18 October 2014

British ex-servicemen fight against Fascism - at home!

In this blog I have discussed the Fascists’ activities in Britain in the 1930s, in particular their infamous battle against London’s East Enders in Cable St in 1936. And I would have expected that Fascism could not continue at home, once Britain, France and their allies declared war against Germany. Indeed most Fascist and pro-Nazi parties in Britain voluntarily closed down immediately at the outbreak of hostilities. But the government was taking no risk. Defence Regulation 18B, dated September 1939, allowed the authorities to detain without trial those believed to be working against the nation!

Yet for some reason, the Home Secretary seemed unprepared to gaol every active Fascist in the country. So Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists continued its so-called Peace Campaign activities, organising mass meetings throughout the Phoney War from Sep 1939 to Ap 1940. And Mrs Diana Mitford Mosley (and her sister Unity) met Hitler as often as possible, soon adopting the policies of the Nazi Party with warm enthusiasm.

enormous Fascist rally at Earl's Court, London 16th July 1939.
War against Germany was declared on 3rd September 1939

It was the collapse of Norway, France and the Low Countries in May 1940 that changed Britain's kid-glove handling of home-grown Fascists overnight. The Home Secretary became particularly concerned over the activities of the rabid Right Club. So in May 1940, Mosley and 747 other BU members were arrested and interned without charge. A number of Fascists were eventually moved to camps on the Isle of Man where they were housed in segregated camps, but Mosley and wife remained in Brixton prison.

Sir Oswald and Lady Mosley were released in November 1943, and spent the rest of the war under house arrest.

Graham Macklin* wanted to know what happened after Oswald Mosley was int­erned in 1940. Did his devoted followers keep the Sacred Flame of British fascism alight? Did his arrest kill off the movement? Was Mosley so humiliated after his Fascist friends in Germany lost WW2 that he never showed his face again? Yes, no and no. There was such a strong spiritual link between Mosley and his followers that gaol during the war years only made them more loyal.

Just after WW2 ended, Victoria and Alexandra Park in London and many other sites across the country were still POW camps for German soldiers. British soldiers and military nurses were flooding home, working class soldiers to bombed-out East London, Coventry, Liverpool, Bradford and Birmingham etc. Many of them had seen the horrors of Fascist regimes in Europe first hand and prayed they would never see Fascism again.

Yet Mosley had no trouble at all reforming his old party into the newly-named Union Movement. As in the 1930s, Mosley and his men whipped up a frenzy of race hatred, aimed at first against the local Jewish population and then against the local black popul­ation.

But this time there really was organised opposition to the British Fascists. Ex-servicemen, who had fought Fascism in Europe and survived, were being demobilised back in Britain by late 1945. They who had sacrificed so much were horrified to see the Fascist movement at home regrow in strength. Worse still, the police seemed to step aside and let the Fascists terrorise ordinary British citizens.

Morris Beckman's book The 43 Group: Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism.
first published in 1993.

In early 1946, 38 recently demobilised men and 5 women met at Maccabi House in Hampstead and founded The 43 Group. These people tracked the activities of the Fascist groups and turned up at every anti-Semitic mass rally, defended families against attacks on Jewish homes & shops, infiltrated Fascist groups and attacked the Fascists in street fighting. The 43 Group had no weapons other than knives.

Soon hundreds of non-Jewish soldiers, who had fought to bravely against the Fascist powers during the war, joined The 43 Group to fight Fascism at home. At first just in London, by 1947 they had a thousand members and opened branches in Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. Vidal Sassoon (1928–2012), not yet famous for his hairdressing, was active in The 43 Group in his local East End of London. Working against the blackshirt thugs who marched through his neighbourhood, Sassoon was still a teenager when was stomped on in pitched battles.

Morris Beckman (born 1921) told how they would attend a Fascist rally and wait for a signal to storm the speaker’s platform. They were, after all, ex-soldiers and were used to tight discipline. Beckman estimated that two thirds of Britain's post-war Fascist rallies were closed down in chaos.

Despite being occasionally successful, especially in Dalston Hackney in 1947, Mosley’s Union Movement no longer had carte blanche to do wherever they wanted. Their defeat at the hands of The 43 Group taught Mosley that there was little prospect of success in Britain. British Fascism might not have to disappear, but it would have to change.

Macklin showed how the old nationalism of the British Union of Fascists gave way to the concept of a European Fascist super-state, a global force connecting right wing Europe and the USA. The work was based on racial values drawn from Europe’s vast, white-ruled, colonial empires. The sacred flame of the new Fascism, explained in Mosley's 1947 book The Alternative, became more involved in stopping black immigration from the old British Empire countries.

So Mosley took his message to Europe. German POWs in Britain were invited to attend British Fascist meetings; on their return to Germany, they agreed to promote Mosley’s books in translation. In June 1949, Mosley went to Spain, where his sponsor was General Franco‘s brother-in-law. Mosley’s books were then translated into Spanish. By 1950, Mosley was in Italy, as a guest of the Fascist Party there. Mosley’s endless funds and personal support were given to bolster Fascist groups in many countries. Germany, Spain and Italy!

Once the Mosley Fascists disbanded in Britain in 1950, The 43 Group disbanded as well. The soldiers were tired - years of fighting against Fascism in Europe and then 5 long years of fighting against Fascism in Britain.

Oswald Mosley decided in 1951 to leave England forever, so he moved first to Ireland and then later to France. He was very busy writing his biographical books until he died December 1980 in France aged 84. His papers are housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections.

Why did the British government not protect its own citizens from the Fascist thugs from 1946 on? Why do we know far more about Mosley’s values than The 43 Group’s values? Have the opponents to British Fascism been air-brushed out of history? I have cited the following books in this debate and recommend reading them:

Beckman Morris The 43 Group: Untold Story of Their Fight Against Fascism, Centerprise Publications, 1993.

*Macklin, G Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism After 1945, International Library of Political Studies, 2007.

"The 43 Group" in The History Girls




15 comments:

Andrew said...

I was with you up until you mentioned the 43 Group. I knew nothing of them. I am not going to read the books but I can only guess that it was politically expedient for the British governing party to allow the revival of fascism in Britain. Thinking further, many who would vote for Mosley would more likely be Labour Party voters. That is the answer. Sixty years later with the rise of Ukip, we have the same situation. While Ukip may well be collecting some Tory heads, ultimately it will be Labour who loses voters.

Another great post. You are setting the bar so high for yourself.

PS Did Unity really sleep with Hitler?

Joe said...

I read The History Girls post after you mentioned it... excellent.

In the meantime I came across pro-Fascist comments which suggested that the movement is still alive and well. The human race does not seem to have learned much from WW2 Fascism.

Hels said...

Andrew

Correct about everything except the Labour Party. If there was any doubt about the Fascists' hatred of the working classes in general and Labour voters in particular, we can still read their views in book form. Sir Oswald Mosley wrote "The Alternative" 1947 and Archibald Ramsay wrote his book "The Nameless War" in 1952.

UKIP is alarming, isn't it?

Hels said...

Joe

too true and not just in the UK. AlterNet (May 2014) wrote: In Europe, proto-fascist parties that are anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, anti-Semitic and anti-European Union are now the second or third largest parties in a belt of formerly liberal societies that runs from Norway and Finland to the Netherlands and France. In Hungary, where the nationalist Fidesz Party already governs, the more extremist Jobbik Party is making even bigger gains.

Hels said...

Andrew

the tv film "Hitler's British Girl" said: In 1932, Unity's elder sister Diana began an affair with British fascist leader Oswald Mosley. Against her father's wishes, Unity met Mosley and became a member of the party. The following year, Diana and Unity went to the Nuremberg rally as part of the British delegation, where Unity became obsessed with the Führer. Unity returned to Germany in the summer of 1934 and stalked Hitler until she was eventually invited to his table at the Osteria Bavaria Restaurant in Munich. Hitler felt a mystical connection with the girl and she was subsequently invited to party rallies and state occasions. (I am assuming sex was involved).

Biographers report that Hitler and Unity had become very close and that Hitler would play Unity off against his new girlfriend Eva Braun until the latter attempted suicide.

In 1939 Hitler warned Unity of imminent war and urged her to return to Britain. She refused and, on the day war was announced, took the gun Hitler had given her and attempted suicide. Surviving the attempt, she was visited in hospital by Hitler who arranged for her return to England. This time she successfully suicided.

Deb said...

As teenagers of the 1960s, we knew Vidal Sasson in connection with his hair business. Only in his obits did we see this other life. As he had been born in 1928, how old was he in 1946 (17 and a half?) and did his parents know what he was up to?

Hels said...

Deb

the 1960s .... what an era :) My favourite years ever!

Vidal Sassoon didn't tell his story till the 1990s but apparently he had been evacuated during the war and finally returned home to London to find his mother and step father in hysteria. The shops in the East End of London were being smashed up and there were Fascists preaching hate on every corner.

He may not have been 18 yet but Vidal Sassoon said he felt he HAD to get involved in defending his beloved East End.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I am glad to know more about the post-war progression of Fascism in Britain, and the laudable efforts of the 43 Group.

It would seem that blaming a minority group for the larger troubles of a nation is an ideology that never stales. It is amazing then how it continues to prosper, despite the fact that it has been doomed to failure Every Single Time.
--Jim

Hels said...

Parnassus

agreed..blaming a minority group for the larger troubles of a nation has been a convenient ideology by Fascists everywhere, not just in the UK. But as soon as one minority fought back, the Fascists turned their focus to another minority.

In the late 1940s and 1950s, the British economy urgently needed to recruit skilled workers from its own colonies, esp from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent. The Fascists soon saw blacks as their next target.

Mandy Southgate said...

UKIP is alarming. Men dressed in camouflage (who I have no doubt have never seen a day of legitimate action) kicked down the doors of a local mosque and told the leader they would be breathing down his neck until he stopped segregated services. But I do agree with your previous commenter - it is very much working classes who were so hard hit by the economic collapse who are being courted by UKIP.

Mandy Southgate said...

This is a fascinating post with equally fascinating discussion. I don't feel threatened in the UK as a Jewish descendant but as an ally of Muslim, black and Asian friends. I don't know if I would ever have mentioned it but in 2011, Itook issue with a colleague expressing racism towards South African blacks. Realising that I could have made a lot of trouble for me, he cornered me outside the office and told me that I was going to get what was coming to me and I mustn't think he couldn't get to me. My company only removed him from the site a full month later.

Hels said...

Mandy

that is so true, on two issues.

1] Once the Jews of the East End (and other cities) were no longer such an easy target, the Fascists moved smoothly into attacking black migrants from other loyal British Empire nations. That you should still be feeling the hostility to blacks in 2011 is the direct outcome of the hatred of black migrants expressed since the mid 1950s.

2] Fascist responses to vulnerable minorities could be physical (smashed shop windows, gangs beating up people in the streets) but it might be white collar as well. Boycotting businesses, and getting people sacked within large firms are cleaner methods of oppression, but just as effective.

Hels said...

Mandy

I had never heard of UKIP before this year. And now they seem to be doing well in the local elections and by-elections. Scary.

What is even scarier Labour’s nasty attempt to reduce immigration, thus combating Ukip’s growing appeal to the party’s traditional working class supporters. The party of decency and equality is moving to the Fascist right on immigration :(

History Today said...

Oswald Mosley was once tipped as a future leader of both the Conservative and Labour parties. As leader of the British Union of Fascists, he attempted to portray himself as a reluctant antisemite, a narrative many historians have bought into. Daniel Tilles argues that such a reading is wrong. Opposition to Jews was at the very core of the would-be dictator’s ideology.

History Today
February 2015

Hels said...

Great article, thank you. If people simply read Mosley's own writing written after he left England in the 1950s, they will not realise how self serving and disingenuous he was being.