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Fabian Freeway: High Road to Socialism in the U.S.A. 1884-1966 Hardcover – January 1, 1966
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Marc Stears in his recent book, "Progressives, Pluralists, and the Problems of the State," mentions that "At least into the 1970s...[t]he only major work to trace international ideological exchange between British and American reformers in this period was Rose Martin's..."Fabian Freeway" (1967)..."
However, after acknowledging Martin's pioneering role, he goes on to denounce her book as "truly bizarre...a McCarthyite study motivated by the desire to illustrate that the American left was controlled by British socialists who were themselves in hock to Moscow."
Stears' denunciation is factually untrue.
I first read this book as a high-school student, shortly after it was published, over thirty years ago. It was obvious to me then that "Fabian Freeway" is indeed highly opinionated: the author makes no attempt to hide the fact that her own ideological views differ from those of the people she is studying. For obvious reasons, I wondered if her ideological views had led to biases and misrepresentations in the book.
During subsequent decades, as I have run across information from other sources with other ideological axes to grind, I have come to respect Martin's accuracy and honesty. I have yet to find any serious example of dishonesty or misrepresentation on her part (which is not to say that I share all of her views or agree with all of her interpretations). On the contrary, I've found her book to be a good introduction to much of the intellectual history of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
For example, Martin's book was my first introduction to the "Nationalist" movement which swept late nineteenth-century America as a result of Edward Bellamy's utopian nationalist-socialist novel, "Looking Backward." (I later found out that the Pledge of Allegiance, now, ironically, a right-wing political shibboleth, was written by Bellamy's cousin, who was also an outspoken socialist!)
It was through Martin that I learned of the militarist-totalitarian novel "Philip Dru, Administrator" written by Woodrow Wilson's close confidant, Edward House. It was Martin who introduced me to the famous "Bloomsbury group" of British intellectuals -- Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, J. M. Keynes, etc. (for an interesting recent expose of the Bloomsbury group by a self-proclaimed liberal/modernist intellectual, see Hilton Kramer's "Twilight of the Intellectuals").
And, of course, Martin provided a fascinating introduction to the colorful early figures of the British Fabain Society, George Bernard Shaw, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, etc.
What I learned from Martin served me well in broadening my knowledge of intellectual history.
In short, the book is far broader than the title (or Marc Stears' denunciation) indicates.
Furthermore, Martin's political analysis is also more subtle and nuanced than Stears' denunciation implies.
There is inevitably a connection between socialism and Communism: Communists, after all, claim to be socialists. Furthermore, Martin offers details involving occasional socialist-Communist cooperation: for example, the leading Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb, during the Stalinist terror, authored a laudatory book about Stalinism entitled "Soviet Communism -- A New Civilization." I. M. Bogolepov, a Soviet defector, later testified before a U. S. Senate subcommittee that he, at the time a Soviet official, had actually ghostwritten most of the book.
Yet Martin also states, "The same puzzling ambivalence -- a combination of love and occasional hatred...marked the attitude of Fabian Socialists towards Moscow throughout the nineteen-twenties and thirties and exists today." Similarly, while she is harshly critical of some of JFK's intellectual advisors, she acknowledges the well-known ties between JFK and Joe McCarthy.
If nothing else, one gets the impression from Martin that many Anglo-American left-wing intellectuals looked down their noses at the Soviets for purely class and cultural reasons: for many of them, Stalinism was not so much evil as unappetizing.
In short, what Martin paints is not a picture of a monolithic conspiracy, whether controlled by Moscow or anyone else, but rather a widespread political movement, lacking in central control but with a broad agreement on general principles and the general direction in which to move.
That's not "McCarthyite;" it's simply honest intellectual history.
Perhaps Martin's greatest sin is a willingness to accept intellectuals' self-evaluation of their own importance. Intellectuals do not directly make history; FDR and, earlier, Abe Lincoln did far more to expand American government and thereby move it in a "socialist" direction, than any intellectuals could have done. More broadly, it is the grand dynamics of history -- the inherent logic of democratic government, the horrendous wars of the twentieth century, etc. -- which have fueled the drive for "Big Government."
And, yet, if intellectuals do not directly drive history, they do establish a climate of thought which influences how the men of action respond to historical events. In the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Europe moved towards a system of limited government, rule of law, and laissez faire. The West moved in precisely the opposite direction after the first World War. The climate of ideas, as formulated by intellectuals, does matter.
"Fabian Freeway" is important, serious, and gracefully written, with occasional flashes of humor. (I still chuckle over "Philip Littell [who] named his canary Onan, because it scattered its seed" -- you need to recall the Old Testament reference to get the joke.) It is not necessary to share Martin's ideological perspective to get a lot out of this fascinating book.
For views from alternative ideological perspectives, I recommend "The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War" by Hilton Kramer and Justin Raimondo's "Reclaiming the American Right."
Organized in 1884, founding members included the daughter of Karl Marx - the father of communism and its sibling offshoots. Obscure history (by that I mean facts you have to dig and hunt for) has been a hobby of mine for about 20 years. I find the truth to be stranger than fiction, and the long trail of the Fabian Society (and its successful policy of "penetrate and permeate") is truly incredible. Like a seed, an idea well planted will grow on its own after a bit of nurturing. So it is with Fabian Socialism. They have shaped so much of the way the world is, and few realize it.
One recent fact: The Fabian Society acquired - and sealed - the archives of Eric Blair (better known as "1984" author George Orwell) when his wife died some years ago. Orwell became disenchanted with the Fabian Society and it is now thought his book was really aimed at the kind of world he believed the Fabian Society would achieve.
As one source put it "A careful review of the literary evidence reveals that he was aiming at the period immediately following the year 2000 but wanted to memorialize the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Fabian Society." -AND- "I once inquired through a literary agent who was a friend of Sonia Orwell, the writer's second wife, whether 1984 might be a satirical polemic directed at the Fabians. She giggled nervously and remarked that perhaps that was right. And the Fabian Society once more has catapulted itself into the picture because, upon the death of Sonia Orwell, rights to George's estate fell under control of -- the Fabian Society. According to representatives of HarperCollins, the Fabians will be in control of the 1984 copyright and name through the year 2025 and will do their best to block unauthorized investigative research about Orwell's anti-socialist works." -AND- "The Fabian logo was the turtle, not the hare. Fabians believed they could be successful in taking over national governments incrementally even if it took 100 years. So why wouldn't Orwell take them at their word?"
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you'll have to dig up the rest for yourself. My best sources were old books. Sometimes it would be tidbits, like one interesting sentence I found in "A History of the United States" published in 1959 by Alfred Knopf Publishing. Under the section "The Progressive Movements" there is this:
"Young Eleanor Roosevelt, already active in the Social Justice Movement, while on her honeymoon in 1905 took her husband to lunch with two prominent Fabians, Sidney and Beatrice Webb."
Fact is, the Webb's were the main backbone of the Fabian Society from its beginning. So here we have an early socialist influence on an American president before he came to office. Tell me, where will you find that interesting item in today's history?
Sometimes it would be full books, like "Fabian Freeway" by Rose Martin - a former Fabian. This is the book that got me started, and it is an awesome place to start. Sometimes I find it hard to accept some of her allegations, but she was a member and knows the inside facts...
So, if you ever wonder "How did we get here", do the research. You'll be glad you did.