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This book provides a clear and accessible guide to the essential features of interwar British fascism. It focuses on the various fascist parties, fascist personalities and fascist ideologies. The book also looks at British culture and develops the knowledge of undergraduate students by providing a solid source of background material on this important area of interwar British history. The focus on fascist culture throws new light on the character of native fascism and suggests a potentially rich vein of new enquiry for scholars of British fascism. The book considers the membership strength of Britain's interwar fascist parties. The ideas of racial Social-Darwinism influenced British fascism in a number of ways. To begin with, hereditarian ideas and biological determinist models contributed to the emergence of racial theories of anti-semitism. The anti-semitism of the Imperial Fascist League was of a very different order from that of the British fascism. Moreover, to Britain's fascists, artistic modernism, with its creative use of distortion, disintegrative images and general disdain for the traditional discipline of the art form, made a virtue of deformity. The search to uncover the anti-liberal and anti-capitalist pre-fascist lineage would become a highly subjective exercise in invention and take the fascists on an imaginative journey deep into the British past.
This book is a study of the communist life and the communist experience of membership. The study places 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. For those who opted to commit fully to the communist way of life it would offer a complete identity and reach into virtually all aspects of life and personal development. In regard to the latter, through participation in the communist life 'joiners' gained a positive role in life, self-esteem, intellectual development, skills in self-expression, and opportunities to acquire status and empowerment through activities like office-holding or public speaking. The British Communist Party had a strong and quite marked generational focus, in that it sought to address the experience of Party life and membership at the principal phases of the life cycle. The Party developed rites of passage to guide its 'charges' through the different stages of the life cycle. Thus its reach extended to take in children, youth, and the adult experience, including marriage and aspects of the marital and family relationship. The Party did not disengage even at the beginning and termination of the life cycle. Its spokespersons advised communist mothers on birth and mothercraft, 'red' parents on childrearing, and addressed the experience of death and mourning within the communist domain.
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.
This chapter considers the membership strength of Britain's interwar fascist parties, and other areas of related interest such as the social-class and occupational profiles of fascist 'joiners'. Reliable material on the membership in the official fascist sources, in particular, is extremely scarce. Fascist newspaper sources are less useful, however, if we are attempting to arrive at an estimation of a fascist party's membership strength. Membership figures put out by the fascist press are notoriously unreliable. The significance of the National Fascisti and the IFL lay in areas other than the number of members they attracted, though. Both parties had pitifully small memberships. Social-class and occupational analyses of fascist memberships undoubtedly help us to arrive at a greater awareness of the nature of fascism, not least because they impel us to focus on the structural or objective determinants of recruitment.
This chapter describes a number of points that are in need of clarification. Firstly, there is no necessary or natural correlation between fascism and anti-semitism. Secondly, the analyst and student of fascist anti-semitism needs to be alive to the fact that there are numerous strains of the antisemitic virus, ranging from the common-or-garden anti-Semitism to the more virulent racial-biological kind with its potentially genocidal implications. Thirdly, a tradition of anti-semitism existed in Britain long before the advent of domestic fascism, much of it potent and highly articulate, as Colin Holmes's admirable Anti-Semitism in British Society, from 1876 to 1939 demonstrated. The anti-semitism of the Imperial Fascist League was of a very different order from that of the BF. The IFL advocated a doctrine of racial anti-semitism and Nordic supremacy that would set it apart from the great majority of its contemporaries on the interwar fascist fringe.
Culture was at the centre of the fascist political project in interwar Britain. British fascism was a cultural phenomenon as much as it was a movement for political or economic change. With regard to the former, British fascist culture developed within the broad European-wide cultural critique of liberal rationalism and positivism that originated in the 1890s, and was thus an organic element of it. Culture was imagined in a number of ways by British fascists. Indeed, like fascism and its ideology, it did not project a single uniform identity. True culture, for the fascists was meant to convey a sense of the eternal and enduring. Fascist culture was meant to convey and reinforce the idea of a harmoniously integrated society, united in its pursuit of prescribed political goals.
The British fascist imagination during the interwar period was racked by a morbid dread of impending national dissolution. A veritable kaleidoscope of nightmarish new forms and practices appeared on the fascists' mental horizon as a result of the sexual revolution. Many fascists believed that this revolutionary wave had burst the dam of conventional decency and moral restraint, unleashing a tide of sexually promiscuous behaviour and decadent sexual perversity on modern Britain. Fascism and literary modernism were also contemptuous of 'mass culture' and the alleged 'Americanisation' of British culture. In addition, the supremacy of elites in culture and other areas of society was deemed unavoidable. Fascists accused rationalism of presiding over a fundamental divorce between intellect and emotion. By elevating mind and reason to a privileged position of authority within the human condition, rationalism was charged with denying man's subjective nature.
In the fascist mind Bloomsbury 'intellectualism', together with changing trends in leisure and sexual behavior were decadent phenomena which heralded the dissolution of culture. However, in the view of many of Britain's fascists between the wars, the supreme paradigm of decadence and the ultimate symbol of the destruction of culture in the modern age was the city. Consistent with its fascist ideology, however, its views on the countryside were of an even more extreme kind. In fascist ideology, particularly that of the 'mature' Mosleyite variety, 'true' culture was indelibly bound up with the countryside and the soil. Apprehension about the machine and the machine age was prevalent in British fascist discourse. Fascist unease about the machine, industrialisation and mass production was not only shaped by perceptions of the Industrial Revolution, Fordist industrial capitalism and Bolshevik productivism.
As with other contemporary cultural forms in Britain, such as literature and music, the visual arts were caught in the throes of change during the interwar years, which was both profound and deeply unsettling to established mores and conventions. British fascism, though, unlike Italian fascism which incorporated aspects of modernism into its cultural and artistic programme, including Futurism and Cubistart, almost wholly repudiated intellectual modernism in the visual arts. Artistic modernism was accused of failing to respect the rules of harmony in art. Again, it is tempting to detect a sub-text of fascist ideology here and interpret this as a yearning for an ordered and harmonious social structure purged of the alleged discord created by class conflict. To Britain's fascists, artistic modernism, with its creative use of distortion, disintegrative images and general disdain for the traditional discipline of the art form, made a virtue of deformity.
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.