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British Union of Fascists

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British Union of Fascists
President Oswald Mosley
Founded 1932
Dissolved 1940
Merger of New Party
Larger part of the British Fascists
Succeeded by Union Movement
Newspaper Action
The Blackshirt
Paramilitary wing Stewards
Grassroots wing January Club
Ideology Fascism (British)
Anti-semitism (from 1934)
Political position Far-right
Colours              Red, White, Blue
Party flag
Flag of the British Union of Fascists.svg
Politics of United Kingdom
Political parties
Elections

The British Union of Fascists, or BUF, was a Fascist political party in the United Kingdom formed in 1932 by Oswald Mosley. It changed its name to the "British Union of Fascists and National Socialists" in 1936 and, in 1937, to "British Union". It was finally disbanded in 1940 after it was proscribed by the British government, following the start of the Second World War.

The BUF emerged in 1932 from the British far-right, following the electoral defeat of its antecedent, the New Party, in the 1931 general election. The BUF's foundation was initially met with popular support and developed a sizeable following. The Press Baron Lord Rothermere was a notable early supporter. As the party became increasingly radical, however, support declined. The Olympia Rally of 1934, in which a number of anti-Fascist protestors were attacked, isolated the party from much of its following. The party's embrace of Nazi-style anti-semitism in 1936 led to increasingly violent clashes with opponents, notable the 1936 Battle of Cable Street in London's East End. The Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and responded to increasing political violence, had a particularly strong effect on the BUF whose supporters were known as "Blackshirts" after the uniforms they wore.

Growing British hostility towards Nazi Germany, with which the BUF was increasingly associated, further contributed to the decline of the movement. Its membership declined sharply. It was finally banned by the British government in 1940 after the start of the Second World War, amid suspicion that its remaining supporters might form a pro-Nazi "fifth column". A number of prominent BUF members were arrested and interned under Defence Regulation 18B.

History[edit]

Background[edit]

Flowchart showing the history of the early British fascist movement

Oswald Mosley was the youngest elected Conservative MP before crossing the floor in 1922, joining first Labour and, shortly afterwards, the Independent Labour Party. He became a minister in Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government, advising on rising unemployment. In 1930, he issued his 'Mosley Memorandum' which fused protectionism with a proto-Keynesian programme of policies designed to tackle the unemployment problem, and resigned from the party soon after, in early 1931, when the plans were rejected. He immediately formed the New Party, with policies based on his memorandum; but, despite winning 16% of the vote at a by-election in Ashton-under-Lyne in early 1931, the party failed to achieve any electoral success.

Over 1931 the New Party became increasingly influenced by Fascism.[1] The next year, after a January 1932 visit to Benito Mussolini in Italy, Mosley's own conversion to fascism was confirmed. He wound up the New Party in April, but preserved its youth movement, which would form the core of the BUF, intact. He spent the summer that year writing a fascist programme, The Greater Britain, and this formed the basis of policy of the BUF, which was launched in October 1932.[1]

Early success and growth[edit]

Italy's Duce Benito Mussolini (left) with Leader Oswald Mosley (right) during Mosley's visit to Italy in 1936

The BUF claimed 50,000 members at one point,[2] and the Daily Mail was an early supporter, running the headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!".[3] The first Director of Propaganda, appointed in February 1933, was Wilfred Risdon, and he was responsible for organising all of Mosley's public meetings. Despite strong resistance from anti-fascists, including the local Jewish community, the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, the BUF found a following in the East End of London, where in the London County Council elections of March 1937 it obtained reasonably successful results in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Limehouse, polling almost 8,000 votes, although none of its candidates were elected.[4] The BUF never stood in a General Election.

The Olympia Exhibition Centre in London, site of the party's 1934 rally sometimes cited as the beginning of the movement's decline

Having lost the funding of newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere that it previously enjoyed, at the 1935 General Election the party urged voters to abstain, calling for "Fascism Next Time".[5] There never was a "next time", as the next General Election was not held until July 1945, five years after the dissolution of the BUF.

Towards the middle of the 1930s, the BUF's violent clashes with opponents began to alienate some middle-class supporters, and membership decreased. At the Olympia rally in London, in 1934, BUF stewards violently ejected anti-fascist disrupters, with one protester claiming to have lost an eye, and this led the Daily Mail to withdraw its support for the movement. The level of violence shown at the rally shocked many, with the effect of turning neutral parties against the BUF and contributing to anti-fascist support. One observer claimed "I came to the conclusion that Mosley was a political maniac, and that all decent English people must combine to kill his movement."[6]

Decline and legacy[edit]

Modern depiction of the Battle of Cable Street. The event is frequently invoked in contemporary British politics

The BUF briefly drew away from mainstream politics and towards antisemitism over 1934-35 owing to the growing influence of Nazi sympathisers such as William Joyce and John Beckett within the party, which saw the resignation of members such as Dr. Robert Forgan. This resulted in membership dropping to below 8,000 by the end of 1935 and, ultimately, Mosley shifted the party's focus back to mainstream politics. The party continued to clash with anti-fascists, most famously at the Battle of Cable Street in October 1936, when organised anti-fascists prevented the BUF from marching through Cable Street. However, the party later staged other marches through the East End without incident (albeit not on Cable Street itself).

BUF support for Edward VIII and the peace campaign to prevent a second World War saw membership and public support rise once more.[7] The government was sufficiently concerned by the party's growing prominence to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and required police consent for political marches.

In 1937, William Joyce and other Nazi sympathisers split from the party to form the National Socialist League, which quickly folded, with most of its members interned. Mosley later denounced Joyce as a traitor and condemned him for his extreme anti-semitism. The historian Stephen Dorril revealed in his book Blackshirts that secret envoys from the Nazis had donated about £50,000 to the BUF.[8]

By 1939, total BUF membership was probably approaching 20,000.[7] In May 1940, the BUF was banned outright by the government and Mosley, along with 740 other fascists, was interned for much of the Second World War. After the war, Mosley made several unsuccessful attempts to return to politics, notably in the Union Movement.

Character[edit]

See also: British Fascism
The Flash and Circle flag of the British Union of Fascists.

Mosley, known to his followers as The Leader, modelled his leadership style on Benito Mussolini and the BUF on Mussolini's National Fascist Party in Italy, including an imitation of the Italian Fascists' black uniforms for members, earning them the nickname "Blackshirts". The BUF was anti-communist and protectionist, and proposed replacing parliamentary democracy with executives elected to represent specific industries, trades or other professional interest groups – a system similar to the corporatism of the Italian fascists. Unlike the Italian system, British fascist corporatism planned to replace the House of Lords with elected executives drawn from major industries, the clergy, and colonies. The House of Commons was to be reduced to allow for a faster, "less factionist" democracy.[9]

The BUF's programme and ideology were outlined in Mosley's Great Britain (1932) and A. Raven Thompson's The Coming Corporate State (1938). Many BUF policies were built on isolationism, prohibiting trade outside an insulated British Empire. Mosley’s system aimed to protect the British economy from the fluctuations of the world market, especially during the Great Depression, and prevent "cheap slave competition from abroad."[9]

Relationship with the Suffragettes[edit]

In a January 2010 BBC documentary, Mother Was A Blackshirt, James Maw reported on how in 1914 Norah Elam was placed in a Holloway prison cell with Emmeline Pankhurst for her involvement with the Suffragette movement, yet in 1940 she returned to the same prison with Diana Mosley, but this time for her involvement with the fascist movement. Another leading suffragette, Mary Richardson, became head of the women's section of the BUF.

The report described how Elam's fascist philosophy grew from her suffragette experiences, how the British fascist movement became largely driven by women, how they targeted young women from an early age, how the first British fascist movement was founded by a woman, and how the leading lights of the Suffragettes had, with Oswald Mosley, founded the BUF.[10]

Mosley's electoral strategy had been to prepare for the election after 1935, and in 1936 he announced a list of BUF candidates for that election, with Elam nominated to stand for Northampton. Mosley accompanied Elam to Northampton to introduce her to her electorate at a meeting in the Town Hall. At that meeting Mosley announced that "He was glad indeed to have the opportunity of introducing the first candidate, and it killed for all time the suggestion that National Socialism proposed putting British women back into the home, this is simply not true. Mrs Elam, he went on, had fought in the past for women's suffrage ... and was a great example of the emancipation of women in Britain".[11]

Prominent members and supporters[edit]

Despite the short period of operation the BUF attracted prominent members and supporters. These included:


Election results[edit]

By-election Candidate Votes  % share Position
Silvertown by-election, 1940 Moran, TommyTommy Moran 151 1.0 3
Leeds North East by-election, 1940 Allen, SydneySydney Allen 722 2.9 2
Middleton and Prestwich by-election, 1940 Haslam, FrederickFrederick Haslam 418 1.3 2

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Thorpe, Andrew. (1995) Britain In The 1930s, Blackwell Publishers, ISBN 0-631-17411-7
  2. ^ Andrzej Olechnowicz, "Liberal Anti-Fascism in the 1930s: The Case of Sir Ernest Barker" in Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, (Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter, 2004), p. 643.
  3. ^ Hurrah for the Blackshirts
  4. ^ R. Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, London: Allan Lane, 1969, pp. 279-282
  5. ^ 1932-1938 Fascism rises - March of the Blackshirts
  6. ^ Lloyd. G, Yorkshire Post, 9 June 1934
  7. ^ a b Richard C. Thurlow. Fascism in Britain: from Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts to the National Front. 2nd edition. New York, New York, USA: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2006. p. 94.
  8. ^ Fenton, Ben. "Oswald Mosley 'was a financial crook bankrolled by Nazis'". http://www.telegraph.co.uk/. Retrieved 16 July 2014.  External link in |website= (help)
  9. ^ a b Oswald Mosley, Tomorrow We Live (1938),
  10. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - Mother Was A Blackshirt". Bbc.co.uk. 4 January 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2013. 
  11. ^ McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2011). Mosley's Old Suffragette - A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4466-9967-6. 
  12. ^ Arthur Green, "Allen, William Edward David (1901–1973)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  13. ^ Linehan, Thomas. British Fascism, 1918-39: Parties, Ideology and Culture. p. 139. while Beckett was a one-time Labour MP for Gateshead (1924-29) and Peckham (1929-31) 
  14. ^ "Soviet spy who had his eye on Belfast", Belfast Telegraph, 24 May 2003
    Eric Waugh, With Wings as Eagles
  15. ^ a b c d e f g Julie V. Gottlieb, "British Union of Fascists (act. 1932–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  16. ^ David Renton, "Bennett, Donald Clifford Tyndall (1910–1986)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  17. ^ a b c d e Resistance to fascism, Glasgow Digital Library (Accessed 6 February 2014)
  18. ^ a b c d e Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany. London: Constable, 1980. p.52 The names are from MI5 Report. 1 August 1934. PRO HO 144/20144/110. (Cited in Thomas Norman Keeley Blackshirts Torn: inside the British Union of Fascists, 1932- 1940 p.26) (Accessed 6 February 2014)
  19. ^ Brian Holden Reid, "Fuller, John Frederick Charles (1878–1966)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  20. ^ John Tooley, "Goodall, Sir Reginald (1901–1990)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  21. ^ D. George Boyce, "Harmsworth, Harold Sidney, first Viscount Rothermere (1868–1940)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  22. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, "Hay, Josslyn Victor, twenty-second earl of Erroll (1901–1941)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  23. ^ Richard Griffiths, "Russell, Hastings William Sackville, twelfth duke of Bedford (1888–1953)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)
  24. ^ Anne Williamson, "Williamson, Henry William (1895–1977)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (Accessed 5 February 2014)

Further reading[edit]

  • Pugh, Martin (2006). "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!": Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the Wars (1st ed.). London: Pimlico. ISBN 9781844130870. 
  • Dorril, Stephen (2006). Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British fascism. London: Viking. ISBN 978-0670869992. 
  • Griffiths, Richard (1983). Fellow Travellers of the Right: British enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-39. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0192851161. 
  • Thurlow, Richard (2006). Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts to the National Front (Rev. ed.). London: Tauris. ISBN 978-1860643378.