The National Fascisti were a splinter group from the British Fascisti formed in 1924. In the early days of the British Fascisti the movement lacked any real policy or direction and so this group split away with the intention of pursuing a more definite path towards a fascist state.
Members of the National Fascisti were dressed in black shirts in imitation of Benito Mussolini and his followers and received some military drilling, although membership was much too small for them to pose any real threat. Despite their frustrations at the lack of policy from the British Fascisti their own ideas were fairly banal, with vague calls for a government of experts being about as far as they went. Strongly anti-communist, they argued that their aim was to "smash the reds and pinks". Anti-Semitism, which at that point was absent from British Fascisti policy, also played a role in the new group.
The group liked to pull stunts to get attention and in 1925 they hijacked a lorry carrying copies of the left-wing newspaper the Daily Herald which they proceeded to crash. The action briefly got them in the headlines as did a meeting at Hyde Park, London where 1000 people attended and finished the day in a pitch battle with Communist Party of Great Britain supporters. The group also ran boxing and fencing clubs to train members although ultimately their strident militarism, which included marching with drawn swords, drew them more derision than support. Their leading members included "Colonel Victor Barker", who was actually a cross-dresser by the name Valerie Arkell-Smith. Her fellow National Fascisti members did not know she was a woman and treated her as a man and she became secretary to the group's leader Lieutenant Colonel H. Rippon-Seymour as well as training members in the boxing and fencing clubs.
Like the British Fascists (BF) they contacted the Home Secretary in the run-up to the 1926 General Strike to offer their services to the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. Rippon-Seymour refused to follow the lead of BF chairman R.B.D. Blakeney in breaking from fascism and so his offer was turned down flat by the government. As individuals National Fascisti members were however allowed to enter the Special Constabulary during the strike, which many did.
Cracks began to show in the group, notably around December 1926 when Rippon-Seymour pulled a sword and an unlicensed gun on Croydon branch leader Charles Eyres after Eyres has accused the leader of defrauding the party out of funds and of dictatorial leadership. Eyres had brought a gang of cudgel-wielding supporters from Kensington to confront Rippon-Seymour whilst the leader's use of the gun, which actually belonged to Arkell-Smith, saw him convicted of both possession of an illegal firearm and common assault at the Old Bailey. A series of internal struggles saw them change their name to the British National Fascisti under the leadership of Rippon-Seymour. Meanwhile leading members such as Colonel Ralph Bingham drifted from the group to become active instead in the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. Such a small group could not withstand internal wrangling and the movement faded from the scene fairly quickly after this.
Despite their general failure the National Fascisti remain significant for being the first group in British politics to attempt to develop Fascism as a specifically British ideology. They also helped to launch the political careers of William Joyce and Arnold Leese, both of whom had helped to instigate the split from the British Fascisti and who would both go on to greater significance.
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- S. Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley & British Fascism, London: Penguin Books, 2007
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- M. Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars, Pimlico, 2006
- R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: A History, 1918-1985, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987
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- Dorril, p. 199
- Pugh, p. 54
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- Pugh, p. 99
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- Benewick, p. 31