Beatrice Webb(ed)

Beatrice Webb (1858–1943)

Beatrice Webb was a member of the Fabian Society and believed that socialism would evolve peacefully through a combination of political action and education.

The main ideas of Beatrice Webb were as follows: 

● ‘The inevitability of gradualness’ was an evolutionary socialist belief that parliamentary democracy and not revolution would deliver the inevitable socialist society. It was inevitable because universal suffrage would lead to political equality as democracy would work in the interests of the working-class majority.Workers’ control will be achieved by evolutionary means. Revolutions are ‘chaotic, inefficient and counter-productive’ — an ‘unpredictability’ that Webb could not tolerate.

● Webb’s ideas were therefore as fundamental as revolutionary socialism. However, she sought the overthrow of capitalism via the ballot box rather than through revolution.

The expansion of the state is vital to deliver socialism. The state will develop a highly trained elite of administrators and specialists to organise the socialist society. This technocratic elite would ‘impregnate all the existing forces of society’.

● Webb argued that the working class would vote for socialist parties, which would begin to instigate social, economic and political reform, resulting in a socialist society.

‘We do not have faith in the “average sensual man”, we do not believe that he can do more than describe his grievances, we do not think that he can prescribe the remedies.’

● The expansion of the state was vital to deliver socialism as it would ‘silently change its character…from police power to housekeeping on a national scale’. The state would develop a highly trained elite of administrators and specialists to organise the socialist society.

● Equality of ownership, described in Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution, would equate to extensive state nationalisation and not the workers taking direct control.

● Equality of ownership would involve high taxation of the wealthy so that the state could redistribute resources to the less well-off via an extensive welfare state.

Webb openly criticized the guild socialism of the 1920s, which advocated state nationalization under workers' control. She argued that workers did not have the intellectual capacity to manage such an operation. While Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb’s spouse, crafted Clause IV for the Labour Party constitution to promote common ownership, the Webbs did not envision this involving workers overseeing production. Beatrice Webb had the bleakest perspective on human nature among socialist thinkers, believing that the working class was inherently intellectually inferior and thus required guidance from paternal figures. According to Webb: - The issues of capitalism would not be resolved by workers but by "professional experts." - The working class would support socialism through voting, leading to elected socialist governments gradually reshaping the state to oversee rather than oppress workers. - The state would subtly shift its role from a police force to a national caretaker, aiming to achieve socialism through a proficient elite of administrators and specialists rather than the workers themselves.

Webb’s The Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission (1909) argued for a ‘national minimum of civilised life ... open to all alike, of both sexes and all classes, by which we meant sufficient nourishment and training when young, a living wage when able-bodied, treatment when sick, and modest but secure livelihood when disabled or aged’. Many of the ideas from this report later appeared in modern liberal William Beveridge’s Beveridge Report (1942) , which was the intellectual basis for the modern welfare state introduced by the Labour governments of 1945–51. A young Beveridge was employed as a researcher on Webb’s Minority Report and later wrote that his own report ‘stemmed from what all of us had imbibed from the Webbs’.

Beatrice Webb (1858–1943)

Inspired by the revisionist socialist writer Bernstein, Beatrice Webb and her husband, Sidney, rejected violent revolution in favor of education and reform to create a more equal society. They were critical of capitalism, believing in a gradual approach to socialism over Marxist ideology. As founders of the Labour Party in 1901, they viewed the state as a neutral tool for social justice. The Webbs promoted an inclusive socialist ideology centered on education and knowledge dissemination. They established the Fabian Society, which continues to influence the Labour Party, as well as the London School of Economics and New Statesman magazine. Advocates of state intervention in the economy, the Webbs observed positive developments in health and education in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, though they noted the absence of political freedoms. Their sociological studies on poverty laid the groundwork for future welfare initiatives, anticipating the Beveridge Report.

Keynes Summary

The cooperative Movement

Webb  made several important contributions to the political and economic theory of the Co-operative movement. It was, for example, Webb who coined the terms Co-operative Federalism and Co-operative Individualism in her 1891 book "Cooperative Movement in Great Britain." Out of these two categories, Webb identified herself as a Co-operative Federalist; a school of thought which advocates Consumer Co-operative societies.  

Cooperative federalism is the school of thought favouring consumers' cooperative societies. The cooperative federalists have argued that consumers' cooperatives should form cooperative wholesale societies (by forming cooperatives in which all members are cooperatives, the best historical example being the English CWS) and that these federal cooperatives should undertake purchasing farms or factories. They argued that profits (or surpluses) from these CWSes should be paid as dividends to the member cooperatives, rather than to their workers Cooperative federalists (whom Webb supported) argued that

Consumers should establish cooperatives where all members are cooperators. These cooperative wholesale societies should acquire farms or factories for purchasing. Profits or surpluses generated by these societies should be distributed as dividends to the member cooperators, not to the workers. This method, known as 'cooperative individualism,' implies that workers, not consumers, create the cooperative and have more influence on its management.

A major historical debate in co-operative economics has been between co-operative federalism and co-operative individualism. In a commune, the residents would be both the producers and consumers of its products. However, for a co-operative, the producers and consumers of its products become two different groups of people, and thus, there are two different sets of people who could be defined as its 'users'. As a result there are two different modes of co-operative organisation: consumers' cooperative, in which the consumers of a co-operative's goods and services are defined as its users (including food co-operatives, credit unions, etc.), producer co-operatives, in which the producers of a co-operatives goods and services are defined as its users. (Some consider worker co-operatives, which are owned and run exclusively by their worker owners as a third class, others view this as part of the producer category.) .

This in turn led to a debate between those who support Consumers' Co-operatives (known as the Co-operative Federalists) and those who favor Producers Co-operatives (pejoratively labelled ‘Individualist' co-operativists by the Federalists.