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Modern Asian Studies 39, 2 (2005) pp. 321348. C 2005 Cambridge University Press doi:10.

1017/S0026749X04001593 Printed in the United Kingdom

J. S. Furnivall and Fabianism: Reinterpreting the Plural Society in Burma

JULIE PHAM University of Cambridge Buried in an obscure journal published in Burma is a letter addressed to its readers commemorating the tenth anniversary of the publication. The editor had asked one of the publications founders, a well-known former Indian Civil Service (ICS) ofcer turned progressive reformer, to pen a few lines. Years later, the writer achieved acclaim as an ardent supporter of Burmese nationalism and independence and one of the founding scholars of Burma and Southeast Asia studies. These were his words of inspiration to an audience that comprised mostly educated Burmese:
Burma did not lose its independence because the rulers of Burma came into conict with the British Empire, but because they had not sufcient wisdom to preserve their country; they did not know enough of Burma or of the outside world. And it will not again be capable of independence until Burmans know enough of Burma and of the outside world to guide its destinies.1

In essence, the Burmese were responsible for their own colonisation because they lacked wisdom and only through gaining this elusive knowledge could they be free. This opinion was based on nearly three decades worth of rst-hand observation of Burmese society. The author was J. S. Furnivall. Furnivall is most renowned for his conceptualisation of the plural society; this term has been a durable concept of scholarship on
This essay is heavily based on chapter two of my M.Phil dissertation, see Hoai Julie Pham (2002), Empire, nationalism, and Fabianism in the thought of John S. Furnivall, University of Cambridge. I am indebted to John Ady, J. S. Furnivalls grandson, for giving me access to Furnivalls private papers. I also thank Ady, Tim Harper, Reiner Leist, Robert Taylor, and Peter Zinoman for carefully reading and criticising earlier versions of this essay. 1 J. S. Furnivall, Laying the Foundations, World of Books, XXI, 121 (1935), pp. 23. In accordance with current academic practice, I will use Burmese to denote the nationality of those living in Burma and Burman to denote the majority ethnic group of Burma. In most of the literature written during Furnivalls time, the usage was the reverse. 0026749X/05/$7.50+$0.10




multiethnic societies and particularly in Southeast Asia. By the plural society, Furnivall saw a society in which different races only interacted for economic reasons, as in the marketplace, and became so atomised that they had lost the ability to form a common social will, thereby weakening the social demand necessary to organise activities to improve social welfare. The laissez faire forces introduced by colonialism were responsible for producing the plural society, by creating institutions that served the market economy instead of the community. In Furnivalls reading, the society was splintered among the Burmese, Europeans, Indians, and Chinese. Only Burmese nationalism was capable of rebuilding human bonds among people, of enabling them to once again create a common social will and pave the way for Burma to enter the modern world on its own terms. This critique of colonialism seemed to demonstrate Furnivalls sympathy for the Burmese; he clearly held colonialism to be responsible for rupturing the Burmese gemeinschaft that he and his fellow ICS in Burma idealised. This essay reevaluates Furnivalls thought and its impact in Southeast Asia studies. It argues that the conventional depiction of him merely as a nationalist sympathiser is misleading. By tracing his long association with the Fabian Societya vital strand of his thought overlooked by most scholarsthis essay portrays a more complex attitude to colonial development and freedom. Furnivalls career, whilst distinctive in many ways, sheds new light on the intellectual culture of the last years of the British Empire in Asia.

Role of Nationalism in Reintegrating Plural Society Robert Taylors 1995 article, Disaster or Release? J. S. Furnivall and the Bankruptcy of Burma presents an insightful and balanced examination of how J. S. Furnivalls analysis of the effects of colonialism in Burma, principally the plural society, could explain the predicament of the current Myanmar state.2 Those in this plural society had unwillingly locked themselves, in Furnivalls terms, into a business relationship in which bankruptcy signied not disaster but release from one other. After Burma was granted independence in 1948, the Burmese chose bankruptcy, signalling the end of the plural
Robert Taylor, Disaster or Release? J. S. Furnivall and the Bankruptcy of Burma, MAS, XXIX, 1 (1995), pp. 4563.



society and the beginning of disastrous economic, political, and social crisis.3 Combined with allusions to Furnivalls early retirement from the ICS, the theorising of nationalism as the cure to the plural society has contributed to Furnivalls legacy. One theme of this essay is to explore exactly how Furnivall envisioned utilising Burmese nationalism to enable Burmas entry into the modern world, and to clarify Furnivalls denition of wisdom. Taylor described the kind of nationalism Furnivall prescribed as unbridled.4 Because Furnivall seemed to so trust the power of nationalism to reintegrate Burma, Taylor argued the blind spot in Furnivalls prediction of the Burmas future was that he failed to take sufciently into account human emotions, passions, and interests of the people who were cut off from the benets of modernity to then embrace it as their cure.5 Like many other Southeast Asianists, Taylors analysis of Furnivall assumes Furnivall was a committed anti-colonialist and advocate of Burmese nationalism.6 Indeed, Furnivall protested the unbridled capitalism of British business in Burma, he censured the inhumane machinery of the British colonial administrative body, he encouraged nationalism among young Burmese, but he did all this from the stance of a Fabian Socialist, which back then signied mainstream conservatism. To Furnivall, there were two kinds of Burmese nationalism: constructive and destructive. Furnivall recognised nationalism as the one indigenous force that could be exploited to reintegrate a plural society, and he encouraged Europeans to see that Nationalism in Burma is morally right, and economically sound and may be made economically attractive.7 But Furnivall did not support the extreme kind of nationalism that would encourage Burmese to seize complete governance before they were ready for it; still lacking the appropriate wisdom, Burmese leaders would forfeit their place in the modern world by shutting out Britain completely. The British had

3 Taylor, Disaster or Release?, pp. 567. For further discussion on the state of Myanmar, see Michael Aung-Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma (Honolulu, 1985); Peter Carey, ed. Burma: the Challenge of Change in a Divided Society (Basingstoke, 1997); and Robert Taylor, The State in Burma (London, 1987). 4 Taylor, Disaster or Release?, p. 48. 5 Ibid., p. 55. 6 See Julie Pham, Ghost Hunting in Colonial Burma: Nostalgia, Paternalism, and the Thought of J. S. Furnivall, South East Asia Research, XII, 2 (2004), pp. 237268. 7 J. S. Furnivall, Preface for European Readers in An Introduction to the Political Economy of Burma (Rangoon, 1931), ix.



the responsibility to ensure that the existing nationalist sentiment among the Burmese was used constructively lest it become one of the quasi-religious forces such as patriotism8 that would prove insufciently strong to counteract economic forces that continued to threaten the unity of Burmese society.9 For the Burmese to modernise and eventually become independent, not only were moderate nationalism and sound colonial administration both necessary, but they were also dependent on each other to succeed. This essay examines Furnivalls work in its original historical context in order to make sense of some inconsistencies between what Furnivall wrote and the interpretation of his theories on colonialism that currently dominates the eld. As a concept, plural society has been examined from the angle of economics, sociology, and political science,10 but these studies have failed to examine Furnivalls social and political framework. Furnivalls successors in colonial studies have applied his important concepts into their own analytical frameworks without questioning where such ideas originated, and thereby remain ignorant of their sociological origins and of their contemporary political signicance in British colonial policy. Though Taylor refers to Furnivalls Fabianism in an earlier working paper, he omits it Disaster or Release.11 Even Frank Tragers comprehensive bibliography of Furnivalls works failed to mention Furnivalls membership.12

Ibid., xiii. J. S. Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice: a comparative study of Burma and Netherlands India (Cambridge, 1948), p. 313. 10 W. C. Neale, W. C. Schaniel, John Sydenham Furnivall: an unknown institutionalist, Journal of Economic Issues, XXXVI, 1 (2002), pp. 2017; J. R. Potvin, The Economic and Social Theory of John S. Furnivall (unpublished manuscript, 1986), JAP; John Rex, The Plural Society in Sociological Theory, British Journal of Sociology, X, 2 (1959), pp. 11424; Danilyn Rutherford, Laughing at Leviathan: John Furnivall, Dutch New Guinea, and the Ridiculousness of Colonial Rule in James T. Siegel and Audrey R. Kahin, eds, Southeast Asia over Three Generations (Ithaca, 2003), pp. 2746; John B. Viar, Economic Development in Plural Societies: the Institutional Economics of J. S. Furnivall (unpublished Ph.D dissertation, University of Tennessee, 1993); Taylor, Disaster or Release?. Rutherford does not discuss the plural society as attests to Furnivalls anticolonial views, arguing: John Furnivall understood very well the inherently ridiculous nature of the colonial state on the frontiers of empire (p. 28). 11 Robert Taylor, An Undeveloped State: The Study of Modern Burmas Politics, Working Paper No. 28 (Melbourne, Australia: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, April 1983), p. 5. 12 Frank Trager, ed. and comp. Furnivall of Burma: An Annotated Bibliography of the Works of John S. Furnivall, Bibliography Series No. 8 (Yale University, 1963).



In lieu of an analysis of his historical context, a brief, stock biography of Furnivall has often been substituted. Roughly, Furnivalls life has usually been summarised by the following facts: born in Essex, England in 1878; graduated from Trinity Hall, Cambridge, having read in Natural Sciences in 1900; arrived in Burma to serve in the ICS, specialising in district settlement, in 1902; married a Burmese woman, by whom he had two daughters, in 1906; founded the Burma Research Society and its companion publication, Journal of Burma Research Society, in 1910; retired from the ICS in 1923; returned to live in England in 1931; studied colonial administration at Leiden University, 19331935 and then returned to England; was asked by the newly independent Union of Burma to return as Planning Advisor in 1948; was expelled by Ne Wins government in 1960. Though Ne Win had expelled Furnivall, the University of Rangoon offered him a job, to which he had planned to return to Burma after vacationing in England. But he never made it back to Burmahe passed away in 1960. There has hitherto been a lacuna in our understanding of Furnivalls thought. To fully grasp his theories, Furnivalls Fabianism must be given a central place. Two misconceptions of Furnivalls theory of how a plural society is created stem from overlooking his political orientation: rst, it is a condemnation of colonialism and secondly, it is a creation of Furnivalls alone. This study is more concerned with how the plural society initially emerged rather than how it functions as an analytical concept. Therefore, Fabianism and the Fabians internal dissensions over a united platform on colonialism during the rst half of the twentieth century will be examined along with Furnivalls own interpretation of Fabianism and how and why he implicitly referenced this particular brand of socialism in his colonial analysis, both in support and in negation, throughout his career. Furnivalls Fabianism and Fabianism in Burma More important than its economics or politics to understanding the appeal of Fabian socialism to Furnivall is the Societys consistent social values, especially its insistence on the importance of a community. In one of the Societys foundational texts, the 1889 Fabian Essays in Socialism, Sidney Webb wrote:
Without the continuance and sound health of the social organism, no man can now live or thrive; and its persistence is accordingly his paramount end.



His conscious motive for action may be, and always must be, individual to himself; but where such action proves inimical to the social welfare, it must sooner or later be checked by the whole, lest the whole perish through the error of its member.13

Because they saw the community as an interdependent social organism, the Fabians aimed to devise ways of ensuring its smooth operation and maximum utility and to educate the people in Socialism by making them conversant with the conclusions of the most enlightened members of all classesthemselves being among the enlightened.14 Tied into their ideal of the community was the ideal of the individual, particularly that of an administrative elite to oversee the health of the community. The Fabians were not satised with a community that was merely sound and happy; this elitein H. G. Wells term, the Samuraiwas to ensure that the citizens were continually striving to progress from good to better. Founding member George Bernard Shaw did not believe the masses could govern themselves. A country governed by its people is as impossible as a theatre managed by its audience, Shaw said. Government is a ne art requiring for its exercise not only certain specic talents and a taste for the business but a mental comprehensiveness and an energy which only a small percentage of people possess in the degree necessary for leadership.15 This notion of Samurai would later be applied to the colonial context. The Fabian Societys commitment to research and reform may have been another strong attraction for Furnivall. The Fabian progressive reformer-scholar was an ideal Furnivall strived to embody throughout his life. To ensure the rights and freedom of colonial people, Fabians fought with research, which they likened to eternal vigilance.16 A desire to maintain the air of relative objectivity and intellectualism of a scholar could perhaps explain why Furnivall almost never labelled himself as a socialist in his public writing, much less a Fabian socialist.

13 Sidney Webb, Historic in George Bernard Shaw et al. eds., Fabian Essays in Socialism (London, 1889), p. 57. For further discussion on this foundational text, see Clive E. Hill, Understanding the Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889) (Lewiston; Queenston; Lempter, 1996). 14 George Bernard Shaw, The Mission of the Fabians, p. 11, Tract 70, Report on Fabian Policy and Resolutions (1986), E21/8, f. 8, London, LSE, Fabian Society Papers (FSP). 15 Cited in Rodney Barker, Political Ideas in Modern Britain (London, 1978), p. 106. 16 Rita Hinden, How a Political Society Functions: The Story of the Fabian Colonial Bureau in Rita Hinden, ed., Fabian Colonial Essay (London, 1945), p. 261.



Indeed, little is known about Furnivalls Fabianism because he left almost no record of it, though he was a member for most of his life. An invitation to the 75th anniversary celebration of the Fabian Society in 1958 revealed Furnivall as one of the Societys longest-standing members.17 When Furnivall joined in 1908 as a 30year old assistant settlement ofcer in Burma, the Fabian Society was already established and, unlike other Radical groups, held a degree of respectability within the British political mainstream. Fabianism would come to dene the British brand of socialism, one that paradoxically shared Marxs moral outrage about poverty while believing that capitalism could successfully mitigate social problems. When Sidney and Beatrice Webb, founding members of the Society, toured Burma in 1911, Furnivalls ICS superior C. Morgan Webb, a Fabian of 16 years, entertained them.18 The majority of his fellow Fabians in the ICS, including C. W. Dunn, B. Swithinbank, and S. Grantham, joined several years after him.19 In his real life, Furnivall actively promoted a mild form of socialism in Burma. When he left the ICS in 1923, he founded the Burma Book Club near the new University of Rangoon, and one year later, he established its bilingual companion serial, The World of Books, which published scholarly discussions of socialism. The socialism described by the Burma Book Club was the sort that had so far permeated both Conservatism and Liberalism as to elicit from a Liberal leader the pronouncement We are all Socialists now.20 Credited as being one of the rst sources for English-language Leftist literature in Burma, the Burma Book Club and The World of Books introduced socialism to young Burmese nationalists, who also used the Club as a meeting place.21 Aung San Suu Kyi described these men as searching eagerly, perhaps unconsciously, for radical ideas which later resulted in a tendency to swallow much of the whole socialist theory without digesting it properly.22 To these Burmese, socialism represented a framework in

17 Furnivall listed under Members of 50 years and more as having joined in 1908. G65/1, f. 9, FSP. 18 Sidney and Beatrice Webb, The Webbs in Asia: The 19111912 Travel Diary, George Feaver, ed. (London, 1992), p. 189. 19 Bill Elkins, letter to author, 21 Feb. 2002. 20 J. S. Furnivall, An Introduction to Politics for Burman; a special supplement to the World of Books (Rangoon, 1925), p. 11, JAP. 21 Maung Maung, Burma and General Ne Win (London, 1969), p. 39. 22 Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma and India: Some Aspects of Intellectual Life Under Colonialism (Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla, 1990), p. 69.



which to be anticolonial, but it was not the impetus for the anticolonial movement. The rhetoric of even the most zealous of nationalists invited to speak at the Burma Round Table Conference in January 1931, an assembly called to re-evaluate the rule of Burma under British India, did not invoke insurrectionary language.23 As a scholar of the Fabian tradition, Furnivall made his rst public attempt at criticising the Empire publicly under the guise of describing old Burma in his 1909 article Land as a Free Gift of Nature, which appeared in the Economic Journal.24 His distress over the changing nature of land ownership in Pegu was a socialist analysis on colonialisms part in changing the value of land as a thing that is shared and open to cultivation by anyone in the community, a free gift of nature, to being thought of as property. Later, in 19141919, he would administer Pegu as District Commissioner. Other articles on Burmese society that reected his engagement with Fabianism would follow. Fabianism also centered on a fundamental criticism of laissez-faire, which Furnivall attributed as the root of societal disintegration of what would be later known as the plural society. In a speech on how the East should adopt Western technology, called Sunlight and Soap, Furnivall wrote:
In Burma, the Burman and the European, the Chinaman and Indian have nothing in common but their appetites . . . . These problems of disorganisation and re-organisation are the most difcult that face us in the East; so long as these two processes continue there can be no question of laissez faire.25

This 1918 speech, written ve years before he left the ICS, documented his rst observations on how Burmese society had been polarised along racial lines. As an ICS guardian of Burmese society, Furnivall was acutely aware of and very concerned with human relationships and how they determined the overall health of the communitythe same concerns Webb expressed in 1889 in the Fabian Essays in Socialism. As a manifestation of the ideal of the community, Furnivall portrayed Burmese society as once healthy and sound, but

23 Government of Burma, Burma Round Table Conference, 27th November, 193112th January, 1932, Proceedings (Rangoon, 1932). 24 J. S. Furnivall, Land as a free gift of Nature, The Economic Journal, XIX (Dec. 1909), pp. 5528. 25 J. S. Furnivall, Sunlight and Soap, JBRS 8, III (December 1918), 208.



the village ceased to resemble a family26 and became a business partnership27 and its citizens underwent a forced atomisation in his later writing. The antithesis to progress and reform was stagnation, which Furnivall considered the worst possible fate for a community. In the milieu of the anti-Lamarkian turn in international debates on eugenics and evolution, issues that were of particular interest to the Fabians, Furnivalls conceptualisation of the plural society also had a hint of reform eugenics.28 He adopted pseudo-scientic language by calling the process of natural selection by which different segments organised themselves hierarchically in the plural society the survival of the cheapest. This process of natural selection tended to eliminate from social life all values that were not immediately material, encouraging men to pursue individual interests with disregard to community interests. The way in which Furnivall would eventually organise the stages of the plural society teleologically was also indicative of his Fabian belief in progress and his own scientic background. The plural society had ve stages of development: initial colonial domination; liberation of laissez-faire economic forces; pluralisation along racial lines; disintegration of common social will; and stagnation. These stages signied both social and economic changes. While traits in Furnivalls work such as having a scientic approach and an emphasis on scholarly research reect not just Fabianism but also the broader shift towards science and the rise of social sciences in England in the 1920s and 1930s, Furnivalls understanding of society and views on colonialism were characteristically Fabian. Firstly, he understood society as an organism that must be preserved, protected, and improved upon, under the leadership of social engineers and secondly, he had faith in Britain as the leader of an international community of nations. Furnivall never blindly accepted the doctrine of any organisation and Fabianism was no exception to his measured, scholarly scepticism.
26 J. S. Furnivall, Planning for Welfare in Burma (1948), Box 12, File 55, p. 19, London, SOAS, John S. Furnivall Papers (JSFP). 27 J. S. Furnivall, The Political Economy of the Tropical Far East, Asiatic Review, XXIX, parts 34 (1942), p. 204. 28 Sidney Webb, The Decline of the Birth Rate (reprinted, London, 1910, c. 1907), p. 19. For further discussion, see Paul B. Rich, Race and Empire in British Politics (Cambridge, 1986); G. R. Searle, Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 19001914 (Leyden, 1976); Nancy Stepan, The Idea of Race in Science: Great Britain, 18001960 (London and Basingstoke, 1982).



He even criticised the Fabians in his 1910 article The Organisation of Consumption. Furnivalls plural society rested on the notion that weak organisation of consumption, not of production, was responsible for a lack of social welfare and progress since these could not exist without a common social will. Though he did not formalise his concept of the plural society until years later, Furnivall had criticised the Fabian Society for being open to a change of laissez faire by valuing the freedom of the individual to test the social value of new inventions as highly as Mill valued the freedom of the producer to palm off adulterated goods. They do not emphasise the fact that freedom depends upon organisation in consumption no less than in production.29 Later, in taking up the plural society, the Fabian Colonial Bureau also changed the conventional Fabian outlook on consumption and production in the colonial setting. That article would not be the last time Furnivall would nd himself deviating from the ofcial Fabian line in order to remain faithful to his own beliefs. It reected a trademark characteristic of his. In an obituary, his long-time friend and fellow Burma scholar, Gordon Luce, wrote that Furnivall never hesitated to denounce the Base wherever he saw itwhether in Government, politic, commerce, or the Press. And if he made enemies, that was of no consequence to him.30 Another friend said that Furnivall did not believe in cheap popularity or playing to the gallery.31 Moreover, the differences of opinion among the Fabians themselves gave Furnivall the exibility to consider himself a Fabian while criticising certain aspects of Fabianism.

Early Fabian Views on Imperialism At the dawn of the twentieth century, the ofcial Fabian stance on colonialism was a far cry from other radicals of the time. Shaws Fabianism and Empire: A Manifesto (1900) encapsulated their proImperial stance on the basis of protecting capitalist interests at home.32 In the year Furnivall nished his course at Cambridge, the

J. S. Furnivall, The Organisation of Consumption, Economic Journal, II (March 1910), p. 25. 30 Gordon Luce, J. S. Furnivall, The Nation (Rangoon), 13 July 1960, p. 356, clipping, JAP. 31 R. D., J. S. Furnivall, The Guardian (Rangoon) 28 July 1960, clipping, JAP. 32 George Bernard Shaw, ed., Fabianism and the Empire: A Manifesto (London, 1900).




Fabians were hotly debating their stance on the Boer War.33 The vote among members on this question was decided 259 for vs. 217 against; thirteen members resigned over this,34 and Sydney Olivier stepped down from the Executive Committee.35 Fabianism and Empire was framed by traditional Fabian values of an interdependent world community under British authority, motivated by goals for progress, reform, and rationalism. Shaw merely shifted Fabian paternalism from domestic to colonial affairs when he wrote, Our rst duty to our subjects is to make them as independent of our guidance, and consequently as appreciative of our partnership, as possible.36 Fabianism and Empire would remain the only major Fabian statement on imperialism until the establishment of the Fabian Colonial Bureau (FCB) in 1943, and, though highly controversial among Fabians, Bernard Porter argued that it inuenced ofcial Fabian thought on colonialism for the following fty years.37 Furnivall integrated some of the core arguments of this manifesto into his own views on colonialism. Shaws public-spirited Imperialism was attacked by other progressives such as J. A. Hobson as the Imperialism of capitalism and vainglorious nationalism.38 James Alexander argues that the imperialist stance in Fabianism and Empire was based on practical, economic arguments as opposed to the moral position adopted by Hobson and his supporters.39 Shaw referred to Fabianism and Empire as the original Socialist view of the war, rejecting the sentimental moral arguments offered by his anti-imperialist critics.40 One antiimperialist Fabian who opposed Fabianism and Empire nonetheless applauded Shaws indifference to the moral aspects of the colonial question.41 Hobson saw imperialism as a violation of the sacred rights
33 The Fabian Society and the War Reply by the Majority of the Executive Committee to the recent circular; The Fabian Society and Imperialism Rejoinder to the Reply of the Majority of the Executive Committee; To members of the Fabian society, C54/1, ff. 18, FSP. 34 James Alexander, Socialism on Two Fronts: Shaw Against Marxism and Liberalism unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1999), p. 156. 35 Francis Lee, Fabianism and Colonialism: The Life and Political Thought of Lord Sydney Olivier (London, 1988), p. 73. 36 Shaw, Fabianism and the Empire, p. 21. 37 Bernard Porter, Fabians, Imperialists and the International Order in Ben Pimlott, ed., Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought (London, 1984), p. 54. 38 Cited in Alexander, Socialism on Two Fronts, p. 156. 39 Alexander, Socialism on Two Fronts, pp. 15960. See J. A. Hobson, Imperialism: A Study (3rd. ed., London, 1988, c. 1902). 40 Cited in Alexander, Socialism on Two Fronts, p. 155. 41 Cited ibid., p. 160.



of nationality of the dependencies.42 Describing Shaw as a liberal with socialistic leanings, Hobson summarised Shaws arguments as such:
If a nation or the government of a nation holding possession of a piece of territory refuses to utilise fully its resources or to permit others to do so or otherwise makes itself a nuisance to its neighbours, or to the international public, the sacred rights of nationality ought not to protect it from coercion imposed on behalf of the general good of nations.43

In the face of this moral critique, the imperialist Fabians insisted that less developed nations needed the guidance of the British Empire to modernise and train them to practice liberal democracy.44 Though Hobson shared many of the Fabians doubts about liberal nationalism, he did not believe that imperialism would ever evolve into an altruistic endeavour. Hobson saw imperialism as a force of the capitalist system,45 whereas the Fabians viewed it as a justiable civilising mission. Good government, the Fabians reasoned, was necessary to ensure the quality of the British race and thereby, the strength and authority of the Empire. Backed by its core of colonial bureaucrats, including Leonard Woolf, Sydney Olivier, and Sidney Webb, the idea of an administrative elite most likely appealed to young, optimistic colonial bureaucrats such as Furnivall. ICS men who came to Burma before the First World War were, Furnivall described, working in the Golden Age.46 They had the promise of a career in public service, an opportunity to prove themselves as muscular Christians, and a faith in the Empire. To understand how Furnivall reconciled the ofcial Fabian line with his early condemnation of capitalistic forces, we turn to Sydney Olivier, later Lord Olivier, a career civil servant who served as a colonial secretary in British Honduras (189091) in Africa and in Jamaica (190004; governor, 190713) and as Secretary of State for

42 J. A. Hobson, Socialistic Imperialism, International Journal of Ethics, XII (1901 02), p. 44. 43 Ibid. 44 Nicholas Owen, Critics of Empire in Britain in Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis, eds., The Oxford History of the British Empire; the Twentieth Century (5 vols., Oxford; New York, 1999), IV, p. 193. 45 Porter, Fabians, Imperialists and the International Order, p. 58. 46 J. S. Furnivall, Burma, 19021952: Then and Now, Lecture at Chatham House, 1952, p. 2, Box 10, File 28, JSFP.



India with the new Labour government in 1924.47 Like Furnivall, Oliviers own experiences abroad shaped his analyses of colonialism. He disagreed with Shaws view that more progressive nations should prot by colonising backward nations; instead, humanitarian interests should guide colonial projects. Olivier preferred a policy of trusteeship, in which a more advanced, powerful nation would modernise underdeveloped countries through the aid of social engineers before granting their self-government. Although Olivier supported trusteeship as the better alternative, he remained critical of the colonial project as a whole, stating that No trustee government can pretend to believe that these laws were enacted in natives interests.48 The Task of the Social Engineer Ironically, Furnivall became even more prolic and concrete in his theories on colonialism in Southeast Asia after he left Burma in 1931. His return to England signalled a new period in Furnivalls life in which he tapped into fresh intellectual networks. Back in Cambridge, he began to participate in a relatively large, albeit unorganised, community of Fabiansthis was in stark contrast to Burma, where he had to establish his own outlets of political discussion.49 Both the British government and the Fabians would nd Furnivalls rsthand experience in a colony invaluable. Furnivall taught Burmese language, history and law at his alma mater from 1936 to 1942 as an ICS lecturer, and then conducted research for the Burmese colonial government on the reconstruction of Burma. Integral to furthering his concept of the plural society was Furnivalls comparative research of colonial systems from 1933 to 1935. In the tradition of British comparing their own colonial systems to that of the Dutch, Furnivall studied colonial administration in Holland and Java.50 What Furnivall discovered in the Dutch
47 G. F. McLeary, Olivier, Sydney Haldane, Dictionary of National Biography, 1941 50 (Oxford, 1959), pp. 6412. 48 Rt. Hon. Lord Olivier, Imperial Trusteeship (London, 1929), p. 11. Also see Olivier, The League of Nations and Primitive Peoples (London, 1918). 49 Furnivall listed under List of Fabian Society Members in Cambridge 22.6.46, F101/3, f. 40, FSP. 50 For example, see J. W. B. Money, Java, or How to Manage a Colony (reprinted, Singapore, 1985, c. 1861); Henry Scott Boys, Some Notes on Java and its Administration by the Dutch (Allahabad, 1892). Ian Brown gives an insightful history of comparisons made between British and Dutch colonial administrations in his introduction to the 1985 edition of Java, or How to Manage a Colony.



Netherlands India deepened his faith in an administrative elite, a class of social engineers, capable of reintegrating the plural society, which in turn gave way to his philosophy, that If subject peoples are to remain within the Empire, we must rst enable them to leave the Empire.51 Furnivall rst borrowed the term social engineer from the Dutch, who used it to describe their own ofcers,52 and he used it to reconceptualise the Fabian idea of Samurai for the task of colonial administration just as the Fabians themselves were doing. Furnivall had researched the Dutch colonial system from the perspective of a former believer in British efciency and its ability to rationally govern its colonies whose rst-hand experience in colonial administration turned him into a critic of the British colonial machinery, which he personied as the Leviathan. After leaving the ICS in 1923, Furnivall had continued to criticise the British system for making it difcult for district ofcers and people to become mutually acquainted. So far as they come into contact they tend to see one another in unpleasant aspects; the ofcial mostly sees people who want to get something out of him, and the people see the ofcial as magistrate and tax-collector.53 Such social barriers between the colonial administrators and those they came to help were counterproductive, as it prevented the Burmese from being able to probe the secrets of the West.54 Furnivalls observations of the Dutch system only solidied the shortfalls of the British system, and renewed his hope of the possibility of reforming the British Leviathan. As representatives of British humanitarianism, Furnivall envisioned his social engineers as modernisers of native society, enabling native peoples to join and contribute to an international community that was tenuously linked together by British authority.55 His personal experience gave him faith in the collective power of individual social
51 J. S. Furnivall, The Far East and International Economic Relations, Sixth Session of the conference on the Far East, Culton Hall, Clacton, 14 Feb. 1946, sponsored by Fabian International Bureau, lecture manuscript, J61/13, ff 2733, p. 3, FSP. 52 J. S. Furnivall, Netherlands India: A Study of Plural Economy (Cambridge, 1939), p. 261. 53 J. S. Furnivall, Reconstruction in Burma (Simla, 1943), p. 69, Walton Papers, London, BL, Oriental and India Ofce (OIOC), MSS Eur. D 545/30. 54 J. S. Furnivall, The Burma Education Extension Association, lecture to Education Department, Rangoon University 1926, Box 11, File 50, JSFP. 55 XYZ ( J. S. Furnivall), Political Reconstruction in Burma, Pacic Affairs, XVI, 3 (Sept. 1943), p. 300.



engineers. Therefore, Furnivall could criticize the British colonial administration while ultimately supporting it. In this 1939 talk to the Royal Central Asian Society on the Dutch system, Furnivall asserted:
[The Burmans] do not appreciate the vital importance of the European element in the present state of Burma, but regard the economic position of Europeans with jealousy, and look on European ofcials as the agents and guardians of European interests. If it were explicitly recognized that one peculiar function of Europeans in the administration is to act as a brake on European extremism and to restrain the unsocial tendencies of capitalist interests, then the more intelligent Burmans might come to place a higher value on their services.56

By recognizing that the Burmese resented the European presence, Furnivall showed some sympathy with the Burmese. But Furnivall argued if the Burmese could see how much worse society would be without the presence of the administrators, they would come to place a higher value on their services. Even then, it would the more intelligent Burmese who could see this distinction. Furnivall later stressed the need to train tropical administrators as social engineers. He admitted that the British were at fault for the development of the plural society and yet if they could supply a body of administrators trained as social engineers, then the Burmese will soon realize that they are getting good value for their money.57 Until the Burmese can take over the material development of their own country, Furnivall reasoned, production must remain largely in the hands of Europeans, and so long as that continues Europeans are as necessary to Burmese as Burmese are to Europeans.58 Furnivall was not trying to transplant a Dutch ideal to the British context; nor would this be possible because of their historically different traditions of law. Instead, Furnivall adapted the Dutch model of social engineer to t both British Burma and to appeal to increasingly dissatised colonial peoples. From studying with Dr. Jan Boeke, the Dutch economist who had developed the economic model of dual societies, Furnivall was able to give name to the theory he had been developing on multicultural colonial societies. Furnivall drew from one colonial system to another, across the peripheries, as part of a larger exchange of ideas in the international colonial network.
J. S. Furnivall, The Training for Civil Administration in Netherlands India, Royal Central Asian Journal, XXVI, part 3 (1939), p. 428. 57 Ibid., p. 429. 58 Ibid.



Furnivall Among Fabians in Europe By 1940, the Fabians stance on colonialism had changed little, despite increasing protest among the colonial dependencies and new leadership in the Societys ranks. However, they did decide Fabians needed to conduct further study on colonial affairs and established the Fabian Colonial Bureau (FCB), which eventually also served the same function to the Labour Party.59 This way, the Fabian Society could act as a direct channel for transmitting the results of its members research work to key people of the Labour movement.60 During the Second World War, the possibility of decolonisation across the Commonwealth loomed, and the Fabians were both arguing as to why the colonies should not yet be granted independence and developing ways for Britain to cope with newly independent nations. Their writing conveyed a sense of urgency along with resignation and renewed hope. If and when decolonisation came, Fabian rationalism accepted that colonies could never return to their precolonial state. As for Furnivall, he did not foresee Burma would attain independence in the near future because of its divided populations inability to form a common will.61 Nor did he think that a democracy was possible in a plural society.62 Democratic institutions could only be practiced in homogeneous societies where a strong common social will already existed, such as in England.63 During the years of Furnivalls absence, Burma witnessed its rst major violent racially and economically motivated riot in 1931, with Burmese against the Chinese shopkeepers in Rangoon.64 Then came riots between the Burmese and the Hindus in 1931 and between the Burmese and the Muslims in 1938, which were interpreted by the British as

59 S. R. Ashton and S. E. Stockwell, eds., Imperial Policy and Colonial Practice 1925 1945 (2 vols., London, c. 1996), I, lxxiv. 60 Rita Hinden, Socialists and the Empire: Five Years Work of the Fabian Colonial Bureau (Sept. 1946), Box 31, File 3, item 1, FCBP. That channel certainly was direct; Fabian and Labour were practically synonymous in the 1945 Labour Government, with the prime minister, nine cabinet members, and a majority among the 394 Labour M. P. s calling themselves Fabians (E. J. Hobsbawn, The Fabians Reconsidered in Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour [London, 1964], p. 250). 61 J. S. Furnivall, Some problems of the Tropical Economy, in Fabian Colonial Essays, ed. Rita Hinden (London, 1945), p. 183. 62 Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice, p. 454. 63 Furnivall, Some problems of Tropical Economy, p. 182. 64 John Cady, The United States and Burma (Cambridge, Mass, 1976), p. 123.



reections of growing nationalism rather than of religious animosity.65 These riots, to Furnivall, may have attested to further divisions. The Fabians wanted to look forward in constructing new policy, not backward on questioning the moral and economic motives behind British imperialism. While the Fabians dislike[d] imperialism, FCB Chairman and the Labour Governments Colonial Secretary Arthur Creech Jones claimed that to throw off the colonial empire in this way would be to betray the peoples and our trust.66 This sense of Fabian progress both absolved the Empire of its wrongdoings and bolstered its authority. In FCBs rst major publication, Fabian Colonial Essays, Creech Jones argued:
It matters little to-day how they were acquired, the predatory and possessive character of imperialism in the past, or indeed, the ugly episodes and exploitations many of them experienced in the past. Our concern must be the discharging of this legacy of responsibility, i.e. a legacy of service and contribution.67

The collection of essays was predicated on the promise of partnership as the future of the Commonwealth; in truth, partnership only differed from its predecessor trusteeship in the rhetoric used in its promotion.68 Though the essayists acknowledged British colonialism negatively impacted the dependencies, the overall message in FCBs ofcial debut was reform, not remove, a relatively moderate stance in light of vocal discontent among the colonial peoples. Although Furnivall opted not to join the FCB, Fabian Colonial Essays contains the most explicit and public evidence of Furnivalls sympathy with Fabianism, namely his own contributing essay, Some Problems of Tropical Economy.69 In line with Fabian gradual reform, the FCB recognised that the dependencies should eventually regain self-government, but the Fabians in the Labour Government were reluctant to set rm dates
65 F. S. V. Donnison, Contributions to Memories of District Ofcers 19301947, p. 16, Indian Civil Service (District Ofcers) Collection: Donnison, MSS Eur. F180/35, OIOC. 66 Arthur Creech Jones, Introduction to Fabian Colonial Essays, p. 13. 67 Ibid. 68 See Kenneth Robinson, The Dilemmas of Trusteeship: Aspects of British Colonial Policy Between the Wars (London, 1965); Nicholas Owen, Critics of Empire in Britain (pp. 188211) and Ronald Hyams Bureaucracy and Trusteeship in the Colonial Empire (pp. 23769)in Wm. Roger Louis, ed., Oxford History of the British Empire; the Twentieth Century (5 vols., Oxford, 1999), IV. 69 Furnivall, Some problems of Tropical Economy, pp. 16184.



for the transfer of power. To hand over rule too quickly, Rita Hinden reasoned, would be a folly and betrayal of the grossest kind for us to shufe off our responsibilities, leaving the colonies with no guidance after years of colonial rule.70 Creech Jones declared, If there are grave responsibilities on us, there are responsibilities no less burdensome of the peoples concerned.71 To transfer power, the partnership required a special body of administrators, educated as social engineers, Creech Jones described, who would rebuild what had been shaken down.72 Sir Drummond Shiels wrote in Fabian Colonial Essays that the test of good government in the colonies lay in the infrastructure provided for the people. Quality doctors, educators, engineers, and other professions were valued not only because of the immediate effect of their work, but also because of their function in training and guiding those who are to be their successors among the indigenous inhabitants.73 The Fabians reconciled the tension of the international outlook inherent in socialism and their own provincial attitudes by assuming that Britain would lead a Commonwealth of Nations, an attitude afrmed by continuously referring to Britain as the Mother Country, which also reected an increasing British nationalism in FCB literature.74 But the Fabians did not blindly support British authority. Instead, they carefully rationalised the need for continued British guidance. Echoing the rationalism used by Shaw in Fabianism and Empire, FCB secretary Rita Hinden pointed out that the Mother Country enabled the colonies to discover their natural resources and raise their living standards.75 The Fabians did not see British help as having ulterior motives; as Shiels said, it was doubtful if, over all, the balance on the nancial side was in favour of the Mother Country.76 Furnivall may not have necessarily wanted the formality of an ofcial Commonwealth, but his vision for reshaping Burmese society echoed some of these Fabian beliefs. While Robert Taylor has acknowledged that Furnivall felt the Burmese would have to be made to see what was in their best interest under continued international tutelage, Taylor
70 Rita Hinden, Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA): Colonial Problem, 3 Nov. 1945, Box 31, File 2, items 1, p. 10, FCBP. 71 Creech Jones, Introduction, p. 17. 72 Ibid. 73 Sir Drummond Shiels, Self-government for Advanced Colonies in Fabian Colonial Essay, p.124. 74 Ibid., pp. 99100. 75 Hinden, Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA), p. 10. 76 Shiels, Self-government for Advanced Colonies, p. 115.



underestimates the degree to which Furnivalls social policy proposals depended on Western systems of governance being adapted to the Burmese context.77 As a Fabian, Furnivall was most concerned with the development and welfare of the community; a sudden severance from Britain would be more detrimental to the Burmese in the long term, hindering Burmas progress. The current state of Myanmar stands as testament to Furnivalls fears. Furnivall advocated decolonisation for Burma on the condition that the Burmese accepted the help of some one who was himself a citizen of the modern world in order to comply voluntarily with new rules about sanitation, infectious diseases and so on.78 Despite all that he had witnessed of colonial administration in Burma, he was still loyal to the Empire. His opinions were informed by a political milieu that supported a gradual transition for colonies into independent states.

The Impact of the Plural Society on Fabians Furnivall did not just draw from the Fabians, but inuenced them as well. Furnivalls largest contribution to the Fabians was his concept of the plural society, which excited many of the researchers in the Fabian Colonial Bureau into applying the model to areas outside Burma and Indonesia.79 Furnivall had been formulating his plural society concept for years in different publications and as it became clear that protest against the Empire in the colonies could not be ignored, the FCB adopted the plural society as its own in order to justify partnership under the Commonwealth. They too began to address social will and adopted the theories of organisation of consumption that Furnivall had criticised them for overlooking back in 1910. In short, Furnivalls plural society was incorporated into general FCB literature when it became relevant to their political agenda. One example was Self-government and the Communal Problem: A Study of Colonial Constitutional Problems arising in Plural Societies, in which Marjorie Nicholson decried: It is simple enough to roll off the usual phrases about freedom for
Taylor, Disaster or Release?, p. 57. Furnivall, Planning for Welfare in Burma (1948), p. 20, Box 12, File 55, JSFP. 79 Some examples include Marjorie Nicholson, Self-government and the Communal Problem: A Study of Colonial Constitutional Problems arising in Plural Societies (London, 1948); Fabian Colonial Bureau, Advance to Democracy: A report to the Fabian Colonial bureau on the implications of partnership in multi-racial societies (London, 1952); Nicholson, Co-operation in the Colonies (London, 1953).
78 77



the Colonials, or the advance to self-government, but as soon as we scratch the surface of life in any Colony, the complexity of achieving these goals immediately stares us in the face. Rarely do we nd a homogeneous community with an articulate national will.80 The plural society was used to describe not only the effects of colonialism on colonial peoples, but to argue how difcult it would be to leave these countries to govern themselves, and, hence, prompting the need for social engineers. The problems arising from governing a plural society underpinned the FCB thinking on the fate of the Commonwealth. Hinden wrote in 1949:
[H]aving converted dependent peoples into free allies, can our Commonwealth framework then retain their loyalty? Can it stand the strain of the diverse races and traditions, which will all insist on an equality within it? . . . The Empire is passing; but it is not by any means established that the Commonwealth by which we hope to replace it can endure. Do we want this Commonwealth to endure?81

These doubts also pointed to internal dissension in the FCB over a unied platform on the place of colonialism in a modern world. Yet Hinden remained optimistic that the Commonwealth could provide a means by which differing peoples can come together; a bridge across the full of colour, and an alternative to dividing the world on the basis of race.82 By 1952, the plural society became so popular a concept in Fabian literature that H. V. Wiseman cautioned against its misapplication, writing All generalisations about the problems of plural societies are dangerous.83 The Labour Party dedicated its rst issue in its Labours Colonial Policy series in 1956 to the study of the plural society.84 None of the Fabian literature acknowledged Furnivall as the author of the plural society. Only twelve years after his death, in a discussion of the plural society in Guyana, did a Fabian writer credit Furnivall and then mistakenly referring to him as Dutch.85 Despite receiving little
Nicholson, Self-government and the Communal Problem, preface. Rita Hinden, Empire and After: A Study of British Imperial Attitudes (London, 1949), p. 191. 82 Hinden, Empire and After, p. 192. 83 H. V. Wiseman, The Problem of the Plural Society: A Note on the West Indies (London, 1952), p. 1. 84 Labour Party, The Plural Society (London, 1956). 85 Paul Singh, Guyana: socialism in a plural society (London, 1972). Singh wrote, It was the Dutch economist, J. S. Furnivall, with rst hand experience of the colonial Far
81 80



recognition, Furnivall was very important to the Fabians and thereby to the Labour Partys thinking on colonialism. Furnivalls internationalisation of Fabianism in Burma was reprocessed by Fabians in the metropole. But neither FCB nor Furnivall made this intellectual connection clear. Aside from contributing to Fabian Colonial Essays and lecturing at several Fabian sponsored conferences,86 all other references to this relationship were conned to internal documents. In the 1940s and 50s, the FCB made strong efforts to publish literature on Burma as well as on Southeast Asia in general. The success of the Antifascist Peoples Freedom League (AFPFL) in securing Burmese independence in 1948 attracted the attention of the FCB. As the British were being forced to leave Burma, the FCB found former ICS ofcers, enlightened men on the spot, invaluable for their rst-hand expertise and knowledge of the countrys political situation.87 Furthermore, the men reinforced the need for an administrative elite to run the dependencies. But it seems no records exist of a request to Furnivall to submit a tract, despite even Hindens own acknowledgement in 1948 that Most of the good stuff on Burma seems to have been written by him in recent years and he has been sufciently associated with the Fabian Society.88 Hindens hesitation to call on Furnivall may have been the result of his own personal aloofness. In 1946, Furnivall was asked to review a brochure, but he replied far too late for his comments to be considered; moreover, his cover letter to Hinden started with, I will not pretend to thank you for your letter.89 Perhaps to Furnivall, the FCB made questionable choices in candidates to undertake research on Southeast Asia. In 1944, they turned to E. E. Dodd to write a pamphlet on Southeast Asia. Dodd was a littleknown high school teacher who had just recently turned to the study
East before the Second World War, who rst focused attention on the peculiarities of the plural society (p. 1). 86 The Far East and International Economic Relations and Southeast Asia Sixth Session of the conference on the Far East, Culton Hall, Clacton, 14 Feb. 1946, sponsored by Fabian International Bureau, lecture manuscript, J61/13, ff 2733, ff 1621, FSP; Economic Problems of the Colonies, Nufeld College Conference, Oxford, 1941, lecture manuscript, Box 10, File 36, JSFP. 87 Arthur Creech Jones, Some Considerations of Social Policy and its Cost in Fabian Colonial Essays, p. 69. 88 Letter to David A. Wade from Hinden, 6 Oct. 1948, Oxford, Rhodes House, Fabian Colonial Bureau Papers (FCBP), Box 150, File 2, f. 4. It appears Wade had written to Hinden seeking information on Burma. 89 Letter to Hinden from Furnivall, 1 Sept. 1946 Box 31, File 4, f 2, FCBP.



of Southeast Asia, but Hinden had wanted him to let his imagination run riot, and say that you have been a close student of South East Asia for many years for his biographical sketch. Dodd refused to exaggerate to such a degree.90 He sent in an initial memorandum on British Southeast Asia that bore striking resemblance in language and analysis to an earlier article of Furnivalls, The Political Economy of the Tropical Far East.91 In this article, Furnivall wrote:
In the rst half of the last century economics praised the Economic Man; during the latter half they explained that he did not exist. Unfortunately, they were mistaken. He was cast out of Europe, but found refuge in the East; now, I fear, we see him returning, with seven devils worse than himself.92

Using very similar language, Dodd wrote:

Economic Man, it has been said, is not dead but has taken refuge in the East . . . . [eliminating Imperialism] certainly does not solve the problems created by our occupationperhaps rather the house swept and garnished will harbour seven new devils.93

Dodd failed to acknowledge Furnivall in his references, though he did write to Hinden that there is no one on whose opinion I should put a higher value than Furnivalls upon discovering that Furnivall was a reader for another of his pamphlets, the aforementioned one to which Furnivall had sent Hinden the tart reply.94 Considering himself to be foremost a scholar, Furnivall may have distanced himself from the FCB because of its own increasing political nature, departing from the careful research unit that the Fabian Society rst established it as. In editing a pamphlet on Malaya written by Tom Silcock in 1949, Hinden expressed dissatisfaction to Dorothy Woodman over its nonpolitical stance. I have a certain feeling of unsatisfactoriness about itit is so obviously not written by a political person, wrote Hinden.95 Despite having little knowledge of Malaya, Woodman anonymously reviewed the pamphlet with the objective of
90 Letter to Dodd from Hinden, 6 Sept. 1946; letter to Hinden from Dodd, 8 Sept. 1946, Box 31, File 4, f. 35 and f. 37, FCBP. For examples of Dodds pamphlets, see The New Malaya (London, 1946); Reconstruction in Burma and Malaya, in Colonial Questions: How Should Britain Act? ed., Fabian Colonial Bureau (London, 1944). 91 E. E. Dodd, Memorandum on British S.E. Asia, September 1944, Box 150, File 1, item 8, FCBP. 92 Furnivall, The Political Economy of the Tropical Far East, pp. 195210, 205. 93 Dodd, Memorandum on British S.E. Asia, p. 2 94 Letter from Dodd to Hinden, 4 July 1946, Box 31, File 4, f. 24, FCBP. 95 Letter to Woodman from Hinden, 28 July 1949, Box 33, File 2, f. 96, FCBP.



making it more political and Left-leaning. As a professor at Rafes University in Singapore, Silcocks relatively conservative perspective had been shaped by the Communist insurgency in Malaya and his hostile response to Woodmans assessment questioned her political motivation. I am afraid . . . I can accept few, if any, of your readers suggestions, he wrote to Hinden. I presume your reader is a democrat and not a Communist, and that we are on the same side, differing only about how courageous our methods should be . . . but I really believe I have more in common with Sir Richard Winstedt in my attitude to Colonial problems than with the author of this letter.96 Silcocks opinions reected more of the overall shift in the colonial movement toward the right rather than an ostensible conservatism. Just a few years after its establishment, the FCB was now debating internally its stance on colonialism and Empire in regards to its function as research unit to the Labour government. Hindens efforts to infuse FCB literature with a more conventional socialist perspective incurred rancour from headquarters. In a letter to a friend about her own resignation from FCB, Hinden admitted that, we have been getting a lot of criticism from the Society that we do not engage in fundamental research but are too much of a political action group which they claim is not truly Fabian.97 The review of yet another pamphlet revealed what direction the FCB was orienting itself toward. In response to a pamphlet on Burma, the secretary of the new Fabian chairman, Lord Farringdon, wrote on his behalf: Lord Farringdon nds the pamphlet interesting to read, but judged by Fabian standards not quite factual enough. He nds the tone (also for Fabian needs) somewhat too anti-British.98 This pamphlet was eventually deemed too inadequately researched to be published. The Fabian Socialists acknowledged the immorality of imperialism yet still continued to defend the Empire and to interpret the imperialist actions of the British authority as humanistic. This constant mediation of sentiments was not just experienced by those Fabian politicians and writers in London. Fabianism in this sense helped justify the role of the colonial bureaucrats to themselves; these men on the peripheries consumed and transformed Fabianism to suit their own needs. The Fabians in the metropole drew on the
Letter to Hinden from Silcock, 30 July 1949, Box 33, File 2, f. 100, FCBP. Letter to Wilfrid Benson from Hinden, 4 Sept. 1950, Box 64, le 1, f. 67, FCBP. 98 Secretary of Lord Farringdon, Burma Pamphlet: Comments by Lord Farringdon, n.d., Box 38, File 1, f. 5, FCBP.
97 96



expertise of these men on the spot and reprocessed the Fabianism that had been internalised in the peripheriesas attested by the Fabian Colonial Bureaus fervent search to prove the existence of plural societies in dependencies everywhere. As a research unit to the Labour Government, the FCB was able to bring the plural society into the mainstream thinking on colonialism. There was a continuous exchange of thinking on Empire and nationalism that resulted in contradictory notions and solutions, trying to accommodate the needs of both those in the metropole and on the peripheries. Furnivalls own life sheds insights on how these intellectual interchanges transpired.

Furnivall and an Independent Burma When Furnivall published his seminal Colonial policy and practice; a comparative study of Burma and Netherlands India in 1948, the same year Burma achieved independence, Rupert Emerson wrote in his review of it: If one overall criticism is to be made, it might be in looking to the future Mr. Furnivall is over-rationalistic and over-optimistic concerning the likelihood that those who destroy a civilization can successfully assume the responsibility which he places to build a new and more highly organized civilization in its place.99 Emerson recognized a caveat of Furnivalls theory that has now been largely overlooked: that only British help could enable Burmas entrance into the modern world. Furnivall was decidedly critical of the colonial machinery, but even by contemporary political standards, he was not considered radical or even overly controversial. Furnivall had never supported revolutionary national movements or repudiation of former colonial masters. When Furnivall wrote Colonial autonomy is not merely a humanitarian idea, a privilege to be graciously or grudgingly conceded, but an end that we should pursue in our own interest, the our is on behalf of the British.100 Because Burma declared independence too late for Furnivall to take it into consideration in Colonial Policy and Practice, his words revealed that he did not yet believe Burma was ready for self-governance. Despite his doubts, Furnivall was keen to help the newly independent Burma.
Rupert Emerson, Review of Colonial Policy and Practice, by J. S. Furnivall. Pacic Affairs XXI, 4 (December 1948), p. 429. 100 Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice, p. 517. Authors emphasis, not in the original.



The Burmese did not forget the progressive efforts Furnivall made on their behalf in his earlier years, and when Burma declared independence in 1948, the newly established Union of Burma government asked him to return to Burma as Planning Advisor. Furnivall only accepted this new post on the condition that Burma did not accept Dominion status in the Commonwealth; this decision operates as another event in his long life that proves his commitment to Burmese nationalism and independence to current scholars of Southeast Asia.101 His conditional acceptance of the new post seems to contradict the Fabian platform of supporting former dependencies membership to the Commonwealth. Perhaps by the time Burma achieved independence, Furnivall was against the Commonwealth. However, as late as 1943, he supported it to some degree, writing that reconstruction efforts should make Burma capable of independence but tied by interest and affection to British Commonwealth.102 Furnivall may not have explicitly advocated formal membership in the Commonwealth, but then again, even Rita Hinden had voiced doubts as to its future. Moreover, in his new position, Furnivall continued to express the need for independent Burma to maintain a relationship with Britain and seek its guidance. The Burma Furnivall returned to after 17 years was in crisis. Aside from serious administrative problems caused by the radical changeover in government, independent Burma also faced major nancial problems. Big corporations that were forced to pull out of Burma during the war began to claim compensation; during negotiations for independence, it was left unclear if Burma or their Imperial government would cover damages.103 Furnivall himself wanted to compensate these corporations in government stocks or bonds.104 The collection of land taxes, which had been the backbone of national revenue, had ceased temporarily.105 Furnivall noted that 55 per cent

101 British Planning Expert for Burma, New Times of Burma, 2 July 1947; To a Tune of 100 Millions n.d., n.a.; Burma Asks Englishman to Advise Them, The Age, 19 October 1950; Alan Nicholls, Burma expert is he study of Asiatic and A quiet Westerners part . . . Putting Burma on the road back (Australian newspapers, circa 1950), H.M. J. S. FurnivallAn Appreciation, The Guardian (Rangoon), 14 July 1960, clippings, JAP. 102 Furnivall, Reconstruction, p. 89. 103 Letter to Dunn from Furnivall, 28 Feb. 1948, Box 1, File 1, pp. 45, JSFP. 104 To a tune of 100 Millions, circa 1949, newspaper clipping, JAP. 105 Hugh Tinker, The Union of Burma; a study of the rst years of independence (3rd ed., London, New York, 1961), p. 137.



of land revenues for 194647 had yet been collected as of 1948.106 The conditions only worsened. After 1948, the hierarchy of British and district administration suffered a decline in power, hurting the collection of land revenue, and the upheavals in 194849 resulted in a complete breakdown of district administration. From his early years in Burma, the British government perceived Furnivall as having an ingrained prejudice against British rms.107 Furnivall was, after all, a socialist. But he became more open to the idea of foreign investment as the economic conditions in Burma worsened, a position he made public in his 1949 lecture, The Financial Crisis and how to meet it.108 The New Times of Burma published extracts of this lecture to the Council of World Affairs, an inuential, albeit non-ofcial, organisation that discussed political, economic and social problems especially pertaining to Burma.109 In this lecture, he stressed:
we have not the capital, we have not the managing skill, or the machinery, or the technicians of the labour. It will take generation before we can be independent of foreign help in these matters. meanwhile we must encourage foreign enterprise and foreign capital on any terms that will promote the national development of Burma not merely the economic development but the national development. WE need foreigners to work for us, to help us and to teach us.110

Furthermore, Furnivall said that there was no scapegoat for the nancial crisis, that it was nonsense to blame the government, capitalists, communists, or the Karens.111 The British Ambassador to Burma J. Bowker wrote to Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin that Furnivalls statement was the most outspoken economic analysis Furnivall had made yet. Bowker was relieved that Furnivall had at last decided that he must speak out, instead of waiting for the Burmese to come to their senses in their own way, and it is regrettable that he did not take this decision earlier in his present spell of service
106 107

Letter to Dunn from Furnivall, 28 Feb. 1948, Box 1, File 1, p. 5, JSFP. Leslie Glass, Foreign Ofce Minutes, 10 Oct. 1949, London, Public Records Ofce (PRO), Foreign Affairs-Burma Collection, FO 371/75691. I am indebted to Christopher Bayly for giving me the references to the archival documents from the PRO used in this article. 108 Glass, Foreign Ofce Minutes. 109 Extract of Furnivalls original lecture in The Financial Crisis and how to meet it, New Times of Burma, 10 April 1949, FO 371/75691, PRO. 110 J. S. Furnivall, The Financial Crisis and How to meet it, address delivered in Rangoon, 10 March 1949, manuscript, Box 1, File 1, JSFP. Emphasis in original. 111 Furnivall, The Financial Crisis and How to meet it.



in Burma.112 In respect to his conservative turn, Professor B. R. Pearn, who had been associated with the wartime British government in exile in Simla as an advisor, commented that Furnivall was at last disillusioned. Pearn wrote that Furnivall was as wooly-minded as evere.g. his suggestion that foreign groups be brought in to restore order: no Burmese Government would contemplate such a measurenor hope to survive if it had become known that they had even considered it! [sic].113 Taylor also criticised Furnivall for overestimating the willingness of Burmese nationalists to embrace Western methods after nally managing to gain independence.114 Furnivall had long expressed doubts as to when Burma would be ready to participate in the modern world, and probably still believed that when he arrived in Burma as Planning Advisor. Rather than being overly idealistic, Furnivall was just being true to form as an independent thinker who adhered to his beliefs of what was right. Just as he took relish in provoking the British business community in Burma back when he was a young ICS ofcer, he enjoyed annoying the Burmese nationalists about accepting British assistance. Ultimately, he did not completely side with the Burmese nor the British, but followed his own conscience as to what was best for Burma. Like H. G. Wells Samurai, Furnivall envisioned planning as Utopian. We never may, he wrote in 1950, probably we never shall land in Utopia, but if we do not direct our course towards it, we get no where [sic].115

J. S. Furnivall aimed to integrate Burma into the modern world on its own terms while salvaging the human bonds necessary for forming a common social will that would enable social progress. Although he pinpointed Burmese nationalism as the cure to reintegrating the society, Furnivall supported Burmese nationalism only with caution because he posited that liberal democracy might not work in a heterogeneous society such as Burma. It was not only in the interest

Letter to Ernest Bevin, M.P. from J. Bowker, 26 April 1949, FO 371/75691,

PRO. Handwritten comment on Minutes from Mr. Bowker, Rangoon. 26/4/49 on Lecture by Mr. J. S. Furnivall, Planning Advisor to the Burmese Government, to the Burma Council of World Affairs in Rangoon, FO 371/75691, PRO. 114 Taylor, Disaster or Release?, p. 55. 115 J. S. Furnivall,Planning in Burma, 4 Jan. 1950, New Times of Burma, Box 11, File 46, JSFP.



of the Burmese that Burma modernised, but also in that of the international community as a whole and of Britain. Two years into his tenure as Planning Advisor to the Union of Burma government, Furnivall still insisted that the fundamental problem lay in the need to develop the human and material resources of the region for the greatest welfare of the world . . . . apart from a few remote and backward peoples, we are all living in one economic world, but we are very far as yet from success in building up one social world. If we are to achieve that, we must incorporate the peoples of South Asia as citizens of the modern world.116 Furnivalls social policies did not originate solely from his rst-hand experience as a colonial administrator as much as existing scholarship suggests. In this, he was not alone; other colonial bureaucrats had also been drawn to Fabianism. Furnivalls own internalisation of Fabian principles exemplify how this school of thought was reinterpreted by the colonial experience and manifested in the analysis of local conditions. His Fabianism was something he carried with him everywhere. Though Furnivall had been roughly outlining the plural society while he lived in Burma, he did not articulate his most important concept until he left Burma in 1931 to live in Europe. The origins of Furnivalls social policy stemmed from the subtle transactions of ideas between the metropole and imperial peripheries, resulting in sites of knowledge formation throughout the Empire. Understanding the political and historical context that gave life to Furnivalls plural society is critical to unravelling his ambivalent views on colonialism and Burmese independence.

116 J. S. Furnivall, South Asia in the World Today in Phillips Talbot, ed., South Asia in the World Today (Chicago, 1950), p. 20. In this article, Burma is included in South Asia.