Fascism and Anti-Fascism in Britain
LECTURE ONE: The Roots of British Fascism
Like its continental counterparts, inter-war British Fascism had deep roots in earlier movements of the 'Radical Right', particularly after 1880. These groups came from the political right. They drew much of their strength from sections of the British establishment. They were helped in this by the decline of liberalism, previously the dominant political ideology amongst the ruling classes of Britain and Europe.
From Liberalism To Social Darwinism.
The nineteenth century has been called an age of liberalism, a liberalism which was a reaction to the centralising tendencies of absolutism, and whose principles we find expressed by Locke or in the American Declaration of Independence. The principles of liberalism represented the essence of all those ideals whose realisation was hoped and worked for in central and western Europe during the nineteenth century in order to spread them finally across the entire globe for the benefit of mankind. These principles included personal liberty, liberty of political expression, the pursuit of happiness and the sanctity of private property. At the same time it was recognised how important it was to control political institutions and the executive through a well informed public opinion. Generally speaking, liberal politicians proceeded from that premise to the assumption that the ultimate objective of all human striving lay in the full satisfaction and realisation of the positive capacities of man.
The liberal movement, however different it may have been in character, influence and political tactics in the various regions of central and western Europe, brought on to the political stage a commercial and industrial middle class whose liberal ideology changed - initially almost imperceptibly - as it gained economic and political power. During much of the nineteenth century this class was the spearhead and pathfinder of liberal reforms, and the growth of trade and industry made its growing hold upon political power and the s read of liberal principles seemingly inevitable. But the Industrial Revolution in Europe had not only created a new middle class, but also a growing urban proletariat, which in time began to formulate its own political and social demands. Vis-à-vis this new working class, liberals now began to defend the political and social status quo and consequently were bound to appear as conservatives and reactionaries. Political positions changed; liberalism transformed itself from a middle-class reform movement to a bastion of defence of the existing political, economic and social order.
The merit of having underpinned the 'liberal' principle of laissez-faire in all spheres of life with the natural sciences and of giving it not only a local but a global impact belongs to Charles Darwin. He developed his evolutionary theories for the first time in The Origin of Species, in which he attempted to contradict the traditional belief of the separate creation of all species of plants and animals. In his second main work, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, he went a step further and submitted all the evidence he had collected to prove that man, like all living creatures, had developed through a process of natural selection from simpler, more primitive forms.
While Spencer had developed his ideas without any direct logical dependence on the natural sciences, Darwin created the important link between the natural sciences on the one hand and social and political sciences on the other. Much as Marx believed he had found the key to social change in the class struggle, Darwin believed he had found it in natural selection through struggle and the survival of the fittest. Darwin had his precursors like Lamarck; even Leibniz had occupied himself with evolutionary theories. But their discussions never moved beyond the relatively small circle of scientists or those interested in science. The quick growth in Anglo-Saxon countries, of scientific articles and their vulgarised 'version' for the wider public' in the daily papers was manifest. This variation of Darwinism has generally become familiar under the term 'Social Darwinism'. The impact of the vulgarisation of Darwin's ideas and their popularity, and their application in many areas of political, economic and social life, resulted to a certain degree in the progressive eclipse of liberal principles, especially in the field of international relations.
There were different variations of Social Darwinism. In its most aggressive form, Social Darwinism served as a motive power as well as justification for expansionist policies; in practice this meant territorial aggrandisement, acquisition or further expansion of colonies and naturally the kind of armaments necessary to ensure new gains. The alternative was considered to be stagnation and decay - a belief in change through territorial, economic and military expansion. The elder Moltke equated the Darwinian portrait of nature with the battlefield, expressing the spirit of the times with the words that 'war is an element of the order of the world established by God, without which the world would stagnate and lose itself in materialism'.
The well-known monthly, Nineteenth Century, published an article entitled 'God's Test by War'. It is worth quoting at some length:
Amidst the chaos of domestic politics and the wave-like surge of contending social desires the biological law of competition still rules the destinies of nations as of individual men. And as the ethical essence of competition is sacrifice, as each generation of plants or of animals perishes in the one case, or toils and dares in the other, that its offspring may survive, so with nations the future of the next generation is determined by the self-sacrifice of that which precedes it....What of England? Is the heart that once was hers still strong to dare and to resolve and to endure? How shall we know? By the test. That which God has given for the trial of peoples, the test of war....that victory is the result of efficiency, and efficiency is the result of spiritual quality. Thus then efficiency in war, or rather efficiency for war is God's test of a nation's soul. By that test it stands, or by that test it falls. This is the ethical content of competition. This is the determining factor of human history. This is the justification of war. (H.W. Koch, The Origins of the First World War, 1972)
For the British, the burden of Empire presupposed the existence of a divine power which had selected them for a divine mission through the evolutionary process through the survival of the fittest. As Cecil Rhodes put it,
I contend that we are the first race in the world and the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.' (H.W. Koch, op cit., p349)
Social Darwinism often combined this doctrine of progress through the elimination of unfit nations, with further support for the elimination of unfit individuals. Increasing sections of British society came to use the language of euthanasia, or to associate immigrants with 'the unfit'. The 'British Brothers League' orchestrated an 'anti-alien' campaign aimed specifically against Jewish immigration between 1901-06 in alliance with The 'Parliamentary Alien Immigration Committee'; the 'London League'; and the 'Immigration Reform Association'. [C. Holmes, London, 1979, p91; Thurlow, 1987, p14-20; W. Fest, Oxford, 1981, pp 171-89] Also figures like Robert Blatchford in his Clarion newspaper and elitist Fabians such as the Webbs and Bernard Shaw, who became involved in the pre-1914 Campaign for National Efficiency, were drawn into making racist statements:
Sidney Webb could turn his attention to the prospect of the 'degeneration of type', 'race deterioration' if not race suicide'...Individuals like Arnold White and Beatrice Potter could refer to Jewish immigrants having particular racial qualities.....What further complicates analysis before 1914 is that the term 'race' was used in an even more general fashion to refer to a group sharing a community of cultural interests.' Holmes, 1979, pp 47 & 228-9.
Social Darwinism and, closely connected with it, racism, created that psychological climate in which political decisions were made, 'national interests' interpreted. They provided some of the 'unspoken assumptions' of the era.
The most visible evidence of the strong anti-Semitic sentiment amongst sections of the British establishment can be seen from the Marconi Scandal and the Indian Silver Affair. There was a long history of radical anti-Semitism aimed at wealthy Jews (See Lunn in: Lunn & Thurlow 1980). Attention was drawn to the 17 Jewish MPs in 1913 as an indication of the growing disproportionate power of the Jewish community. (Holmes 1979, p109) A number of journals appeared between 1900 and 1914 which emphasised the 'threat' of Jewish power. (The Outlook; The Throne; The Referee; National Review and Eye Witness  etc.) One of the most virulent campaigns was carried out by the National League for Clean Government during 1913-14. (See Colin Holmes Anti-Semitism in British Society - 1876 - 1939, 1979, passim).
Of all the forces behind the British Edwardian 'Radical Right', the 'Diehards' were arguably the most important element. Led by reactionary Unionist Peers who voted against the Parliament Act of 1911 and the 'Round Table' group of 'Milnerites'. Supported by some elements in the press, especially Leo Maxe's National Review. [G. R. Searle, 1979, p85; R.C. Thurlow 1987 pp2-3] The Diehards supported Tariff Reform, compulsory military service, expansion of the armed services, armed resistance to Home Rule for Ireland and an end to 'alien immigration'. [G. D. Philips, 1977 pp 105-20; Thurlow 1987 p10 -11]
In effect they were in open revolt against the traditional 'high politics' inherited from the Victorian era. The Duke of Northumberland inherited Diehard beliefs from his father and published them and more extreme prejudices in his newspaper The Patriot from 1922 onwards. In addition, the 'National Service League' agitated for universal conscription. The 'Tariff Reform League' formed in 1903 by Joseph Chamberlain - also attracted Radical Right adherents with its attacks on Laissez Faire and free trade economic liberalism.
Both Searle and Koss have suggested that the Radical Right were at least as active and influential during the First World War. [S. E. Koss, London 1969 Ch 5-6; G. R. Searle, 1979, p96.] In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 a plethora of short lived pressure groups and popular movements grew up to oppose Communism and defend the Empire. These included the 'British Empire Union' the 'National Party' and the 'National Citizens Union'.
The Pre-War 'Radical Right' in Britain: An Assessment.
The 'Radical Right' in Edwardian Britain were a loose coalition of largely middle and upper class super patriots, provoked into action by fears of Imperial decline, constitutional imbalance (centred on the agitation over the Parliament Act of 1911) and increasing working class unrest, particularly in the 1909-14 period.
They were in certain respects, foreword looking, dissatisfied with negative Conservatism and optimistic about forging a link with the 'common man'.... as well as an overlap with more orthodox Conservatism and in certain areas (interventionism by the state, dislike of laissez faire economics), with creeds of the Left. The Edwardian Right was therefore, 'an extraordinary, and quite illogical amalgam of modernising and anti-modernising attitudes. [P Kennedy: Oxford 1981, p10; See also G. Dangerfield: London, 1970, p50-51.]
While there is a native British tradition of intolerance and authoritarianism, it has remained a relatively unimportant feature of British politics, leading to the marginalisation of the "Jew Wise" Radical Right in the 1920s. There was no equivalent to the German Deutschnationaler Handlungsghilfenverband to represent lower middle-class prejudices. British landed elites were on the whole comfortable with industrial Capitalism, unlike their Prussian Junkers counterparts. This was reflected in the pragmatism of the British Conservatives. 'permitting' political participation by Labour's representatives, at least to those willing to adhere to the parliamentary rules. The Liberal Party had long accepted this arrangement with Labour. By way of contrast, in Germany the Social Democrats and trade unions were treated with the utmost suspicion by the German Establishment.
LECTURE TWO: The Post-War Radical-Right and the Birth of British Fascism.
British Fascism's first impetus lay in an ultra-conservative response to the social consequences of the First World War and the rise of Bolshevism. Mandle estimated 60% of the Fascist elite had been members of the armed forces, while over 40% had seen active service in the First World War [W.F. Mandle, 1966, pp 362-80; D.L. Baker, 1982, pp 39-72] The Bolshevik Revolution traumatised those who already held anti-Semitic and anti-Capitalist conspiracy theories, fears further aroused by the appearance throughout Europe of the (forged) Protocols of the Elders of Zion in 1921. [N. Cohen, 1967, p169-70; C. Holmes, 1979, pp 49-85; idem 1977, pp 13-20; G. Lebzelter, 1979, pp 49-85; H. Blume, 1971, pp 248-50).] Initial post-war industrial unrest further heightened their paranoia and gave rise to a number of middle class and Imperial defence 'Unions'. The, post-war era also witnessed the rise of a new group of 'Diehards', an unofficial parliamentary group who admired their pre-war aristocratic forebears and campaigned for 'true conservatism' against 'Bolshevist Labour Socialism'. Thurlow accurately sums them up as 'an unarmed paramilitary group......a cross between an adult boy scout movement and a slightly more sinister defence force and strike breaking organisation' [Thurlow, 1987 p24]
The Radical Right also contained a second and more sinister strand centred on the 'Britons Society' founded in 1918. This group combined conspiratorial anti-Semitism racist anti-Semitic abuse. Formed by Henry Hamilton Beamish in 1918 (son of an admiral, brother of a Conservative MP, and a soldier in the Boer War) as a 'patriotic' organisation dedicated to the eradication of 'alien' influences from British life. Beamish also published an anti-Semitic views sheet variously titled Jewry Uber Alles, The Hidden Hand, and the British Guardian. The publishing company outlasted its parent by decades publishing eighty-five editions of The Protocols. Thurlow aptly describes Beamish in his later years (he died in 1948) as a 'kind of travelling salesman of international anti-Semitism'. [R. C. Thurlow, 1987,p66-68; G. Lebzelter: 1980, pp 41-56; C. Holmes, 1979] The Britons were part of the self-styled 'Jew Wise' group which later included the Imperial Fascist League and the Nordic League, aided by the Duke of Northumberland who published their anti-Semitic outpourings and fantasies in his Morning Post and weekly news-sheet The Patriot.
At first sight, the 'British Fascists' (BF) created in 1923 as the British Fascisti and renamed in 1924, appears, in name at least, to be truly Fascist. Its founder Rotha Lintorn-Orman, hailed from a military and Girl Guide background. She served in an ambulance unit in central Europe in the Great War, and later became Commandant of the national Red Cross Motor School. [Griffiths, 1983, p85-93] Scholars agree that it did little more than borrow the name from Italy, never attracting more than a handful of well-to-do supporters, with a membership mainly comprised of military, naval and 'county' types, 'with the lower orders consisting of loyal working class toughs'. [Griffiths, 1983 pp 85-87; R. Blakeney, London, 1925; R. J. Benewick London 1971, p28-29; R.C. Thurlow, 1987, 60-61.] Griffiths concluded that it never escaped its early image as a 'glorified Boys' Brigade' run by women". Thurlow's assessment also remains convincing:
The organisation lacked coherent leadership and purpose and was little more than a patriotic group with a foreign sounding name... It had no leadership cult...Its importance for the development of Fascism in Britain has to be seen in terms of the administration and discipline.......BF policy was vague and generalised. Its main components included the upholding of the monarchy, promotion of class friendship, the elimination of slums, the encouragement of Empire trade, a drastic restriction of immigration and deep seated hostility to socialism and Bolshevism. There was no overt anti-Semitism before 1932. [Thurlow, 1987, p57-61]
Some of the more aggressive anti-Semites, realising their mistake, had split off from the BF to form the British National Fascisti as early as 1925. Arnold Leese remarked famously that '...there was no Fascism, as I understood it, in the organisation, which was merely Conservatism with Knobs On.... [A Leese, 1951, p49] Leese also left in disgust and founded the 'Imperial Fascist League' in 1929. It represented the nearest approximation to a Fascist organisation in 1920s Britain, being virulently anti-Semitic and fervently pro-Nazi in character.
Webber has usefully enumerated a number of long-term factors which inhibited growth of the radical and Fascist right in Britain in the 1920s. These include: the lack of any foreign invasions since the 11th century; a unified nation state since the 18th century; a relatively peaceful transition to Parliamentary democracy under existing elites; a strong sense of national identity; the lack of mass immigrations or migrations on the scale seen in central Europe; victory in the First World War; a relatively short post-war recession and no hyper-inflation; a powerful Conservative Party at ease with mass democracy; a highly reformist Labour opposition linked to the Lib-Lab traditions of the Victorian age; a trade union movement largely free from syndicalist tendencies; few social groups sufficiently alienated from the dominant political culture and a relatively weak tradition of revolutionary Communism. [G. C. Weber: 1989, pp 168-69]
Taken together, and combined with the obvious eccentricity (and 'foreign-ness') of Fascist ideas and personnel, such factors caused British Fascism to be effectively marginalised from its very inception.
LECTURE THREE: The Appearance of the British Union of Fascists in 1932
Richard Thurlow has called the BUF 'the mature form of Fascist phenomenon in British society'. p.92. Formed in October 1932 by Sir Oswald Mosley. Mosley's manifesto The Greater Britain was issued in 1932. BUF claimed to draw its inspiration from Mussolini's Italy. Mosley had founded the New Party in 1931. He had accused the 'Old Gangs' of Conservative, Labour, and Liberal politicians of abject failure to solve the problems afflicting liberal democracy and capitalism in crisis. Thurlow considers the BUF to have been 'intellectually, the most coherent and rational of all Fascist parties in Europe in its early years.' (Fascism in Britain, 1986, p93).
He had finally left orthodox democratic political life when he resigned from the Labour party when his proposals to cure unemployment (the Mosley Memorandum- approved by Keynes) were rejected in May 1930 by a cabinet subcommittee chaired by the ultra-orthodox chancellor Philip Snowden. Mosley was expelled from the LP in March 1931 first issuing a Manifesto entitled A National Policy, which contained all the elements necessary for the founding of an alternative political party. Beatrice Webb dismissed the New Party, suggesting that it 'will never get born alive, it will be a political abortion'. (Benewick p73) In 1932, having lost most of the establishment figures in the New Party Mosley founded the BUF, claiming that only authoritarian leadership could respond to the immanent crisis of the British state.
The youth movement which was founded drove away many of Mosley's more orthodox supporters - particularly John Strachey a former Labour Party ally. Mosley acquired a personal bodyguard - the so-called 'Biff Boys' after an attack on him in Glasgow in September 1931. By the end of 1934 the BUF's violence had drawn the attention of the authorities and Mosley was forced to exert more central discipline on the movement.
Mosley's most important 'advantage' was that he was able to attract a number of formerly unattached intellectuals and anti-Semites into his BUF. These included A.K. Chesterton (journalist), Alexander Raven Thompson (intellectual) and William Joyce (orator). This by the end of 1934 Mosley's BUF was exhibiting many of the classic characteristics of an authentic Fascist Party. A leadership cult centred on an a charismatic orator who promised that he and his Fascists were the precursors of the 'new man'; a blackshirted uniformed paramilitary 'defence' force; an ideology and programme which proclaimed the 'corporate state' as its core economic policy; and the use of extreme anti-Semitic propaganda.
Why did authentic Fascism have to wait until 1932 to emerge in Britain? The reason lies partly in the crisis engendered by the continuing rise of Bolshevism in the Soviet Union and Fascism and Nazism Italy and Germany, coupled with the failure of vision amongst orthodox British politicians of both right and left when faced with the great depression of the early 1930s. Things looked grim for British democracy between 1931 and 1933. During this period the politicians remained under attack from both the left and right for their manifest 'failure of imagination'.
Disillusion with Parliament from all parts of the political spectrum was becoming common by 1931. Aldus Huxley wrote 'Wouldn't it be possible to bring a bill of Impeachment against a few of the old politicians who have landed us in this mess by their criminal negligence....(Skidelsky, Mosley, p227) Even Churchill, in his Oxford Romanes Lecture of 19th June 1930 spoke of how Parliament was better at handling 'political questions' which had dominated the 19th century, but was much less capable of handling 'economic issues' which had afflicted the twentieth century. He further argued that such issues should be handled by an economic sub-parliament: 'free altogether from party exigencies and composed of persons possessing special qualifications in economic matters.' (Skidelsky, pp 227-228).
The distinction between Mosley's radicalism and the orthodox politicians is clear from the words of a Conservative journalist commenting on a Mosley speech on unemployment at the Labour Party Conference (12th October 1930):
I'm sure that the throng, representative of all the Socialist organisations in the country, was not able to keep pace with his propositions. It was hypnotised by the man, by his audacity, as bang! bang! bang! he thundered directions. The thing that got hold of the Conference was that here was a man with a straight-cut policy. It leapt at him.
Here was a 'man in a hurry' in a world shown to be unable to find radical solutions to pressing economic and social problems.
LECTURE FOUR: Mosley's Role in the BUF.
In its obituary for Sir Oswald Mosley The Times wrote:
Sir Oswald Mosley...has no parallel in British public life, past or present....His rise to fame was a meteoric as his collapse.....This dynamic, handsome young man of promise might be in too much of a hurry, shrewd political observers commented, but he had heart and brains in a combination rare in Westminster and would go far. He did - but in a direction not foreseen either by his admirers or detractors. Impatience with the slow processes of democratic government combined with some inherent fault of character to send him off the rails. He went Fascist....a man for all his misjudgments so intelligent and vital....
Oswald Ernald Mosley was born November 16th 1896 heir to the barronacy of Ancoats in Lancashire and Rolleston in Staffordshire. Educated at Winchester and Sandhurst and was commissioned to the 16th Lancers with whom he served in France later transferring to the Royal Flying Corps, which he was invalided out of after a crash which left him with a permanent limp. He left with the reputation as a brave if somewhat reckless officer. In 1918 he stood as a Conservative for Harrow which he held until 1922. He went over to the Labour Party in 1924 and was welcomed by Ramsay MacDonald the Labour leader as 'one of the greatest and most hopeful figures' in politics. He stood for Birmingham Ladywood in the 1924 election and although defeated he reduced Neville Chamberlain's majority to only 77. In 1926 he won a by-election in Smethwick where he increased the Labour majority from 1,253 to 6,523.
When Labour was returned to government in 1929 he became Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster and entrusted along with George Lansbury (the first Commissioner of Works) with the preparation of schemes for 'national reconstruction'. In 1930, he presented the Committee with his famous Memorandum which after its rejection led to his resignation from the Government and shortly after that the party. He then founded the New Party which saw all its candidates defeated in the 1931 election. In 1932 he created the BUF. Mosley launched the BUF with the slogan: "I have finished with those who think; henceforth I shall go to those who feel." Robert Skidelsky has expressed Mosley's Fascist commitment:
Mosley was a product of his landed background and his war experiences. Both combined in revolt against the flabbiness of politics and the sham values of bourgeois life. This was the psychological dynamic of his Fascism, not his rational economic policy or even his 'rational' argument about the inevitability of collapse....these considerations would never have weighed so powerfully with him had he not felt such a violent hostility to the old world.
Skidelsky also highlights Mosley's "cold, rational, logical" cast of mind and this, coupled with his acceptance of certain tenets of "materialist" philosophy, has led to the description of him as an "authoritarian moderniser".Because of his basically rationalist and materialist approach to politics Mosley always remained able to balance his ideas with the need to see them realised in practice - even when the task was as difficult as trying to realise a Fascist state in Britain. As Skidelsky points out Mosley:
felt no guilt about the 'lower self' and lacked entirely the moral compulsion to strangle it in the 'higher' interests of civilisation. p137
What was Mosley's role in the rise and decline of the BUF?
LECTURE FIVE: What kind of individuals were attracted to British Fascism?
The Blackshirt Movement depends for its efficiency depends upon men and women... [willing] to stand alone, impervious both to blackmail and bribery, implacably determined to make no peace with the advocates of the bad old world, utterly refusing to merge or to be merged - men and women unique in the political life of the country by virtue of the fact that they cannot be 'bought'. .... to be prepared to set the value of an ideal above the value of life -that is to invite incredulous sniggers from the denizens of our democratic, money-mad world."
(A. K. Chesterton: The Blackshirt, February 1st 1935, p1.)
Mosley and his leading Fascist lieutenants shared many things. The majority were driven to act by a shared sense of duty to the 'warriors', both dead and living, of the Great War, and an equally vehement hatred of the 'Old Gang' of established political elites. They also shared a vision of "war socialism", a vision of classless co-operation in the common cause of the nation. Two excellent studies have been done of the link between the European 'war generation' and extremist politics: Frank Field's Three French Writers and the Great War and Robert Wohl's The Generation of 1914. Field studied the communist Henri Barbusse, the Catholic mystic Georges Bernanos, and the Fascist Drieu La Rochelle:
Not a social class in their own right, these intellectuals were distinguished by their possession of a secondary education and their activity as the creators of the symbols and images with which the members of other social groups interpreted and gave meaning to their lives.....seldom rich. Most depended upon newspapers for the support of their families and the cultivation of their talent...they thought of themselves as the bearers and embodiment of culture - and when they used the word...they were inclined to write it with a capital 'C'... (Robert Wohl on the 'War Generation')
The man who was most responsible for converting A.K. Chesterton into a BUF leader and activist was Rex Tremlett. Both men illustrate the colonial outsider and adventurer aspect of some in the leadership of the BUF. The question of an 'authoritarian personality factor amongst the BUF leadership is often raised. However, even the extreme anti-Semite A.K. Chesterton's personality exhibited contradictory traits which remain beyond the predictive capacity of a model of single-minded pathological instability. David Spitz was surely correct to assert that: 'Few if any individuals are in all facets of their being consistently one or the other type.... Nearly every man exhibits a complex of both "democratic" and "authoritarian" behaviour traits.' Chesterton's later difference with Mosley (he resigned in 1938 from the BUF) highlights another group or faction within the leadership of the BUF - the party bureaucrats.
First the ringmaster of the whole circus who, as Director General [Neil Francis Hawkins] has been pre-eminently successful in securing unto himself every vestige of administrative power.... Then there is the gentleman who pursues a barren course from branch to branch.... instructing them - to show what flair he has in revolutionary propaganda - to go out and do what the inhabitants would be likely most to abominate - a clear injunction to brawl in church, to dilute the beer, to desecrate the war memorial and to kidnap on the eve of a Cup-Tie the star performer of their favourite football team. Yet this man is Mosley's chief contact with the membership.... Next comes an ex-Natal policeman, whose mind is even more innocent of political ideas and who accompanies Colonel Triplicate every week to the 'Leader's Conference', there to sit in unrelieved dumbness while matters of high policy are supposed to be discussed....
The most damning indictment of the BUF is its reckless irresponsibility towards the services of men who could have seen it through to victory - in organisation, men like Forgan, Gueroult, Moore, Vincent; in propaganda Joyce, Beckett, Macnab, Probyn, and many others who rendered loyal and distinguished service...
In many ways William Joyce does fit the picture of an authoritarian personality and racial determinist driven on by psychological factors as much as social and intellectual ones. The following is a contribution to Birkbeck college magazine, The Lodestone,:
.... that impious reptile Shaw, / and Arlen, Pandar, 'gainst all virtue soured, / And sickly, putrid, maggot-eaten coward. / Away with livid plays of modern sex, / Eradicate, destroy, efface 'complex'! / In days when martial valour was appraised, / They loved a duel or standard raised; / But now Hypocrisy and Humane Cant / Transform the soldier's honest blows to rant.
One who saw him speak in 1934 was Cecil Roberts: 'Thin, pale, intense, he had not been speaking many minutes before we were electrified by this man. I have been a connoisseur of speech-making for a quarter of a century, but never before, in any country, had I met a personality so terrifying in its dynamic force, so vituperative, so vitriolic. The words poured from him in a corrosive spate.... We listened in a kind of frozen hypnotism to this cold, stabbing voice. There was a gleam of Marat in his eyes, and his eloquence took on a Satanic ring.... When the speaker finished, his white face luminous with hate, the chairman announced that questions might be asked. But no questions were asked. The audience sat paralysed by the flood of vituperation. I felt as if I had seen something unclean, so fearful in its cold frenzy that one blanched, asphyxiated in so nauseous an atmosphere...'
Rank and File Fascists.
Little hard evidence is available about the rank and file as the BUF papers were impounded by the Government under the 100 Year Rule. But a high degree of social and economic marginality is assumed by Benewick. p129. Gerry Webber provides the best estimates of BUF membership:
['Patterns of Membership and Support for the BUF' Journal of Contemporary History 19 (1984), pp 575-606]
Regional variations in support. Main areas of support London, the North West, Birmingham, Leeds, South Wales, South Coast towns, Bristol, Reading, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Predominantly an 'English' movement (EUF) London's East End 2000 active supporters in 1936 (10,000 passive) Birmingham Nothing by 1935; Yorks & Lancs 8,000-10,000 in 1939 (Thurlow doubts this figure from Webber) But there is enough evidence to show that British Fascism was typical of its continental brother and sister movements - disproportionately attracting the social misfits and frightened lower middle classes.
LECTURE SIX: BUF ideology - Fascist or Nazi?
Mosley's initial success as Fascist leader was astonishing. While his impressive mass-meetings proved his charismatic appeal to the people, he also appeared to be capable of evoking sympathetic response from the political establishment. Right-Wing aristocrats such as Rothermere, Nuffield and Lady Houston were associated with his movement. The January Club, founded in January 1934, provided a platform for Fascist speakers, and Mosley addressed various meetings of industrialists and businessmen who favoured his political campaign. After Rothermere's withdrawal, however, these connections seemed to have cooled off. [cf. G. Lebzelter, Political Anti-Semitism in England 1918-1939, p104]
The BUF began life at least in part as a homage to Mussolini's brand of Fascism. In a parliamentary debate of 6 June 1946 the Home Secretary stated that correspondence between the former Italian ambassador in London, Count Grandi, and Mussolini had revealed that between 1933 and 1935 the BUF had received about £60,000 per annum from the Italian government. No similar assistance was claimed to have come from Berlin, and no factual documentation was then produced to prove that the BUF had indeed received financial support from abroad.
But the BUF was also almost unique among Fascist movement in that its origin was marked by the publication of a coherent political programme and doctrine, in Oswald Mosley's The Greater Britain in October 1932. This outlined the rationale behind Mosley's revolt and the policies needed in his view to reverse Britain's decline. Although ideology came to play a less important role in the movement after 1935, Mosley nevertheless concentrated his energies in this sphere and in communicating his message to the British public, delegating administrative and financial organisation to others. [R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain, p145.]
Neil Nugent argues that a division should be made between the official ideas of the leadership and the less well formulated motivating concepts of the rank. and file. He also agrees with Thurlow that 'As compared with the general, often vague, sometimes philosophical ideas of most European Fascist parties, the BUF was highly programmatic' and adds that 'it...can be noted that many of their ideas had their roots firmly embedded in British soil....it is quite clear that there were a number of very important British influences upon Mosley; in particular, the interventionist State of 1914-18; Keynes; associates in the Independent Labour Party; and Lloyd George Liberals.. ' ['The ideas of the BUF.' in N. Nugent & R. King: The British Right: Conservative and Right Wing Politics in Britain. London, 1977]
According to Thurlow Mosley's whole political life was dedicated to two propositions: that the British Empire and/or Europe was in danger of collapse without drastic reorganisation under firm leadership, and that he alone could provide the heroic flair and drive to restore the power that was being insidiously undermined by external and internal enemies.....The core nature of Fascist ideas remained remarkably consistent during the 1930s despite the various campaigns designed to appeal to popular sentiments and prejudices in order to draw people into the movement. [R. C. Thurlow, British Fascism: A History: 1918-1985, p 147]
Mosley's main statements of his beliefs in The Greater Britain (1932, revised 1934), Fascism: One Hundred Questions Asked and Answered(1936) and Tomorrow we Live (1938), all stressed heavily the economic critique and political analysis of his alternative vision. Anti-Semitism and foreign policy is absent from the first work and comprised only four and eight pages respectively out of seventy two in Tomorrow we Live, in marked contrast to the space devoted to these themes in Action and Blackshirt after 1935.
The turn to anti-Semitic propaganda after 1936, divided the official ideology of authoritarian modernism from the debased populist rhetoric of the BUF. Racial populism and appeasement were used to recruit followers and those who became committed followers were then converted to the basic beliefs of inner Fascism. According to Thurlow:
The real inner core was something entirely different. This represented the concept of the new Fascist man derived from heroic vitalist and creative evolutionist philosophies... The BUF argued that the principles of British Fascism were embedded deep in British history, and that it was the dominant Whig interpretation that had distorted the historical textbooks. The BUF by contrast saw itself as a continuation of a tradition which linked feudalism, the guild system, Tudor centralised authority and the spirit behind the achievement of Empire to their own conception of the corporate state.[R.C. Thurlow; op cit. p151]
Thus although British Fascism was strongly rooted in relatively weak national traditions, its political expression and intellectual justification were much more strongly influenced by European examples. If Marx's ideas represented a fusion of English economics, French politics and German philosophy, Mosley's system, at a lower level of analysis, represented a fusion of English radical economics, Fascist politics and German Idealist philosophy. Mosley's Fascist economic programme derived from the main ideas of his socialist and radical synthesis of the 1920s transposed into an ultra-national context. For Mosley, the basic problem was that the ability of the industrial system to expand production far exceeded its propensity to consume the excess output.
Mosley viewed the British Empire under Fascist rule as a vast mercantile super-state where the dominions and colonies would supply primary products and raw materials in return for British manufactured goods.
This ideological core of Fascism was philosophically rationalised from the outset. Raven Thomson, Bill Allen and Mosley all argued that the heroic vitalist tradition behind Oswald Spengler's grand panoramic vision of the rise and fall of civilisations and the imminent prophecy of the doom of the 'Faustian culture' of Europe was of vital importance to the understanding of contemporary history. At root Mosley was a neo-Lamarckian who believed that through action and conscious striving man could create a better society.
BUF Anti-Semitism - a Nazi move?
From 1934, the BUF increasingly allied with Hitler's Fascism, not Mussolini's. Mosley's instrumentalization of anti-Semitism seems to correspond to this realignment. Mosley launched his anti-Jewish campaign at the Albert Hall on 28th October 1934. The official line during 1933 and 34 was to deny the existence of a Jewish problem. Early in December 1932, barely two months after the founding of the BUF. Mosley issued an order barring anti-Semitic activities and asserting the existence of a British race. But on the occasion of the first indoor meeting and Fascist parade in London, Mosley was reported to have said with reference to his questioners that, 'They are all from Jerusalem; they don't know any better.' Following the meeting the Blackshirts marched to the Cenotaph where the police ordered them to disband following a shout, 'Down with Gandhi and to hell with the Jews.' In an article in The Jewish Economic Forum and in a Press interview - both in July 1933 - Mosley claimed that racial and religious persecution were alien to British Fascism. There were other warnings. Mosley wrote that Fascism alone could deal with 'The Great Alien Financier of the City of London'. Mosley's preoccupation with the power of 'foreign capital' dated back to the early 1920s, but now it was coloured by anti-Semitism. The Blackshirt on 4th November 1933 headlined an unsigned front-page article, 'Shall Jews Drag Britain to War?'. 'We state deliberately that Jews are striving to involve Britain in war.' He continued: 'We do not fight Jews on racial or religious grounds. We oppose them because they have become an organised interest within the state pursuing a policy which threatens British lives and homes.'
During the first four months of the Mosley-Rothermere alliance there was a moratorium on Blackshirt Jew-baiting. In the spring of 1934 Mosley resumed his campaign. He gained the approval of Julius Streicher, the Nazi Jew-batter. Streicher's paper, Der Stürmer, had accused the BUF of being 'a Jewish catch-up movement'. 'The fact that the Mosley movement has positively defined its attitude toward the Jewish problem suggests that Mosley has now realised that the tactical reserve hitherto observed by him in this question is no longer expedient.' The notoriety gained as a result of the BUF meeting at Olympia in June 1934 ushered in a new stage in BUF policy. Mosley now attacked the Jews more openly and vehemently. Mosley, speaking at the Albert Hall, on 28th October 1934 'accepted the challenge of organised Jewry'. Mosley claimed that the Jews had assailed Fascism in three ways: they had physically assaulted the Blackshirts; Fascists had been victimised by their employers; and the 'organised power of Jewry as a racial interest' was trying to drag Britain into war." In Mosley's policy statement, Fascism, the Jews were described as foreigners, and blamed for almost all Britain's economic troubles. Mosley also stated that it would be bad for the Empire to stigmatise by law the other races in it as inferior or outcast. The Press, was frequently cited. Attacks on the 'strong', 'ruthless' Jew were combined with attacks on the 'weak' Jew in the streets. It was a common practice for the Fascists to march through East London chanting, 'The Yids, the Yids, we gotta get rid of the Yids'. In July 1937 a party of 20 Blackshirts visited Julius Streicher. His welcoming speech was full of admiration and praise for Mosley and his movement. He told his guests, that he considered them as 'brothers and comrades in the fight' against Jewry. The spokesman for the Blackshirts was reported to have said: 'We rejoice that we have seen the world leader in the fight against Semitism.' From his Stürmer we forge the best weapons for our fight in England.'!" The visitors raised a threefold 'Sieg Heil' for Hitler and Streicher and sang the 'Horst Wessel Lied' in English.
Mosley's first plan was to stop immigration and deport those Jews guilty of 'anti-British' conduct. By this, he meant those Jews who had allegedly organised themselves as 'a nation within a nation', and set their interests before those of Great Britain. Jews who were considered innocent of those charges would be allowed to remain, but only as foreigners; they would not possess the full rights of British citizenship. In Tomorrow We Live, he suggested that a suitable territory would have to be found, where the Jews could escape the 'curse of no nationality', and have the opportunity of becoming a nation. Mosley maintained that, if the Jews had been sincere in their pronouncements, and did want to become something more than 'the parasite of humanity', they would accept the offer." The new territory would evidently be found by a conference of European nations.
The development of BUF anti-Semitism from a rather vague ideological formulation to a virulent political weapon was connected to a strategy of lining up Fascist sentiments behind regional issues, which were intended attracted popular attention in different localities. These tactics were necessary because the major national political issues of 1935 had proved in practice to be disastrous flops for the BUF. In particular, the 'Mind Britain's Business' campaign against the League of Nations policy to boycott Fascist Italy after her invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 cut little ice. Political anti-Semitism in the East End of London had deep social causes and utilized a historical tradition of anti-alien hostility which had emphasised anti-Semitism from the turn of the century. The increasing conflict in the East End in 1936 and the follow-up campaigns of the BUF developed as a result of the inter-action of Fascist anti-Semitism and Jewish counter-attack. Initially the Fascists tried to present a respectable form of anti-Semitism for the campaign in the East End. However, with the emergence of East End populist orators like E.G. 'Mick' Clarke, combined with increased hostility by militant working-class and Jewish elements to bring about a rapid reversal of policy. Fascist resources became increasingly concentrated here and recruitment of anti-Semitic elements and adolescents was actively encouraged.
Mosley denied that he was ever an anti-Semite by offering his own definition of anti-Semitism. According to Mosley an anti-Semite was a man who was opposed to all Jews because they were Jews. "I have never done this." The BUF did not attack. Jews because of their race or religion, but because of what they did." According to John Strachey, Mosley's 'anti-Semitism was 100 per cent insincere'. Baroness Ravensdale, maintained that Mosley argued that Fascism would not survive without a scapegoat such as Jewry."
Anti-Semitism dominated the activities, as well as the policy of the BUF, after I934. For example, the Blackshirts fought the LCC elections of 1937 largely on anti-Semitism, Mosley having declared,
East London will have to choose between us and the parties of Jewry. . . .When we have unmasked the real power behind Conservatism and Socialism, and see the corrupt influences which really govern, we are not surprised that the press they control, the cinema industry which they own body and soul, and the whole force of their finance and power is loosed upon us, when for the first time in the history of the nation a patriotic movement challenges the great Jewish interest of International Finance.
The BUF attained 23 per cent of the vote in North East Bethnal Green, 19 per cent in Stepney (Limehouse) and 14 per cent in Shoreditch. Six months later in the municipal elections it fought eight seats in five London boroughs. In six seats it finished second, with a best performance of 22 per cent in Bethnal Green East. But outside London the British Union performed disastrously, with its candidates in Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield and Southampton all finishing bottom of the poll.
Mosley's shift of allegiance from Mussolini to Hitler manifested itself in the change of name to 'British Union of Fascists and National Socialists' in the summer of 1936. According to Thurlow Mosley presented his case against the Jews in terms of these 'well-earned reputation' arguments. Anti-Semitism had been a potent force beneath the surface of BUF Ideology since its inception and Fascist journalists had often commented on the 'alien' menace in Blackshirt and Fascist Week, despite frequent pronouncements that Jew-batting was forbidden 'by order'. Mosley was not an ideological anti-Semite but he became convinced that some Jews were acting against the British national interest through their role in international finance, and that others were trying to destroy the BUF through physical violence.
Lebzelter views the elevation of anti-Semitism as the BUF's main political message in the context of its shift of emphasis from domestic to foreign policy. [G. Lebzelter: Political Anti-Semitism in England 1918-1939] As the domestic political and economic issues, which had originally prompted Mosley to start his own party, lost impetus after the formation of a National Government, the turn to anti-Semitism began in earnest. With slow but steady economic recovery, the BUF's disdain of the 'old gang politicians', became ever less effective. To replace the obsolete party platform Mosley turned from domestic to foreign policy, which provided further issues over which he could continue his campaign against those in power.
For Lebzelter: 'The turn to foreign policy, defined as the conservation of the status quo, mirrors the BUF's transformation from an intentionally progressive party, searching for concepts to solve the problems of advanced societies, into a fundamentally reactionary movement.' It began to glorify the virtues of the past, and to identify modernity with decline. This process moved the BUF closer to the conventional Fascist movements in Europe, which had from the beginning adopted a retrospective policy aiming at a revival of an allegedly happier past. Mosley himself expressed this in a thank-you note to Streicher which, even if it has to be seen as a routine courtesy, reveals a remarkable zeal to please his political friends abroad:
I value your advice greatly in the midst of our hard struggle. The power of Jewish corruption must be destroyed in all countries before peace and justice can be successfully achieved in all Europe. Our struggle in this direction is hard, but our victory is certain.
The BUF was never simply a mimetic movement. In its early years it was clearly influenced by the style, leadership principle and corporate state posturings of Mussolini's regime. But it was always at root a British movement based on native traditions of Social Imperialism and even anti-Semitism. Later, under the influence of increasing internal anti-Semitism and political marginalisation and decline, it adopted pro-Nazi propaganda. But throughout the inner-core ideology remained Mosley's authoritarian modernism, drawn from native traditions of thought in particular the pre-war traditions of Social Imperialism. The problem for the movement was that even Mosley became caught up in this irrationalism which turned away far more support than it ever generated and in the course of his campaign he succumbed to the dynamics of that deeply irrational ideology. Arguably the BUF was never entirely Fascist or Nazi, although it was clearly closer to Mussolini's brand in 1933 and Hitler's in 1939.
LECTURE SEVEN: Why Did British Fascism Fail Between the Wars?
Fascism certainly failed. It failed so disastrously [that] it is impossible even to mention the word without invoking not what its adherents meant when they used it, but what its deadliest enemies intended people to believe it to have meant. And that is defeat indeed! [A.K. Chesterton: London Tidings, 29th November 1947, p1.]
There are broadly two typical explanations for the failure of the BUF. One school concentrates on the long-term objective barriers to British Fascism. Another emphasises the short-term and subjective obstacles.
You Couldn't Have Fascism In Britain
For those stressing the objective weaknesses of British Fascism, it is important to contrast the friendly political context enjoyed by continental Fascism with the harsh environment experienced by British Fascism. Between 1900 and 1918 many countries experienced considerable domestic social and political upheaval, offering the necessary political space for Fascism and authoritarian forms of Conservatism and militarism to take root. Consequently, the emergence of generic Fascism throughout Europe was, as Martin Blinkhorn has suggested:
Nourished by the new climate of crisis and the new climate of ideas...groups, movements, and parties, operating on the margins of the established right proliferated during the 1920s and into the 1930s.......shriller in their nationalism, more plebeian in composition, less respectful of tradition and of established hierarchies, more violent in their behaviour, and prepared to employ pseudo-leftist rhetoric...there was, in other words, a definite difference between these 'Fascist' movements and their 'conservative' forerunners. [M Blinkhorn, 1990 pp 5-6].
Webber has enumerated a number of long-term factors which inhibited growth of the radical and Fascist right in inter-war Britain. These include:
The lack of any foreign invasions since the 11th century; a unified nation state since the 18th century; a relatively peaceful transition to Parliamentary democracy under existing landed and bourgeois elites; a strong sense of national identity; the lack of mass immigrations or migrations on the scale seen in central Europe; victory in the First World War; a relatively short post-war recession and no hyper-inflation; a powerful Conservative Party at ease with mass democracy; a highly reformist social democratic Labour opposition linked to the Lib-Lab traditions of the Victorian age; a trade union movement largely free from syndicalist tendencies; few social groups sufficiently alienated from the dominant political culture and a relatively weak tradition of revolutionary Communism. [G. C. Weber: 1989, pp 168-69]
At the core of the 'objectivist' explains for the failure of British Fascism is the idea that British political culture was immune to fascism. John Stevenson has stressed the importance of the Conservative Party a major obstacle to fascism on the right:
Ultimately, the failure of the BUF and of the earlier Fascist movements to gain greater support must be attributed to the established parties' success during the inter-war years in maintaining and even increasing their support...fears of Bolshevism and economic ruin...served to maintain and increase support for the Conservative Party.....offering a safe balwark to property and order.....Britain's strong Conservative Party virtually monopolised the ground on which any Fascist movement might hope to base itself.. [J. Stevenson , 1990, pp 275-76]
As Thurlow has stated: The fact that Britain had neither a 'co-ordinated integral nationalist populist movement, nor was influenced significantly by romantic nationalism before 1914 helps to explain the uphill task which British Fascists faced in their later attempts to revolutionise society. [Thurlow 1987, p20-21]
'Marginalisation' rather than 'failure' is a more accurate term for this process, since failure implies that there was a prospect of success for the BUF in 1930s Britain.
But We Did Have Fascism In Britain
For those who look to subjective explanations of the failure of British fascism, it is significant that there was a strong pre-war tradition of right-wing extremism in Britain. This Radical Right included Hilaire Belloc, Lord Milner, G.K. Chesterton, Joseph Chamberlain and Edward Carson. These were important and influential members of the Edwardian governing class. It follows that there was no Chinese wall separating Fascists from the Radical Right or the Radical Right from mainstream Tories. The Fascists themselves were keen to stress that they were not separated from the traditions of British Conservatism.
W.E.D. Allen (himself a former Tory MP and a prominent member of MI5, as well as the BUF) argued that British Fascism represented a return to the glorious ideals of the Tudor past, accompanied by modern methods first seen with Carson, and the Ulster revolt of 1910-4. (Skidelsky, 301)
In the 1930s, whole sections of the ruling class were prepared to side openly with fascism. The BUF worked with Lord Nuffield and Cunard shipping. Sir Thomas Moore, MP for Ayr Burghs, suggested that 'there cannot be any fundamental differences of outlook between Blackshirts and their parents, the Conservatives.' Four Tory MPs, Captain A. Lennox-Boyd, T.B. Martin, Roger Conant and Hugh Molson, were members of Mosley's January Club, and sided with the BUF. Other BUF supporters included Sir Alliot Verdon Rose, owner and founder of Avro Aeroplanes; Major James Shearer, a director of Courtaulds; Maynard Mitchell, a director of Mitchell's and Butler's; and Tony Twist, the son of the owner of Twist's breweries. Captain Maule Ramsay MP was one of the founders of a different, and more National Socialist variety of Fascism, in the form of the Right Club. Members of the semi-fascist Anglo-German Fellowship included Sir Frank Sanderson, Tory MP and on the board of Salbaire; Sir S. Shute, another Tory MP, and one of the directors of Combined Egyptian Mills; and Lord Sempill, the chair of Fortrose Investment. Just six members of the semi-fascist Anglo-German Fellowship owned a total capital of £257 million. In 1936, following his abdication, Edward VII drove to the BUF's headquarters, Black House, where he took the fascist salute.
This process, by which sections of the respectable right were prepared to side with fascism, is far more obvious at an international (as opposed to domestic) level. For the four Tory MPs who joined the January Club, there were perhaps 200 who publicly expressed admiration for Mussolini. Richard Griffiths' book, Fellow Travellers Of the Right, documents this process in some detail. The Times, Observer and Morning Post all expressed their admiration for foreign Fascism, but remained clear of the BUF. Similarly, although Winston Churchill would have nothing to do with Mosley, he did visit Mussolini in Italy, and told the press: 'I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini's gentle and simple bearing... If I had been an Italian I should have been wholeheartedly with you from start to finish.'
While members of the British establishment would side publicly with continental Fascism, against the Russian threat, there was also a process throughout the 1930s, under which the British state seemed to be copying aspects of fascist rule. Left-wingers warned of a danger of creeping 'Fascisation'. The use of the police against unemployed marchers; the formation of a National Government, which effectively made it impossible for Labour to get elected; the reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police; new laws against those preaching sedition and mutiny; the use of the Public Order Act after 1936 to ban left-wing demonstrations; the promotion of an imperial ideology, cemented by protective tariffs; the growing integration of the state with the industrial economy: all seemed to suggest that the British state was becoming more aggressive, more nationalistic, and (in a slow sense), more 'fascist'.
While Mosley and the BUF never came close to seizing state power, it is clear from the numbers of their support, that they were a significant force. In 1934, and again in 1936, the BUF was able to create something of a 'pogrom atmosphere'. Large numbers of socialists, Jews and trade unionists living in areas like the East End found themselves physically attacked, and were forced to live in fear.
If it is right, then, the British political environment was not uniquely immune to fascism, then the failure of British Fascism is explained not in terms of 'marginalisation', but as 'defeat'. For those who stress the subjective reasons for the failure of British fascism, the two key years are 1934 and 1936, when the growth of British Fascism was blocked by a movement of radical anti-fascists. Especially for the political left, these two moments, Olympia and Cable Street, are seen as the decisive point at which fascism was stopped.
The first turning point came when the British Union of Fascists called a major rally, to take place at Olympia, on 7 June 1934. This was to be the moment at which the BUF was to achieve its break-through: MPs, peers, diplomats, big businessmen and leading journalists were invited to hear Mosley speak; and 12,000 people showed up on the day. 10,000 anti-fascists demonstrated outside Olympia. There, they were attacked by 760 mounted police. Several hundred anti-fascists forged tickets, managed to get in, and heckled Mosley from inside the meeting. As the anti-fascists heckled, Mosley stopped speaking, and the organisers shone spotlights on the hecklers so that they could be identified and removed. The hecklers were then physically attacked by stewards. Dozens of anti-fascists were badly beaten up. The middle and ruling class elements who were watching Mosley were now forced to consider whether they really did want to support such a brutal movement. After Olympia, the British Union of Fascists quickly went into serious decline. Lord Rothermere withdrew his support for Mosley. Dr. Robert Forgan, a prominent supporter who followed him from the New Party days, left also. Within a year, BUF membership fell from 40,000 to 5,000. Vernon Kell of MI5 went so far as to argue that 'Mosley has suffered a check which is likely to prove decisive'.
In 1936, the BUF seemed to be again in the ascendant. The Fascists established new branches in the East End in 1936, in Stepney, Limehouse and Bethnal Green. The British Union of Fascists claimed to have 4000 members in Shoreditch alone. It was in this context that Mosley announced a planned demonstration from the Royal Mint, to Aldgate and then Limehouse, to take place on 4 October 1936. On the day some 150,000 anti-fascists showed up to blockade Gardiners Corner, the nub of any route from the City into East London. There they were attacked by 10,000 mounted police who tried to force a way through for the 6,000 members of the BUF. When the police charges failed to make headway, they turned their attention instead on Cable Street. When the police failed there, too, Sir Philip Game ordered the Fascists to turn round. They then marched westwards to the Embankment, and dispersed. Cable Street, like Olympia, became a part of left wing folklore.
There is not as yet a final or agreed explanation of the failure of British Fascism. As well as marginalisation and defeat, there were other factors at work. Arguably, the BUF contributed to its own downfall. Key decisions were taken which undermined the long-term survival of the movement.
LECTURE EIGHT: The 1940s
In the last months of summer 1939, Britain's Fascists enjoyed something of a boom. In July, 1939, Mosley spoke to an audience of 20,000 people at Earl's Court. He told them that 'a million Britons shall never die in your Jews' quarrel'. In the same month, the BBC lifted its long-standing ban on reporting Fascist meetings. Meanwhile other groups, middle-class and pro-German also prospered. The membership of the Link, for example, rose in the early months of 1939, from 1800 to 4300. Under the impact of war, however, the boom ended sharply. To take just one indicator: the number of British Union meetings held in London fell from 313 in August 1939, to just 21, in September.
Whatever the previous history of the British establishment, now Britain was at war with Germany. Germany was the world's major Fascist power. Britain's Fascists advocated peace with Germany. The state was obliged to act against them. From 22 May 1940, the authorities began to intern prominent fascist, under Defence Regulation 18B. Between 750 and 800 were finally detained. Brian Simpson's In The Highest Degree Odious suggests that the detentions were unwarranted, and a blot on British civil liberties. Other historians have pointed to Simpson's reliance on fascist sources, and his unwillingness to treat seriously the far more brutal detention of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany: 27,000 'enemy aliens' were held in detention camps in 1940.
Some historians have argued that internment dealt a terminal blow to British fascism. Colin Cross argues that 'British Fascism ended in May 1940, and has not been revived under that name'. (Cross, 195) Others have pointed to the effects of internment, in shaping a generation of fascists with common experiences, and an even greater belief in Mosley's mission.
Most fascists were released in 1941 and 1942. Mosley was let out in September 1943, on grounds of ill health. His release sparked the largest protest movement of the war years. Arnold Leese left detention in 1944. By 1945, and with the end of the war, there were a plethora of tiny competing Fascist grouplets. Local leaders included Jeffrey Hamm, Alexander Raven Thomson, Edward Godfrey and James Preen (all Mosleyites), Chesterton, Leese, and the Duke of Bedford. According to the Communist Party's paper, the Daily Worker,
There is a tremendous amount of coming and going in ex-fascist circles today. Former Mosleyites are being contacted and sounded as to where they stand. The Mosleyites have, it appears, the leading cadres, the framework of a national organisation, the basis of a rank-and-file of some thousands, a number of friendly bookshops in existence with more planned, and the prospect of a flow of new material from the proposed Mosley press. In addition the reappearance of a Mosley organisation would probably be quickly followed by mergers with a number of kindred organisations. (Daily Worker, 4 Jan 1946)
By 1946 or 1947, there was an effective hegemony around Hamm's group, the British League of Ex-Servicemen And Women. Its main tactic was to stage a small number of large street meetings, famously at Ridley Road, near Dalston Kingsland in Hackney. These meetings grew in size in late 1947, to a peak of 2000-3000 every week.
Events in Palestine helped Britain's Fascists. Between 1945 and 1948, there were 80,000 British troops policing the territories, and 338 British subjects were killed. Following the bomb attack on the King David Hotel, and the killing of two British sergeants at Natanya, there were large anti-Jewish riots in August 1947, in Liverpool, Eccles, Salford and Manchester, and smaller incidents in Plymouth, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Swansea, Devonport, and Newcastle. These anti-Jewish riots gave Hamm a national prominence. The Daily Mail featured his weekly meetings (and the fighting with Jewish anti-fascists) under the regular title: 'The Battle Of Ridley Road'. With the growth of Hamm's British League, Mosley felt confident to launch a new political party: the Union Movement, which was set up in the winter of 1947-8.
As well as possessing a new organisational base, the Union Movement was also equipped with a new ideology: Mosley's 'Europe-a-Nation', or 'European Socialism'. Europe would be amalgamated into a single state protected by tariffs, and given the best parts of Africa to exploit, under apartheid conditions. Mosley and his biographer Robert Skidelsky have both stressed the new and innovative character of this idea. Anne Poole has also devoted a long paper to studying its character (see Poole in Cronin). There was however, both change and continuity. Mosley did argue that a European idea could supersede the old fascist standard of 'the nation'. On the other hand, aspects of Mosley's thinking remained the same. The key continuity was anti-Semitism. Following the November 1947 pre-launch meeting, Mosley gave an interview to the press. He said that Jews would not be allowed to join the Union Movement, that a Union Movement government would deport Jews from Britain, that Buchenwald and Belsen were 'unproven', and that the German gas-chambers had been designed to burn the corpses of Jews killed by British bombing. (Rose, Survey No. 1, 13-15)
If the point of the Union Movement was to revive the BUF, then it failed, and quickly. Like the BUF, the Union Movement was unable to solve the problem of opposition. The Communist Party and the 43 Group (see Beckman) harassed Fascist meetings. The legacy of the War and the Holocaust put Fascism (in Nicholas Mosley's phrase) 'beyond the pale'. By 1948, the Union Movement was in decline. In 1951, Mosley decided to flee the country. His last message to his supporters described Britain as 'an island prison': 'No man can start a crusade from within a gaol' (Union, 10 March 1951).
The enduring significance of the 1940s lies as a hinge, a gateway from the Fascist (and anti-fascist) styles of the 1930s to the different styles of the 1970s. On the fascist side, new figures, notably Leese and Chesterton came to an increasing significance, as Mosley's star waned.
LECTURE NINE: The National Front and its Derivatives - Student Notes.
Traditionally full British Subject status had been granted to some of the people's of the British Empire, with the remainder only classed as 'Protected Persons'. Labour shortages in the 1950s saw an increasing number of Commonwealth citizens, initially West Indians, joined later by other from the Indian subcontinent, attracted to Britain by promised jobs and a higher standard of living. By 1955 20,000 from the West Indies and around 10,000 from India and Pakistan. By 1960 100,000 per year. The appearance of coloured peoples triggered a racist response in the localities in which they lived. By 1955 there was considerable opposition to coloured immigration amongst Conservative activists registered in resolutions at the Party Conference of that year. At the same time some Labour MPs attempted, unsuccessfully, to get anti-discriminatory legislation passed. In 1962 the Conservative government bowed to its activists and electoral pressures and passed the more restrictive Immigration Control Act of that year.
In 1954 only two ultra-rightist groups existed A. K. Chesterton's League of Empire Loyalists LEL (see below) and Oswald Mosley's Union Movement (UM) By 1960 several ultra right and Fascist groups had formed around this issue including the National Labour Party (NLP), White Defence League (WDL) and the British National Party (BNP). Of the two original groups led by former BUF men, only the LEL exercised any direct influence over the members of the later other groups and the NF. The most openly Nazi grouping were the National Socialist Movement (NSL) founded in 1962 by the paramilitary Hitlerist wing of the tiny British National Party (BNP) This tiny group split in 1964 and the more influential Greater British Movement (GBM) emerged. Mosley's Union Movement was emboldened by the so-called Nottingham and Notting Hill 'race riots' of 1958 and in 1959 Mosley stood in the North Kensington constituency and, for the first time in his career, lost his deposit with 8.1% of the vote. By 1962 Mosley's MUM had joined with other neo-Fascist groups in Europe (including Deutsches Reichspartei, Jejune Europe and Moveimento Sociale Italiano) in a Nationalist Party of Europe. In so doing the UM ensured its marginalisation from mainstream ultra-right politics in Britain. In 1965 Mosley again lost his deposit in Shoreditch with 4,6% of the vote and departed abroad to Paris, finally relinquishing the leadership of UM in 1973.
Chesterton's Role in the NF: In 1954, after some years on the fringes of ultra-right Tory journalism (editor of Truth and personal journalist to Lord Beaverbrook at Express Newspapers) Chesterton established his own political pressure group The League of Empire Loyalists (LEL), whose political stunts, especially in interrupting Tory Party Conferences with cries of "Save the Empire", and "Tory Traitors", were avidly followed by the national and provincial press. The LEL was also heavily involved in organising sanctions-breaking trips to Rhodesia. During this period Chesterton's anti-black prejudices were brought fully to the surface by the issue of coloured immigration and his attention was divided between conspiracy theorising and attacking the policy of allowing immigration by non-whites into Britain. The 'Colonel Blimp' like LL. ironically turned out to be the most important training-ground for the next generation of British neo-Fascists and extreme loyalists. At one time or another it contained John Tyndall, Martin Webster, Colin Jordan and John Bean, who, after leaving and indulging in the Nazi fantasy, returned (with the exception of Jordan) to provide the leadership of the National Front. Chesterton was the focal point of "respectability" around which these men circulated. His passionate anti-Nazism and Empire Loyalism made him acceptable to the extreme right wing Monday Club type activists of the Tory Party. After the Second World War he fought fourteen successful libel actions against individuals and newspapers unwise enough to insinuate that he had ever been a traitor, or anti-British. He was, therefore, the natural choice for the Chairmanship of the National Front (NF - founded in 1967) with the merging of the LEL, the British National Party, the Greater Britain Movement and dissident members of the Racial Preservation Society). But Chesteron's upper-class cultural elitism and distaste for street-corner politics and skinheadism meant that he was little more than a figure-head in the NF He was forced (for health reasons) to spend each winter in South Africa and on his return each year faced with fierce jostling for position and political infighting by the various factions within the Front. Also dismayed at the Front's lack of electoral success between 1967 and 1971, and unhappy with the grass roots skinhead neo-Nazism of the party, Chesterton resigned from the Chairmanship and the movement in 1971. His LEL followers followed him from the NF and loyally supported him for the remaining years of his life, as he continued to publish his anti-immigration and anti-Semitic conspiratorial views in Candour. He died on 16th August 1973 from emphysema contracted in a gas attack in the First World War. The core of Chesterton's post-Fascist creed was a mixture of right-wing Tory Empire Loyalism and conspiratorial anti-Semitism. To which, in the wake of mass coloured immigration into Britain, and black nationalist guerrilla actions against British colonialism, he added the anti-coloured biological racism which he had carried with him from his childhood in the racially divided society of South Africa.
His legacy within the NF resided chiefly in his highly developed conspiracy theory. Chesterton also passed on his beliefs through personal influence over other far-Right leaders. In 1971 John Tyndall declared that: "Without hesitation, what understanding of political affairs I owe much more to A. K. than to any other person". (Spearhead, June 1971, p29) Yet such links remain of less importance than Chesterton's writings. These can be seen at their most developed in The New Unhappy Lords a book originally published in 1965 and the subject of innumerable reprints, widely disseminated by ultra-rightist bookshops throughout the world. This book contains a meticulous 'exposure' of the supposed activities of the 'Money-Power', and Bolshevism based upon uncited 'authorities' because: "As a conspiracy by its nature is secret, it is not possible to bring against it a direct case, as distinct from a case based upon circumstantial evidence." (Chesterton, Op cit. p9). This ensured Chesterton the dubious legacy for spreading and updating an authentic British tradition of conspiracy thinking which includes the writings of Nesta Webster, A. N. Field, Arthur Kitson and Father Denis Fahey. (See R. C. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain 1918-1985 1987, Ch 1 and 4 and Colin Holmes, Anti-Semitism in British Society: 1876-1939, 1979 passim)
The Founding of the National Front: Fearing that the initiative on immigration was falling to the ultra-Tory Monday Club, in February 1967 the LEL and BNP (founded in 1960) agreed on a merger and were joined by dissident members of the Racial Preservation Society (RPS). Later in October 1967 members of the neo-Nazi GBM were allowed to join, bringing John Tyndall and his newspaper Spearhead into the NF. Immediately the NF was offered a dream issue - the Kenyan Asian immigration. Forced out of Kenyan by 'Africanisation' in Kenya they began to arrive and by 1968 Enoch Powell had responded by a series of inflammatory speeches culminating in his infamous and highly popular 'Rivers of Blood' speech. he was sacked by Edward Heath from the Shadow cabinet from this speech and London Dockers marched in support of him. Powell's chief service to the NF was to detach a section of far right Tory activists who joined the Front, most significantly John O'Brien, a businessman and member of the Shropshire Conservative Association. This was followed by a series of relatively small pro-NF protest votes in local elections in various parts of the country in the 1969-71 period. Huddersfield, averaged 12% of vote, (Sheffield, 9%, London 11.5%). In the 1970 General Election 9 seats contested - averaged 3.7% of vote. The NF had proved unable to mobilise disgruntled Conservative and Labour support to itself. The electoral system itself did not help, nor did the aggressive Conservative promised to curb further immigration so stealing the clothes of the NF. In the wake of this debacle Chesterton resigned and O'Brien took over the leadership.
In 1972 the Ugandan Asians were expelled by President Idi Amin and the NF once again had a potential issue to exploit. The dissident rightist Tories continued to flow into the NF and membership peaked at 14,000 in 1973. (N. Nugent 'The Political Parties of the Extreme Right' in King & Nugent (ed.s) The British Right, 1977, p 175) Subsequent election however, continued to show the Front's support averaging less than 10% even in the most racist inner city districts (See S. Taylor The National Front in English Politics, 1982, pp. 24-25) The 1974 (February) election saw the NF contesting 54 constituencies, but again its average vote was only 3.2%. Only in the Midlands did its vote rise above 4%. In the October 1974 General Election the NF vote fell to an average of 3.1%. (See Taylor Op cit., p39.)
By 1974 the Asian Immigration issue had dissipated and Powell was recommending voters to vote Labour over the issue of Europe. Opposition groups were also increasingly active against the Front. These included the Indian Workers Association, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Communist Party, Socialist Workers Party, the International Marxist Group and supporters of Militant the ultra-leftist direct action youth movement in the Labour party.
In 1975 many ex-Conservatives left the NF to form the National Party taking with them 2000 members one fifth of the membership and leaving John Tyndall and Martin Webster to take control of the NF in February 1976. In the May 1976 local elections the Front averaged 8.9% of the total vote in seats it contested, once again failing to get a single candidate elected. Meanwhile the NP managed to get two seats in Blackburn.
The most significant anti-fascist groups were Rock Against Racism, and the Anti-Nazi League, launched in 1977 and 1978. The two ANL carnivals brought up to 150,000 people into an active movement, confronting NF meetings, painting out graffiti, preventing paper sales, and harassing the National Front just as it seemed capable of displacing the Liberals as the third main political party.
In the general election of 1979, the NF put forward 303 candidates in the 623 parliamentary constituencies in to which Britain was then divided. Altogether they were awarded with only 1.3% of votes cast in the seats contested. This drastic setback led to internal wrangling centred on the desire to rid the party of its more overt Nazi leaders. The first major split led to the enforced resignation of John Tyndall from the chairmanship of the party in January 1980, and in June of that year he also resigned from the party. The main figure in the party was now Martin Webster. According to Thurlow, the ascendancy of Webster showed that the NF had changed tactics, and was now determined to 'kick its way in to the headlines' R. C. Thurlow p.285). The faction fighting within the party continued, however, as Husbands recognises: "after 1981 when its more experienced leaders had resigned or were marginalised, it became even more obviously a coterie of disputatious political neophytes" (C. T. Husbands 'Extreme right-wing politics in Great Britain: the recent marginalisation of the National Front' in Western European Politics, (1988) 11:2, p.76).
Meanwhile, John Tyndall had set up the new British National Party in 1982, and was to assume full control in order to openly express his anti-Semitic messages. The Fascist vote was therefore split between the NF and BNP. In the general election of 1983, the BNP put forward 54 candidates, but could only average 0.61% of the vote. The NF averaged only 1%. To summarise the failure of the BNP and National Front during the early 1980s, it is necessary to look no further than Thurlow's cogent statement: "the grand design to produce a unified Radical Right grouping under Fascist control had irredeemably fractured in to two warring factions more concerned with fighting each other than any common enemy" R. C. Thurlow op. cit. p.285). According to Husbands, "the NF's electoral decline since 1976, noted particularly in the 1979 general election, is to be accounted for largely in terms of the success of the Conservative party in co-opting the NF's major electoral issues of race and immigration" (Husbands Op cit., 1981, p.78). In 1978, anti-immigrant themes resurfaced most visibly in Margaret Thatcher's reference to the swamping' of Britain by alien cultures, a comment which was followed by notable Conservative gains in the polls. In the view of Tony Kushner, the comments by Mrs. Thatcher had now taken the racist theme to the level of 'rhetoric and imagination'. (T. Kushner 'The Fascist as 'Other'? Racism and Neo-Nazism in Contemporary Britain' in Patterns of Prejudice, 1994 28:l p.34). Eatwell dismisses this argument, however, as he argues that the Conservatives have not sought to 'cause' racism, but have simply been concerned with the 'management' of racism. In this sense, the party has legitimised forms of racism, but the general impact has been to defuse the issue as a potential extreme right clarion call. (R. Eatwell 'Why has the extreme right failed in Britain?' in P. Hainsworth (ed.) The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA London , 92,p.190).
The Griffin/Pearce take-over of the NF in the mid-1980s resulted in the rise of the 'political soldiers', who argued that the fundamental failure of British Fascism was its concentration on elections. Instead, as Roger Griffin points out, "the key task was portrayed as the building of a fresh ethos, a fanatical, non-materialist, quasi-religious 'New Man'. Furthermore, "it seems that this would have required the destruction of urban life and rebirth in the purer countryside, a form of British Pol Potism" R. Eatwell Fascism a History London, 1995, p. 270). The new NF leaders also developed contacts with fugitive right-wing Italian terrorists in London, and adopted some of the new 'Strasserism' from these neo-Fascists, as well as the 'blood and soil' philosophy of the Italian 'Third Position' group, the political branch of the terrorist Armed Revolutionary Nuclei of which these Italians were members. (See D. L. Baker A. K. Chesterton, the Strasser Brothers, and the Politics of the National Front' in Patterns of Prejudice, 1985, 19:3. A second strand within the NF, however, preferred to continue the racial populist tradition which emphasised the urban working-class roots of the party. Many believed that the ethnic rioting of 1981 and 1985 would produce a white backlash which might benefit an overtly anti-immigrant party. This group was led by Ian Anderson during the 1990s under the title of the 'Flag group', and has been particularly active in attempting to influence youth culture through racist pop music and the promotion of football hooliganism. In the general election of 1987, both the 'political soldiers' and the racial-populists declared their unwillingness to offer candidates.
The third phase of Fascism, during the 1990s, has seen the continuation of a violent strand and also some electoral success for the BNP. In September 1993, Derek Beackon became the first BNP candidate ever to win a local election. This dramatic victory took place in part of London's east end, the 'Isle of Dogs', which has a significant ethnic community and an economically threatened working-class. However, Beackon lost the seat only a year later, and the BNP subsequently failed to put up any candidates in the 1994 European elections. According to Tony Kushner, "compared to parts of the European continent or the success of David Duke in the US, such results are almost laughable" (T. Kushner op. cit. p.32).
A final consideration with regard to the development of British Fascism in the early 1990s is related to the recent attention being given to groups such as 'Combat 18' and 'Blood and Honour', both consisting of alienated and violent youths. In 1994, Combat 18 began directing its violent activities towards the leadership of the BNP, which it regarded as too moderate. The impact of such groups, however, has been minimised by the intelligence activities associated with Searchlight. In addition, Husband's suggests that 'the British state, schooled by nearly fifteen years' largely successful handling of the very real threats of major terrorism offered by the IRA, is unlikely to be seriously worried by any potential for political extremism that might emerge from the currently diminished ranks of the extreme right' (Husbands, 'Extreme right-wing politics in Great Britain' in op. cit. p.27). Overall, the violent tactics of the late 1980s and early '90s has not been able to stir an essentially apolitical working-class into supporting the Fascist right.
LECTURE TEN: The British Extreme Right in the 1980s and '90s.
In the conclusion to Taylor's book of 1982, The National Front in English Politics, it is suggested that the ultimate failure of the NF during the 1970s shows that extremist politics cannot succeed in Britain According to Husbands, "the NF's electoral decline since 1976, noted particularly in the 1979 general election, is to be accounted for largely in terms of the success of the Conservative party in co-opting the NF's major electoral issues of race and immigration" (Husbands Op cit., 1981, p.78). Kushner sees the comments by Mrs. Thatcher had now taken the racist theme to the level of 'rhetoric and imagination'. (T. Kushner 'The Fascist as 'Other'? Racism and Neo-Nazism in Contemporary Britain' in Patterns of Prejudice, 1994 28:l p.34).
According to Miles and Phizaklea, "although the British state is still a long way from embracing Fascism, it is the case that the development of state racism has helped prepare the ground for the emergence of neo-Fascism as a political force in Britain" R. Miles & A. Phizaklea, White Man's Country, London (1984) p.118 Eatwell dismisses this argument, however, as he argues that the Conservatives have not sought to 'cause' racism, but have simply been concerned with the 'management' of racism. In this sense, the party has legitimised forms of racism, but the general impact has been to defuse the issue as a potential extreme right clarion call. R. Eatwell '"Has the extreme-right failed in Britain?' in P. Hainsworth (ed.) The Extreme Right in Europe and the USA, London (1992) p.190
In the general election of 1979, the National Front put forward 303 candidates in the 623 parliamentary constituencies in to which Britain was then divided. Altogether they were awarded with only 1.3% of votes cast in the seats contested. The first major split led to the enforced resignation of John Tyndall from the chairmanship of the party in January 1980 replaced by Martin Webster. The faction fighting within the party continued, however, as Husbands recognises: "after 1981 when its more experienced leaders had resigned or were marginalised, it became even more obviously a coterie of disputatious political neophytes." C. T. Husbands 'Extreme right wing politics in Great Britain: the recent marginalisation of the National Front' in Western European Politics (1988) 11,2,p.76 Webster was expelled in February 1984 by Nicholas Griffin and Joe Pearce attempting to move away from a direction concerned with the ballot box. By 1985, the party was reduced to the lowest membership figure in its history.
John Tyndall had set up the new British National Party in 1982. Sought to catch the ultra nationalist a racist Conservatives. But Spearhead continued to peddle Tyndall's anti-Semitic messages. In the general election of 1983, the BNP put forward 54 candidates, but could only average 0.61% of the vote. The NF averaged only 1%. Thurlow summarises the failure of the BNP and National Front during the 1980s: "the grand design to produce a unified Radical Right grouping under Fascist control had irredeemably fractured in to two warring factions more concerned with fighting each other than any common enemy" (op. cit. p.285).
By the late 1980s, the NF consisted of those seeking to present a more respectable face to voters, and the 'political soldiers' involved in paramilitary-style training and philosophical debate. The two wings formally split in 1986-7, it has been argued by the anti-Fascist magazine Searchlight that the differences were only superficial, as there lay a co-ordinated strategy to develop different appeals behind the apparent fissure.
The Griffin/Pearce take-over resulted in the brief rise of the political soldiers', who argued that "the key task was portrayed as the building of a fresh ethos, a fanatical, non-materialist, quasi-religious 'New Man', [requiring] the destruction of urban life and rebirth in the purer countryside, a form of British Pol Potism' R. Eatwell Fascism A History, (1995)p.270. These policies were based on the 'left Nazism' of Gregor and Otto Strasser, and were also represented in the ideas of Hilaire Belloc and A. K. Chesterton. (See D. L Baker: 'A. K. Chesterton, the Strasser Brothers, and the Politics of the National Front' Patterns of Prejudice, (1985)19,3.) The new NF leaders also developed contacts with fugitive right-wing Italian terrorists in London, and adopted some of the new 'Strasserism' from these neo-Fascists, as well as the 'blood and soil' philosophy of the Italian 'Third Position' group, the political branch of the terrorist Armed Revolutionary Nuclei of which these Italians were members. The NF also gained knowledge of the ideas of Julius Evola and Corneliu Codreanu from these Italians.
Some in the NF preferred to continue the racial populist tradition which emphasised the urban working-class roots of the party. Many believed that the ethnic rioting of 1981 and 1985 would produce a white backlash which might benefit an overtly anti-immigrant party. This group was led by Ian Anderson during the 1990s under the title of the 'Flag group', and has been particularly active in attempting to influence youth culture through racist pop music and the promotion of football hooliganism.
In 1993, the BNP won a narrow local election victory over Labour, and it appeared that this was a significant breakthrough for British Fascism.
Indeed, the Guardian correspondent, Michael White, stated that "the wonder is that the neo-Fascists have not done much better, much sooner", and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Paul Condon, also commented that there could eventually be a Fascist revival in Britain: "I fear some bad news in this sphere, simply because the emerging European trend will at some stage touch us." But according to Eatwell, much of the racial harassment that has taken place in Britain has been 'attitudinal' rather than 'political' R. Eatwell op. cit. (1992) p.189 In other words, the 'politicisation' of race issues by Fascists has not had a significant effect on racial violence in Britain. Nevertheless, Kushner points out that the existence of a Fascist presence within a certain area may legitimise racial violence. 19. T. Kushner op. cit. p.39.
In September 1993, Derek Beackon became the first BNP candidate ever to win a local election. in the 'Isle of Dogs'. Beackon lost the seat only a year later, and the BNP subsequently failed to put up any candidates in the 1994 European elections. (20). Gerry Gable 'Britain's Nazi Underground in L. Cheles et al(ed.s) The Far Right in Western and Eastern Europe (1995) p.266
The introduction of proportional representation by a future New Labour Government may help the Fascist cause, however, though Taylor has highlighted a survey winch shows that only 5% of voters would vote for the NF if they thought it could do well S. Taylor 1982, op. cit. p. 179-80 But Fascists still have to overcome their image problem in British society. The demonisation of Saddam Hussein as an Arab 'Hitler' during the Gulf war underlines the continuing pariah status of Fascism.
In response contemporary Fascists have been involved in an attempt to rewrite history attempting to deny that there was a policy of systematic Nazi genocide. Richard Verrall's Did Six Million Really Die? (under the pseudonym of 'Richard Harwoodl) has been the most important of all the falsifications of history. More recently, the BNP's 'Holocaust News' and the speeches and writings of David Irving have indicated that the theme of Holocaust denial will persist. According to Eatwell, the "potential influence of such developments should not be understated, notably among a youth which is showing racist tendencies and an increasing ignorance of the basic elements of Fascist history" 24. R. Eatwell op. cit. (1989) p.234
A final consideration in the early 1990s is the recent attention being given to groups such as 'Combat 18' 'Column 88', and 'Blood and Honour', secretive organisations consisting largely of alienated and violent youths. Husband's suggests that "the British state, schooled by nearly fifteen years' largely successful handling of the very real threats of major terrorism offered by the IRA, is unlikely to be seriously worried by any potential for political extremism that might emerge from the currently diminished ranks of the extreme right" C. T. Husbands 'Extreme right-wing politics in Great Britain' op. cit. p.77
In conclusion, it is clear that Taylor's prediction that extreme right politics can no longer succeed in late 20th century Britain appears to have been borne out by the preceding analyses. The 'multi-layered' approach both the level of party politics and the violent 'underground' has been incohesive and has subsequently failed to come to fruition. All attempts to create a 'race war' have also failed to raise a largely apathetic working class to support Fascism.
EXTRA NOTES: The Failure of Post War Fascism.
The ideology of Mussolini and Hitler did not die with them. New generations of Fascists have appeared in every Westernised society. For Roger Griffin, this demonstrates that 'palingenetic ultra-nationalism can be assumed to be a permanent ideological [feature of] Western Socio-political structure(s).
But what is now missing are the structural factors which helped turn Fascism and Nazism into regimes. Many of these have disappeared or been ameliorated. Fascism has been denied the 'Oxygen of favourable publicity' and elite collaboration since 1945. But this does not mean that the 'Fascist era conveniently ended in 1945' (Griffin, 1993, p147). Indeed, Fascism has shown a tenacious capacity for adapting to the new environment.
The first real difference is the countless manifestations of Fascist and ultra-rightist movements and parties which have appeared since 1945. Often Fascist ideas and movements are buried within more respectable ultra-rightist parties and movements - as is the case with Le Pen's Front National in France.
Roger Griffin divides the remaining Fascist groups up into three main groups.
1. Nostalgic Fascism/Neo Nazism.
Union Movement (1948-78) in Britain, the Belgian Neo-Rexists and the Norwegian Nasjonal Samling (1970s). Italy's Movemento Sociale Italiano (MSI) Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari; Terza Posizione and Ordine Nuovo. In Germany Los-von-der Bundesrepublik; People's Socialist League of Germany-Party of Labour (VSBD-PdA) and Action front for National Socialists (AFNA-NA).
2.Mimetic Fascism/Neo Nazism.
British National Party, National Front and British Movement.
(a) Revolutionary Nationalism. Renouveau Francais (French Renewal) and a faction of the British National Front.
(b) Crypto-Fascism. David Irving's (the revisionist historian) Focus Policy Group the German Citizen's Initiative. Linked to Revisionism and Revisionist history.
(c) Conservative Revolution. Most identified with the French think tank GRECE .
Thus post-war Euro-Fascism manifests itself in what Griffin terms 'organisational complexity and ideological heterogeneity' (1993, p170) But this complexity and diversity has been seen by writers like griffin as a sign of chronic structural weakness rather than strength.
To combat their marginalisation Fascist groups have been enlisting the World Wide Webb and desk-Top Publishing to disseminate their ideas an create a sense of Fascist community. They have also attempted to adopt popular causes like ecologism, feminism and AIDS.
Has European Fascism has been successfully marginalised by mainstream politicians since 1945.?
Fascism has always thrived on virulent anti-Communism and since 1945 the hard-line Cold War rhetoric of liberal democratic politicians has undermined the wider appeal of Fascist anti-Communism. Since 1989 and the fall of the Communist regimes this has further weakened to anti-Communist message of the Fascist right, although it has also released the possibility of refocussing on liberal democracy as a weak form of government again.
Populist anti-immigration sentiment has been a thorn in the flesh of orthodox politicians throughout Europe, with some Conservative and Social Democratic parties been falling over themselves to borrow their clothes on immigration policy (i.e. Mrs. Thatcher's 'fear of swamping' speech in 1978 and the subsequent 1981 British Nationality Act).
The Fascist search for 'strong leadership', particularly in the fields of national defence and immigration, has also been undermined by the election of 'strong' right-wing conservative leaders. Nor, by and large, will such leaders do deals with Fascist parties as in Italy and Germany between the wars, often seeing Fascism as another enemy of liberal democracy.
Proportional Electoral systems have been also been modified since 1945 to include 5% rules, designed to exclude the most marginalised parties of the ultra-right (and left) from obtaining seats in national parliaments.
The association of Fascist movements with para-military violence has also damaged their credibility in a way which it never did between the wars. Left groups and liberal democrats are well aware of the threat of Fascism to themselves and democratic freedoms. State security forces constantly monitor and infiltrate Fascist groups.
A crisis of the state comparable to Weimar Germany has not occurred in any Western European country since 1945. However, many European populations contain high levels of informal anti-coloured prejudices and the collapsing post-Communist free-market economies of Eastern Europe are providing a context in which neo-Fascism could perhaps flourish in the 21st century. In such societies damaged national pride coupled with economic privations and long traditions of anti-Semitism could reactivate the Fascist threat.