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.
University Press, 1992 ).
6 See above, Chapter Two . See also D. Cesarani, ‘Joynson-Hicks and the Radical Right in England After the First World War’, in Kushner and Lunn (eds), Traditions of Intolerance, pp. 118–39.
7 See above, Chapter Two .
8 C. Cross, The Fascists in Britain (London, Barrie and Rockliff, 1961 ), p. 122.
9 See BritishFascism , March 1934, pp. 4–5.
10 Holmes, Anti-Semitism , pp. 155–6; R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain. A History ; 1918–1985 (Oxford, Blackwell, 1987), pp. 57–61.
11 R. Thurlow, ‘Satan and Sambo: The
As with their continental counterparts, the British fascist parties did not have a distinct and easily discernible intellectual genealogy. Their doctrines were forged from a complex amalgamation of ideas of varying degrees of sophistication and crudity that emanated from a range of sources. The domestic context is crucial to an understanding of this intellectual lineage, though it should be recognised that Britishfascism drew on ideas from a variety of both native and continental European sources. In stating this, it should also be stressed that at no time
The origins of Britishfascism can be traced to a range of intellectual currents and developments that germinated in the period prior to 1914, as we have seen. 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. The period 1918–22, in particular, was a time of deep anxiety as Britain confronted the problems of postwar readjustment and reconstruction, and it is in this conjuncture of circumstances that many of domestic fascism
The British Fascisti and the Imperial Fascist League
, differed very little from Baldwin’s Conservative Party. This interpretation has tended to dominate the literature of Britishfascism over the years. Webber, for example, believed that the BF never viewed itself ‘as a serious political rival to the Tories’, while its predominantly middle-class and upper-middle-class membership thought that in the BF they had found a party which satisfied their need for a ‘stronger dose’ of conservatism. 35 This was Thurlow’s general impression, too. Fie tended to agree with Arnold Leese’s judgement on the BF, that it was merely
Culture was at the centre of the fascist political project in interwar Britain. Britishfascism was a cultural phenomenon as much as it was a movement for political or economic change. According to Alexander Raven-Thomson of the BUF, fascism was ‘a new and revolutionary creed of national and cultural regeneration’. 1 Cultural concerns permeated most aspects of Britishfascism, giving shape and coherence to many of its ideological preoccupations and perceptions. Like other areas of thought associated with Britishfascism, this cultural disposition did not have
artistic sensibility. Like Wyndham Lewis, Epstein was fascinated by the machine age and its implication for art, which led him to a brief flirtation with Vorticism. During the interwar period Epstein would become the bête noire of Britishfascism, as we shall see.
If these various modernists and avant-garde artists, and the movements they represented, shared a common agenda, it was the desire to challenge the assumptions and stylistic canons of traditional artistic forms and the aesthetic code related to those forms. 11 There was a belief that art needed to be more
fascism’s British counterpart. In order to comprehend more accurately the essence of Britishfascism, it must be viewed as an organic element of this fin-de-siècle intellectual and cultural revolt. This powerful intellectual and cultural paradigm would provide Britishfascism, particularly in its more developed variants, with a substantial body of ideas to draw on and a measure of intellectual coherence.
Another early view of fascism that found common ground with the Marxist and liberal ‘moral and cultural collapse’ interpretations was the socio
both, the supremacy of elites in culture and other areas of society was deemed unavoidable. Fascists and literary modernists believed in the notion of a ‘natural aristocracy’ as the traditional trustees of culture. 102 Some modernists such as D. H. Lawrence also shared with fascism an affinity with the irrational or the primacy of intuition over reason. However, as Leslie Susser has pointed out, despite some obvious points of ideological convergence, Britishfascism held the modernist intellectuals in contempt during this period. 103
So why the intense hostility
this almost to the point of
establishing a British exceptionalism that guaranteed the domestic continuance
of democracy during the very period when it was being replaced by fascist or
right-wing authoritarian regimes across Europe. British democratic traditions
and a widespread respect for parliament as an institution are the obvious starting
points for such assumptions.1 Even Stephen Cullen, a scholar who has been criticised for portraying the British Union of Fascists in too favourable a light, has
argued that in Britain, fascism was ‘an inappropriate mode of