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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The curious case of British fascism

In Britain Fascism has always been a bit of an odd mixture and today is no different. To say there is a fascist movement at all is tricky but there has certainly been spikes in support for the far right and other such extremists in this country. 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. As Karl Marx famously said the ruling ideology of the ruling class is then seen as the overall ideology of society in perception anyway. As someone who identifies himself as a socialist and on the left of politics I am naturally a opponent of the far right and fascism in whichever form it takes and indeed in Britain it can take some very odd forms from euro sceptism to more extreme versions of white supremacy . But to imagine a far right government in Britain which is not beyond the realms of imagination however slim the chances are today is still something to be concerned about. The first year in power of a far-right government would most probably see a withdrawal from NATO, an exit from the European Union and an end to all overseas aid spending. Foreign massacres would be dismissed as "savagery". Actual military spending, however, would be doubled. There always seems to be a military element to the far right focusing heavily on a national defence and protecting what is "ours". One of the problems a government of this sort would have is that although the British people seemingly like pomp and ceremony, they don't much go in for compulsory pomp and ceremony. People of the Left recoil at widespread enthusiasm for the Royal Family, while forgetting that a good deal of it is based on little more than a detestation of the political class. The Royals are quite obviously establishment figures - they are the establishment - but when set against politicians there is a widespread belief that they are somehow less a part of the ruling class than Parliament is. Such a dynamic only works, however, so long as the monarchy is not viewed as an extension of the government. With regard to the military, huge hostility would be whipped-up, with the aid of the media, towards any figure who publicly criticised military spending or the increasing deployment of troops to quell internal unrest and break strikes. Such people would be branded "unpatriotic" and denounced as Communists. Several military figures would probably enter the Cabinet within the first year of government. All this sounding scary enough? While we can’t imagine this happening now and some even think the Tories are fascist the term has to be carefully used and in some ways it is over used and this helps the term become normalised. As this excellent website with lecture notes from a discussion on fascism and anti fascism brilliantly entails "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]" For many we come across fascism in Britain with the battle of cable st in London and this famous victory for the anti fascist movement at the time. Many see Sir Oswald Mosley as the first real fascist party leader in Britain and indeed his party named the British Union of fascists BUF was seen as historically a breakthrough for the far right. The BUF was 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 centered 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). This anti politics feeling does appear a little similar to today in 2014 where turnouts in elections is falling year on year and anti political feelings are high with anger at all politicians of the Westminster variety in particular seeing their poll share fall. What was Mosley's role in the rise and decline of the BUF? • Mosley was well known as a politician and this drew initially favorable publicity • Mosley also spent over £200,000 of his own wealth on the movement. • He appealed to sections of the 'war generation' of 1914-18 and youth. • Robert Skidelsky has pointed to Mosley's significance as a public speaker and propagandist. • He provided the main arguments of the BUF and published them in 3 books and around 100 articles. • Mosley contributed to the failure of the BUF by allowing violence and anti-Semitism to take over - • He allowed the bureaucratic 'yes men' to organise the movement and isolate him from reality 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, and 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.] Today we have organisations like the EDL, BNP, Britain First and loosely UKIP with fascist’s elements or outright fascists as members. Allot of these groups long for a bygone day of Great Britain being a world leader and being that proud strong nation once again whether that to leave the bureaucratic EU or to send all immigrants home which is a common idea of the far right today in Britain. The idea of blaming certain religions or races for economic problems is a strong theme in far right policies much like in the 1930's Jews and “foreigners " were blamed by the far right for Britain’s economic woes much like today mass immigration from the continent is seen as a barrier to British jobs. Gordon Browns speech during the time of the last labour government of British jobs for British workers fed the likes of the BNP and other far right sympathisers nicely and provided them with much needed ammunition to blame immigrants for Britains housing and jobs crisis. The link to the nation and race is cleverly intertwined in far right ideas taking some of the popular sounding left wing ideas through out the past like nationalisation of big parts of the economy has lead many working class people to be drawn towards such movements in the past. The neoliberal dominated institutions of politics, media and even economics have made strident efforts to rebrand the Financial Crisis – a clear crisis of the private sector and neoliberalism itself – into a public sector crisis. This scapegoating has affected a number of groups, but in recent months, the narrative on immigration has been ratcheted up out of all proportion to the size of the issue. I have written in detail on the reality of immigration, so will not rehearse here. In summary, the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation, these immigrants are mostly assessed via a Points Based System, only 7% are asylum seekers, and only 33% of asylum claims are accepted. There is no open door. Finally, the immigrant population does not have access to a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens. Nevertheless, constant media and political attention is expended on the immigration issue – with almost no time asking the question – why are people coming here? Many migrants are economic migrants, and those who are not are political migrants – both are systemic, not personal issues. To argue in favour of ‘closing the door’ on people fleeing the system our country is so pivotal in exporting around the globe, often by force – what kind of morality if this? This is the national equivalent of first class guiding their lifeboats away from the steerage passengers after the sinking of the Titanic. The problem is the sinking ship, not the poor bastards swimming for their lives. These days British fascism seems unpopular and relatively unsupported but we must always be on our guard. I wrote this piece with just a few thoughts in my head of how we seem to be following a similar pattern to the 1930's of economic crisis followed by deep anti political feelings of mass apathy in many areas around the globe. In conclusion I’d say British fascism has a certain character which we must be aware that it can take various forms at different times With quotes and extracts taken from http://www.dkrenton.co.uk/anl/trent1.htm

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