Posts Tagged ‘Indian Office’

Radio 4 Programme on Friday on the History of British Fascism

February 17, 2021

Radio 4 on Friday, 19th February 2021 begins a new, three part series on the history of British Fascism, Britain’s Fascist Thread. The blurb for the programme in the Radio Times, which is on at 11 O’clock in the morning, runs

Historian Camilla Schofield explores a century of British fascism, from the formation of the British Fascisti in 1923, arguing that it is a central and ongoing part of the British story. The first programme takes the rally staged by the British Union of Fascists at Olympia in June 1934 as a keyhole through which to look in order to understand fascism in the years before the Second World War.

The additional piece by David Crawford about the series on the facing page, 132, reads

There have been fascist movements in Britain for almost a century now and, with the recent news of young teenagers being arrested for being a part of neo-Nazi groups, it seems as if this stain on our national character is not fading away. Historian Camilla Schofield, who has published a book on Enoch Powell and Britain’s race relations, argues that fascism shouldn’t be seen as something alien imported from abroad but a central and, yes, ongoing part of the British story. This three part survey of British Fascism begins at the rally by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists at Olympia in 1934 then rewinds to 1923 when the androgynous, upper-middle class Rotha Lintorn-Orman formed the British Fascisti, supposedly after an epiphany while digging her garden. A warning from history not to take our precious democracy for granted.

Martin Pugh also argues that British Fascism wasn’t an import from abroad but a continuation of certain strands in British political history in his book on British Fascism between the Wars. This is based on the British Fascists’ own contention that their movement had its basis in Queen Elizabeth’s enfranchisement of certain towns in the 16th century. This formed a native corporatist tradition like the corporate state Mussolini was creating in Fascist Italy.

As for Rotha Lintorn-Orman, I think this very middle class lady was an alcoholic, who thought that she was in astral contact with the spirit of the Duc d’Orleans, a nobleman from the time of the French Revolution. This aristo’s ghost told her that all revolutions from the French to the Russian were the work of the Jews, who were trying to destroy European, Christian civilisation.

The British Fascisti were really extreme right-wing Tories rather than Fascists proper. They specialised in disrupting socialist meetings and supplying blackleg labour during strikes. In one confrontation with the left, they managed to force a van supplying copies of the Daily Herald, a Labour paper, off the road. I think Oswald Mosley described their leadership as consisting of middle class women and retired colonels. They were in talks to merge their organisation with Mosley’s until Britain’s greatest wannabe dictator asked them about the corporate state. I don’t think they knew what it was. When he explained, they decried it as ‘socialism’ and Mosley decided that they weren’t worth bothering with.

Pugh’s book also argues that the British idea that our nation is intrinsically democratic is very much a product of hindsight. He points out that there was considerable opposition to democracy amongst the upper classes, especially the Indian office. British ideas about the franchise were tied to notions of property and the ability to pay rates. The French notion that the vote was an inalienable right was rejected as too abstract.

British fascism is also shares with its counterparts on the continent an origin in the concerns of the 19th century agricultural elite with the declining health and fitness of their nations. The upper classes were appalled at the poor physiques of men recruited by the army to fight the Boer War from the new, industrial towns. There was an obvious fear that this was going to leave Britain very weak militarily.

It’s also struck me that with her background in race relations, Schofield will also argue that British fascism also has its roots in native British racism and imperialism, citing organisations such as the anti-Semitic British Brothers League, which was formed to stop continental Jewish immigration to Britain.

Oswald Mosley also tried telling the world that British fascism wasn’t an import, but then, he also tried telling everyone that the Fasces – the bundle of rods with an axe – was an ancient British symbol. It wasn’t. It was a Roman symbol, and represented the power of the lictor, a type of magistrate, to beat and execute Roman citizens. It was adopted by Mussolini as the symbol of his movement, Fascism, which actually takes its name from the Italian word fascio, which means a bundle or group. I think that Pugh’s right in that there certainly is a native tradition of racism and extreme nationalism in Britain, and that the British self-image of themselves as an innately democratic nation is a product of Churchill’s propaganda during the Second World War. However, Fascism proper with its black shirts and corporative state is very much an import from Mussolini’s Italy. But then, Mosley also claimed that socialism and liberalism were also imports. It will, however, be interesting to hear what Schofield has to say, especially with the really bonkers parts of British fascism, like Lintorn-Orman and her spiritual conversations with French aristocratic Jew-haters from the Other Side.