Beatrice Webb


Early Life * Background * Childhood * Her Diary * Early Adulthood 1882-1886 * Joseph Chamberlain 1882-6 * And Feminism* Work in London * Charity Organisation Society * Involvement with Charles Booth * Research for ‘Life & Labour of London Poor’ * Nineteenth Century Article 1887 * And the Cooperative Movement * Marriage to Sidney Webb 1892 * Sidney Webb background * Beatrice meets Sidney * Beatrice marries Sidney * Engagement * Literary Output * History of Trade Unionism * Industrial Democracy * Other writings * Beatrice’s Autobiography * History of English Local Government 1899-1929 * Networking and Permeation * The Fabian Society 1884 * The New Statesman * The London School of Economics 1895 * Subsequent History of LSE * London County Council * The Labour Party is formed * Vegetarianism, 1902 * An Era of Great Social Reform * Commission on the Poor Law, 1905 * The Status Quo: * Opposing points of view among Commission Members * Proceedings of the Commission * The Minority Report 1909 * Public reaction to the Reports * Campaign for the Minority Report * Long Term Consequences of the Minority Report * Pensions and National Insurance * Between the war * Post-war * In Politics after 1906 * The end of Permeation 23 Members of Labour Party * Opposition to the Webbs * H.G.Wells * Bloomsbury & the Woolfs * Other * After 1914 * The Webbs and the War * Post-War Labour politics * Sidney’s Political Career * MP for Seaham * Sidney Colonial Secretary * Passfield Corner * And Bloomsbury * And Soviet Russia 1932 * Interest in Soviet Communism * The Visit, May-July 193 * Second Visit 1934 * Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? * Reactions to their praise of Stalin * A Left Wing Dynasty * And the Post-War Labour Government * Webb-Beveridge connection * Death * Achievement * Posthumous * Bibliography * Bibliographical Notes * List of illustrations * FRESCI O’PLACT analysis * Foreign and Military * Religion and Ideas * Economic * Social & Economic * Constitutional and Legal * Individual and Random * Omissions * Points of View: * Language: * Alternative Hypothesis * Cause, Consequence, Comparison * Time *

Figure 1: Young Beatrice

Beatrice’s birth was followed in 1862 by the birth of a long awaited son, Richard, and by a ninth daughter, Rosalind in 1864. (9) Her relationship with her mother was not easy: (18) Richard, their the only son, died in infancy (18) in 1864 (9) and her mother’s grief overshadowed Beatrice’s childhood and adolescence. (9,18) Beatrice described her childhood as “creeping up in the shadow of my baby brother’s birth and death. (18) She grew up a rather lonely and sickly girl, (15) She had come near to suicide when young. (17) The girls grew up at Standish, their main country home, near Gloucester. (18) Mr Potter had developed the gardens along with managed Victorian era principles, building extensive heated greenhouses to allow the family to eat well. (20) It eventually provided a ready supply of grapes, plus a dedicated mushroom house and watercress beds. (20) A drilled spring provided a steady year-round stream, which was landscaped to provide a pond by the construction of a brick wall dam. (20) Beneath the dam there was an ice store, allowing year-round supplies of ice. (20) During the year the Potter family would move around the country, not only to the family’s London homes, but to other Potter country houses, in Wales and in Westmorland. (18) In 1884 Beatrice recalled her childhood at Standish House. (9) It was a period of her life about which she had decidedly mixed feelings. (9) She later described ‘the early spring months (which) have always been sweet at Standish and the loveliest memories of my childhood gather round the first long days, when the dreary walks along the muddy roads directly after the midday meal, were replaced by the scramble among hyacinths and ferns, the gathering of primroses and violets and the building of grottoes in the hours of sunset and dusk.’ (9)

When she was 8, in 1886, her father settled in a house near the Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth. (3) Beatrice was an intelligent child (11) [OR] ‘the only one of my children who is below the average in intelligence” (her mother) (18) Beatrice received no formal education, (8,9) [OR] spent a short period at a fashionable boarding (18) school (15,18) in Bournemouth. (3) [OR] The girls’ education was largely at home, (12,18) with a series of tutors, (18) nannies (5) and governesses (5,12) but Richard Potter also encouraged his daughters to read widely. (8,9) and she educated herself by extensive reading (16,18) on philosophy, science and mathematics (11) and discussions with her father’s visitors, of whom (15) the philosopher Herbert Spencer exerted the greatest intellectual influence on her. (15,18) When he visited North America on business Richard Potter usually took two of his daughters with him. (9) Beatrice travelled widely with her parents: (9,11) in 1873 Beatrice joined him on a trip which included visiting New York, Niagara Falls, Chicago and SaIt Lake City. (9) The family supported the Liberal Party (10) and had many contacts among politicians and intellectuals. (5,10) As a young girl she met major political figures and intellectuals who visited her parents. (10) During the Season the sisters lived in a London flat (12) and experienced the London Season, (9,18) mingling with the family’s friends, (9) including many of the leading figures of politics, science, and industry. (5) The London Season was a prelude to courtship and marriage, and Beatrice’s sisters made the marriages expected of them – a business man, a banker, a doctor, a land owner, and an MP; two married barristers. (18) Beatrice, however, began to question the assumptions of her father’s business world. (15) She chafed at the idea that an advantageous marriage was the only imaginable vocation for a woman of her class and sought refuge in the intellectual tutelage of her mother’s friend (12) Herbert Spencer (5,9) a liberal political theorist, (10) and ‘individualist philosopher’ who was the Potter family’s “philosopher on the hearth”. (12) She met him on an early stay with relatives in (16,15) a small town in (15) Lancashire, (16,15) where she became acquainted with the world of the members of the working class cooperative movement. (15) Spencer (5,9) gave Beatrice the attention and encouragement that she thought denied to her by her family. (5) He advised her on her reading, (9) and introduced her to his ideas on the cooperative movement. (10,16) She was very impressed by his work and decided that “self-sacrifice for the good of the community was the greatest of all human characteristics”. (11) As a protégée of Spencer, and the daughter of laissez-faire capitalists, she questioned the principles of self-interest that left vast numbers of citizens in poverty and was drawn to a collectivist approach to economic and social organization. (12) As a religious spirit, she moved away from Christian orthodoxies and gravitated to the “religion of humanity” (12) of Auguste Comte (11,12) (1798–1857) and the beliefs of English positivists like Frederic Harrison (1831–1923). (12)

Her Diary

She was a prolific diarist. (6,8) In her diary she expressed her desire to write fully and creatively about her life and (6) she kept her diary from when she was 15 in 1873 (6,9) in America (9) until within weeks of (18) her death (6,9) aged 85, (18) in 1943. (6,18) Four volumes were published. (18)

Figure 2 Teenage Beatrice

In the diary Beatrice records the activities of her daily life, interactions with friends and family, and her most private thoughts and fears. (6) Although her upbringing was comfortable and she maintained good relationships with her family, Beatrice suffered from bouts of depression, compounded by a feeling of listlessness and frustration at not being useful (e.g. her diary entry for 11th December 1874, aged 16). (6) This depression is documented in the early volumes of the diary providing an insight into Beatrice’s early adulthood. (6) But in 1876, at eighteen, “I joined my sisters in the customary pursuits of girls of our class, riding, dancing, flirting and dressing up”. (18) [OR] Against the privileged and yet constraining social ethos of her family, she invoked the political and religious dissent of her Lancashire ancestry as her true heritage. (12)

Early Adulthood 1882-1886

Following her mother’s death in 1882, (8,9) Beatrice was the eldest (9) [OR] only (18) unmarried daughter (9) at the age of 24, she took over the management of the household. (8,9) The remaining family members moved from Standish, with Richard moving to Box House in Minchinhampton. (20) She acted as a hostess and companion for her father, (16,18) combining it with a burgeoning career in social investigation. (9) Before Beatrice became a public campaigner she was a determined private networker. (18) As her father’s hostess, Beatrice had moved widely in business and political society. (18) “Huge party at the Speaker’s,” she wrote in her diary on March 1st 1883, “one or two such would last one a life-time.” (18) Beatrice continued to manage the Potter household for the ten years between the death of her mother in 1892 and that of her father. (18) The support of her sisters allowed her to organise four months of the year to undertake her own work beginning her interest in research and social investigation. (9) She knew that some of her mother’s relations still worked at the mills in Bacup. (18) With an old servant (a distant relative) she went, under an assumed name, to stay with her Lancashire cousins. (18) She recorded her impressions in her diary, and in a series of letters to her father. (18) Moving away from religion, she decided that “the most hopeful form of social service was the craft of a social investigator. (18)

Joseph Chamberlain 1882-6

At the same time as she learned her trade as a social investigator, Beatrice fell overwhelmingly in love. (18) The remaining family members moved out of Standish House, with Richard moving to Box House in Minchinhampton1, [OR] It was from the family house in Bournemouth that she wrote her letter on unemployment that was printed in the Pall Mall Gazette and seen by (3) one of Britain’s leading (3,11) politicians (6,11) the twice-widowed (16) radical (6,12) Liberal (3,18) Joseph Chamberlain, (3,6) twenty two years older than her (18) and a Cabinet minister in Gladstone’s second government. (16) He had been married twice; both wives had died in childbirth. (18) Her relationship with Chamberlain was a difficuIt one: he was attracted to her, but did not woo her. (18)

Figure 3 Joseph Chamberlain

In 1883 (9) [OR] 1882 (11,16) Beatrice became infatuated with him, (3,6) and considered the possibility of marriage to (12,15) the much older (3,15) widower (3,16) Joseph Chamberlain. (12,15) Had she married Chamberlain it would have been the ultimate ‘good marriage’. (18) It led to a tempestuous (6) affair (6,16) which stirred her political writings. (3) She resisted Chamberlain’s political ideas, then more radical than her own, and his imperious personality, even as she felt deeply drawn to him. (12) It was not a match which would have enabled her own work. (9,12) He would not accept her need for independence as a woman. (16) He explained bluntly to her that he tolerated no division of opinion in his household. (18) She confided a great deal to her diary: (18) marriage to someone like him might be disastrous: “I shall be absorbed into the life of a man whose aims are not my aims; who will refuse me all freedom of thought in my intercourse with him; to whose career I shall have to subordinate all my life, mental and physical” (12) In October 1884, she wrote “last of all came passion, with its burning heat, an emotion which had for long smouldered unnoticed, burst out into flame, and burnt down intellectual interests, personal ambition, and all other self developing motives. (18) Over a period of four years there was a series of inconclusive and unsatisfactory meetings. (18) In December 1886 she wrote in her diary “my intimacy with the great man brought about a deadly fight between the intellectual and the sensual, the sensual bringing forth the nethermost being and for a time overwhelming the higher part. But the intellectual has triumphed not by its own strength but by the force of circumstance; it has beaten the sensual and denied to it satisfaction”. (18) Beatrice may have been reflecting on her own experience when she wrote much later “the rumour of an approaching marriage to a great political personage would be followed by a stream of invitations; if the rumour proved unfounded the shower stopped with almost ridiculous promptitude. (18) After four years of “storm and stress” (16) their relationship ended unhappily (6,11) [OR] petered out, (18) because of the incompatibility of temperament. (15) By 1888 Chamberlain had married elsewhere, (9,18) for the third time. (18) The affair had been unforgettably painful, (16,17) suggesting perhaps that, far from being an integrated character with no divisions of soul, she was sexually attracted by men to whom she was intellectually hostile. (17)

And Feminism

She challenged Victorian concepts of class and marriage. (12,18) Her elder sisters made conventional marriages, (15,18) ‘marrying well’, as expected of ladies of their class. (18) but she railed against the marriage market of the London Season, rejected the idea of a husband who would completely eclipse her and her own aspirations, and sought a vocation outside of wedlock. (12) Beatrice was not a conventional feminist – she did not, for example, initially support the suffrage movement, and she refused to be channelled into working just on the position of women in the labour market. (18) Early on she had fairly conservative opinions about the role of women. (11) In 1886 she wrote about her impressions of Annie Besant: I feIt interested in that powerful woman, with her blighted wifehood and motherhood and her thirst for power and defence of the world. I heard her speak, the only woman I have ever known who is a real orator, who has the gift of public persuasion. But to see her speaking made me shudder. it is not womanly to thrust yourself before the world.” (11)One of the effects of her attachment to Chamberlain was to delay her conversion to feminism – which eventually came when battling with all those waistcoated men on the Poor Law Commission. (17) Later she struck a different note: “…if I had been a man, self-respect, family pressure and the public opinion of my class would have pushed me into a money-making profession; as a mere woman I could carve out a career of disinterested research” (10)

Work in London

Charity Organisation Society

Figure 4 The Charity Workier

But it was at this period that she developed her interest and involvement in wider social issues. (18) Following the disappointing outcome of her relationship with Chamberlain, (15) one of Beatrice’s older sisters, Catherine, became a well-known social worker. (16) After Catherine married Leonard Courtney, (16) in 1883 (5,8) [OR] 1882, (18) Beatrice took up social work in London (6,8) taking over her work as a voluntary (16) rent collector (6,16) in the model dwellings at Katharine Buildings, (16,16) Wapping, [OR] Aldgate, (16) a block of working class flats (18) operated by the East End Dwellings Company. (16,16) This began her involvement with social problems (5,14) for the Society for Organising Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicity (19) Charity Organisation Society, (6,8) an organisation that attempted (11,18) to provide Christian help to those living in poverty. (11) [OR] “prevent the evils attendant upon undiscriminating almsgiving by systematic investigation and separation of the deserving sheep from the undeserving goats. (18) She soon became critical of the failure of the measures of charitable organizations, because their individualised approach did not attack the root problems of poverty. (14,15) While she adhered – and continued to adhere – to the distinction central to the COS’s work between the deserving and undeserving poor – she considered that problems of the “deserving poor” needed a more coordinated approach, that also encompassed the different areas of people’s lives. (14) These ideas would return in developed form in the ‘Minority Report’ of 1909. (14) Her housing work was interrupted by the need to go back to care for her father, who had suffered a stroke; after her sisters had organized a rota to care for him, she returned to London, this time as a researcher. (18) She therefore left the organisation in 1885, and subsequently joined those researchers working on Charles Booth’s monumental study of the Life and Labour of the People in London. (14) Booth, and the economist Alfred Marshall, would have liked Beatrice to go on to work more generally on the position of women in the labour market. (18) She decided, however, to write a book on the cooperative movement instead, reading files and minutes and accounts, visiting cooperative societies, and interviewing leading cooperators. (18)

Involvement with Charles Booth

Figure 5 The Young Woman

Charles Booth (10,15) (1840–1916) (12) was her cousin. (10,15) Influenced by positivism and moved by current debates about the extent of poverty in England, he had left his work as a Liverpool shipowner and (12) was conducting a (12,16) mammoth fourteen year (12) survey of poverty in (12,16) the Victorian slums of (16) London. (12,16)

She had already gained insightful experience on social discrimination by conversations with him. (10) In 1886, (3,11) [OR] spring of 1887 (18) still in the depressing aftermath (12) of her affair with Joseph Chamberlain (11,15) she was saved from a stultifying life as dutiful, unmarried daughter by an invitation from Booth, himself (12) to join him doing research on the Victorian slums of London, (10,11) bringing her own experiences as rent-collector. (16) Beatrice joined him to make an investigation of dock labour in Tower Hamlets. (18)

Research for ‘Life & Labour of London Poor’

She became (5,8) one of a team of researchers (8,11) in what ended up in 1903 as (16) Charles Booth’s (5,8) 17-volume (16) survey “Life and Labour of the People in (5,8) [OR] of (16) London”. (5,8) (1889–1903) (12) She was assigned to study and investigate the lives of the dock workers in the East End. (11) If Comte and Spencer led Webb to an interest in the study of society, Booth gave her the opportunity to practice-and partly to invent-the craft of social investigation: (12) Her work for this study involved collecting detailed information on dock work and sweated labour, which would inform her understanding of underemployment emphasised in the Poor Law. (14) This taught her more of the realities of lower class life (15) and led, later in the same year, to her first published articles. (18) She also carried out participant observation. (14) In 1888 (6) she went undercover (6,14) as a seamstress (6) [OR] a plain (18) trouser hand (14,18) in a sweatshop (6,18) as part of this Inquiry. (6,14) On the basis of this experience she gave evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee. (18) Her contributions to Booth’s Life and Labour of the People in London consisted of empirical studies of three metropolitan groups: dock laborers, sweatshop workers, and Jewish immigrants. (12 She combined her observation with a structural analysis that, instead of putting the middlemen at the heart of the exploitative work, condemned the whole production process as an example of unregulated competition, emphasising the need for regulation. (14)

Nineteenth Century Article 1887

In 1887 the results of (5) her inquiries into dock life (5,11) in the East End of London were published in (5) the journal (11) Nineteenth Century, (5,11) soon followed by (5) other articles and studies (5,11) on Jewish immigration and (11,12) sweated labour (5,11) in the tailoring trade. (11) As a resuIt of her writing she was invited to testify before the House of Lords on the subject. (11) While working with the poor, Beatrice Potter realised that charity would not solve their problems. (11) She began to argue that it was the causes of poverty that needed to be tackled, such as the low standards of education, housing and public health. (11)

And the Cooperative Movement

She began writing on social subjects. (5,6) Webb made a number of important contributions to political and economic theory of the co-operative movement. (2,16) While working in Lancashire Beatrice Potter became interested in the good work achieved by the different co-operative societies that existed in most of Britain’s industrial towns. (11) [OR] Increased confidence and deeper study (5) [OR] the knowledge she gained from previous research projects on poverty (10) [OR] her encounters with Herbert Spencer, (10) led in 1891 to her writing ‘The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain’ (5,10) a small book based on her experiences in Lancashire which later became a classic. (15) It was her most famous early contribution to the socialist movement. (10) She proposed to distinguish the boundaries between “cooperative federalism” and “cooperative individualism.” (10,16) Cooperative individualism focuses on the encouragement of manufacturers and distributors to form their own organizations and volunteer information to the federal government in an effort to stimulate the economy while cooperative federalism focuses on national, state, and local governments interacting cooperatively and collectively to solve common problems. (10) Out of these two categories, Webb identified herself as a co-operative federalist; a school of thought which advocates consumer co-operative societies. (16) She presented the reader with the general image of the working conditions and “spirit of association” it brought along with it. (10) The idea of “spirit of association” revolves around Tocqueville’s idea that there would be considerable benefits if men and women were “to associate freely in everything”. (10) She advocated for an equally dispersed form of socialism that kept (?sic) those who benefited from these specific types of worker cooperatives to control the market. (10) Webb argued that consumers’ co-operatives should form co-operative wholesale societies (by forming co-operatives in which all members are co-operatives, the best historical example being the English Co-operative Wholesale Society) and that these federal co-operatives should undertake purchasing farms or factories. (16) Webb dismissed the idea of worker co-operatives where the people who did the work and benefited from it had some control over how it was done, arguing that – at the time she was writing – such ventures had proved largely unsuccessful, at least in ushering in her form of socialism led by volunteer committees of people like herself. (16) Examples of successful worker Cooperatives did of course exist then as now. (16) In some professions they were the norm. (16)

Marriage to Sidney Webb 1892

Sidney Webb background

Sidney James Webb was born in London into a lower middle-class family; his father was a free-lance accountant and his mother was a shopkeeper. (15) [OR] He was the son of a milliner (12) and hairdresser, (12,18) He left school before he was 16, (15) and his parents had sent him abroad as a boy to learn French and German. (18) At the age of 16 he came back to London (18) and continued to study at London evening institutions. (15,18) He passed a wide range of examinations – including, in 1881) the exam to become a First Class Clerk in the Colonial Office (18) which secured him admission to the civil service. (11,15) Three years later (1884) he passed his bar examinations. (15)

Figure 6 Sidney Webb

For some time he had been the close friend of the young journalist Bernard Shaw, who in 1885 induced him to join a very small, newly founded Socialist body called the Fabian Society. (15) As executive member of the Fabian Society, Webb, in 1889, delivered one of the public lectures that made up Fabian Essays and put the society on the map. (15) But echoes of the passion that had existed came back to trouble Beatrice for many years. (18) It was Sidney’s intellect, not his body, that Beatrice admired; in 1926 she wrote “With his big head, bulgy eyes, bushy moustaches and square-cut short beard…, small but rotund body, tapering arms and legs and diminutive hands and feet, he lends himself to the cubist treatment of the ridiculous.” (18) She went on, however, to note how distinguished his head was: “This head-piece indicates brain power – a fine intellect tempered by visionary idealism and lit up with benevolence.” (18)

Beatrice meets Sidney

Beatrice arrived at London radical and Fabian politics via her social research (15,18) It was not long before she realized that in order to find any solution to the problem of poverty she would have to learn more about the organizations that the working class had created for itself; i.e. the labour unions. (15) While collecting information about earlier economic conditions, (15) Beatrice was advised to apply to (11,15) Sidney Webb, (11,15) a “mine of information,” (15) who had also researched this aspect of working-class life (11) and had greatly impressed Beatrice by his contribution to Fabian Essays. (15) Through Booth, (10) [OR] through the Fabian Society. (8,14) Potter contacted (10) [OR] was introduced to (16) [OR] met (8,9) Sidney Webb (8,9) in January (9,18) 1890 (8,9) for advice (10,16) on the subject of housing and poverty. (10) [OR] on her book on the Co-operatives. (11) He came to Bournemouth to recover from scarlet fever. (3) He was an economist and socialist, (10) and still working as a civil servant. (18) His knowledge of economics and pursuit of philanthropy aligned with Beatrice’s values. (10,15) Webb at once fell in love with the handsome, intellectual young woman. (15,18) Beatrice was far more hesitant, telling Sidney that nothing more than friendship and working collaboration was possible. (18) She took longer to adjust her sights to the scruffy, rather ugly little man in the shiny suits. (15) The contrast with Chamberlain was absolute – as Royden Harrison, a Webb biographer, wrote: “The monocle and the orchid were more commanding than the pince-nez and the goatee. (18) The courtship proceeded by fits and starts. (18) Her initial reaction was not very positive. (11) He was impecunious (18) and unprepossessing. (11,18) She wrote in her diary: “his tiny tadpole body, unhealthy skin, cockney pronunciation, poverty, are all against him”. (11) They engaged in a courtship of fits and starts: (6,9) in her diary Beatrice documents Sidney Webb’s tireless pursuit despite her frequent refusals. (6) Their courtship was conducted amidst her attendance at cooperative conferences and (8) while working on co-operative history (3,5) and researching into trade unions in Liverpool and Manchester. (8) In July 1890 they spent an afternoon in Epping Forest: “We talked economics, politics, the possibility of inspiring socialism with faith leading to works. (18) He read me poetry as we lay in the Forest – Keats and Rossetti – and we parted.” (18) They eventually became close friends. (11) In 1890 she noted in her diary: “At last I am a socialist.” (3) In 1891 she published The Co-operative Movement in Great Britain, (5,10) based on her experiences in Lancashire. (16)

Beatrice marries Sidney


Her friends and family did not approve of Sidney: Charles Booth told her “He is not enough of a man. (18) You would grow out of him.” (18) For Herbert Spencer, news of her involvement with Sidney meant that she was no longer fit to be his literary executor. (18) Her sisters and their husbands were not enthusiastic. (18) By the summer of 1891, they were unofficially engaged – signified when for the first time Beatrice put her arm round him in a cab. (18)

The engagement remained secret during the last months of her father’s life. (18) Beatrice’s father died (9,18) on 1st January (18,20) 1892, (9,11) and she eventually consented to marriage. (6,11) They announced their engagement, and Beatrice went to stay with Sidney’s family for a week. (18) Sidney, having resigned from the civil service, was elected to the London County Council (LCC), and they both began work on the history of trade unionism. (18) To the surprise of both Spencer and her family, (12) they were married. (2,3) in a civil ceremony at the St Pancras Vestry on 23rd July (18) 1891 (3) [OR] 1892 (2,5) For her, marrying him meant embracing a political and intellectual way of life that combined belief, work, and what she called a “loving (12) partnership,” (12,14) [OR] although she wrote in her diary that “it is only the head that I am marrying”. (11) Her unconventional marriage appears to have been happier than the conventional unions entered into by some, at least, of her sisters. (18) She wrote in her diary:On the face of it, it seems an extraordinary end to the once brilliant Beatrice Potter (but it is just because it is not an end that she has gone into it) to marry an ugly little man with no social position and less means, whose only recommendation, so some may say, is a certain pushing ability. And I am not ‘‘in love’ with him, not as I was. But I see something else in him (the world would say it was a proof of my love) – a fine intellect and a warm-heartedness, a power of self-subordination and self-devotion for the ‘common good’.” (18)

Figure 7 Sidney and Beatrice

They spent their honeymoon researching Irish trade union records. (8,15) in Glasgow and (15) Dublin. (15,18) Beatrice wrote from Dublin to the best man: “We are very very happy, far too happy to be reasonable.” (18) “Together, we could move the world,” said Sidney. (18) “Marriage is a partnership. It is the ultimate committee.” (18) Shortly after returning to London they set up house there. (15,18) at 41 Grosvenor Road, now Millbank, not far from parliament. (18) They formed a strong and long-lasting partnership. (2,6) It was an extraordinary marriage – one biographer has called it “the most fruitful partnership in the history of the British intellect. (18) When the Webbs married, George Bernard Shaw wrote to Sidney “I am seriously of the opinion that what is wanted is a salon for the cultivation of the Socialist party in parliament. (18) Will Madame Potter-Webb undertake it?” Undertake it she did, at 41 Grosvenor Road. (18) Her father left her an endowment of £1,000 pounds a year (11,16) which she used (11,16) to support herself during this research (16) [OR] to enable Sidney to give up his post as a Civil Servant (11,15) and, added to what they could make from books and journalism, to enable them in order to devote more time to social research (15) and political work. (16,15) Sidney retained only his position on the London County Council, to which he was first elected in 1892, and his association with the Fabian Society. (15) During their 51 years of marriage (8,9) they undertook many joint ventures, common professional and political causes. (2,8) They are famous for their fight for social and educational reform and women’s equality in twentieth century Britain. (10) She and her husband were friends with the philosopher Bertrand Russell. (16) Sidney and Beatrice Webb had no children of their own. (16) Beatrice wrote in her diary: “Are the books we have written together worth (to the community) the babies we might have had” (11) At the beginning of 1901 Webb wrote that she and Sidney were “still on our honeymoon and every year makes our relationship more tender and complete.” (16)

Literary Output

Beatrice’s writing Beatrice and Sidney Webb married with the intention of writing books together. (18) Beatrice had her trade, as a social researcher, and completed her first book – on the history of the cooperative movement – before they married. (18) (Sidney thought it had taken too long to write). (18) From the Potter family fortune, they received a significant annual income – the capital was tied up for later generations. (18) This income they used as a research grant. (18) They continued to write together for fifty years, gently satirized as the “two typewriters that clicked as one” – though in practice most of the manuscripts, at least in the early years, were in Sidney’s elegant handwriting. (18) “Thick, heavy books poured from their pens,” writes David Marquand “– learned, solid, and mostly indigestible. (18) Beatrice supplied the inspiration, Sidney the hard grind.” (18) They did most of their writing in their London house, working every morning, sitting2 at opposite ends of the breakfast table, with a researcher to look up references and file away papers. (18) For the final stages of a project they would go away to the country, at first to one of the Potter houses, until the text was complete. (18) Together they produced a veritable torrent of books (5,11)

History of Trade Unionism

Beatrice and Sidney had already begun the research for their History of Trade Unionism at the time of their wedding, and they continued it while on honeymoon. (18) The result, the History of Trade Unionism that became a definitive account of British trade unionism, (3,8) and Industrial Democracy (1897). (11,16) published in 1894, (3,11) was one of the first comprehensive histories of trade unions in any country. (18) In these books the Webbs, in effect, introduced the economists and social historians of Britain to a part of British social life of which they had hitherto been unaware. (15) Far away in exile in Siberia, Lenin and his wife Krupskaya translated it into Russian in 1898. (18)

Industrial Democracy

Trade Unionism was followed in 1897 by two volumes on Industrial Democracy, describing what unions actually did – in providing insurance services for their members, in negotiating collective agreements, and in pressing for legislative change. (18)

Other writings

They also produced pamphlets, (5,15) essays, and memoranda amounting to over a hundred items, (5) some of short-lived, others of permanent interest. (15) They promoted projects for social and educational reform and research into the history of political and economic institutions. (5) They wrote a proposed constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain, and a handbook for social researchers. (18) Until 1906 Potter’s role in the partnership was primarily that of researcher, writer, and hostess for gatherings of Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament who came to hear the Webb opinion on social legislation. (5) Ultimately, through her work on the Co-operative movement, (10) she coined the term ‘collective bargaining’, (1,2) for the process by which employers and employees negotiate (2) usually on wages, hours, and working conditions. (10)

Beatrice’s Autobiography

In her autobiography, My Apprenticeship (1926), Beatrice tells a story that is in many ways paradigmatic of the spiritual struggles, political transformations, and personal conflicts of many members of her generation. (12) She describes the first half of her life as a search for “creed” and “craft” carried out within the context of what she called the “mid-Victorian Time-Spirit,” an ethos in which, as she put it, “the impulse of self-subordinating service was transferred, consciously and overtly, from God to man”. (12) Why this demand for State intervention from a generation reared amidst rapidly rising riches and disciplined in the school of philosophic radicalism and orthodox political economy? … The origin of the ferment is to be discovered in a new consciousness of sin among men of intellect and men of property; a consciousness at first philanthropic and practical …; then literary and artistic …; and finally, analytic, historical and explanatory…. (12) The consciousness of sin was a collective or class consciousness; a growing uneasiness, amounting to conviction, that the industrial organization, which had yielded rent, interest and profits on a stupendous scale, had failed to provide a decent livelihood and tolerable living conditions for a majority of the inhabitants of Great Britain.” (12) The work that followed extended into areas of historical and social research, educational and political reform, and journalism. (15)

History of English Local Government 1899-1929

After the publication of Industrial Democracy, Beatrice and Sidney Webb moved on to the study of local government – exploring, in great detail, the evolution of local public services: markets and fairs, manors, boroughs and counties, highways and government grants. (18) In 1898 the Webbs went on a year long research trip to North America, Australia and New Zealand. (11) The Webbs main concern was to discover different approaches to local government. (11) Among their writings was the prodigious multi(12,15) nine [OR] eleven (11) volume (11,12) enterprise-which again broke new ground- (15) of the history of English local government (12,15) from the 17th to the 20th century. (15) The research was started in 1899; the last of ten volumes was published in 1929. (18) This work, published over a period of 25 (15) [OR] 23 (11) [OR] 20 (18) years, firmly established the Webbs as historical researchers of the first rank (15) and became the standard work on the subject. (11) The project was interrupted many times – by service on Royal Commissions, by the First World War, by Sidney’s service as an MP and a cabinet Minister. (18) Their literary output, however, important as it was, takes second place to their work in creating and developing institutions. (15)

Networking and Permeation

Beatrice firmly believed that the risk of blood and tears could be avoided if a technocratic elite was allowed to “impregnate all the existing forces of society”. (4) Sidney and Beatrice employed the tactic that became known as “permeation,” that is, attempting to push through Fabian policies or parts of policies by converting persons of power and influence irrespective of their political affiliations. (15,18) On the Conservative side Beatrice’s key links were with Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905, (15,18) and his brother Gerald, who served as president of the Local Government Board in his government. (18) She flirted with Arthur, who she called (at least to her diary) Prince Arthur; she and Sidney stayed with Gerald and his family at their country home. (18) Balfour’s Liberal rival Lord Rosebery was also approached for political support. (15)

Figure 8 The Webbs and Bernard Shaw

She knew every Prime Minister in the first half of the twentieth century: she and Sidney visited them, and they came to dine at her table in London. (18) One at least was so intimidated by her he did not even dare ask where the lavatory was in the Webb home. (18) The entertaining was incessant. (18) Beatrice’s diary for 22nd March 1907 tells of a “brilliant little luncheon, typical of the ‘Webb’ set. (19) Dr. Nansen (now Norwegian minister], Gerald and Lady Betty Balfour, the Bernard Shaws, Bertrand Russells, Masterman and Lady Desborough, typical in its mixture of opinions, classes, interests all as jolly as jolly could be a rapid rush of talk.” (18,19) One Minister in the 1905 Liberal government who was not a Limp was the young Winston Churchill, who defected from the Conservatives, becoming President of the Board of Trade in 1908, and later Home Secretary. (18) Meeting Churchill at dinner in the summer of 1903, Beatrice’s first impressions were critical – “egotistical, bumptious, shallow-minded and reactionary, but with a certain personal magnetism, great pluck, and some originality. (18) The heyday of their salon at Grosvenor Road was from the 1890s to the culmination of the Poor Law campaign in the years before the First World War. (18)

The Fabian Society 1884

Now embarked on a craft, Webb began to move toward the creed of socialism. (12) The Webbs played leading roles in the formation of The Fabian Society (1,2,16) in 1884 (3) [OR] Beatrice was introduced to Sidney (8) a leading member (11) through the Fabian Society in 18903. (8) [OR] After their marriage in 1892 they became active members of the Fabian Society. (16) Beatrice was drawn to Fabianism because of her experiences with research, interest in the cooperative movement, and growing belief in the need for state regulation of labour, as well as by reading Fabian Essays, edited by Shaw and published in 1889, (12) Beatrice also shared his views and joined4 the group. (11) The society believed that capitalism had created an unjust and inefficient society. (11) The members, who included agreed that the ultimate aim of the group should be to reconstruct “society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities”. (11) Although the origins of the Fabian Society were utopian and quasi religious, its leading members had, by this time, become gradualists committed to a scientific understanding of the historical evolution of society and to the propagation of state socialism, beginning with municipal collectivism. (12) Sidney’s own contribution to the Essays, on the “historic basis” of socialism, relied on theorists like Spencer and Comte, as well as John Stuart Mill (1806–1873). (12) Together with colleagues George Bernard Shaw (11,12) (1856–1950), (11) Edward Carpenter, Annie Besant, Walter Crane (11) Sydney Olivier (1859–1943), Graham Wallas (1858–1932), Edward Reynolds Pease (1857–1955), and William Clarke (1852–1901), the Webbs led the Fabian Society in its early years. (12) Shaw believed that Webb’s extensive factual knowledge was exactly what the society needed as a foundation for its theoretical advocacy of Socialism. (15) In 1887 Webb justified Shaw’s choice by writing for the society the first edition of the Fabian Tract ‘Facts for Socialists’, revised editions of which were published until the end of World War II. (15) The tract was the first concise expression of the Fabian conviction that public knowledge of the facts of industrial society was the essential first step toward the reform of that society. (15) In 1896 Beatrice’s family circle was distressed when the first husband of Rosie, the youngest of the sisters, died of syphilis in 1896; the disease must have already been far advanced when they married in 1888. (18) Bournemouth was one of the first towns to have a Fabian Society and the most famous (3) and respected (10) early members – Beatrice and Sidney Webb – became associated with the south coast resort. (3) Long the home of left-wing intellectuals and politicians, the Fabians have been a significant part of the Labour movement throughout its history. (4) Fabians believe that an incremental approach to change on the basis of socialist principles is preferable to the bloodshed and chaos implied by revolutionary figures on the far-left. (4) Fabians promoted research and campaigned for the welfare state, (3,6) independence for British colonies and democratic socialism. (3) Sidney Webb sat on the Executive Committee of the Fabian Society. (18) In 1913 Beatrice Webb helped create its Research Department. (11)

The New Statesman

In 1913, the Webbs and, a political weekly edited by Clifford Sharp with contributions from many philosophers, economists and politicians of the day, including George Bernard Shaw and John Maynard Keynes. (16) In the meantime they had established a new forum for themselves by (15) co-(16) founding the New Statesman (2,7) as an independent journal (15) with Henry Devenish Harben, husband of suffragist (16) and fellow Fabian, (11,16) Agnes Harben. (16) Edited by Clifford Sharp (11,16) with contributions from (11,16) the Webbs, (11) and philosophers, economists and politicians (16) such as George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes (11,16) and G.D.H.Cole5, the journal promoted socialist reform of society. (11) In retirement Beatrice reflected upon this “The London School of Economics is undoubtedly our most famous one; but the New Statesman is also creditable it is the most successful of the general weeklies, actually making a profit on its 25000 readers, and has absorbed two of its rivals, The Nation and the Week-end Review”. (16) In the meantime they had established a new forum for themselves by founding the New Statesman as an independent journal. (15)

The London School of Economics 1895

In 1894 (11) [OR] 1895 (16) Henry Hutchinson, a wealthy solicitor from Derby, left the Fabian Society (11,16) £10,000. (11) Beatrice and Sidney Webb suggested that (11) the money should be used to develop a new university in London. (11,16) Based on this argument (4,8) in 1895 (10,11) the Webbs (4,8) [OR] the Webbs (10) amd numerous (16) other members of the Fabian Society, (10) Graham Wallas (8,11) and George Bernard Shaw (8) with the Liberal statesman R.B. (later Lord) Haldane, (15) established the London School of Economics (4,8) and Political Science (10,11) to train those suited to the task of social engineering. (4) [OR] to challenge the biased social constructs facing the lower class at the time through the advancement of concept and knowledge revolved around the improvement of livelihood for her country’s people. (10) [OR] “to teach political economy on more modern and more socialist lines than those on which it had been taught hitherto, and to serve at the same time as a school of higher commercial education”. (11)) Beatrice succinctly recorded the founding vision of the School, largely led by Sidney, in her diary. (8) “His vision is to found, slowly and quietly, a ‘London School of Economics and Political Science’ – a centre not only of lectures on special subjects, but an association of students who would be directed and supported in doing original work”. (8) The Webbs first approached Graham Wallas, a leading member of the Fabian Society, to become the Director of the LSE. (11) Wallas declined the offer and W.A.S.Hewins, a young economist at Pembroke College, Oxford, was appointed instead. (11) With the support of the London County Council (LCC) and the Technical Education Board, the LSE flourished as a centre of learning. (11) Sidney Webb was a Professor there. (18)

Subsequent History of LSE

Women both studied and taught at LSE from its inception, and Beatrice taught at LSE in the School’s early years on trade unionism and on free competition in the labour market. (8) Both courses were inspired by the Webbs’ research into the history of trade unionism and the text course books included their History of Trade Unionism and Industrial Democracy. (8) Beatrice enjoyed teaching and wrote: “The weekly class brings us into close connection with the work of the School: I see some half dozen students every week and talk over their work with them. (8) [OR] Following its establishment they showed no interest in directing its development. (15) A portrait of the Webbs now hangs in LSE’s Shaw Library. (8) It was unveiled in 1929 to mark Beatrice’s and Sidney’s 70th birthdays, and shows them in their home Passfield Corner surrounded by proofs of their latest book on the history of local government. (8) On September 14th (16) 1936, Beatrice remarked in her diary: “In old age it is one of the minor satisfactions of life to watch the success of your children, literal children or symbolic: the London School of Economics is undoubtedly our most famous one.” (8,9)

London County Council

Sidney served (15,18) from 1892 to 1910 (15) as a leading Progressive member (18) on the London County Council; he is best remembered for (15,18) working closely with the Balfour government in reorganising secondary education (18) to create the system of secondary state schools (15,18) and the scholarship system for elementary school pupils. (15) He was also instrumental in the establishment of technical (15,18) and other postschool (15) education in London. (15,18) Sidney Webb also helped reorganize the University of London into a federation of teaching institutions. (15) With the educator Robert Morant he provided the blueprint for the Education Acts of 1902 and 1903, which set the pattern of English public education for generations to come. (15) When the Conservative Party won the 1900 General Election, the Webbs (11) [OR] Sidney and Robert Morant (15) drafted what later became the 1902 Education Act. (11,15)

The Labour Party is formed

The research that they carried out while writing these books convinced them there was a need to establish a new political party that was committed to obtaining socialism through parliamentary elections. (11) On 27th February (11) 1900, the Fabian Society (3,10) joined with the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and trade union leaders to (11) form the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), (10,11) which formed the Labour Party. (3) Sidney Webb (3) [OR] Sidney and Beatrice (4) wrote Clause IV of the new Labour Party constitution (3,4) which pledged that Labour would “secure for the workers by hands or by brains the full fruits of their industry.” (4) It also committed the party to gaining “the most equitable distribution therefore that may be possible upon (4) the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” (3,4) This was widely interpreted by supporters and political opponents alike as an endorsement of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy – a stance that unquestionably matched the political outlook of the Webbs. (4) For many years, this served as a reference point for the Labour Party both in opposition and in government. (4) The LRC put up fifteen candidates in the 1900 General Election and between them they won 62,698 votes. (11) Two of the candidates, Keir Hardie and Richard Bell won seats in the House of Commons. (11) Outside LSE, Beatrice was equally active. (8) She was willing to work with any political party in order to obtain the policies she believed in. (11)

Vegetarianism, 1902

After consulting Dr. Andrea Rabagliati for health problems, Webb became a vegetarian in 1902 and shortly thereafter began a vegetarian salon for socialists. (16) By 1908, she was a vice-president of the National Food Reform Association. (16) Webb was a lacto-vegetarian, she described herself as an “anti-flesh-fish-egg-alcohol-coffee-and-sugar eater”. (16) Another of Beatrice’s sister, Blanche, hanged herself in 1905, as her husband came to flaunt his commitment to a much younger mistress. (18)

An Era of Great Social Reform

Twentieth century Britain saw two great periods of social reform, in the decades 1905-14 and 1940-50, when intellectual and political leadership came together to achieve major change, shifting the agenda for social policy from the relief of poverty to the prevention of poverty. (19) Before the First World War the policy lead came from Beatrice and Sidney Webb; in the 1940s, from William Beveridge, backed up by the economics of Maynard Keynes. (19) In the heyday of Edwardian Liberalism, the extraordinary combination of David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill drove forward one reform after another, including old age pensions, controls on sweated labour, labour exchanges, and the start of insurance against unemployment and sickness; in the 1940s, governments led first by Churchill and subsequently by Clement Attlee introduced family allowances, universal secondary education, social security and the National Health Service, and finally in 1948 abolished what remained of the Poor Law. (19)

Commission on the Poor Law, 1905

The Status Quo:

The Poor Law in 1905 was based on the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834. (18,19) This was based on three principles: The position of the poor person on relief “should not be made really or apparently so eligible as the situation of the independent labourer of the lowest class; “Every penny bestowed that tends to render the condition of the pauper more eligible than that of the independent labourer is a bounty on indolence and vice; “All relief whatever to able-bodied persons or to their families, otherwise than in well-regulated workhouses… shall be declared unlawful and shall cease. (18,19) [OR] By 1905 the Poor Law provided poor relief via social services and monetary loans. (10)

Figure 9 Arthur Balfour

A central Poor Law Commission was established with power to make and enforce national regulations, and to group parishes into Poor Law Unions. (18) The Poor Law of 1834 was hated. (18) Despite some administrative modification, it was still hated in 1905. (18) The new workhouses had been christened the “Bastilles”. (18) Edward Thompson called the New Poor Law “perhaps the most sustained attempt to impose an ideological dogma, in defiance of the evidence of human need, in English history. (18) The issue had been illuminated by Seebohm Rowntree’s work on poverty in York, and the work of Charles Booth (himself married to Beatrice Webb’s cousin, and a member of the 1905-09 Royal Commission.) (19) In December (3,18) 1905 (3,11) the outgoing (3,19) government (3,11) of Arthur (12,18) James (12) Balfour (3,11) established a Royal Commission (3,11) on the Poor Law (11,12) to look into “the working of the laws relating to the relief of poor persons in the United Kingdom” (11) and reform the existing Poor Law. (10) It sat from 1906 to 1909. (5) Up to the end of 1905 it had been Sidney, rather than Beatrice, who was in the limelight, (18) but on Wednesday 4th (19) in December (18,19) 1905, (5,11) “Our trusty and well-beloved Beatrice, wife of Sidney Webb, Bachelor of Laws” (19) was appointed (5,11) by the Balfour government as (12,18) a member of this. (3,11) The day before Beatrice’s appointment to the Poor Law Royal Commission was announced, Arthur came to lunch at 41 Grosvenor Road before they all went on to see Shaw’s latest play (18,19) ‘Major Barbara’. (19)

Opposing points of view among Commission Members

The membership of the Royal Commission was announced in December. (19) It was packed with defenders of the status quo ante. (18) The chairman was a former Conservative Cabinet minister, Lord George Hamilton described by Beatrice Webb as “an experienced politician and attractive grand seigneur”. (19) Balfour told Beatrice that finding a chairman for the Royal Commission had not been easy, and added apologetically, “George Hamilton is not the fool he looks.” (19) There was a block of senior civil servants from the Local Government Board: (18) Five commission members were Poor Law guardians four of them, including George Lansbury, had been chairmen of their boards. (19) The permanent secretary of the Local Government Board, Sir Samuel Provis, was a member, together with his equivalents for Scotland and Wales, and the senior medical inspector for the Poor Law. (19) There was another block from the Charity Organisation Society; (14,18) six of its members were leading members of the Charity Organisation Society. (19) Gareth Stedman Jones has described the aim of the COS as “to impose on the life of the poor a system of sanctions and rewards which would convince them that there could be no escape from life’s miseries except by thrift, regularity and hard work”. (19) Helen Bosanquet, thought that the problem of poor relief was primarily an issue of able-bodied men, who needed to be incentivised to work – or at least to avoid relief – and saw a major role for charity in meeting the needs of the destitute. (14) Henrietta Barnett, a founder of the C.O.S. wrote that the society’s aim was “decreasing, not suffering, but sin.” (19) In Beatrice Webb’s view, the six COS members on the Royal Commission all “began the enquiry as convinced adherents of the principles of 1834”. (19) There were also three representatives of the Church of England, one of the Catholic Church in Ireland, and a trade unionist Francis Chandler, general secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters. (19) Beatrice Webb was in no doubt as to the purpose of the Royal Commission. (19) Beatrice and Sidney Webb were strong critics of the Poor Law system in Britain, (11) but the majority view was that destitution could be alleviated through reform rather than, as the Webbs believed, wholly abolished, (11,12) On Monday 2nd December 1905 (19) [OR] As soon as she had been appointed6 (18) she met JS Davy. (19) He was head [OR] assistant secretary (18) of the Poor Law division at the Local Government Board, and the author of an official inquiry report into allegations of extravagance by the Poplar Board of Guardians (whose chairman was George Lansbury] – and certainly endorsed the principles of 1834 himself. (19) A man, Davy said, “must stand by his accidents: he must suffer for the general good of the body politic: every obstacle should be put in the way of a man settling down into the status of a pauper”. (19) Arthur Balfour and his government resigned the same day, and the Liberals, led by Henry Campbell-Bannerman, accepted office the following day. (19), Beatrice went to find out the officials’ view of the purpose of the Commission. (18) She learned that they were expected to propose some useful structural reforms: “but we were also to recommend reversion to the principles of 1834 as regards policy: to stem the tide of philanthropic impulse that was sweeping away the old embankment of deterrent tests to the receipt of relief.” (18,19) Along with other commissioned personnel (10) Beatrice disagreed with the coordinator (8) and most of the members (11) of the Commission on both the facts of and the solution to poverty. (8)

Proceedings of the Commission

She fought them with every weapon at her disposal. (18) She believed that it was a “short sighting” (sic?) of society to expect those in poverty to be held accountable for themselves. (10) She repeatedly challenged the Chairman of the Commission, and relentlessly cross examined the witnesses. (18) She hired her own research team (with funds supplied by Charlotte, George Bernard Shaw’s wife). (18) Margaret Cole says that “There is no doubt at all, in my mind, that Beatrice bullied and harassed her fellow Commissioner – and with intention.” (18) The majority view was, however, reported to the Liberal government of HH Asquith. (11,16)

The Minority Report 1909

Beatrice seems to have quickly concluded that she would not be able to agree a single report with the majority of the Commissioners; (18) By the summer of 1907, (18) she (16,18) [OR] she and Sidney [OR] she and three other members (18) wrote, (5,11) [OR]Sidney contributed (11,14) by assisting with collecting the data on how the system was working, (11) even if not as an official author”, (14) her own set of proposals, and (18) had circulated them (11,18) to leading Liberals and Conservatives. (18) When it appeared, the Minority Report was signed by four members of the commission -Beatrice Webb herself, George Lansbury, Francis Chandler, the trades unionist, and Russell Wakefield, one of the clergymen. (19) She then campaigned for (12) this ‘Minority Report’. (3,5) It was published (3,8) in February (18) 1909 (3,18) alongside the Poor Law Commission of 1905-9. (8,15) Webb’s compendious report (14,18) set out an exhaustively researched, detailed and comprehensive proposal for the complete break-up of the existing system of poor relief, and for a state that coordinated the provision of relief to the poor and destitute. (14) It had over seven hundred pages, providing a comprehensive alternative to the main report. (18) It said that poverty was a problem for society not for the individual to solve. (3,10) The analysis in the Minority Report is trenchant and far-reaching, but also a product of the prevailing view, still held by many today, of the need for conditionality in relation to poor relief. (14) Because of this, a complete overhaul was needed in order for the state to relieve poverty in its entirety. (10) It argued that the Poor Law lacked a structural understanding of the causes of poverty. (10) Using language, the Report works through the different phases and conditions of life, drawing on extensive research and citing multiple figures and footnotes. (14) It works through the different stages of life – noting that the vast majority (90 per cent) of recipients of poor relief were not the able bodied working age men who had consistently been the focus, but women, children, older people, and those with chronic physical or mental health conditions. (14) While both reports advocated the abolition of Poor Law Boards of Guardians, Beatrice’s Minority Report called for the prevention, rather than the relief, of destitution. (18) Poor Law services should be broken up and transferred to local government: children’s services to education, Poor Law health provision to the public health service, and so on. (18) The Report begins by an attack on the tendency for provision to be made, regardless of the original intent of the 1834 Poor Law, in “mixed” workhouses, where all these different classes of people were combined, promoting “promiscuity” and “injurious” contact between those with different needs and different reasons for being confined to the workhouse. (14) This mixing was regarded as demeaning for the “deserving poor”, such as the elderly, damaging for children and provided inappropriate provision and care for all. (14) The fundamental message of the Minority Report is the separation of these different classes of people – primarily outside the workhouse – and the institution of appropriate coordinated provision, whether at national or local level for those individuals and families destitute for different reasons. (14) There should be universal social insurance. (15) A state-mandated basic minimum standard of living, she argued, was a collective responsibility instead of an individual responsibility. (10,16) The state should take the initiative to ensure individuals a basic standard of living without any financial setbacks through social services. (10,16) This should “secure 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”. (16) This would be “a Welfare State”, (16) taking in Education, healthcare, (8,11) pensions and work. (8) The Webbs called for: (1) the end of the Poor Law; (2) the establishment and coordination of employment bureau throughout Britain to make efficient use of the nation’s labour resources; (3) The Minority Report argues for a system of out-relief for families, at appropriate levels, but linked to conditions, to ensure that funds are not used to subsidise drinking, insanitary household conditions and child neglect. (14) It highlights the inappropriateness of workhouses for infants, devastatingly demonstrated by their mortality rates, which were almost double those that even impoverished families faced outside the workhouse. (14) It proposes that no infants should be cared for in the workhouse but supported within their families through outdoor relief. (14) In exceptional circumstances properly monitored and inspected foster and community homes could be used. (14) The Report offers a heated account of the extent to which children were being fed in school, despite the existence of relief for destitution, because the rates were too small to keep them sufficiently fed. (14) It proposes that the care of children should become fully the responsibility of education authorities who were already responsible for education and could also monitor children’s health – as schools were already doing – and implement family visits and compliance with school attendance and any other conditions. (14) Old age pensions had been introduced for the over 70s in 1908; and the Report regards this as the main way in which older people should be supported, proposing also a reduction in the age of receipt to 65 or even 60. (14) Age should be separated from “mental infirmity”, it argues, with the latter becoming the responsibility of a distinct jurisdiction. (14) Health care should be met by a unified “state medical service” (14,19) coordinated at district level and based on public health principles – partly because of the public good nature of health. (14) “Neither the promptitude nor the efficiency of the medical treatment must in any way be limited by considerations of whether the patient can or should repay its cost”. (19) This did not exclude the possibility of patients being expected to repay some of the costs. (19) But it does not favour insurance cover for the short term sick, because of the perceived problem of perverse incentives. (14) By contrast with the majority report it argues that charity is insufficient to step in to meet the needs of the poor and destitute, and rejects the idea that state and coordinated national and local government solutions will crowd-out philanthropy. (14) It notes, rather, that charity is insufficient to address the wasting of human life as a result of insufficient “doles” and consequent chronic malnutrition of old and young. (14) The analysis of working age includes consideration of working age women, currently covered by the Poor Law. (14) It argues that these women are predominantly mothers with caring responsibilities for whom work responsibilities would be inappropriate – a rather different perspective from that currently applied to lone parents, though one which chimes with Beveridge’s proposals. (14) Having deaIt with all these other classes of poor relief and offered specific administrative solutions it then turns to the issue of able bodied men, who were the central concern of the original 1834 Poor Law. (14) Part II of the Minority Report deaIt with unemployment; like the Majority Report, it called for a national network of labour exchanges – but went on to call for Government taking responsibility for the organisation of the labour market so as to prevent unemployment. (18) In the broad sweep of its proposals, the Minority Report foreshadowed the social reforms of the post 1945 era – the commitment to full employment, and the creation of a National Health Service. (18) The Minority Report discusses the issues of temporary and chronic unemployment and chronic underemployment. (14) The language of the report is strong and often passionate but it is only in the discussion of underemployment, which it describes as the “Evil of underemployment” that it approaches directly Beveridge’s conception of giants. (14) The Report also vividly describes the enervating effects of unemployment. (14) The report suggests a form of national labour exchange is needed to fit workers to jobs in the case of temporary unemployment. (14) For more chronic unemployment, the use of worker colonies and retraining is promoted – what today might be considered “work activation programmes”. (14) Underemployment is regarded as requiring a more wide-ranging set of solutions that both reduce the supply of lower-paid (women and youth) workers and involves greater emphasis on constraints on employers benefiting from high levels of casualisation. (14) These provisions, it argues, should be overseen by a Ministry of Labour. (14) National and local provision The Report thus outlines a programme of distinct but comprehensive nationally and locally administered provision for those destitute, organised in a systematic way for discrete classes of need: those past working age, infants, children, etc. (14) Both Majority and Minority reports were published on 2nd February. (19) Both were widely disseminated. (19) The two volumes of the Majority Report run to over 900 pages; the Minority Report adds a further 716. (19) The government printed 10,000 copies of the full document; the Fabian Society produced an additional 3,000 cut-price copies of the Minority Report on its own (though only after Sidney Webb had fought off a Treasury attempt to assert Crown copyright); and a commercial publisher produced another 1,500. (19) The Liberal government headed by Herbert Asquith accepted the Majority Report (11) and rejected the advice given by the Webbs (10,11) because it failed to emphasize individual responsibilities. (10) The Minority Report was therefore rejected by Parliament. (10)

Public reaction to the Reports

To Beatrice’s surprise, the Majority Report received a favourable press: she had expected the Minority Report to be acclaimed at once as the better, more authoritative piece of work. (18) As Royden Harrison has written: “The proposals 5 of the minority report of the commission, drafted by the Webbs, may have been a landmark in English social thought, but for the time being their recommendations were dismissed or ignored!” (19) The publication of the Minority Report also marked the transformation of the Webbs from salon politicians, breakfasting and dining with Liberal Cabinet ministers and leading Conservatives alike, to public campaigners. (19)

Campaign for the Minority Report

Beatrice was taken aback when, in February 1909, the Majority Report received better press coverage than the Minority. (19) Exhausted, she and Sidney took a six-week holiday in Italy. (19) Beatrice then threw herself into campaigning for her proposals. (18) With Sidney, she set up an organisation. (18) They rented offices, hired staff, installed telephones, and published a monthly paper (The Crusade – forerunner of the New Statesman). (18) At its peak, in November 1910, the campaign had over 30,000 members. (18) They ran summer schools and huge national conferences. (18) Rupert Brooke and Hugh Dalton leafleted Cambridgeshire villages from the back of a cart, while Clement Attlee worked in the office organising meetings. (18) And above all Beatrice Webb spoke at meetings – rallies – all over the country. (18) “We are carrying on a ‘raging, tearing propaganda’, she wrote in her diary on November 14 2009, “lecturing or speaking five or six times a week. (18) We had ten days in the North of England and in Scotland – in nearly every place crowded and enthusiastic audiences. (18) At the end of the month came “another two spells of lecturing – Sheffield, Leeds, Bradford and Hereford last week, Bristol, Newport, Cardiff this week, Worcester, Birmingham, Manchester next week – a wearing sort of life. (18) The Webbs’ first biographer, Mary Agnes Hamilton, left an account of Beatrice speaking at one of these meetings, at the White City, in London: “She was magnificent in a great hat with ostrich feathers, and of course swept her audience with her moving picture of the morass of destitution. (18) I thought her arguments a trifle on the unscrupulous side…” (18) At one she asked her hostess ‘How do you like my (scarlet velvet and ermine) dress,’ ‘I have had it made from my aunt’s coronation robes’. (19) In 1910 Beatrice spoke in Bournemouth on her Minority Report on the Poor Law Commission. (3) Organised by the Poole and Bournemouth branch of the National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution, the meeting heard the Fabian case for public spending to relieve poverty. (3) Beatrice appealed to those living comfortable lives in the town to help. (3) The Bournemouth Fabians continued to promote their policies and attract radical speakers. (3) For a while the left-leaning paper Tribune was printed on the Bournemouth Times presses and the Fabian Society formed the Bournemouth Civic Society to protect the town’s heritage. (3) Long Term Consequences of the Minority Report

Pensions and National Insurance

Even though Webb’s report was ignored at the time, (10,14) ln the years before the First World War there was no legislation to implement the proposals of Majority or Minority. (18,19) After the second general election of 1910, the Liberal government was more dependent than previously on Labour votes for its parliamentary majority. (19) Among the Liberals, Beatrice’s allies were the Liberal Imperialists, or Limps – the group within the party that supported the Boer War. (18) These included her friend Richard Haldane (who much later became Lord Chancellor in the first Labour Government), HH Asquith, Prime Minister from 1908, and Edward Grey, who was Foreign Secretary in the Liberal Government. (18) The President of the Local Government Board was John Burns, (18,19) the first working class minister. (19) By the time he had become a minister in 1905, he was convinced of the intemperance and personal inferiority of many of the unemployed. (19) Beatrice’s failure to build links with the Pro Boers, and in particular with David Lloyd George, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1908, later weakened the prospects of success for the campaign against the Poor Law, and the Liberal Government, in the words of John Burns, the President of the Local Government Board, (another pro Boer who was well known to the Webbs from the 1890s both as a trade unionist and a colleague of Sidney’s on the LCC, without there being much trust or warmth between them) ‘dished the Webbs’. (18) The nationwide agitation that the Webbs organized in favour of social security was quelled in 1911 (15) by Lloyd George’s (15,18) hasty improvisation of (15) a scheme of compulsory (19) contributory (15,18) National (18,19) insurance (15,18) against sickness and unemployment for parts of the work force (18,19) and a national network of Labour Exchanges to help deal with unemployment. (18) It was supported overwhelmingly by the Labour MPs (18,19) led by J Ramsay MacDonald (18) and the TUC, (18,19) but opposed by Beatrice Webb, (19) The Parliamentary Labour Party, its, and the leadership of the TUC, also supported the insurance based approach, rather than the recommendations of the Webbs. (18) Plenty of other things were happening the struggle between Lords and Commons over the Budget, a succession of major labour disputes, and the culmination of long campaigns over home rule for Ireland and women’s suffrage. (19)

Between the wars

The Poor Law was still there after the First World War, but neither insurance nor the Poor Law could cope with the mass unemployment of the interwar years. (18) Poor Law legislation had to wait until 1929 (18,19) for the abolition of the Board of Guardians” (19) with the administration of the Poor Law being transferred to local authorities (18)


Its promotion of a state medical service, and emphasis on family incomes and child wellbeing, alongside the need for more unconditional support for pensioners, anticipate key features of the subsequent welfare state. (14) The Minority Report played an important role in the eventual dismantling of the old Poor Law and in its replacement by the new systems of social insurance. (5,14) Its long reach can be felt in today’s welfare state via its influence on Beveridge and the way the post-war Attlee government took Beveridge’s report for its “blueprint” for the welfare state, dramatically changing the way poor relief had been delivered. (10,14) By that time, both Beatrice and Sidney were dead, but the welfare state was widely recognised as their legacy. (18) In 1948 (18,19) at last came the declaration in the great National Assistance Act that “the existing Poor Law shall cease to have effect”. (19) The Poor Law finally abolished, (18,19) by a government whose leading members had campaigned for the Minority Report forty years before. (18) A hundred years later, some of the dilemmas and ambiguities that faced the Webbs and the Edwardian Liberal government remain real: in the 2011 Budget, the Conservative /Liberal Coalition announced that it planned to consuIt on the proposed merger of national insurance and income tax -but that it remained committed to the contributory principle. (19)

In Politics after 1906

The end of Permeation

The ‘plunge into propaganda’ that followed the publication of the Minority Report meant a fundamental change in the Webb approach to politics. (18) With the advent of the huge Liberal majority in 1906 the strategy of permeation became ineffective. (15) By 1909 “Burns was likely to oppose on principle anything the Webbs proposed”. (19) Churchill and his wife dined at Grosvenor Road again in October 1909: “He did not altogether like the news of our successful agitation. (18)

‘You should leave the work of converting the country to us, Mrs Webb; you ought to convert the Cabinet.’ (18) The distance between the Webbs and the traditional political elite grew. (18) In the summer of 1910, Beatrice wrote “We have been quite strangely dropped by the more distinguished of our acquaintances and by the Liberal Ministers in particular. (18) I have never had so few invitations as this season.” (18) Nevertheless the Webbs continued to maintain contact with a wide range of opinion, and to entertain, almost to the end of their lives. (18) In the period after 1910 (5) [OR] in late 1914, (5,16) the Webbs and were eventually forced to abandon their nonpartisan stance, (5) although in the early months of the First World War they were still dining with leading liberal Ministers. (18)

Members of Labour Party

They became members of the (5,7) fledgling (15) Labour Party (5,7) in order to “permeate” it. (15) When the Webbs, in late 1914, became members of the Labour Party, they rapidly rose high in its counsels. (15) Beatrice and Sidney became more and more focussed on the emergence of Labour as a party in its own right, rather than on influencing the Liberals and Conservatives. (18) Beatrice told her diary in January 1918: “The policy of permeation is played out, and labour and socialism must either be in control or in whole-hearted opposition.” (18)

Opposition to the Webbs


The Webbs have often been caricatured as Gradgrinds and ultra-rationalists. (12) At this time, their leadership of the Fabian Society was facing opposition from H.G, Wells, (7,16) (1866–1946) (12) who had been close to the Webbs, but became distant from them on personal and political issues. (18) He joined the Society but was critical of its cautious approach: “They permeate English society with their reputed Socialism about as much as a mouse may be said to permeate a cat.” (16) For her part, Beatrice voiced disapproval of Wells’ “sordid intrigue” with the daughter of a veteran Fabian Sydney Olivier. (16)

Figure 10 H G Wells

He responded by lampooning the couple in his 1911 novel ‘The New Machiavelli’ (12,16) as Altiora and Oscar Bailey, (16,18) Altiora, he wrote “got together all sorts of interesting people in or about the public service, she mixed the obscurely efficient with the ill-instructed famous and the rudderless rich, got together in one room more of the factors in our strange jumble of a public life than had ever easily met before. (18) She fed them with a shameless austerity that kept the conversation brilliant, on a soup, a plain fish and mutton or boiled fowl and milk pudding, with nothing to drink but whisky and soda, and hot and cold water, and milk and lemonade. (18) Everybody was very glad indeed to come to that.” (18) Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) wrote with bemusement of the Webbs’ visits to her home to discuss politics with her husband, Leonard, also a Fabian, and famously recorded in her diary that Beatrice declared marriage to be “necessary as a waste pipe for emotion” (Woolf, p. 196). (12)

Bloomsbury & the Woolfs

Leonard Woolf was a curious figure within the Bloomsbury Group – a sort of hybrid. (17) He was, in fact, a Fabian member of Bloomsbury. (17) He joined the Fabian Society in about 1914, and was put in charge of their foreign policy – a subject in which the Fabians notoriously took no interest. (17) Sidney Webb found it impossible to conceal his irritation with the intolerable interruptions which the Boer War, and then the Great War, inflicted on his plans for the municipalisation of the gas supply and tramways. (17) It was a great relief to hand all this foreign matter over to Leonard Woolf, whose work on international government, and on the causes of war, contributed to the formation of the League of Nations. (17) But Bloomsbury was sceptical of this work. (17) Keynes thought it a waste of time; and Virginia Woolf blamed the Webbs for having clawed Leonard into such a huge job. (17) This was one of the points of friction between Mrs Webb and Mrs Woolf. (17) Beatrice had told Virginia that it was wrong to prevent Leonard from going into Parliament, which needed men of subtle intellect, such as Sidney and Leonard. (17)

Figure 11 Virginia Wolf

But Virginia feIt extremely irritated by this criticism. (17) Part of her irritation came from the knowledge that Beatrice valued Leonard’s work more highly than her own. (17) Beatrice was always polite about Virginia’s novels, and wrote to Leonard telling him that Night and Day had won the admiration of an old woman. (17) ‘She has made the novel the form in which to present the most subtle criticism of character and the most poetic appreciation of nature,’ Beatrice said: ‘the whole harmonised by charming kindliness towards weary humanity… I realise that she has an extraordinarily valuable instrument in her spiritual insight and literary gift – it would be a sin against humanity if it were lost to the world through continued ill health. She must make herself well. (17) This letter carries all the genuine kindliness that Beatrice found in the novel. (17) And twenty years later, at the end of 1939, she is still the same – questioning Virginia as to whether she was going to write a second volume of The Years and telling her how much she longed to hear ‘how the family she had described so vividly would respond to this new war’. (17) But Virginia knew that Beatrice’s admiration was not wholehearted – indeed she accused her of having a barren heart. (17) And it was true that Beatrice was unsettled by Virginia’s novels. (17) She felt, for example, that the stream of consciousness in To the Lighthouse was objectionable because it assumed that the author could see and describe another’s mind, whereas the truth was that even one’s own consciousness defied description: it was all so vague and diverse – currents on currents, intellectual, pictorial, vocal, emotional, impersonal patterns all mixed up. (17) In her diary entry for 5 February 1927, shortly after reading Mrs Dalloway, Beatrice complained that she did not find Virginia’s novels interesting apart from their craftsmanship because her characters ‘don’t seem worth describing in such detail – the mental climate in which they live seems strangely lacking in light, heat, visibility and variety. (17) She spoke of ‘a dank mist of insignificant and monotonous thoughts and feelings – no predominant aims, no powerful reactions from the mental environment – a curious impression of automatic existence when one state of mind follows another without any particular reason’. (17) This criticism expresses the essential difference between Bloomsbury and the Fabians. (17) The members of Bloomsbury were artists; the Fabians were sociologists. (17) Bloomsbury was individualistic; the Fabians collectivists. (17) Bloomsbury had chosen Freud, the Fabians Marx. (17) As Beatrice wrote in her diary, ‘We all aim at maximising human happiness, health, loving kindness, scientific certainty and the spirit of adventure together with the appreciation of beauty in sight and sound, in word and thought. (17) Where we differ is how to bring about this ideal here and now. (17) Bloomsbury believed it could bring the good life here and now by means of aesthetic sensibility plus personal relationships. (17) This was a formula which they had originally extracted from the last two chapters of G.E.Moore’s Principia Ethica and which stressed the virtues of civilised private life over the vulgarity of Victorian values, which came – if one is to judge from Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians – to materialism at home and imperialism abroad. (17) Private life had been hidden under a prim camouflage in 19th-century Britain and energy channelled into public life. (17) In seeking to reverse this current, it was natural that Bloomsbury should be sympathetic to Freud, whose works in 24 volumes were translated into English by Lytton Strachey’s brother and sister-in-law, James and Alix Strachey, and published by Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press. (17) But the Fabians were not attracted to Freud. (17) He was an author, Shaw announced, ‘utterly without delicacy’. (17) And Beatrice Webb believed that this way madness lay. (17) What was G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, let alone the works of Freud, she wondered, except ‘a metaphysical justification for doing what you like and what other people disapprove of’? (17) It seemed to her a denial both of the scientific method and of religion. (17) The Fabians wanted to make the scientific discoveries of their time part of a new religious equipment. (17) For them, the good life could be created through the abolition of private property and the establishment of equality of income. (17) Only by the conversion of private wealth into common wealth could you tackle the avoidable suffering in life. (17) But such changes seemed hostile to the privacy of Bloomsbury, where the artist and writer was protected by society so that his or her work could be created under favourable conditions – and then put into circulation for the potential benefit of all. (17) Over twenty-three years later, at their last meeting, Virginia described Beatrice as ‘invincible in spite of bladder trouble and cancer by the sheer might of disinterested intellect’. (17) Virginia responded best to the workings of this intellect when she did not have to see Beatrice, and she found her autobiographical book My Apprenticeship ‘enthralling’. (17) ‘There were causes in her life: prayer; principles,’ she writes. (17) ‘None in mine’ – which, in shorthand, is the obverse of Beatrice’s criticism of Virginia’s stream of consciousness. (17) The Webbs, in Virginia’s eyes, were ‘entirely integrated people’. (17) ‘Their secret is that they have by nature no divisions of soul to fritter them away: their impact is solid & entire. (17) But Virginia was wrong about Beatrice. (17) She did have divisions of soul; she was not entirely integrated. (17) There were times, for example, when she hankered to be a novelist, like Virginia. (17) ‘I have been haunted by a longing to create characters and move them to and fro among fictitious circumstances: to put the matter plainly, by the vulgar wish to write a novel!’ she wrote in one of her early diaries. (17) After finishing her joint work with Sidney on The History of Trade Unionism she was again haunted by that longing – this time it was to be a novel set 60 years in the future. (17) ‘The truth is, I want to have my “fling”,’ she wrote. (17) I want to imagine anything I damn please without regard to facts as they are. (17) I want to give full play to whatever faculty I have for descriptive and dramatic work. (17) I want to try my hand at an artist’s work instead of mechanics. (17) I am sick to death of trying to put hideous facts, multitudinous details, exasperating qualifications, into a readable form. (17) Beatrice never had her fling, either in fiction or in life, but she knew its power and the seduction of such a thing. (17) She feIt undermined by what Virginia may be said to have represented, just as Virginia feIt reduced by Beatrice’s world of facts. (17) Each was a corrective to the other. (17) At one point Virginia actually challenged the Webbs as to what her place would be in a Fabian world: ‘some small office, no doubt’. (17) For the Webbs had a compartment for the non-representational expert, the artist, whose imagination might be of use to the future of society: that was why Beatrice had wanted to set her novel in the future, plotting human evolution. (17) One day in the summer of 1922 the Woolfs had what Virginia called ‘a terrific argument’ about the Webbs and Shaw and the Fabians. (17) Leonard contended that their generation owed a great deal to Shaw and the Webbs, who were educators of the people and of governments. (17) Virginia replied that they had influenced only the ‘outer fringe of morality’, and that the human heart was ‘touched only by the poets’. (17) They did not agree, for they were putting their own work – fiction and non-fiction – unnecessarily into competition and thereby out of focus. (17) Leonard feIt the pull of both cultures. (17) In Sowing he gives a glamorous picture of his first meetings with Virginia and Vanessa. (17) ‘Their beauty literally took one’s breath away,’ he writes, ‘for suddenly seeing them one stopped astonished and everything including one’s breathing for one second also stopped as it does when in a picture gallery you suddenly come face to face with a great Rembrandt or Velasquez or in Sicily rounding a bend in the road you see across the fields the lovely temple of Segesta. (17) In this image of the two sisters, like twin works of art or architecture, there is no trace of sexual interest. (17) The sisters are stereotypes, exhibiting the aesthetic sensibility of Bloomsbury. (17) They appear in their proper place in Sowing, but Leonard Woolf is so impatient to collar the Webbs that he cannot resist pulling them out of their chronological place in his story. (17) This was partly because they were such marvellous copy. (17) ‘What astonished one again and again,’ he writes, ‘was that they were so intelligent and in many ways so quick in their perceptions and yet seemed to be quite unconscious of their absurdities. (17) Beatrice had suggested that children should be supplied with ‘municipal bricks’ marked with the names of various social organisations, so that, as they played, they would more or less unconsciously learn their civic duties. (17) In one of his later, fantastical plays, Bernard Shaw, both teetotal and vegetarian, had looked forward to the perfect diet to which human evolution aspired: an intake of air and water. (17) Beatrice, who used to weigh herself each week at Charing Cross Station and luxuriate over the loss of each half-ounce, seemed to live off little more. (17) What an anorexic crew the Fabians were! Poor Sidney Webb was not even allowed marmalade for his breakfast. (17) The Webbs ‘eat quickly & efficiently & leave me with hunks of cake on my hands,’ complained Virginia Woolf to whom Beatrice appeared ‘as bare as bone’. (17) Was it any wonder, then, that the ascetic Fabian philosophy had blossomed during a period of stringent food rationing? There seemed no arts of seduction, no aesthetic principle, in the Fabian policy of political permeation. (17) Why, asked Virginia Woolf, ‘should right pursuits be so entirely hideous’? But were they right pursuits? In matters of religion, sex and politics, Bloomsbury and the Fabians differed profoundly. (17) ‘I always find myself admiring the Woolfs without agreeing with them!’ Beatrice wrote to Virginia. (17) And this has seemed to be the way of it. (17) An age that favours Bloomsbury will downgrade the Fabians, and vice versa. (17) On another occasion, as the four of them walked across the Sussex Downs, Sidney with Leonard, Beatrice with Virginia, Sidney remarked that he knew what his wife was saying to Virginia as they came into view over the horizon. (17) ‘She is saying that marriage is the waste paper basket of the emotions’ – and late that night Virginia confirmed to Leonard that this had indeed been so. (17) The Webbs persisted in their absurdity until it became a sort of strength. (17) There was nothing more absurd to Leonard, for example, than Beatrice’s mysticism. (17) ‘She told me that she habitually prayed with the utmost intensity and profound spiritual effect’: this revelation exasperated Leonard a good deal. (17) He pressed her to explain: but her explanations were like explanations of music to the tone-deaf: ‘I never got anywhere near an understanding.’ (17) To some extent, the explanation of this lack of understanding lies in the difference of their ages. (17) The Fabians were Victorians; the members of Bloomsbury were the sons and daughters of Victorians – Strachey’s Eminent Victorians is an attack on parental authority no less than on Victorian values. (17) Like Leonard Woolf, Strachey believed that the religious impulse had slipped quietly out of life – and a good job too. (17) But Shaw, like Beatrice Webb, felt a need to replace the Old Gent with a beard who had finally been toppled from his cloud by Darwin’s Origin of Species – a work first published when they were both children. (17) As the Evangelical movement disintegrated before Darwinism, a great call had gone up for a new kind of missionary, dedicated to plain living and high thinking. (17) From agnostics, anarchists, dress and diet-reformers, economists, feminists, philanthropists, naturalists and spiritualists, the Socialist revival of the late 19th century drew its man and woman-power. (17) The nominal founder of the Fabian Society was the illegitimate son of a Scottish shepherd, a man with the gift of tongues and very hot on immortality. (17) He had blazed his way through London in the early 1880s, inflaming a miscellaneous band of idealists and agitators who in his wake formed a sort of club where they read papers to one another about Utopian colonies in places such as Southern California. (17) Like the later Apostles at Cambridge, this club had no fixed programme, only a state of mind. (17) Or rather two states of mind – one wholly religious, the other primarily political. (17) In the mid-1880s it split, the ‘Fellowship of the New Life’ attracting the religious element, and the Fabian Society assembling those whose religious impulses developed into socialism. (17) This historical context helps to account for Beatrice Webb’s ‘spiritual muddledom’ – a phrase that appealed to her when she read it in A Passage to India. (17) She had started out as a missionary among the white savages of Britain, and by the Twenties and Thirties had come to see herself as another version of Forster’s Mrs Moore. (17) Like Mrs Moore, she possessed a ‘double vision’, which in her case reflected the dual provenance of the Fabian Society – its diverging mystical and political branches. (17) She longed for the security of those absolute values that were being removed from the world as she grew up. (17) “How can the human mind acclimatise itself to the insecurity and uncertainty of this terrible doctrine of relativity, latent in all modern science long before Einstein applied it to the astronomical universe?’ she asks in her diary in the summer of 1924. (17)


Figure 12 G D H Cole

Later they were opposed (7,16) from the left in the Labour Party (16) by the Guild Socialists, (7,16) who advocated self-government in industry, and other left-wing rebels led by (15) a historian and economist G. D. H. Cole. (7,16) Her niece commented that she had spent the income derived from her father’s fortune trying to destroy the society on which it had been founded. (18)

After 1914

The Webbs and the War

The First World War split the labour movement as deeply as it divided the rest of British society. (18) Many members of the Independent Labour Party – including Ramsay MacDonald – opposed the war; many trades unionists supported it. (18) Neither Beatrice nor Sidney was wholly in sympathy with either the pacifist or the patriotic camp. (18) Sidney’s position was the less complex: from the start of the war, he worked closely with the War Emergency Workers National Committee, a coordinating group, representing both political and industrial labour movement organizations, concerned with practical issues of the impact of the war on working people _ wages, prices, industrial relations, rents and conscription. (18) Mary Agnes Hamilton describes this as the effort “to keep the party so hard at work on concrete, practical matters that the deep fissure of disagreement on the war itself never widened to become a lasting split.” (18) Beatrice, in contrast, was shocked and depressed by the war itself. (18) In 1915 she was suffering from chronic sleeplessness. (18) She wrote “the horror and terror of war eats into one’s vitality”. (18) In 1916, she had a six month illness, which she described as a nervous breakdown, and attributed to “war neurosis.” (18) The horrors of war reached into her own circle: within the family network of the Potter sisters, three of her nephews were killed and four wounded – two of them severely. (18) Another nephew, Stephen Hobhouse, was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. (18) The young people of the generation who had supported the Campaign against Destitution were also casualties – not only Rupert Brooke, but others. (18) In 1917, Beatrice noted in her diary: “The sustained horror of it is depressing. (18) Friends lose husbands and sons; promising men, on whose career one had counted, are swept away. (18) The balance of activity had changed again: it was Sidney who was busy on official committees, while Beatrice, in the war years, began work on what later became her first autobiographical book, “My Apprenticeship. (18) Towards the end of (18) the First World War Beatrice Webb served on several government committees (11,18) on post war reconstruction. (18) She was told the story of her appointment by Tom Jones, former researcher on the Poor Law Royal Commission, now in Lloyd George’s Cabinet Secretariat. (18) Going through the list of proposed members, the Prime Minister said: “Yes, we will have one of the Webbs… Mrs Webb, I think… Webb will be angry, Mrs Webb won’t.” (18) Beatrice used her position on the Reconstruction Committee to reopen the question of Poor Law reform. (18) The Committee recommended in favour of the 1909 Minority Report – but again, there was no legislation. (18) Sidney’s work on the War Emergency Workers National Committee brought him into close and regular contact with a wide range of Labour leaders, building mutual relations of trust and confidence. (18) In addition, in 1915 Sidney became a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party, (15,18) when the previous representative, WS Sanders of the Labour party, went off to war. (18) Kitty Muggeridge, niece and biographer of Beatrice Webb, describes seeing her and Sidney for the first time in 1915: “Presently there sailed into view, pedalling vigorously, a small beetle-like figure, crouched over the handle-bars of a bicycle made for two, and perched majestically behind him, what appeared to be a large grey bird.” (18) Virginia Woolf described meeting Beatrice: “I can’t think how two small old people like that manage to destroy everything one likes and believes in. (17) Beatrice seemed to have replaced the activities of life with the activities of innumerable committees dealing with departments of life. (17) ‘She represses warmth or personality,’ Virginia objected. (17) ‘She has no welcome for one’s individuality … (17) This grey view depressed me more & more, partly I suppose from the egotistical sense of my own nothingness in her field of vision. (17) Sidney she could almost like at times: but not Beatrice. (17) She had taken the cuIt of impersonality too far. (17) How she would have disapproved of Virginia’s excitements with Vita. (17) The images Virginia uses to describe Beatrice are forbidding: yet they are mixed with admiration for her qualities of courage, her brisk good sense and her fairness. (17) ‘Mrs Webb pounces on one, rather like a moulting eagle, with a bald neck and blood-stained beak,’ she wrote to her sister Vanessa in 1916. (17) ‘However, I got on with her better than I expected. (17) She seems very open-minded, for an elderly person, and with no illusions or passions, or mysteries. (17) At that time Beatrice confessed that ‘I have always been haunted by the fear of life and in old age one’s fear becomes a more continuous state of mind.” (17) She had come near to suicide when young, and in 1926 confessed that ‘I have always been haunted by the fear of life and in old age one’s fear becomes a more continuous state of mind. (17) That she had not killed herself she attributed to the social habit of Sidney, the therapy of prayer, and her eventual faith in the political religion of Communism. (17) Though she claimed that she had ‘ceased to sit in judgment’, she hated what she regarded as the sexual anarchy of the Twenties, and the novels of D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley struck her as being almost subhuman. (17) For she feared the power of the sex instinct. (17) Another and contrary effect was to banish all romance from her subsequent life. (17) Her marriage to Sidney, though not without sentiment, was above all things safe: the only threats were illness and death. (17) This was unlike many of the Bloomsbury liaisons of which Beatrice had heard rumours. (17) Forster had written that ‘no human relationship is constant, it is unstable as the living beings who compose it, and they must balance like jugglers if it is to remain; if it is constant it is no longer a human relationship but a social habit. (17) When she read these words Beatrice responded: ‘I prefer a social habit to a personal relationship. (17) This preference, it seemed to her, had perfected Sidney’s and her mutual relations. (17) In 1918, Beatrice commented that Sidney had become the “intellectual leader of the Labour Party.’ (18) In 1918, Sidney played a central part in drafting the new objectives and constitution of the Labour Party. (18)

Post-War Labour politics

They continued to support the Labour Party and its socialist politics during the Interwar period. (10) After the War, Beatrice decided, in the words of Margaret Cole, “that the women of the Labour Party needed educating for politics even more for the men.” (18) She set up the Half Circle Club, for the wives of trade unionists and Labour MPs “to be groomed and trained to play their part in public life. (18) Some of the intended beneficiaries appreciated this more than others; one group of dissidents established the “anti-Beatrice Society.” (18) They became an important force in building the Labour party (5,16) and rapidly rose high in its counsels. (15,16)

Figure 13 Arthur Henderson

Inevitably, it was over dinner at Grosvenor Road, in December 1923, that the decision to form the first Labour Government was taken: Ramsay MacDonald wrote in his diary: “Met Clynes, Thomas, Henderson, Snowden and Webb at Webb’s. (18) All agreed we should take office.” (18) Some of those who had “dropped” the Webbs a decade earlier now tried to “take them up” again. (18) Through friendship with Arthur Henderson, the party’s wartime leader, and through his constant supply of disinterested advice, Sidney became a member of the executive committee and he [OR] he and Beatrice (16) [OR] Beatrice (11) wrote (11) the party’s (7,16) first and, for a long time, its most important (15) policy statement, Labour and the New Social Order (1918). (7,16) for the Fabian Society. (11) She also wrote “The Wages of Men and Women Should They be Equal” (1919), Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (1920) and the Decay of Capitalist Civilization (1923). (11

Sidney’s Political Career

MP for Seaham

After the war, in 1919, Sidney was appointed an independent expert member of the Sankey Commission, set up to examine the future of the coal industry. (15,18) Miners’ leaders observed his work, finding him a persuasive and compelling advocate (15,18) for improved working conditions and nationalization of the mines. (18)

Figure 14 Sidney and Beatrice in Later Life

In particular, the Durham Miners, who had in the past elected long-serving union officials to parliament, concluded that they would be better served if someone like Sidney was one of their MPs. (18) He was duly selected for (18) Seaham (15,18) Harbour in Durham (15) in July 1920, following which Beatrice and Sidney spent long periods of time in the area, up to (18) his election as MP for the constituency of Seaham, (7,11) with an enormous majority, (15) in October (18) 1922, (15,18) [OR] 1923 (11) at the age of 63. (18) They began by writing a History of the Durham Miners, and then organised local meetings. (18) Jack Lawson, another Durham Miners’ MP, left a description of the campaign: “But there was one thing certain, and it was that Mrs Webb gripped the women much more than ever he did. (18) There was the real stuff of the north when she addressed meetings and she left a memory that will never be forgotten by those now living.” (18) He was at once put on the front bench, and a year later (18) secured for himself Cabinet office (7,11) in both Labour governments, (7,15) in 1924 as president of the Board of Trade (7,11) in the short-lived first Labour Government, (18) In 1923 Beatrice and Sidney bought a house at Passfield, on the Surrey/Hampshire border. (18) Meanwhile in 1926 (16) Beatrice engaged in campaigning and Labour Party politics and embarked on the writing of her autobiography. (12) It was to be called ‘Our Partnership’, but she was repeatedly distracted by other more pressing commitments. (16) The book’s editors reported her finding it difficuIt to express “her philosophy of life, her belief in the scientific method, but its purpose guided always by religious emotion.” (16) Sidney decided to retire at the age of seventy, (18) and in 1928 the Webbs retired to their home (7,16) at Liphook in Hampshire, where they lived until their deaths. (16) He therefore did not stand at the 1929 election – his place at Seaham was taken by MacDonald. (18)

Sidney Colonial Secretary

But when Labour then formed another Minority Government, MacDonald asked Sidney to become a peer, (18) and return to the cabinet and as Colonial Secretary in 1929. (7,11) The Webbs were (2,11) therefore elevated to the peerage. (1,2) Sidney had a seat in the House of Lords as Baron Passfield, (7,11) and she theoretically became Baroness Passfield (1) She referred to Sidney as “The personage with the fantastical name of Lord Passfield.” (18) She refused to accept the title of Lady Passfield: (11,16) she remained Mrs Beatrice Webb. (18) and did not refer to herself as Lady Passfield or expect others to do so. (16) Under this name, between 1929 and 1931 Sidney served as Secretary of State for the Colonies and Secretary of State for the Dominions in Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government. (16) Curiously, these were the same two cabinet posts that Joseph Chamberlain had held fifty years earlier. (18) Beatrice collaborated with Sidney wholeheartedly in all these tasks; (7,12) but in fact he had come to politics rather late in life. (15) He was not a great success, particularly at the Colonial Office, troubled as it was by the Palestinian situation. (15) With the fall of the Labour Government, and the establishment of the National Government, Sidney’s involvement in conventional, parliamentary politics came to an end – to the great relief of both. (18) They moved to Passfield Corner completely after Sidney left government in 1931. (18) When he came back to Passfield Corner Beatrice wrote that “He was exhausted, and rather upset by the queer end of the Labour cabinet – but delighted to be out of it all.” (18)

Passfield Corner

Even though Beatrice and Sidney Webb were now in their seventies, however, their wider political activity did not cease. (18) Invitations to lunch or dinner at Grosvenor Road were replaced by weekends at Passfield Corner. (18) Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, wrote that the pilgrimage to Passfield Corner was sometimes exhausting: “You went down to tea where there were probably other guests. (18) Serious talk began at once. (18)

Figure 15 Passfield Corner

The condition of the world and of the Labour and Socialist movement in particular, and immediate topics of the day, were systematically dealt with.” (18) One could almost hear Mrs Webb putting a mental tick after each item, when it had been discussed and nothing more of importance was likely to be said on the subject. (18) The long, meaty conversation would continue at night by the fire. (18) Sidney and Beatrice Webb Sidney and Beatrice Webb Margaret Cole also remembered those weekends: “No one who was a frequent guest at Passfield Corner during the ‘thirties can fail to retain a vivid recollection of Beatrice sitting on a low stool in front of the fire, her skirt pulled back and her stockings as often as not in wrinkles about her ankles, seeking information about current politics and current relationships… The tone of voice in which Beatrice could refer to some well-known figure as ‘an odious woman’ or ‘a very common sort of person’ will probably never be heard again in our lifetime.” (18) But it was all very enjoyable gossip, and did nobody any harm. (18) On June 12th 1937 Beatrice and Sidney Webb gave a party at Passfield for over a hundred people. (18) They invited all the descendants of Richard and Laurencina Potter, to the second and third generations, along with old friends like George Bernard Shaw and Beveridge. (18) In the small hours of the morning after, Beatrice noted that it had been “an exhausting episode for the aged Webbs”. (18) She thought that they would not run such a large party again. (18) But it had been ‘a decided success’ – “Dear old Father, how delighted he would have been at the thought of the successful careers of many of his descendants and their spouses. (18) Three peers, four privy councillors, two Cabinet Ministers, two baronets and two Fellows of the Royal Society – a typical nineteenth and twentieth-century upper middle class family, rising in the government of the country. (18) In 1932, (16) She became the first women to be (2,16) elected a Fellow of the British Academy (FBA). (1,2)

And Bloomsbury

She thought that Virginia Woolf suffered from lack of a moral compass. (17) ‘It is a most disconcerting conclusion, that there is no absolute truth, and that the thoughts of man are no more and no less valid than the analogous brain activities of the dog or the bee! What becomes of the existing standards of morality or capacity? … Is morality a question of taste, and truth a question of relative standpoints? And are all tasks and all standpoints equally valid? What, in fact, is my own standpoint from which I survey the world of the past and the future” (17) Beatrice prayed for answers to these questions: and received in answer some relief. (17) The need for this relief was potent and enduring. (17) ‘Virginia seemed troubled by an absence of any creed as to what was right and what was wrong,’ Beatrice wrote in her diary. (17) ‘This gifted and charming lady, with her classic features, subtle observation and sympathetic style, badly needs a living philosophy.’ (17) Only when she witnessed a similar process of renewed optimism rising in her friend Bernard Shaw could she be critical about it. (17) After reading his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, she noted that, though he had opened the hearts of fellow socialists, ‘he preaches a curiously abstract utopia, which eludes criticism because of its very unreality. (17)

And Soviet Russia 1932

Interest in Soviet Communism

A dissonant voice entered the family after Katherine Dobbs, the daughter of Beatrice’s youngest sister Rosalind, married the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. (16) In the early 1930s the young couple moved to Moscow, full of enthusiasm for the new Soviet system. (16) The Utopians of the 1880s had looked west towards Southern California. (17) Observing the wider world, Beatrice wrote of “Russian communism and Italian Fascism” as “two sides of the worship of force and the practice of cruel intolerance” and she was disturbed that “this spirit is creeping into the USA and even … into Great Britain.” (16) After the election of a narrow Labour majority of MPs in May 1929, (16) the Labour Government had renewed diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. (18)

Figure 16 Ambassador Sokolnikov

The Webbs soon cultivated the new ambassador, Sokolnikov, inviting him and his wife first to dinner in London, and then for a weekend at Passfield Corner (where they introduced him to Philip Snowden, the grimly orthodox Chancellor of the Exchequer). (18) Beatrice noted in her diary “We are the only ‘Cabinet’ members who have consorted with them. (18) The Hendersons [Arthur Henderson was Foreign Secretary] do not ‘know them’ socially, nor the PM. (18) The Great Depression began later that year, (16) and after the defeat of the second Labour government in the October 1931 election, (12,15) fellow Fabian Ramsay MacDonald, (16,17) abandoned socialist principles (16,17) and formed and headed a National Government, thereby splitting the Labour Party. (16) The frustrations and disappointments of these years (16) left the Webbs thoroughly disillusioned with Labour prospects in Britain, (15,17) and having lost faith in that Fabian tenet of progress, ‘the inevitability of gradualness’, and in the Fabian policy of working with a profit-making capitalist system which, as Marx had demonstrated, would inevitably collapse, Beatrice’s prayers led her eastwards to Soviet Communism. (17)) Beatrice and Sidney were not alone in the 1930s in looking to the Soviet Union as a beacon of hope. (18) Later in the 1930s, people on the left in Western Europe came to support Communism and the Soviet Union because they were seen as the only option against the totalitarian right: “Only the Communist party seemed unambiguously against Hitler and Fascism,” wrote Denis Healey. (18) With Healey, many saw communism as the only force that could effectively challenge fascism. (18) This was not the route by which the Webbs arrived at their interest in Russia. (18) With many others, especially after the collapse of the Labour Government, they believed that the old economic order had failed, and that the Soviet Union, with its planned economy, was the only alternative on offer. (18) Attending the Labour party Conference in September 1931, Beatrice noted that the prevailing spirit was a “dour determination never again to undertake the government of the country as the caretaker of the existing order of society. (18) By the time the Labour Government fell, Beatrice was determined to follow up the suggestion. (18) She and Sidney began to look on the USSR and its leader Stalin with different eyes. (12,16) In September 1931 she wrote: “In the course of a decade we shall know whether American capitalism or Russian Communism yields the better life for the bulk of the people; whichever of these ‘cultures’ wins, we in Great Britain will have to follow suit. (18) But while Beatrice posed an open question, she already knew her own answer: “For without doubt we are on the side of Russia…. (18) Advancing across the Continent like a Mediaeval religion, Soviet Communism reached her as an answer to her prayers. (17) It appealed to her emotional needs as well as satisfying her intellectual beliefs, and it gave her many years of ponderous work with Sidney a constructive aspect. (17) ‘I wish Russian Communism to succeed,’ she wrote in 1932. (17) Muggeridge’s experience of reporting from the Soviet Union for the Manchester Guardian, however, made him highly critical of the Webbs’ optimistic views of the Soviet Union. (16) He told Beatrice in no uncertain terms of his horrified disapproval of the Soviet system. (16) In 1932 (7,10) they accepted an invitation (10) from Ambassador Sokolnikov (18) to visit the Soviet Union. (10,16)

The Visit, May-July 1932

Over the winter of 1931/2, Beatrice and Sidney read extensively about Russia, hiring a translator to help with Russian language material. (18) In May 1932, they sailed to Leningrad for a two month stay. (18) Margaret Cole wrote that, when Beatrice and Sidney went to the Soviet Union in 1932, the name Webb “had an almost mystical prestige.” (18) Sidney and Beatrice, now in their 70s, spent two months there from 21st May to late July. (16) Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie, the editors of Beatrice’s diaries, say that the visit “was very much the ‘managed’ tour that Beatrice had anticipated…. they were taken on much the same round of schools, clinics, factories, farms and construction projects to the accompaniment of the same routine propaganda. (18) Sidney’s notes suggest that they tried hard to get at the facts, but even such experienced investigators as the Webbs were not accustomed to guided tours and the practised defensiveness of Communist officials… their eager interest made them naïve if not completely gullible. (18) Beatrice was unwell for part of the trip; she was looked after at a resort in the Caucasus while Sidney toured the Ukraine. (18) Nevertheless it seemed to them to represent a “new civilization” that could enact the social, economic, and political principles for which they had long worked. (12) Back in England at the end of July, they began to organise their material. (18) Beatrice noted in 1933 that their aim was “to give a vision of the Communist alternative to decadent capitalism – planned production for community consumption with as much liberty and equality as is compatible with the continued progress of the human race in body and mind and social life. (18) Drafting what would become their 1100 page book lasted through 1933 and 1934 and into 1935. (18)

Second Visit 1934

In 1933 (16) [OR] In 1934, Sidney went back for a further visit. (16,18) This time, Beatrice – now 76 – was not well enough for the arduous journey, and (18) Sidney was accompanied by Barbara Drake, (16,18) one of her nieces, (18) a prominent trade unionist and member of the Fabian Society, and by John Cripps, the son of their nephew Stafford Cripps. (16) On 29th March 1933 Beatrice referred in her diary to “Malcolm’s curiously hysterical denunciation of the USSR and all its works in a letter to me…” (16) The following day she noted that the Guardian had printed “another account of famine in Russia, which certainly bears out Malcolm’s reports.” (16) Yet, wrote Muggeridge, Beatrice “went on wanting to see Kitty and me. (16) On their last visit Beatrice showed her niece’s husband a portrait of Lenin: “She had set the picture up as though it were a Velazquez, with special lighting coming from below.” (16)

Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation?

The next three years were spent writing (15,16) their last big book, Soviet Communism: A New (5,7) Civilisation? (7,16) [OR] Society (5) (1935) (5,7) It was over 1,000 pages in length. (16,18) Most of the text was written by Sidney Webb and based on copious study of publications and statistics provided by the Soviet embassy in London. (16) It was published in December 1935. (18) Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, described the two volumes as “monuments of industry, honesty, and disinterested labour. (18) They are also about the most unrealistic books ever produced by able people. (18) Beatrice welcomed the ethic of the collectivist state where the life of the individual was subordinated to the service of the community. (17) Although she expressed her disapproval of the absence of political freedom in Stalin’s communist system, Beatrice was thoroughly impressed with the improvement in the health, social and educational services that were available to Soviet citizens. (10) The Soviet Union had also implemented laws that ensured women political and economic, social and political equality. (10) Webb believed that the economic system that Stalin had implemented would “spread to the rest of the world” due to its emphasis on community consumption rather than individual consumption. (10) Despite the lack of any autonomy in politics, (10) its totalitarianism (5,10) and the lack of free expression among those intellectuals who were against the Communist creed and the practice thereof, (18) and her being ‘guided by religious emotion’ (16) they “fell in love,” (15,18) with the atheist regime they found there. (15) “Old people,” Beatrice once said, “often fall in love in extraordinary and ridiculous ways – with their chauffeurs, for example: we feel it more dignified to have fallen in love with Soviet Communism. (18) In the preface to an anthology of Left Book Club publications, for instance, British historian (16) AJP Taylor wrote that ‘Soviet Communism’ was, “despite severe competition, the most preposterous book ever written about Soviet Russia.” (16,18) A second edition (this time without the question mark) appeared in October 1937. (16,18) Their book promoted and encouraged an uncritical view of Stalin’s conduct, during agrarian centralisation in the first five year plan (1928–1933), the creation of the gulag system, and the extensive purges of the 1930s. (16) Trotskyist historian Al Richardson later described their 1935 account of the USSR as “pure Soviet propaganda at its most mendacious”. (16) When the first edition of the book was in preparation, its authors had to ignore the evidence of famine and oppression. (18) By the time of the second, they had to ignore – or worse, justify – the purges and the show trials. (18) In her diaries Beatrice did not hide her disquiet, at the opening of the Moscow Trials in the summer of 1936, and after the conviction of Nikolai Bukharin in March 1938. (16) There therefore seemed to be a conscious element of deception. (16) In the third edition of Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation (1941), for instance, Beatrice, in speaking of the Moscow Trials, voiced the opinion that in 1937 “strenuous efforts had been made, both in the trade union organisation and in the Communist Party, to cut out the dead wood”. (16) This phrase was used to reassure a wider public about the grotesque accusations against former leading Bolsheviks. (16)

Reactions to their praise of Stalin

Figure 17 The Question Mark Was Dropped

Of all the aspects of the Webbs’ long careers, this idealization of Soviet communism was the most controversial and the most criticized. (12,16) They, who had always held that social change cannot come about by the violent destruction of existing institutions, (5,7) now abandoned their belief in gradual social and political evolution, (15) and endorsed the Russian Revolution. (5,10) Historians have criticised the Webbs for the naive supposition that the methods they had developed in analysing and formulating social policy in Britain could be applied to the Soviet Union. (16) Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? – in later editions the question mark was dropped, as was any public doubt the Webbs might have about the nature of the USSR – has since been roundly condemned. (16) When she heard of Virginia Woolf’s suicide, Beatrice remembered Virginia’s words to her. (17) These, she thought, might explain her voluntary withdrawal from life. (17) ‘Can man continue happy without some assured faith as to what should be the right relation of man to man, also of man’s relation to the universe?’ she asked herself. (17) Beatrice’s notion of the right relation of man to the universe persisted throughout her Fabian career. (17) Beatrice herself had suffered from chronic melancholy – what she called her ‘indifference to life’. (17) ‘But if I were not supremely fortunate in my circumstances would that vague and intermittent faith save me from despair,’ she wondered after the Second World War had started, ‘during these days of death and destruction, by day and by night?’ (17) The Soviet Union was Beatrice’s last great cause. (18) She continued to speak and write on the subject, and travel from Passfield to London. (18)

A Left Wing Dynasty

Although the Webbs had no children, the connections by marriage of their numerous nieces and nephews made Beatrice and Sidney part of the emerging new Labour establishment. (16) Beatrice’s nephew Sir Stafford Cripps, son of her sister Theresa, became a well-known Labour politician in the 1930s and 1940s. (16) He served as British ambassador to Moscow during the Second World War and later as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Clement Attlee. (16) His daughter Peggy went on to marry Nana Joe Appiah, an African statesman and tribal chieftain who served as something of a founding father of the Republic of Ghana. (16) Margaret, yet another Potter sister, married the Liberal politician Henry Hobhouse, making Beatrice Webb an aunt of peace activist Stephen Henry Hobhouse and of Liberal politician Arthur Hobhouse. (16) Another sister, Blanche, married surgeon William Harrison Cripps, brother to Theresa’s husband Charles Cripps, 1st Baron Parmoor. (16) The Cripps family was a wealthy political family, originally from Cirencester. (16)

And the Post-War Labour Government

Webb-Beveridge connection

A generation after the 1905 Commission, the successor to the Minority Report was Beveridge’s Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services in 1942. (19) The Welfare State setup by the post-war Labour government was testament to her lifelong research and campaigning. (2) Beatrice Webb’s points of connection with William Beveridge, were multiple: (14) Beveridge was close to the Webbs until their deaths, but was never a Fabian; unlike them, he saw insurance as central to reform, and always stressed voluntary action. (19) indeed, as well as their influence on the welfare state, the Webbs had influenced Beveridge’s career: (19) In March (18) 1908, Churchill met William Beveridge at dinner hosted by Beatrice (18,19) at 41 Grosvenor Road, following which (18) Beatrice told him ‘if you are going to deal with unemployment you must have the boy Beveridge’. (18,19) Beveridge was appointed to set up the network of labour exchanges. (19 But her influence in his life and work went back much further. (14) As a young man, William Beveridge had been a researcher on the 1909 report, (8,16) and begun his life-long association with the Webbs. (8)

Figure 17 Sidney and Beatrice in 1942

He eventually ran ‘their baby’, the LSE. (8) Beatrice’s Minority Report was to prove influential when he came to write his own report on Social Insurance and Allied Services in 1942. (14) a year before Beatrice’s death. (8,16) He said that “the Beveridge Report stemmed from what all of us had imbibed from the Webbs”. (14) However, even if Webb’s report was highly influential on Beveridge’s thinking about how to reorganising the basis of financial support for the poor, separating out education and health care from issues of poverty and destitution, Webb did not return the favour. (14) On the publication of the Beveridge report she noted that: “If carried out (which I think unlikely), it will increase the catastrophic mass unemployment, which could happen here as in the U.S.A. (14) The better you treat the unemployed in the way of means, without service, the worse the evil becomes; because it is better to do nothing than to work at low wages and conditions.” (14) Beveridge’s 1942 plan for social security depended on the new understanding, derived above all from the work of Keynes, that governments, through their management of the economy, could minimise unemployment. (19)


Sidney suffered a stroke in 1938; while he made a substantial recovery, he could not travel far. (18) In 1942, (10) Beatrice and her husband published The Truth About Soviet Russia (10,16) in support of the economic system that stressed communal responsibility (10) and celebrated central planning. (16) She was among those listed in the German-compiled “Black Book”. (16) Ivan Maisky, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United Kingdom during much of the Second World War, was friendly with Webb. (16) In a conversation with Webb on 10th October 1939, Maisky quoted her as stating “Churchill is not a true Englishman, you know. (16) He has Negro blood. (16) You can tell even from his appearance. (16) They continued to welcome visitors until shortly before (18) she died (1,5) aged 85, (16) a year after publishing her latest book following her trip to the Soviet Union, (10) at their family home (5,16) in Passfield Corner (16) in Liphook, (5,15) Hampshire, (5,7) on 30th April 1943. (1,5) At her death, the only autobiographical work she had published was My Apprenticeship (1926). (16) She left unfinished a planned autobiography, under the general title My Creed and My Craft. (16) The posthumously issued Our Partnership (1948) covered the first two decades of her marriage to Sidney Webb between 1892 and 1911 and their collaboration on a variety of public issues. (16) In the preface to the second work, its editors refer to Webb’s desire to describe truthfully her lifelong pursuit of a living philosophy, her changes of outlook and ideas, her growing distrust of benevolent philanthropy as a means of redeeming ‘poor suffering humanity’ and her leaving of the field of abstract economic theory for the then practically unexplored paths of scientific social research. (16) When she died the casket containing her ashes was buried in the garden of their house. (16) Lord Passfield’s ashes were also buried there in 1947. (16) as they had agreed. (18) Shortly afterwards, George Bernard Shaw launched a petition to have both reburied to Westminster Abbey, which was eventually granted. (16,18) In 1943 (16) [OR] in December (18) 1947, (5,18) shortly after Sidney’s death, (5) their ashes were buried (5,16) in the nave of (16) Westminster Abbey. (5,16) They were the only married couple to be honoured in this way. (18) The address was given by Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister, who said: “Millions are living fuller and freer lives today because of the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.” (18) Only one of the Potter sisters, Rosy, the youngest, was still alive. (18) As the two caskets were being put in place, she whispered hoarsely “Which is Sidney and which is Beatrice” (18) They were joined subsequently by the remains of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. (16)


The Webbs, (7,15) and their Fabian Socialism, (15) were pioneers in social and economic reforms as well as distinguished historians. (15) They deeply influenced British radical thought and British institutions (7,15) during the first half of the 20th Century. (15) Beatrice’s contributions to the world via economic advancement and social policy-making can still be seen in the world today, (10) though the exact extent of their influence will always be a matter of dispute, partly because once they had founded an institution (such as the London School of Economics) they were uninterested in directing its development, and partly because many of their ideas were taken up by others, and they were never concerned with demanding credit for them. (15) Some of their effectiveness as a partnership can be attributed to the fact that their gifts were remarkably complementary-Sidney supplying the mastery of facts and publications, and Beatrice the flashes of insight. (15) Of immense importance, too, was their complete contentment with each other and with the pattern of life they had chosen. (15) This sublime satisfaction sometimes caused irritation to those who disagreed with their values and found them impervious to criticism. (15) But no one ever doubted either their ability or their record of completely disinterested public service. (15) Bertrand Russell once said that: “If you set down a list of Beatrice’s leading characteristics you would say – What a dreadful woman!’ But in fact she was very nice. I had a great liking and respect for her. I was always delighted by a chance of meeting her. (18)


The Fabians had a revival in the years of austerity following the Second World War. (17)Even when the Labour government was defeated in 1951, the incoming Conservative prime minister was the 77-year-old Winston Churchill, the old social reformer. (19) In the words of Peter Hennessy, “ln the late 1940s and early 1950s, leading figures of both major political parties competed to be seen as the progenitors of the ‘classic welfare state’. (19) But after we had been told by Macmillan in the summer of 1957 that Britain had never had it so good, a wind of change swept over the country. (17) Distribution of wealth, it was felt, would take care of itself by means of massive and inevitable economic growth, so we didn’t really have to think about it. (17) The predictions of Beatrice Webb, to the effect that Britain would go down in trade and wealth, that there would be a brain drain to America (on whose military strength we would become dependent), that we had too high a standard of leisure and pleasure, and that the nation as a whole was consequently slipping down the slope of sloppy thinking into a period of great hardship – all that seemed inaccurate as to fact, mean in spirit and unattractive in its puritanical implications. (17) The Webbs were well-known for their lack of political instinct and this appeared to be a fine example of that disability. (17) What, for example, could have seemed more wide of the mark than her prediction of 1925 that the Liberal Party would only re-emerge as a force in the country once it had formed an entirely new party by allying itself to disaffected Labour supporters, creating a rift among Socialists and bringing in Conservatives. (17) The trouble with Beatrice in political terms was that, as she herself expressed it, ‘I am conscious of the past and I am conscious of the future; I am wholly indifferent to the present. (17) In other words, she was an intellectual. (17) Those people who lived in the present, the party politicians, were saying something different. (17) They might have no sense of history, no prevision of the period in which we ourselves are currently living, but they did reflect the confidence of the moment. (17) In prosperous times we saw the Fabians very much as Virginia Woolf saw them: drab, earnest, sallow, dull, dreary, joyless. (17) ‘I cannot get over my distaste for the Fabian type,’ Virginia wrote in her diary. (17) The Fabian type seemed to have no appetite for life. (17) This changed in the late Fifties and early Sixties, after National Service had come to an end, when employment was reasonably high, and when the Wolfenden Report on homosexuality was in preparation, the Fabian programme of collectivism, national efficiency, and compulsory civilian service for everyone, was seen as a threat to the liberty of the individual just as that individual was about to enjoy new liberties. (17) I doubt if a book on Beatrice Webb by an unknown biographer would have secured an advance on royalties of much more than a fiver in 1961. (17) A few months before I presented my cheque for 50 pounds to my bank, the first volume of Leonard Woolf’s autobiography, Sowing, was published. (17) It covered his own origins and early years, as well as the origins of the Bloomsbury Group in Cambridge and among that famously secret society known as the Apostles. (17) The fifth and last volume of this autobiography appeared in 1969, by which time the renewal of interest in Bloomsbury was fully under way. (17) Not until the Thatcher governments of the 1980s was there a sustained attempt to undo the legacy of social reform; with hindsight, what is surprising is not how much was taken away, but how much remained. (19) Clause Four was not however without controversy. (4) The Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell sought to overturn Clause Four because he believed it had become an electoral liability, and shortly after gaining the leadership of the Party Tony Blair replaced Clause Four with a new formation that described Labour as a democratic socialist party committed to serving the interests of “the many, not the few”. (4) As with Gaitskell, Blair believed that a commitment to common ownership was part of the ideological baggage preventing the party from broadening its electoral appeal. (4) The amendment to Clause Four was a seminal moment in the emergence of New Labour. (4) The Fabian mindset also prescribes an expansion in the role of the state rather than its overthrow by the proletariat. (4) Both figures (especially Beatrice) were concerned with the practicalities of creating a new Jerusalem and they certainly deserve a place in any compendium with regard to those on the centre-left of the political spectrum. (4) Beatrice Webb house, a residential block constructed in 1988 was named in honour of her pioneering work. (2) Since the mid-1990s or so the Fabians-and the Webbs in particular-have warranted a second look from theorists in search of non-communist strains of socialism. (12) Reevaluations of Webb have regarded her as a figure in her own right and have often focused on the literary dimensions of her work, her contribution to sociology, and her exemplary struggles with the constraints of Victorian femininity. (12) Beatrice did not live to see the welfare state set up by the post-war Labour government. (16) It was an enduring monument to her research and campaigning, before and after she married Sidney Webb. (16) First outlined in the Minority report (Poor Law) of 1909, it would remain substantially intact until the 1980s. (16) It is not certain that Beatrice Webb would have approved of the manner of its implementation and future management. (16) As her niece Kitty commented: … although it was Beatrice herself who put the 20th-century zeitgeist into its most concrete form, in the Welfare State, something in her remained sturdily Victorian to the very end. (16) “What has to be aimed at is not this or that improvement in material circumstances or physical comfort but an improvement in personal character,” she wrote. (16) She believed that citizens who were given benefits by the community ought to make an effort to improve themselves, or at least submit themselves to those who would improve them. (16)




Bibliographical Notes


  1. 7 has identical phrasing to 15: “Their leadership in the Fabian Society had been shaken by the opposition, first of H.G. Wells and later of the Guild Socialists, who advocated self-government in industry, and other left-wing rebels led by a historian and economist G.D.H. Cole.”

    13 copies 16. (13) struck out: Beatrice Webb made a number of important contributions to the political and economic theory of the co-operative movement. (16) In her 1891 book The Cooperative Movement in Great Britain, based on her experiences in Lancashire, she distinguished between “co-operative federalism” and “co-operative individualism”. (16) She identified herself as a co-operative federalist, a school of thought which advocates consumer co-operative societies. (16) She argued that consumers’ co-operatives should be set up as co-operative wholesale societies (by forming co-operatives in which all members are co-operatives, the best historical example being the English Co-operative Wholesale Society) and that these federal co-operatives should then acquire farms or factories. (16) Webb dismissed the idea of worker co-operatives where the people who did the work and benefited from it had some control over how it was organised, arguing that – at the time she was writing – such ventures had proved largely unsuccessful, at least in ushering in her form of socialism led by volunteer committees of people like herself. (16) Examples of successful worker cooperatives did of course exist, then as now. (16) In some professions they were the norm. (16) Out of these two categories, Webb identified herself as a co-operative federalist; a school of thought which advocates consumer co-operative societies. (16) Webb argued that consumers’ co-operatives should form co-operative wholesale societies (by forming co-operatives in which all members are co-operatives, the best historical example being the English Co-operative Wholesale Society) and that these federal co-operatives should undertake purchasing farms or factories. (16) Webb dismissed the idea of worker co-operatives where the people who did the work and benefited from it had some control over how it was done, arguing that – at the time she was writing – such ventures had proved largely unsuccessful, at least in ushering in her form of socialism led by volunteer committees of people like herself. (16) Examples of successful worker Cooperatives did of course exist then as now. (16) In some professions they were the norm. (16)


Foreign and Military

Father profited from Crimean War; She visited USA with father; Liberal split Limp/Pro-Boer affected reception of Minority Report; Worked for War Effort in First War; Sidney Colonial Sec; Hosted Soviet ambassador; Visited USSR;

Religion and Ideas

Nonconformist Liberal family; Cooperative philosophy from Spencer; Religious impulse converted to philanthropy; ‘at last I am a socialist’; feminism; gradualism; Welfare State; Soviet Communism.


Private Wealth; Spending not creating wealth;

Social & Economic

Upper class; Bacup; London season; Booth’s Survey; Undercover textile worker; Research and writing. LSE; New Statesman; Book on USSR.

Fabian Society; Permeation; Royal Commission; Labour Party; Soviet Communism;

Individual and Random

Brother’s death; relationship with Spencer; Affair with Chamberlain; Meets Sidney; marriage with Sidney; G.B Shaw; Bertrand Russell; Soirees; Balfour; Dished by Lloyd George; Churchill negro; Muggeridge. Unable to boil an egg.


Fry on York; Marx, Morris, Prewar foreign policy; Female Suffrage; Versailles; Interwar Foreign Policy; Rearmament; League of Nations; Mosley; Hitler; Fabian ‘Apostles’;

Points of View:

Chamberlain; Father; Burns; H.G.Wells; G.D.H Cole; A.J.P. Taylor; Beveridge.


Co-operation; Trade Unionism; permeation; Fabian;

Alternative Hypothesis


Cause, Consequence, Comparison

C1: Rerum cognoscere causas; C2: Deep state? C3: Spinelli?


The prosperity of Britain severely damaged by WW1 and Reparations, but no comment of any impact on her expensive projects post-1918. Not much known for certain about the reality of Stalinist rule during her lifetime, and she suppressed information which she did acquire in Russia.

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