Fabians, Guild Socialists and ‘Democracies of Producers’: Participation and Self-Government in the Social Theories of the Webbs and Their Successors



The Fabian socialists Sidney and Beatrice Webb were social theorists of substance whose ideas had a key role in British debates around the concept of industrial democracy. This chapter traces these debates through four major phases corresponding to the early theories of the Webbs in the 1890s, the militant industrial upsurge of 1910–1921, debates around public ownership in the 1940s, and the revival of ideas of workers’ control in the mid-1960s. It demonstrates the persistence in Britain of a voluntarist conception of industrial relations as a form of participation through vigorous and unimpeded trade unions operating within the framework of the liberal state. Whatever the historical strengths and weaknesses of this approach, it left a particularly weak participatory legacy following the subsequent neoliberal offensive against organized labor and collective bargaining.


Trade unions Britain Industrial democracy Collective bargaining Sidney and Beatrice Webb 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesThe University of ManchesterManchesterUK

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