An active force in British and European socialism for many years, and a significant figure in conservative conspiracy theories up to the present, the Fabian Society was founded in London in 1884 by a coterie of left-wing intellectuals who gathered around the Scottish philosopher Thomas Davidson. Author and playwright George Bernard Shaw, and Annie Besant, head of the Theosophical Society after the death of its founder Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, were among its leading early members. See Theosophical Society.
The Society took its name from the Roman general Fabius Maximus Cunctator, who wore down the armies of Hannibal in the second Punic War by avoiding pitched battles and using indirect tactics; the Fabians hoped to promote socialism by gradual reforms and indirect means. In the early days of the Society, its members attempted to influence the then-dominant Liberal and Conservative parties in Britain in a Socialist direction. In the first decade of the twentieth century, though, the Society helped organize the Labour Representation Committee, the seed from which the Labour Party took form in 1906. Since that time the Fabian Society has been closely associated with the Labour Party and many Labour Party leaders and members of Parliament have also belonged to the Society.
The Fabian Society’s socialist platform and its use of indirect methods have given it an important role in some conservative conspiracy theories, and its activities – especially in its early years, when its efforts to diffuse socialist ideas through existing political parties made use of a certain amount of subterfuge – have provided some justification for these claims. It remains, however, simply one of many pressure groups in the complex patchwork of power in the modern world, and attempts by twentieth-century conspiracy theorists to define it as the “One Big Conspiracy” have little in common with the relatively modest reality of its influence and achievements. See New World Order.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006