January 4, 1884 –The Fabian Society was Founded.
The connection between Socialism ideologies and LGBTQ rights struggles has a long and mixed history. Prominent socialists who were involved in early struggles for LGBTQ rights include Oscar Wilde, Harry Hay, Bayard Rustin, and Emma Goldman among others.
Followers of McCarthyism in the USA believed a “homosexual underground” was enabling a “communist conspiracy”. Early Gay Rights groups came into being during this period. These groups often had left-wing or socialist politics, such as the Mattachine Society. In the 1950s Cold War environment, being queer became framed as a dangerous, contagious social disease that posed a potential threat to state security. This era also witnessed the establishment of widely spread FBI surveillance intended to identify gay government employees.
In 1951, the American Socialist Party was close to adopting a platform plank in favor of Gay Rights. Rustin was arrested in 1953 for homosexual activity with two other men in a parked car. Originally charged with vagrancy and lewd conduct, he pleaded guilty to a single, lesser charge of “sex perversion” and served 60 days in jail. He had been and remained candid about his gayness, although homosexuality was still criminalized throughout the United States. Many African-American leaders were concerned that Rustin’s gayness and socialism would undermine support for the Civil Rights movement. A few weeks before the March on Washington in August 1963, Senator Strom Thurmond labeled Rustin a “Socialist, draft-dodger, and homosexual” and had his arrest file entered in the record. Thurmond also produced an FBI photograph of Rustin talking to Martin Luther King Jr. while King was bathing, implying that there was a same-sex relationship between the two. Both men denied the allegation of an affair.
The Fabian Society started in London as an offshoot of The Fellowship of the New Life. whose objective was “The cultivation of a perfect character in each and all”. They wanted to transform society by advocating pacifism, vegetarianism and simple living. But some members also wanted to become political, and it was decided that a separate society, the Fabian Society, would also be set up. All members were free to attend both societies.
Early members included the visionary Victorian elite, among them Gay Rights pioneer Edward Carpenter and sexologist Havelock Ellis, who wrote the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897, and also published works on a variety of sexual inclinations, including transgender psychology; and early socialist Edward R. Pease.
The Fabian Society grew to become a leading academic society in the United Kingdom in the Edwardian era. It was named in honor of the Roman General Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus whose strategy sought gradual victory against the superior Carthaginian army under the control of General Hannibal through persistence, and wearing the enemy down by attrition rather than battles.
A note appearing on the title page of the group’s first pamphlet declared:
“For the right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently, when warring against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain, and fruitless.”
From the first, the society was characterized by a passionate commitment to social justice and a belief in the progressive improvement of society. It has always maintained a diversity of opinion, motivated by the desire to stimulate debate rather than to promote a political “line”.
In 1900 the Fabian Society joined with the trade unions to start the Labour party in Britain. Fabian Society pamphlets first proposed the creation of the National Health Service in 1911, the introduction of a minimum wage in 1906, and the abolition of hereditary peers in 1917.
In the pre-World War I period, Fabian writers such as H. G. Wells, Leonard Woolf, Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw created an argument for democratic socialism. When the Labour Party won its landslide victory in 1945 so many Fabians were elected (over 220) that the Parliament was said to “look just like an enormous Fabian school”.
In the 1990s the Fabian Society was a major influence in the modernization of the Labour Party with the introduction of “one member one vote” rule. Since the 1997 general election there have been around 200 Fabian MPs including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
The Fabian Society’s growing membership proved that, whatever the wider trends towards political apathy and disaffection, there is still a passion for radical thought. At the start of the 21st century the society plays as crucial a role in the political life of Britain as ever. The major influence on the English-speaking socialist movement worldwide, has meant that Fabianism became one of the main inspirations of international socialist democracies. An American Fabian Society was established in Boston in February 1895. The group published a magazine, The American Fabian.
Among the original nine founding members of the Fabian Society were two women: Edith Nesbit, a famed children’s book writer and Rosamund Dale Owen. All female members of the Fabian Society are automatically members of the Fabian Women’s Network which organizes conferences and events to secure increased representation for women in politics and public life.
Democratic Socialism is being discussed again in the USA by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and by Pope Francis. They reflect a widespread recognition that global hyper-capitalism works only for a minority of the super wealthy and is harmful to the planet.