Brain versus brawn—The virtues of gradualism

The aim of the Fabian society, established in London in 1883, was to end the economic inequality which was the aftermath of the industrial revolution and to replace the capitalistic system with the socialist. One of the leading lights of this society was George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) whose impressive speeches and articles attracted crowds of people to the movement. To further their cause, he organised a public procession on one occasion, which consisted mostly of middle-class people, but when it reached those parts of London where the prominent capitalists lived, some of the participants indulged in violence and stone-throwing, breaking windows and injuring people.

This very first experiment, having taken the ugly turn that it did, turned Bernard Shaw against processions and demonstrations as methods of functioning. Since it was evidently extremely difficult to make the public restrict themselves to peaceful demonstrations, he agreed that the Fabians should struggle to achieve their aims in other, more orderly ways.

Subsequently, the Fabian Society adhered strictly to non-demonstration methods such as the use of the press, meetings, academic research etc. Under the influence of Shaw and other leading intellectuals, they stressed the virtues of gradualism. “The Fabians put their faith in evolutionary socialism rather than in revolution.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, IV/20) To completely eliminate demonstrations as method of achieving one’s goal is no easy policy to adopt, however, since it means constantly holding oneself in check, remaining satisfied for long periods with the status quo and being content with the very slow spread of good, new ideas. And, from the point of view of personal success, it means little popularity for the movement and almost total anonymity for its staunchest supporters. The Fabian society could never, therefore, launch a full-scale public movement, and there were members who did, indeed, protest against this policy of non-publicization. But the leaders of the society were firm in their rejection of such arguments for they sincerely felt that the only correct way to proceed was to sacrifice popular glory in the greater interests of the nation.

Although the Fabian society represented only a tiny segment of the British population, (at its zenith in 1946, it had a membership of only 8,500) its thinking had a profound influence upon the intellectual class, and its members went on to become the virtual brain of the Labour Party. When the Labour party came to power in 1945, approximately fifty per cent of its members were Fabians, the most notable being the Prime Minister, Mr. Clement Atlee.

None of this had been achieved by public demonstrations.

Prior to 1945, Britain had kept a tight rein on its dominions, the then Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, having gone down in history as saying: “I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” But, thanks to the influence of Fabianism, the Labour Party conceded that the only right and proper thing to do was to give the British colonies their freedom, and that in doing so Britain would gain more than it would lose. In this way, India gained its freedom in 1947, and Britain was able to safeguard its interests in India. If the society itself did not make history, it had on the other hand enabled Britain to do so. At the British end, none of this was engineered by taking the matter to the streets.

Mustering a crowd at street corners and in parks by shouting about public issues is not at all difficult. But obtaining concrete results in this way is a very different matter, not to speak of its being well-nigh impossible on such occasions, to maintain law and order.

Protest rallies and processions should be seen for what they are—personally motivated stunts which simply make use of public issues for the rapid aggrandizement of egocentric individuals. As such, they are powder kegs to which it is all too easy to hold a lighted match. History is not made by noise, clamour, public agitation, violence. It is made by the quiet, steady, serious application of superior brains to national and international issues.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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