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Celebrating 140 years of the Fabians

By John Töns - posted Monday, 18 March 2024

The Fabians were formed at a time when the idea of social democracy was still in its infancy. The idea of a peaceful transition to democratic government was viewed with some suspicion. It can be argued that the early Fabians may have been naïve. For although 'democracy' has seemingly triumphed it has, thanks to neo-liberalism, become the handmaiden of global capitalism.

Although neoliberalism can trace its origins to the 19th century it has been the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan that has given it is modern character. Politicians across the political spectrum have seemingly agreed with Margaret Thatcher when she stated that There is No Alternative (TINA)to market oriented reform policies. The result has been that unbridled growth, trade liberalisation, and competition are advocated as the only or best ways of organizing the contemporary world. Unemployment, yawning gaps between rich and poor, political disengagement, and environmental devastation are too often seen as acceptable 'side effects' of the dominance of neo-liberalism.

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


Today Fabianism is more relevant than ever. It is not unusual for people to be surprised that there are Fabians in Australia. For most Fabianism is an anachronism; it was relevant about 100 years ago but it has long reached its use by date. For them it is time to leave the past where it belongs – there is no room for Fabianism in the 21st century.

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

The Fabians are under no illusion about the parlous state of politics, but we have not given in to the politics of despair. Our argument is that this is precisely the time that we need to engage. If we abandon the field of politics and leave it to the populists and extremists, then we run the real danger of a global collapse.

But, what can we do? The Fabians in conjunction with the Don Dunstan Foundation have created the Don Dunstan Research Network. The aim of the Network is to create a national and international dialogue united under the theme Another World is Possible.

A not insignificant part of the problem is not just that we have believed Margaret Thatcher.Most of our political leaders and bureaucrats have been suckled by Neo-liberal beliefs. The idea that there could be an alternative is anathema to them. Furthermore, many of the voters are likewise trapped into the false belief that there is no alternative; all that they can hope for is for a few crumbs of comfort; they have been convinced that this is the most they can hope for. Instead, they are encouraged to believe that the problems they face are a product of 'the deep state' or unfettered migration. They are encouraged to turn on one another – it is the dispossessed that are a threat to democracy, it is international covenants that deprive them of the benefits of neo-liberalism, it is the belief in climate change that is the culprit. Moreover, they are encouraged to maintain these false beliefs by politicians who come to them with no solutions.

The Fabians do have solutions. Fabians believe that we are all in this together. We need to reach a hand out to one another and tackle the challenges we face head on. We are not daunted by the size of the challenge but are committed to demonstrating that another world is indeed possible. On the 27th of March we invite you to participate in a webinar dealing with the question of a Universal Basic Income. But this will be a webinar with an important difference. We will be using the webinar as a means of collecting information of what Australia thinks. We will be attempting to create a national conversation not just about UBI but about a range of issues but to do that we need your help.


The DDRN promotes the idea of a deliberative democracy. The Irish have demonstrated the strength of deliberative democracy. Ireland has managed contentious issues using community assemblies.

For a non-government actor to co-ordinate community input on complex and contentious issues is rare. To do so using a webinar as the catalyst for a national conversation is, to the best of our knowledge, unique. The challenge is to manage and facilitate the collation of the community input to the discussions and record their feedback and responses that is meaningful for policy makers.

The invitation to the webinar will be circulated nationally and internationally – (it will be streamed live). It is an ambitious attempt to use the internet to conduct qualitative research. The aim will be to collate the results of the responses in a report to be published by the DDRN towards the end of 2024 or early 2025.


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You can participate in this event either on line or in person. Book here:

5.30pm Wednesday 27 March 2024 | Adelaide Health and Medical Sciences Building Lecture Theatre, North Terrace.


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About the Author

John Töns is President of the Zero Carbon Network a network established to promote clear thinking about the issues associated with climate change. In addition to operating the only zero carbon boarding kennels in South Australia he is also completing a PhD at Flinders University in the area of Global Justice. John is a founding member of a new political party Stop Population Growth Now.

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