Webb, Sidney

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Webb, Sidney (1859–1947) and Beatrice (1858–1943). Fabian socialists, social reformers, and historians. Married in 1882, the Webbs formed a partnership of unparalleled significance for the development and introduction of left-wing social policies in Britain. They wrote many books together on social history, and held many public offices. Sidney served on the London County Council from 1892 to 1910, became a Labour MP for Seaham in 1922, becoming president of the Board of Trade in 1924, and as Baron Passfield in 1929 serving briefly as secretary of state for the dominions and colonies.

The Webbs' approach to social reform was gradualist; they rejected Marxist theories of class struggle, and believed that socialism would be achieved by a process of ‘permeation’—i.e. the inculcating of socialist ideas into the minds of the power élite in Britain. In the 1930s, however, the Webbs became disillusioned with the progress of socialism in Britain and turned their attention to the USSR, which they visited and found so impressive that in their last substantial book, Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation? (1935), they abandoned their piecemeal approach to political and social change.

Tim S. Gray

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