During the interwar period, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) worked to create a separate space for its members to enjoy leisure outside the dominant commercial framework which was said to be infused with bourgeois values. Despite being over-burdened with Party tasks and other responsibilities, Britain's interwar communists did find space to play. Communist political values would be affirmed through leisure, while the Party and Young Communist League (YCL) would pursue wider political goals through leisure activities. Through participation in Party, YCL and British Workers' Sports Federation (BWSF)-run leisure, communist allegiance was affirmed and stridently announced. Although activists young and old were encouraged to play at Party or YCL-run social occasions, communist leisure was never free from the imperatives of the political struggle. The communist-led United Mineworkers of Scotland (UMS) sought to build model youth organisations with a robust leisure orientation.
From 1923, responsibility for proletarian education had been prised away from that which the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) derided as the unaffiliated intellectual fringe of the labour movement. Proletarian culture within British capitalism was, therefore, by necessity, bound to be immature and under-developed. Convinced that 'bourgeois' culture aimed to secure the docility, passivity and ultimate compliance of the masses, the CPGB sought to dislodge apparently corrupting bourgeois thoughts from the minds of its activists and replace a bourgeois cultural perspective with a communist one. The communist approach to culture not only marked a departure from the perceived deficiencies of bourgeois culture but also from that of earlier positions on culture taken by the British Left. Maurice Dobb glanced, approvingly, at developments in Soviet Russia in the fields of drama, literature, music and particularly literacy to give him a sense of the new culture.
This chapter considers how communists and the Party interred, mourned, memorialised and remembered their dead. It looks at the communist 'Red Funeral', its meaning, ritual, symbolism and place within the Communist Party of Great Britain's (CPGB) narrative of mourning and remembrance. British communists fell in combat, as well as at the point of production in the struggle with 'rapacious' capitalism, as in the Spanish Civil War in the fight against fascism, capitalism's supposedly darker, murderous alter ego. This life or death struggle against fascism beyond Britain's shores would add many martyred communist deaths to the CPGB's 'Roll of Honour', not all of them proletarian of course. The chapter also considers another feature of the British communist treatment of death. Communist anger against 'monstrous capitalism' was inflamed further by premature deaths believed to have been caused by the security apparatus of the capitalist state.
This book is a study of the communist life and the communist experience of membership. The study will also 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. 'It is the simplest thing so hard to achieve', goes the final line in Bertolt Brecht's famous poem,' Praise of Communism'. Yet many British communists between the Wars felt the striving to realise their communist vision worthwhile, even though 'the patents of their nobility' lay far into the future as Max Eastman put it.
A degree of intellectual confusion would mark the earliest attempts to comprehend fascism. The contemporary Marxist view of fascism as a secondary phenomenon shared many of the historicist and teleological assumptions. The notion of fascism as a temporary lapse into insanity, a moral and cultural deviation that drove a wedge into European history and diverted it from its path to reason and enlightenment, failed to appreciate the distinct lines of continuity between fascism and the European society and culture that spawned it. In order to comprehend more accurately the essence of British fascism, it must be viewed as an organic element of the fin-de-siecle intellectual and cultural revolt. The 'anti-' model of fascism serves as a useful analytical device to probe the reactionary, negative and imprecisely formulated pronouncements of 1920s manifestations of fascist ideology in Britain, particularly Rotha Lintorn-Orman's British Fascists.
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'.
Of the minor fascist parties during the 1920s the National Fascisti (NF) was the most significant. It was formed by a group of disaffected British Fascisti activists who split from the parent body in late 1924. The NF would look to the recent experiences of Mussolini, and particularly the squadristiy for inspiration and guidance. There are a small number of impressionistic assessments of the NF's membership strength given in the contemporary and postwar accounts. The 1930s threw up another fascist party, the Unity Band, which managed to outlive most of its contemporaries among the minor parties. Like many leading British fascists between the wars, Seton Hutchison was a disillusioned First World War veteran. Prior to his attempts to establish himself as Britain's Fiihrer, Seton Hutchison was a member of the BUF, but was expelled for 'improper conduct', an experience that left him very embittered towards Mosley.