The doctrines of the British fascist parties were forged from a complex amalgamation of ideas of varying degrees of sophistication and crudity that emanated from a range of sources. The origins of British fascism should not only be sought in ideas and intellectual currents, however. Other forces and tendencies in society, of a social, economic, technological, political and cultural nature, contributed to its emergence, nourished its growth and shaped its subsequent development. Advocates of social-imperialism and national efficiency who ascribed to Social-Darwinist principles would also prove important to the development of British fascist ideas. Besides being a positivist and a progenitor of national socialism, C. Arthur Pearson was a eugenicist, who in 1911 became the first Galton Professor of Eugenics at the University of London. At the more general level, British fascism bequeathed from Social-Darwinism the notion of evolutionary development and ascent to more advanced modes of biological existence.
The origins of British fascism can be traced to a range of intellectual currents and developments that germinated in the period prior to 1914. Domestic fascism also grew out of the traumatic experience of the Great War. The early postwar years, however, would prove to be just as crucial for the emergence of a native fascism. In broad outline it is possible to detect traces of an incipient fascism of the type of genus that characterised the fully matured variety of the later 1920s. This chapter addresses the question of the relative importance of the early postwar organisational and publicistic forms to the emergence of 1920s fascism. Although it is vital not to underestimate the significance of the pre-fascist groups for the fascist parties that came after them, therefore, we should not forget that each, in the main, belonged to a different organisational and ideological realm.
The British Fascisti and the Imperial Fascist League
The first political organisation in Britain openly to proclaim itself to be a fascist party was founded on 6 May 1923 by the then 28-yearold Rotha Lintorn-Orman. The fledgling fascist party would refer to itself as the British Fascisti during its first year of life, an indication of its founder's admiration for Mussolini's new fascist experiment in Italy. Most historians of the BF agree that, from its formation until 1926, there was very little evidence of fascism in its ideology or programme. The IFL had a relatively coherent ideology and was more an overtly fascist party than most of its native contemporaries, including the British Fascisti. Its doctrine of Nordic supremacy and racial anti-semitism provided the IFL with much of its ideological coherence. Most historians of British fascism have discounted the significance of the IFL.
Like the majority of the interwar fascist parties, both in Britain and on the continent, the British Union of Fascists came to prominence on the back of a domestic internal crisis. The BUF was very much the child of the economic crisis from 1929 to 1931, while its subsequent political life unfolded against the backdrop of the trade depression that came after it. The BUF sought to apply corporate principles to virtually all the key sectors of industrial life. When contemplating the reasons for the BUF's ultimate political failure during the 1930s, Benewick Benewick suggested that it was due to its alienation from the British political culture. The BUF's attempts to refute philosophical Marxism also bore the mark of Nietzsche's insights on the 'will-to-power' and the 'superman'.
This chapter considers the first stage of the communist life cycle as it unfolded in the context of the communist home. According to 'Molly' Murphy, it was not uncommon for communist parents in 1920s Britain to favour giving their children a 'proletarian education' at home. Beyond the rearing of the 'communist baby', the chapter also looks at how older children were raised in the communist home. The chapter also considers the role of the Communist Party woman within the framework of communist mothering and parentcraft. In the narrative of mothercraft, parenting and the home, the Soviet Union was held up as a model to emulate. From early 1936, and for the next few years, childrearing advice to communist mothers was being provided through the columns of the Daily Worker on a regular basis by 'Nurse Jane Geddes'.
This chapter considers how the communist children's organisation evolved and was organised, its relationship to the wider parent Party and the Young Communist League (YCL). The communist children's movement offered its child members a quite distinct experience. Its principles and guiding ethos marked it out as a body radically different from all other contemporary children's organisations. The chapter also considers the ways the 'little comrades' were educated to take their place in the next levels of the Party structure. It looks at the mission, ethos and inner world of the children's organisation, and the Party's attempts during the interwar years to capture and retain the loyalty and enthusiasm of its youngest members. The authority and example of the Soviet Union was frequently asserted to maintain the enthusiasm of the young comrades in Britain.
Taking its cue from the anti-war legacy bequeathed to communist youth by Karl Liebknecht, the early Young Communist League (YCL) was fiercely anti-militaristic. As with the adult Party, it was decisions that were taken outside Britain which would mainly determine the form of organisation of the YCL. Institutional ties to the Comintern obliged the Communist Youth International (CYI), its national youth organs, and young communists everywhere, to give unstinting support to the goals of the Soviet Union, as the centre of world communism, at all times. The British YCL had representation on the Executive Committee of the CYI (ECCYI) at its Third Congress in December 1922. Like a responsible parent body, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) took steps to cater for the next generational cohort of communist activists, the youth.
This chapter focuses on the contexts and circumstances in which communist marriages occurred, as well as the institution of the communist marriage, including its conventions and defining characteristics. It considers the family's role in facilitating recruitment and sustaining communist political engagement. The Browns of Yorkshire were a red family. Party stalwarts throughout the interwar period, the Browns were emblematic of the ideal communist couple. Communist couples were much in evidence in the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). For the CPGB, the ideal was to create a single identity, a single communist personality, within the family framework, particularly within the confines of the home. As well as precipitating political activism and facilitating recruitment into communism, the wider communist family network beyond the husband and wife pairing performed an important political socialisation role by helping shape communist attitudes, values, and beliefs.
This chapter looks at the experience of Communist Party membership within the framework of international communism and its imperatives, the strict Leninist code of practice for recruits, and the British Party's fluctuating recruitment performance. Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) membership could become a 'total' way of life for some recruits, an all-consuming enterprise of personal devotion to the Party and its mission. The chapter delves into the inner world of the Party 'local' or branch by illuminating some of its characteristics and idiosyncrasies, and explores the meaning of communism for Party activists. It considers the experience of expulsion for those who parted company from the Party and the communist world. Margaret McCarthy's feelings were widely shared in the Party. The idea of the 'working class' as a subject transcending its individual elements, the proletariat as a distinct discursive entity, was a characteristic feature of communist belief.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book presents a study of the communist life and the communist experience of membership. The study will place itself on the interface between the membership and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) by considering the efforts of the latter to give shape to that experience. The book claims that a communist life provided a positive life experience for those who embraced the Bolshevik 'faith', although it also recognises that it could bring pain and disillusionment to others. It aims to give a qualitative sense of the experience of membership and activism as it was felt by different individuals in different ways. The book draws on the experiences, recollections and commentary of long-serving members and those who remained in the communist framework for shorter periods.