rejected by the Fabians. Two common criticisms of Marx were made; the first by Sydney Webb in his Rent, Interest and Wages Being a Criticism of Karl Marx of 1886 and the second by George Bernard Shaw in an Appendix to Edward Pease’s A HISTORY OF THE FABIAN SOCIETY (2nd ed. 1926 pp 273-77). Shaw explained that the Fabians based its economic calculations on the marginal utility theory of the English economist William Stanley Jevons rather than the works of Marx; that is to say, the Fabians believed a commodity possesses value because it is scarce rather than having value through the amount of necessary labour that went into its production.

However, the marginal utility of Theory has a fatal flaw. The use-value of a commodity can only exist in specific products like a loaf of bread or a coat. Under capitalism the use-value of a commodity can only explain the reason why commodities exchange for another commodity it cannot become an explanation for all commodities.

If, as Jevons did and moved from a commodity with a use-value to use-value becoming a measurement in its own right, then what he has established is a category of general utility. However, the category of general utility has no form of existence; it is abstract fiction the use of coal is not the same as the use of a dress. This is not the case with Marx's abstract labour which has a real existence which is reflected through the expenditure of socially necessary labour time as money (see Why Is Labour the Starting Point of Capital: in VALUE: THE REPRESENTATION OF LABOUR IN CAPITALISM by G. Kay pp46-66)

Why, then, is Marx’s theory of exploitation superior to The Fabians’ theory of rent? Simply because Marx established a theory of surplus value independent of the fixed forms of rent, interest and profit (Marx to Engels January 8th 1868 LETTERS ON CAPITAL p. 125).

In CAPITAL, Marx criticised Ricardo for lumping together the laws of the rate of surplus value and the laws of the rate of profit calling attention to the fact that surplus-value must not be confounded with profit or the earnings of capital because the latter is frequently and even only a fragment of surplus value. And a large portion of surplus value goes into supporting the capitalist State.

In fact Marx told Engels that the best part of the first volume of capital was: “…the treatment of surplus value independent of its special forms of profit, interest, land rent etc” (ibid p 111). He said that the error of classical economics-and this would include the Fabians following Ricardo’s theory of rent, lumps all the unearned revenues together as an undifferentiated “pot pourii”.

Unlike the Fabians Marx’s focus was the revolutionary potential of the working class and what prevented them from establishing Socialism. Although Marx began CAPITAL with the analysis of the commodity the most important commodity was labour power. Marx showed that the working class not only generated social wealth but that the unearned income going to the capitalist class in the form of rent, interest and profit derived from class exploitation through the private ownership of the means of production. Around the extent and intensity of exploitation Marx traced the class struggle as “the motor force of history”. It did not matter whether capital was personified as an individual, corporate or State employer; it still exploited the working class by paying them less than they received in wages and salaries.

Clearly Soviet Russia was not based on new property relations. The State under capitalism always receives a portion of surplus value in the form of taxation; when it takes on the role of capital over all industries all that happens is that a greater amount of surplus value goes to the State.

Socialism did not exist in Russia because the wages system still existed and where you have wages you have capital and where you have capital you have wages and class exploitation. There was no common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. The working class were still imprisoned with the exploitive wages system. State ownership of the means of production is not Socialism but state capitalism.

Transformation of religious beliefs into a new secular morality of “doing good”.

Webb’s believed that Soviet society discarded religious authority for a new social science based on a secular morality. Instead of the obscurantism of the priest there was the rationality of the public administrator. The Webbs viewed the Soviet government as an administration of disinterested professional experts working tirelessly for the common good and knowing what is best for the individual. And they were not alone in seeing the State bureaucrat as knowing best: As the Civil Servant Douglas Jay –education Winchester, New College and All Souls –wrote in 1937:

…in the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for people than the people know themselves".

The economist, Robert Skidelsky gives a description of the Webbs’ secular morality, a belief incidentally held by Keynes, Alfred Marshall and the Bloomsbury set. Skidelsky said that for the Fabians: "doing good" was “a self-sacrificing ideal, the submerging of individual egoism in the cause of humanity, a secular version of Christianity” (www.skidelskyr.com)

The Webbs believed that the secular religion of the Soviet government was an example of “doing good”; that is pursuing social reforms throughout society in the manner of knowing what is “good for the people”. The cult of the “do-gooder” personified in the Webbs has plagued working class politics. A do-gooder is someone like the Fabians who advocate or perform what they believe to be the morally superior course of action, even in the face of overwhelming experience or factual evidence that its effect is only irrelevant or harmful. Elites cannot regulate away the problem of capitalism with infinite social reforms anymore than elite can lead a non-socialist working class to Socialism. The Webbs wanted an efficient bureaucracy directed from above by an “intelligent department of “experts” generally people like themselves (G R Searle ibid pp85-86); the result inefficiency and Socialism nowhere nearer.

The Fabians preferred working within existing institutions to make capitalism more stable and humane. They were reformists not revolutionaries; defenders of capitalism and not Socialists. Fabianism coincided with the rise of capitalists who saw cooperation between business, government and labour in the interest of national efficiency--the two phenomena reinforced each other to promote class rule by managers and bureaucrats a regulated, authoritarian and efficient capitalism a policy still pursued by the Labour Party today.

The Fabians substituted free voluntary and co-operative labour of a socialist society with management of workers by technocrats who considered themselves a new class. And Workers were considered passive, like Orwell’s proles at the beginning of 1984, to be directed by enlightened administrators who knew what was best for them. The Fabians’ Statement of Principles written in 1884 was not a Socialist programme but the transformation of Industrial Capital into State Capital ignoring Marx’s point that capital was not a thing but a relationship between people.

The Webbs then made a superficial assessment of Soviet Russia. They could not see the contradiction in Russia between labour camps and the existence of the wages system on the one hand and their new civilisation personified in Stalin’s ruthless bureaucracy on the other. The dark side of soviet life was excused on the grounds that it had to catch up with the rest of the capitalist world by any means necessary.

And the means involved genocide and starvation. In 1932, the Webbs travelled to Russia. This was the same year that Stalin directed a campaign of genocide against the kulaks—the millions of farmers, largely Ukrainian, who refused to be collectivized. When shooting them proved too slow, Stalin created a famine by sealing off roads and railway lines. Then the kulaks were stripped of all food, fuel, farm animals, and seed for planting. The death toll is estimated variously from six to ten million people (for an account of the deliberate famine see BLOOD AND SOIL: Ben Kierrnan ch13 Soviet Terror and Agriculture pp 486-501 2007).

The Webbs toured the Ukraine during the height of the famine (1932–1933), interviewing Soviet officials as they went. They concluded that anti-communists had invented the famine. The Webbs’ book SOVIET COMMUNISM: A NEW CIVILISATION (1935) repeated the claim that no famine had occurred, planned or otherwise. As an aside, our late comrade Harry Young, then an organizer for the Young Communists was in Russia living in Moscow. He noticed that one by one Bolsheviks who had becomes his friends with started to disappear. As the Webbs went out to embrace Stalin Harry Young went back to Britain to resign from the Communist Party and later join The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The Webbs were comfortable with the Russian dictatorship. The first edition of SOVIET COMMUNISM: A NEW CIVILISATION had a question mark. When it was republished at the height of the show trials in 1937 the question mark had vanished. The third edition of SOVIET COMMUNISM 1944 saw the Webb’s hailed as prophets who had been proved correct by events (ibid p. 79). This is what they wrote:

The Bolshevik experiment has, in the course of the past decade, demonstrated beyond all denial that neither the incentive of profit-making nor the existence of the capitalist class as the leaders and directors of industry is indispensable to wealth production on a colossal scale, or to its continuous increase

Few of Russia’s cheerleaders in the West bothered themselves with the millions dead in Stalin’s gulags and the miserable and exploited existence endured by the Russian working class.

The Fabians: Eugenics and Racism

On the contempt by the Fabians for the working class we only have to consider their flirtation with eugenics.

Beatrice Webb, after seeing a performance of Shaw’s play MAN AND SUPERMAN, was moved to write in her diary:

We cannot touch the subject of human breeding – it’s not ripe for the mere industry of induction, and yet I realise that it is the most important of all questions, this breeding of the right sort of man (G. R. Searle: EUGENICS AND POLITICS IN BRITAIN 1900-1914 p. 54 Leydon 1976)

Eugenics, not surprisingly made a strong appeal to other Fabians:

Jeffrey Weeks, in his book “SEX, POLITICS AND SOCIETY: THE REGULATION OF SEXUALITY SINCE 1800” (Longmans p. 981) had to say this of the Fabians:

H G Wells had a burst of enthusiasm on hearing Galton and advocated the “sterilisation” of failures. Sidney Webb, more soberly, as was his metier, warned that unless the decline of the birth-rate was averted the nation would fall to the Irish and the Jews. What Eugenists and Fabians shared…and what is characteristic of their appeal, is the belief in the planning and control of the population”.

Professor Weeks goes on to say:

It was inevitable that the Fabians would attend their beliefs in social regulation to fertility: reproduction was obviously too important to be left to individuals and Sidney Webb believed it could not be left to the residuum (the 19th century term for the underclass) to regulate their lives with Malthusian prudence, in 1907 a Fabian tract on The decline of the Birth Rate (…) had warned of the dangers of the differentiated birth rate where the thrift limited their families and the residuum did not (p. 199).

Sydney Webb also argued that the State should adopt social policies which would induce the right sort of people to assume parenthood. We even have G. B. Shaw calling for a State department of evolution to pay the right women for their child rearing services and if necessary to regulate a “joint-stock human stud farm”; a few example of the enthusiasm held by the Fabians for a policy of eugenics long before Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.

And another political policy they shared with Hitler was racism although their prejudice was towards the Chinese, the Irish and the Jews.

The Webbs believed that the danger to social progress was “race deterioration” posed by the decline in European Fertility rates( see The Webbs and the Non-White world; A case of Socialist(sic) Racialism; J. M. winter, JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY HISTORY, Vol. 9, No. 1 Jan. 1974, pp 181-192).

In his pamphlet “THE DECLINE OF THE BIRTH RATE” (Fabian Tracts no131 lse archives) Sidney Webb believed that the country was “… gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews” (p.17) and that the “ultimate future of these islands may be to the Chinese!” (p. 17).

In 1911 the Webbs went on a Far East tour. Beatrice Webb wrote in her diary of the “rottenness” of the physical and moral character of the Chinese: “their constitution seems devastated by drugs and abnormal sexual indulgence. They are essentially an unclean race” (British Library of Political and Economic Papers, Passfield Papers, Beatrice Webb’s Unpublished Diary, Vol. 30, 6 November 1911).

Sidney Webb was to write:

The whole Chinese nation remind us, in fact, of a race of ants or bees of gregarious habits, but incapable of the organization of the ant-hill or hive. They show us, indeed, what Homo sapiens can be if he does not evolve in the social organism” (Sidney and Beatrice Webb, “China in Revolution”, CRUSADE, March 1912, p.48).

Contrast the racism of the Webbs with the principled Socialism of the Socialist Party of Great Britain who wrote in 1904 in the SPGB’s DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES of 1904 that:

…as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex” (Clause 4)..

Engels and the Fabians

The Fabian policy of “permeation” of an educated elite infusing British politicians and civil servants with social reform proposals was attacked by Engels:

(The Fabians) tactics are to fight the Liberals not as decided opponents, but to drive them on to socialistic consequences, therefore to trick them to permeate Liberalism with socialism….(Quoted in “RISE OF THE LABOUR PARTY 1880-1943”, P. Adelman, 3rd ed. P.74)

And what was this spurious “socialism”? What did it amount to? In 1888, Webb made the crass remark that “England was the most Socialist of all the European countries” (ibid p. 86).

Yet, everywhere in Britain at the time, there were capitalists and workers; wages and class exploitation, class ownership and a coercive capitalist State protecting class privilege.

What Webb of course meant was the interference of the State in the economy. This is obvious from his Fabian pamphlet “PROGRESS OF SOCIALISM: A LECTURE” (1888) where he said:

The State now registers, inspects and controls nearly all the industrial functions which it has not yet absorbed…On every side he (the capitalist) is being registered, inspected, controlled, and he is compelled in the meantime to cede for the public purpose, an ever-increasing share of his rent and interest (p.7).

Hardly Socialist! The regulation of capitalists is not the same as the abolition of capitalism and class society. Taxing interest and rent is not the same as the abolition of the wages system. And the “public purpose” is nothing other than the interest of the capitalist class as a whole.

Engels warned of the dangers of the Fabian’s politics to the working class. In a letter to Kautsky he wrote:

The means employed by the Fabian Society are just the same as the corrupt parliamentary politicians, money, intrigue and careerism…These people are immersed up to their necks in the intrigues of the Liberal party, hold Liberal jobs, as for instance Sidney Webb, who is in general, a genuine British politician. These gentry do everything the workers have been warned against (Marx: Engels letters p. 423, Moscow edition).

And Engels ridiculed the spurious expression “State Socialism” associated with the Fabians;

…since Bismark went in for state ownership of industrial establishments, a kind of spurious socialism has arisen…that without more ado declares all state ownership, even of the Bismarkian sort, to be socialistic (SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC, Moscow 1974 ed. P. 70).

Engels went on to remark, ironically, that if the taking over by the tobacco industry is socialistic then Napoleon and Matternick must be numbered among the founders of Socialism.

One final point; there is the question of why Engels did not refute Wicksteed’s critique of the labour theory of value. Although there are comments by Engels contra Jevons in his correspondence and obliquely in the Preface to the third volume of CAPITAL (p.100 Penguin edition) it is true that he did not deal with Jevons in the way he dealt with Rodbertus. Why; because of Engels’ commitments to editing CAPITAL and other political considerations. No one person can do everything.

As for criticisms of Jevons, it is untrue, as Brian Burkitt claims, that no critique of Jevons existed by Marxists until the 1930’s (ibid p.111). H. M Hyndman demolished Jevon’s theory in a lecture “The Final Futility of Final Utility” (THE ECONOMICS OF SOCIALISM, Lecture VII, p225-245 1898 second edition 1909) he gave to the Political Economy Circle of the National Liberal Club in 1896. Hyndman notes their “neither Professor Foxwell nor Professor Wicksteed, neither Professor Marshall nor Professor Sidney Webb…put in an appearance”. And members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain wrote numerous articles in The SOCIALIST STANDARD criticising Jevons during the first three decades of its existence until that is, Keynes came onto the scene with his General Theory.

Of course Marginal utility is based on a tautology; that is prices are determined by marginal utility but the degree of utility can only be measured with reference to price. Marginal Utility theory is hopelessly subjective. Marx defined value as a homogeneous social substance—abstract human labour. Marx gave a valid and sound reason why labour should be the starting point of value. Not so the vulgar economists. All attempts to reduce utility—use value—to a similar abstract social substance failed. On the one hand the neo-classical school of economics lost itself in mathematical equations which bore no resemblance to the real world of capitalism while the Austrian School of Mises and Hayek clung to marginal utility but could not break out of its tautology.

We would like to add that though that although the utility theory of value is erroneous it allowed the professors of economics to ignore Marx and what he had to say about capitalism, the working class and exploitation. The theory was abstract enough to deter workers, generally, from coming to grips with its arguments and to refute it from a Marxian background.

Increasingly a worker needs a formal grounding in capitalist economics to set up a detailed critique of the subject matter of economics from a Marxian position; more so when it presents itself in the form of quite complicated mathematical equations. One of the saddest features of the current intellectual sterility of trade unions is the loss of opportunity to study Marx and to disseminate his ideas to the membership at large. Not one trade union in the 1980’s bothered to refute Hayek’s anti-trade union tract A TIGER BY IT'S TAIL. In many respects the trade unions either accept mainstream capitalist economics or follow the economics of Keynes.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Russian Dictatorship

In 1942 the Socialist Party of Great Britain republished the 1932 QUESTIONS OF THE DAY. In chapter XI, the Russian Dictatorship the SPGB commented on the Webb’s book SOVIET COMMUNISM pointing out that the Russian government pursued a “system of inequality” as a “deliberate policy” (p.63).

The article went on to say:

If inside Russia the dictatorship has failed –as Socialists knew it must-to impose Socialism on an unready population, so outside Russia the scorn which communists poured on democratic parliamentary institutions and methods played a considerable part in helping other opponents of democracy –the Nazis-to power (p. 66).

The question was asked by the Socialist Party of Great Britain of the Russian Dictatorship: “What of the future”?

The Socialist Party of Great Britain said that a socialist movement would grow in Russia through the actions of workers not the Russian dictators. The SPGB made a point that bourgeois revolutions have a tendency to become more and more reactionary. Russia was no exception.

Marx was quoted approvingly in the pamphlet to highlight the movement of Russian capitalism after the Bolshevik’s coup d’etat.

One nation can and should learn from others. And even when society had got on the right track for the discovery of the natural laws of its movement …it can neither by bold leaps, nor remove by legal enactments, the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs”. (Swan Sonnenschein, edition, p. xix).

The Socialist Party of Great Britain said that the Russian dictatorship had added nothing to Marx and that the attempt to establish socialism by “legal enactment” and by “bold leaps” before the conditions of socialism existed and before the working class had become socialists was “a total failure” p.66

And the Socialist Party of Great Britain gave this warning:

In course of time that failure will become obvious to the workers inside and outside Russia” p. 66.

And the failure did become obvious. In 1991; after a failed coup the Bolsheviks were replaced with a reactionary political regime under Yeltsin; a Wild West capitalism of corruption and nepotism on the one hand and an increasing child mortality rate and abject poverty on the other. The Soviet Empire has now disappeared; its only legacy being the ruthless political regime of Vladimir Putin and his former KGB associates with their dream of Empire and expansion under the new name of the Russian Federation.

The Fabians: In Whose Class Interest?

How did the Fabians see themselves? Whose class interests did they serve? G. B. Shaw gives us an uncharacteristically open and frank answer.

In a congratulatory preface to the re-issue of “THE FABIAN ESSAYS IN SOCIALISM” (1909), Shaw rejoiced over the damage they, the Fabians, had inflicted on revolutionary Socialism, the undermining of the ideas of Marx and Engels and complimented himself, the Webbs and others upon their achievement.

In a pique of political spite he rubbished the “little societies” known as “the socialists” for “worshipping Marx” and of whose works “they are for the most part ignorant, and whose views they are intellectually incapable” writing them off as “impractical”, “sects” and “impossiblists”. And for good measure he derided “their repetition of shibboleths about the class war” (p.xii). What is clear from Shaw’s celebration of the Fabian’s success is that the Fabians did not serve the interest of the working class in bringing Socialism any nearer. Quite the Reverse. The Fabians served the interest of maintaining capitalism; the ages system and class exploitation. The working class are still paying the price for the Fabian Society’s “achievement” today.

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