H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw Fight Over Socialism
In his latest installment of The Literati, Edward Sorel illustrates the epic battle for control of the Fabian Society, an elite group of socialists, at the turn of the last century.
By Edward Sorel
In his 1901 book, “Anticipations,” H.G. Wells offered his predictions for the future and his belief that only an elite group of enlightened scientists and technicians could save humanity. The book caught the attention of London’s Fabian Society, a small group of accomplished men and women whose aim was to bring about socialism peacefully through the “permeation” of socialist ideas into universities and government. Some members thought that having Wells in their midst would make Fabianism interesting again, and in 1903 the red-bearded George Bernard Shaw, chair of their executive committee, led a group who put up the mustachioed Wells for membership.
Wells, like the younger members who had joined to save the world, was disappointed to find a cliquey institution controlled by Shaw and a few others. Wells served passively for two years, then suggested an inquiry into the society’s effectiveness. He was allowed to deliver his critique, “The Faults of the Fabian,” at a members-only meeting, and began by berating those assembled as inactive, silent on the Boer War and not concerned enough with reforming education. He scoffed at their requirement that applicants obtain letters of recommendation from existing members, as if they were a swanky social club. But his main concern was that while labor organizations were turning manual workers into socialists, not enough was being done to recruit doctors, teachers and other professionals.
“Make socialists and you will achieve socialism,” he exhorted.