Britain and the Illegitimacy of Fascism

REVISIONIST CLAIMS of a website dedicated to the British fascist and politician Sir Oswald Mosley bring to mind the expression “damned with faint praise.” This, for example, cited from the historian A. J. P. Taylor: “He was never anti-Semitic — only opposed to a Second World War for the sake of Jews elsewhere. He was never unpatriotic — only indifferent to German conquests in eastern Europe … A superb political thinker, the best of our age.”

So there you have it. A patriot and superb thinker, too committed in the years leading up to World War II to plying the British working class with his faux Socialist demagoguery to work up any concern for the faraway Jew and the Deutschland Uber Alles program of industrial slaughter. Revisionism being by necessity highly selective, the claim today that Mosley was either a) unaware of the Final Solution or b) not particularly supportive of it betrays a bad conscience while subverting the plain fact of Mosley’s well-documented anti-Semitism. Many variations on this theme of revisionism may be found, among them the preposterous claim (advanced for instance by son Max) that Mosley did not sympathize either with the Nazis in general nor specifically with Adolf Hitler. The grain of half-truth in this otherwise cynical and impossible statement is that Mosley, whose second marriage to the revolting Diana Mitford took place at the home of Joseph Goebbels and with the Führer in attendance, modelled himself rather more after the Italian fascist Mussolini.

The February 5, 1934 wedding of British Union of Fascists members T. Naylor and Miss Edith Thatcher, at the Free Catholic Church, Edmonton, London. (Photo by J. A. Hampton/Getty Images)

I put before you this historical sketch because two days before Oswald Mosley was in Germany celebrating his October 6, 1936 nuptials in the company of mass murderers, he was marching in an east-end neighbourhood of London selected for a showing of Blackshirts because of its large Jewish population. This weekend the Battle of Cable Street was very much on the minds of British anti-fascists who stood up to the English Defence League for a seventy-fifth-year anniversary reprise of that hate-filled October 1936 day. Yesterday the Jews, today “multiculturalism” and the Muslim, the fascist scapegoats have changed but the underlying methods and the terms of their appeal have not. Now, as then, however the anti-fascists have prevailed in the competition for legitimacy. But before we raise the glasses or otherwise toast the victory, let’s consider a few details.

Mosley was recognized even by his political enemies as a gifted speaker, and he knew his audience. A member of the upper class (he was related by marriage to the Queen Mother), he launched his career logically enough as a Conservative politician. He later joined the Labour party and, noticing the ways of the wind, began to cultivate a following among the discontented. In the early 1930s the fortunes of all reactionary European political opportunists were best advanced by attacking powerful foreign interests and occult centres of economic and political power. Mosley consciously put the hard-working and sat-upon Englishman in opposition to the business combines, political elites, Bolshevism, and “foreign interests” in general. In each of these categories international Jewry could be, and was, interpolated. A certain hunger for simplistic narratives existed at this time, and while Mosley after 1931 had only moderate political success (and, after the war, little success at all), he ably worked his principal niche, the disaffected wage slaves and underclasses who really were being screwed but didn’t quite know how and by whom. The vast implications of this strategy, including the uglier aspects of its appeal, ought to be thought to the bottom by every contemporary anti-fascist, from the anarchist to liberal democrat and Tory. It is a matter of necessity in the work of discrediting the haters and the liars and the opportunists — but also of understanding the demagogue in all of his varieties, only some of which are Hooligan, others like Mosley casting their appeal in more polished accents.

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