Celebrating 140 years of the Fabians - Australian Fabians

Celebrating 140 years of the Fabians by John Töns


04 April 2024
Social Democracy



The Fabians were formed at a time when the idea of social democracy was still in its infancy and a peaceful transition to democratic socialism was viewed with some suspicion. Early Fabians may have been naïve, for although democracy has seemingly triumphed it has, thanks to neo-liberalism, become the handmaiden of global capitalism. 

Margaret Thatcher announced victory in the cold war and also that “There is No Alternative” to a market economy: neo-liberalism. The result has been that unbridled growth, trade liberalisation and competition have been accepted widely as the only or best ways of organizing the contemporary world. 

Unemployment, yawning gaps between rich and poor, political disengagement, and environmental devastation are too often seen as acceptable ‘side effects’ of the dominance of neo-liberalism.

But in the real world the supremacy of capitalism is being contested. People have created a rich variety of economic and organizational realities which extend far beyond the narrow imaginations of economists and management theorists. Co-operatives, community currencies, the transition movement, scrounging, co-housing and many more paint a rich picture of the ways in which another world is not only possible, but already taking shape (see: The Routledge Companion to Alternative Organization. (2014). United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis).

Fabianism is now more relevant than ever. However, it is not unusual for people to be surprised that there are Fabians in Australia.  For most, Fabianism is an anachronism; it was relevant about 100 years ago but it has long reached its use by date. 

The very conditions which prompted the formation of the Fabians 140 years ago are a feature of contemporary politics. Democracy has become a zero-sum game. Corrupt and often ignorant leaders seem to be in the pockets of the rich and privileged. Democracy appears to have been captured by a self-interested cabal. In countries where voting is voluntary fewer and fewer people bother to vote. The slogan ‘no matter who you vote for you will get a politician’ resonates with them.  Increasingly the political activists are driven by crazy conspiracy theories, a belief that somehow social and cultural diversity is a threat and that we would be far better off if we elected a strong leader who is prepared to ride roughshod over democratic principles.

But we should not give in to the politics of despair.  This is precisely the time that we need to engage. If we abandon the field of politics and leave it to the populists and extremists then we run the real danger of a global collapse.  

The problem is not just that Margaret Thatcher's TINA was acted on. Most of our political leaders and bureaucrats have been suckled on neo-liberal beliefs. The idea that there could be an alternative is anathema to them.

Furthermore, many voters are likewise trapped into the false belief that There Is No Alternative; that all they can hope for are a few crumbs of comfort.; that the problems they face are products of the "deep state" or unfettered migration. 

They are encouraged to turn on one another after being told that it is the dispossessed who are a threat to democracy, that it is international covenants that deprive them of the benefits of neo-liberalism, that belief in climate change that is the culprit.  Moreover, they are encouraged to maintain these false beliefs by politicians who come to them with no solutions.  

But we are all in this together.  We need to reach a hand out to one another and tackle the challenges we face head on.  We should not be daunted by the size of the challenge and should commit to demonstrating that another world is indeed possible.  


John Töns

John is a political philosopher with a special interest in the Social Contract. His research has led him to the conclusion that a social contract is not achievable without a Universal Basic Income.

March 2024


Send feedback to: 

[email protected]

Showing 1 thought

Please check your email for a link to activate your account.

We use cookies on our websites. You are free to manage this via your browser setting at any time. OK