LSE’s foundational relationship with the Fabian Society — most prominently via founding members Beatrice and Sidney Webb — is well known. The LSE South Asia Centre, with Professor Michael Cox (who is currently writing a new history of the LSE) will collaborate with the Fabian Society to curate a series of events that will unravel the complexities that underpinned the Fabians’ engagement with and about South Asia, their influence in Labour’s articulation of decolonisation in post-World War 2 Britain, and of the longer term association of several LSE Fabians with the region.
From the retrospective advantage of our current hindsight, several actions of LSE Fabians in Britain seem counterintuitive, grate against our good senses, and complicate our understanding of them. There is a deeper and lesser known story here; our events will explore this tension, tangled in the wider context of race, class, eugenics, Empire, imperialism, historiography, and attendant debates, motored by global political imperatives and intellectual movements of the 19th-20th centuries.
By focusing on South Asia through the membership of the Fabian Society, the events hope to locate actors and their actions both at home and abroad, between divergent interests, to show that this was an invested and intricate engagement walking a peculiar tightrope along a slippery slope: if some Fabians supported eugenics, they also supported opportunities for education for all — the Webbs travelled the world to raise funds to set up a liberal institution like the LSE focused on understanding the economics underlying poverty, inequality and class, and a gift from the Indian businessman Sir Ratan Tata established 'The Ratan Tata Department of Social Justice and Administration’ at LSE where Clement Attlee was appointed Lecturer; LSE Director Henry Beveridge was the architect of the modern welfare state in Britain, and the academic Richard Titmuss the founder of the study of Social Administration (now Social Policy); there were those at LSE who spoke critically of Empire and opposed colonialism (Sydney Olivier), Harold Laski was openly supportive of independence of the Indian subcontinent and engaged with prominent Indians like Krishna Menon, while Nicholas Kaldor continued a friendly, and advisory, association with Nehruvian India in the 1950s.
There were other Fabians, not part of LSE, but no less engaged with South Asia: those who advocated self-rule in the colonies (Virginia & Leonard Woolf), and Annie Besant, who made the subcontinent her home for decades, leading the Theosophical Movement there.
Beatrice & Sidney Webb: The Race for LSE
Date/Time: Tuesday, 17 November/4-5:30pm UK Time.
Speakers: Michael Cox is Professor, LSE IDEAS, and is author of a new history of LSE, 'The School: LSE and the Making of the Modern World' (forthcoming); Kevin Morgan is Professor of Politics and History, University of Manchester, and has published extensively on the Webbs; Chris Renwick (@ChrisRenwick) is Senior Lecturer in Modern History, University of York, and author of British Sociology’s Lost Biological Roots: A History of Futures Past and Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State.
Chair: Nilanjan Sarkar is Deputy Director, LSE South Asia Centre.
This event is free and open to all and will be livestreamed on the LSE South Asia Centre's Facebook Page.