May I comment on Ioan Davies’ article ‘The Labour Commonwealth’ which appeared in New Left Review 22. Your readers’ attention should be drawn to a number of inaccuracies and omissions in the section dealing with the Fabian Society’s work on Colonial and Commonwealth affairs. They may then decide for themselves whether value judgements made after such inadequate research are worth their serious consideration.
1 It was not the ‘New Fabian Colonial Bureau’ which ‘took over’ the Fabian Society in 1939, but the New Fabian Research Bureau.
2 The Fabian Colonial Bureau was founded by Rita Hinden and Arthur Creech Jones in 1940, not in 1942 as stated.
3 Mr Davies states that the Labour Party had no Colonial or Commonwealth department until 1957, thus putting almost all responsibility for research and policy formation on the Fabians’. This is misleading for two reasons: (a) In March 1946 the Commonwealth and Imperial Sub-Committee was set up with Denis Healey who was then Secretary of the International Department as Secretary, and in 1949 E. G. Farmer was appointed as Colonial Assistant ‘to deal exclusively with colonial problems’. In 1950 Farmer was made Secretary of a Commonwealth Sub-Committee. (b) It is implied that the Fabian Colonial Bureau was not independent of the Labour Party and that no distinction could be lade between Labour Policy and Fabian Policy on colonial matters. This is not the case. Creech Jones was not Chairman of the Bureau while Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Bureau was sometimes severely critical of Labour policy. After a Bureau delegation to Patrick Gordon Walker at the Commonwealth Relations Office in March 1950, a press release was issued which included the statement ‘the deputation regretted that the decision of the Bamangwato people to accept Seretse Khama as their chief had not been recognised by the British Government’. The Bureau was totally opposed to a decision which appeared to be an act of appeasement to the South African Government and settler interests in Southern Africa. It realized that the Seretse incident was the first serious clash between the liberal policy of the Colonial Office and South African racialism. The Victoria Falls Conference called to examine the possibilities of Central African Federaiion was roundly condemned in the Bureau’s monthly journal Venture in April 1949. The Bureau opposed Central African Federation from its very inception, and in particular gave prominence to African objections.
4 It is inaccurate to say that the Bureau neglected economics. Professor Arthur Lewis, who was incidentally born in St. Lucia, played a distinguished part in Fabian Society work both on colonial and domestic issues, and published three pamphlets and a book (Principles of Economic Planning) under Fabian auspices.
The early issues of Venture bunded by Leonard Wolf, Frank Horrabin and Norman Leys as Empire in 1938 and taken over by the Colonial Bureau in March 1941, are full of economic material. More recently the Fabian Society has published in 1960 Shirley Williams’ Central Africa; The Economics of Inequality and in 1962 Tom Soper’s Commonwealth and Common Market.