The Anti-Socialist Union was a British political pressure group that supported free trade economics and opposed socialism. It was active from 1908 to 1948 with its heyday occurring before the First World War.
Coming from the same laissez-faire economic position as contemporaries such as the Liberty and Property Defence League and the British Constitution Association, the ASU was established in 1908 by Daily Express editor R. D. Blumenfeld. While claiming to be non-political its main membership came from the Conservative Party and the ASU campaigned against the social reforms brought in by the Liberal Party governments of Henry Campbell-Bannerman and H. H. Asquith, denouncing these as socialist initiatives.
The group was active in the election campaigns of January and December 1910 when some of its rallies and meetings ended in violence. Keir Hardie was a focus of its activity. Enjoying a circulation of some 70,000 for its journal around that time, the ASU included a young Stanley Baldwin amongst its membership. Other leading members in the early years included William Hurrell Mallock, Walter Long and Samuel Hoare.
The group went on hiatus during the First World War before being revived initially under the name Reconstruction Society before becoming the Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union, attacking such figures as Harold Laski and Maurice Dobb whilst also attempting to prove links between the Labour Party and the Soviet Union. By this time however its role had largely been usurped by the British Empire Union and with no local branch structure it struggled for influence. Nonetheless the group claimed that between 1918 and 1922 it organised around ten thousand meetings.
Although avowedly a free trade movement the ASU found itself linked with the fascist movements that began to emerge in the 1920s, largely due to their shared opposition to communism. Under the presidency of Brigadier-General R.B.D. Blakeney the British Fascists (BF) forged links with the ASU with a number of ASU members from military backgrounds joining the BF. Leading ASU figures such as George Makgill, John Baker White and even Blumenfeld became associated with the BF. Nesta Webster, a leading BF ideologue, was also a member of the ASU and wrote and researched a number of their publications. Also at this time the chairman of the ASU was Wilfrid Ashley, who would later also serve as the Chairman of the Anglo-German Fellowship. Harry Brittain, who enjoyed a close friendship with Joachim von Ribbentrop, was a member of the Executive Committee of the ASU. In an attempt to counter the growing support for socialism among sections of the working class, it also began to advocate some vaguely corporatist initiatives such as profit-sharing schemes for workers. Generally however the Union disavowed fascism and did not formally work with any fascist groups.
- Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations: Parties, Groups and Movements of the 20th century, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2000, p. 319
- Holman, Bob (2010). Keir Hardie Labour's Greatest Hero. Oxford: Lion Books. p. 160. ISBN 9780745953540.
- Markku Ruotsila, British and American Anticommunism Before the Cold War, Routledge, 2001, p. 8
- Thomas Linehan, British Fascism 1918-39: Parties, Ideology and Culture, Manchester University Press, 2000, p. 45
- Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley & British Fascism, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 196
- Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain's Fascist Movement, I.B.Tauris, 2003, p. 346
- Thomas P. Linehan, British Fascism, 1918-39: Parties, Ideology and Culture, Manchester University Press, 2000, p. 46
- Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers on the Right, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 225