Alexander Raven Thomson

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Alexander Raven Thomson
Born3 December 1899
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died30 October 1955 (aged 55)
London, England
NationalityScottish
CitizenshipBritish
OccupationMechanical engineer
Known forFascist politician and writer
Home townLondon
Political partyBritish Union of Fascists, Union Movement
Spouse(s)Lisbeth Röntgen
ChildrenThree
RelativesAlexander Thomson (grandfather)

Alexander Raven Thomson (3 December 1899 – 30 October 1955), usually referred to as Raven, was a Scottish politician and philosopher. He joined the British Union of Fascists in 1933 and remained a follower of Oswald Mosley for the rest of his life; he was considered to be the party's chief ideologue. He has been described as the "Alfred Rosenberg of British fascism".[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in Edinburgh, Thomson came from a family long prominent in Scottish public life, and was the grandson of the architect Alexander Thomson.[2] Thomson was educated in universities in his homeland, the United States and briefly Heidelberg University in Germany, studying mechanical engineering, science and philosophy.[3] In 1926 he became a partner in an engineering firm in London[2] specialising in the manufacture of silver paper, a process he had learned in Germany.[4] Whilst studying in Germany, Thomson met and married Lisbeth, the daughter of x-ray pioneer Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen.[5] They would go on to have three children together; Lisbeth already had a daughter from a previous relationship, while Thomson also had a long-term mistress, Olive Burdett.[6]

Thomson's political career began with his joining the Communist Party of Great Britain, although his membership did not last long as he rejected notions of historical materialism and moved more towards corporatism.[3] Thomson became a leading authority on the works of Oswald Spengler and in 1932 published the book Civilization as Divine Superman: A Superorganic Philosophy of History, which rejected Spengler's theories about the decline of civilisation, arguing that it could be avoided by the rejection of capitalism and its replacement with collectivism.[3] In this conviction he was influenced by Maurice Maeterlinck, who had written of "insect communities" in which a communal spirit was shared by all members of a "hive".[7] The book also marked his drift towards a fascistic outlook.[8]

British Union of Fascists[edit]

He joined the British Union of Fascists in 1933 and soon rose to the post of Director of Policy, from where he became the leading ideological light in the party and a close associate of Oswald Mosley and Neil Francis Hawkins.[3] Whilst in this position he produced his seminal work The Corporate State (March 1935, republished as The Coming Corporate State in January 1937), in which he set out the vision of a BUF government in Britain. Thomson envisaged the formation of twenty corporations, each controlling a specific sector of the economy. These corporations would be further divided up to cover each individual industry and would also feed into a National Corporation, which would effectively form the government. Corporations would have equal representation for employers, workers and consumers, with elections to the corporations taking the place of existing political activity.[9] In 1935 he was sent to his native Scotland on a speaking tour designed to present the fascist message although most of his engagements were disrupted by Communist hecklers, including one at Aberdeen where an extended chorus of The Internationale from the crowd effectively silenced the BUF speakers.[10]

Thomson became a leading figure in the BUF and in 1937 he represented the party in Municipal elections in Bethnal Green (SW), winning 23.17% of the votes and finishing ahead of the Liberal candidates.[11] Although he was not elected, the result marked a good total for the BUF. His status in the party now assured, Thomson became editor of the party weekly, Action, in 1939.[12] An important figure in the BUF, he served for a time as Mosley's representative to Germany, a role in which he was closely watched by MI5.[13] He shared with the Nazis a strong anti-Semitism[14] and was generally noted as an admirer of Nazi Germany.[15] He was part of BUF delegation that attended the 1933 Nuremberg Rally.[16] In all he made five extended trips to Nazi Germany.[17] Despite all of this as one of the public faces of the BUF he had actually been interviewed by The Jewish Chronicle in 1934 and had told that newspaper that the group had no specific enmity towards the Jews.[18] Thomson also had loose connections to hard-line Revisionist Zionism activist Wolfgang von Weisl although these were curtailed when von Weisl's leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky told him to break off relations.[19] Mosley admired Thomson for his intellect[20] and would later describe him as an "honest man and devoted patriot",[21] although he was also known to privately criticise Thomson as something of a 'yes-man'.[22] In 1937 Thomson wrote that the British left had enforced "specifically Anglo-Saxon democratic methods of parliamentary governance" upon Ireland to whom it was "entirely foreign and distasteful." Thomson also believed that a United Ireland would occur under fascism, an ideology which was less foreign to the "native Celtic culture".[23]

Following the outbreak of war Thomson devised a plan to attack the Nordic League as 'Nazi traitors' in the hope of establishing the BUF's patriotic credentials, although it came to nothing and actually ran alongside attempts by Francis Hawkins to establish BUF control over the League.[24] Along with most of the leading members of the BUF, Thomson was detained under Defence Regulation 18B in May 1940 and interned for much of the Second World War.[25] He spent his entire jail spell in Brixton Prison, rather than the generally more favourable prison camp on the Isle of Man, until his release in 1944.[26] Thomson reacted badly to his spell in detention and suffered a nervous breakdown whilst incarcerated.[27] He was released, having been moved to a camp on the Isle of Man, in September 1944.[28]

Union Movement[edit]

Following his release Thomson set up a number of book clubs across Britain to ensure the continuing spread of Mosley's ideas.[26] The book clubs served as planning meetings for the future of Mosleyite politics after the war.[29] He also led the Union of British Freemen, a group he set up with fellow ex-BUF member Victor Burgess in 1944 as an attempt to bring together former BUF members.[30] After the war Thomson travelled regularly to Ireland to meet with Mosley and discuss political development.[31] Eager to expand the base of operations of fascism in Britain he also sought unsuccessfully to forge alliances with the proto-environmentalist Rural Reconstruction Association through leading member Jorian Jenks, a former BUF activist, as well as individuals on the fringes of Welsh nationalism.[32]

He joined the Union Movement on its foundation in 1948 and became a leading figure in the new party as both general secretary and the editor of the UM newspaper Union.[26] Playing a leading role in the development of the ideology of the UM, Thomson initially supported Europe a Nation enthusiastically, but soon tired of the esoteric policy and in 1950 organised a brief, and even more unsuccessful, return to pre-war policy.[33] After this he came to advocate a "left-wing fascist" approach, arguing that the UM should target the working class for support with anti-capitalism rhetoric.[34]

As well as his important position within the UM domestically, Thomson was also a central figure in the party's international links. Thomson was sent to Spain in 1949 to try to build up support for Mosley in the country, although the trip was somewhat unsuccessful as he failed to impress the falangists and had to contend with the negative words of former BUF member Angus Macnab, who had grown to loathe Mosley.[35] later Thomson was central in liaising with the New European Order, a group Mosley had no official contact with due to his support for the European Social Movement.[36] His international reputation grew further in 1952 when he was appointed to the editorial board of the prestigious Nation Europa magazine.[37] He also became known as the publisher of Frederick J. Veale's Advance to Barbarism, one of the early pieces of Second World War Historical revisionism.[38] He also contributed to The European, a magazine edited by Diana Mosley.

Thomson continued to serve as leading UM figure until his death in 1955 from cancer.[26] Thomson, who had lived most of his life in the East End of London, had his funeral service at St Columba's Church, Shoreditch before being cremated.[39]

References[edit]

  1. ^ R. Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, London: Allan Lane, 1969, p. 117
  2. ^ a b Gavin Bowd, Fascist Scotland: Caledonia and the Far Right, Birlinn, 2013 p. 38
  3. ^ a b c d Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, p. 117
  4. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 252
  5. ^ S. Dorril, Blackshirt – Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism, London: Penguin, 2007, p. 252
  6. ^ Bowd, Fascist Scotland, pp. 210–211
  7. ^ Robert Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, Macmillan, 1981, p. 345
  8. ^ Bowd, Fascist Scotland, p. 39
  9. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, pp. 143–150
  10. ^ Bowd, Fascist Scotland, p. 45
  11. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, pp. 279–282
  12. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, p. 119
  13. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 317
  14. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 410
  15. ^ Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 55
  16. ^ Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, p. 172
  17. ^ Bowd, Fascist Scotland, p. 209
  18. ^ Skidelsky, Oswald Mosley, p. 385
  19. ^ Stein Ugelvik Larsen, Fascism Outside Europe, Columbia University Press, 2001, p. 379
  20. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 280
  21. ^ O. Mosley, My Life, London: Nelson, 1970, p. 332
  22. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 260
  23. ^ Douglas, R. M. (1997). "The Swastika and the Shamrock: British Fascism and the Irish Question, 1918-1940". Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies. 29 (1): 57–75. doi:10.2307/4051595. JSTOR 4051595.
  24. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 493
  25. ^ Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, p. 294
  26. ^ a b c d Biography at Friends of Oswald Mosley site (Archived version)
  27. ^ G. Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, New York: IB Tauris, 2007, p. 21
  28. ^ Bowd, Fascist Scotland, p. 212
  29. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 554
  30. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 39
  31. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, p. 553
  32. ^ Dorril, Blackshirt, pp. 585–6
  33. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, pp. 54–5
  34. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 63
  35. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 99
  36. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 110
  37. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 111
  38. ^ Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black, p. 129
  39. ^ Bowd, Fascist Scotland, p. 248