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Late in 1932, about a year after the financial crisis that rocked
Britain to its foundations and heralded the great depression of the thirties, George Bernard Shaw said at a Fabian meeting
in London: "You may remember the eloquence with which Mr. Ramsay MacDonald begged the nation to defend the gold standard.
(The Journal of Historical Review)
all rallied 'round the gold standard and gave Mr. MacDonald a big majority. They were told that as long as they stuck to
the gold standard the trade of England was safe." Yet "Mr. MacDonald, who had been hailed as the man who saved
the nation by keeping it on the gold standard, was then hailed as the man who saved the nation by taking it off the gold
Thus the ironic Shaw on that extraordinary sleight-of-hand by which the old political order faced the crisis of 1931.
He then turned
to MacDonald's leading critic who had warned, in vain, that the crisis was coming. "You will hear more of Sir Oswald
Mosley before you are very much older. I know you dislike him, because he looks like a man who has some physical courage
and is going to do something, and that is a terrible thing. You instinctively hate him, because you do not know where he
will land you. Instead of talking 'round and 'round political subjects, and obscuring them with bunk verbiage without even
touching them and without understanding them ... he keeps hard flown to the actual situation."
So much for what Shaw really thought of
his Fabian friends, many of whom were to rise to the very heights of "the Establishment," those rulers who have
run Britain down-hill since 1931, Mosley's entrenched opponents all his life.
Others, too, were to recognize the same attitude
in high places. Richard Crossman wrote in 1961 that "Mosley was spurned by Whitehall, Fleet Street and every party
leader at Westminster simply and solely because he was right." No doubt, as Crossman added, he was spurned because
he "was prepared to discard the orthodoxies of democratic politics and to break with the bankers of high finance in
order to conquer unemployment," a terrible thing in the view of Shaw, ironic as ever. Dazzled by Mosley's "brightly
shining star," as Michael Foot observed in 1968, the men of the Establishment decided they preferred, after all, "mediocrity
and safety first which consigned political genius to the wilderness and the nation to the valley of the shadow of death"
and to much suffering in large parts of Britain during the unemployment of the thirties.
Mosley, in the opinion of Lord Boothby and others,
could have been "a very great Prime Minister" leading either a Labour or a Conservative government. That was not
to be. Mediocrity ruled in Britain instead.
Who was this man Mosley? The noted historian A.J.P. Taylor wrote in 1965 that "his proposals
were more creative than those of Lloyd George and offered a blueprint for most of the constructive advances in economic
policy to the present day... evidence of a superlative talent." David Lloyd George himself saw Mosley as a man of "remarkable
lucidity and force." John Wheatley, M.P. of "Red" Clydeside, said in 1926 that he was "one of the greatest
and most hopeful figures the socialist movement has thrown up." Colonel Joseph Wedgwood of the Labour Party, later
a Father of the House, said after Mosley's speech of resignation from government in 1930: "I watched the Liberal Party.
I watched the Conservative Party. Man after man was saying to himself: 'That is our leader.' "
Such were the views of leading historians and
parliamentarians. Great audiences thought likewise, when they heard his policies. During the stormy General Election of
1931, as New Party meetings up and down the country were being wrecked by organized mobs, Mosley held one remarkable meeting
in Manchester's Free Trade Hall about which the Manchester Guardian was to say: "In his thirty-fifth year Oswald Mosley
is already encrusted with legend... Who could doubt when he sat down after his speech on Saturday, and the audience, stirred
as an audience rarely is, rose and swept a storm of applause towards the platform -- who could doubt that here was one of
those root- and-branch men who have been thrown up from time to time in the religious, political and business story of England?
His ideas swept a great audience off its feet and the scene at the end was matter for thought to any 'elder statesman.' "
In the world of
letters Beverley Nichols was later to write in his News of England in 1938, the time of the British Union of Fascists (BUF):
"For Mosley, whether you regard him as a limb of Satan or a potential saviour of this nation, is one of the three most
dynamic personalities in the Empire today. And the men he has inspired are animated by something akin to a religious faith."
How did the man
regard himself? He wished to be known to posterity as "the man of synthesis," and in a recent criticism in the
Times Higher Education Supplement, Richard Thurlow conceded he had "a brilliant synthesising mind... He synthesised
many of the best ideas of his time: Keynes's critique of the Establishment's deflationary policies, Lloyd George's great
public works to soak up unemployment, Joseph Chamberlain's demand for an insulated home market and protection for the British
Empire, and C.H. Douglas's proposals of consumer credits to raise the purchasing power of the poorer sections of the community."
There was also
guild socialism. Mosley wrote in his autobiography, My Life: "My inclination in British politics was always towards
the guild socialists -- then represented by such thinkers and writers as [G.D.H.] Cole, [J.A.] Hobson and [A.R.] Orage --
rather than to state socialism, whose exponents were the Webbs and the Fabians. The tradition of the mediaeval guilds in
England, of the Hanseatic League and the syndicalism of the Latin countries was much nearer to my thinking." At the
same time he could appreciate the power of the Federal Reserve System and what he saw of American mass production methods
during his visit to the United States in the twenties, reaching yet another synthesis for Britain by combining what he learned
in America, the most advanced capitalist state, and the thinking of British guild socialists and European syndicalists.
Yet he was more.
He achieved his own personal ideal of the "complete man" of politics, economic thinking, war service in 1914-18,
a man of culture with a deep interest in philosophy, the true aristocrat who was "the friend of the people." And
there was his sport. Descended from a family long connected with the land of England, including a grandfather famous for
his pedigree cattle and the very model for England's "John Bull," Mosley's early interest in sport turned to boxing,
"The Fancy" of his ancestors in a more robust age. He also represented his country in international fencing contests
in his thirties.
"He is very English," wrote James Drennan of the Mosley of that time, "as it were, a composite ghost
of English history, yet his enemies complain he is so 'un-English.' Perhaps they mean that he lacks that bourgeois stamp
which has moulded to its flaccid type the generations of English politicians who have grown up since the Industrial Revolution.
There is something of the Elizabethan in his gallant, rather arrogant air. He is the Englishman of the Carolean tennis court,
of the duelling ground rather than of the Pall Mall club. Then again, with his boxing and fencing, he has walked in the
tradition of the Regency 'buck' in a time when people have got into the habit of expecting younger politicians to have horn-rimmed
spectacles and soft white hands. He is a big man of blood and bone, of strong tones, no feeble creature of grey shadings.
He is a personality, with all his individual qualities and faults, no self-complacent bladder of conventions."
A certain hard
seriousness and a natural chivalry were indeed his hallmarks. Several times in later life he was in a position to destroy
an opponent by exposing personal scandal. "We must confine our attacks on these people to their public lapses and not
to their private lives, however disgusting" was his invariable response.
The Mosley story began in the waterlogged trenches
of Flanders, red with poppies and the life blood of a slaughtered British generation, and in the Royal Flying Corps where
he learned to respect his opponents, the young German airmen of 1914-18, feeling a kinship with them higher than his regard
for "the old politicians who sent both of us there, to fight." Many years later he saw a film of the Verdun battles
when he experienced an immediate spiritual comradeship with one French soldier silent and stark amid that enormous suffering.
Out of these deep
impressions of what G.K. Chesterton described as "that awful depopulation" of Europe, there sprang his lasting
faith in an ultimate union of the nations of Europe to end all conflicts of brother peoples.
And so, with the limp which was his own personal
legacy from the trenches, he went into Parliament with a hatred of world wars to raise his great voice for "the missing
generation," his mission that never again should there be another such bloodbath. Winning Harrow for the Conservatives
in the "Khaki Election" of 1918, he was asked to explain his policies. His reply, in the tradition of Joseph Chamberlain,
was "socialist imperialism"; he had fought on a platform of high wages and shorter hours, housing schemes carried
out by the nation, the abolition of slums, and health and child welfare policies.
But when he reached Parliament, as he later said,
"the first shock was the sight of my colleagues. The young men were in a minority and the 'hardfaced men' were in a
great majority. The profiteer outnumbered the fighter." Thus when those "hard-faced men" who then led the
Conservatives betrayed the war-time pledge that a land for heroes would be built after so much sacrifice, while disgracing
themselves during the Black and Tan period in Ireland, he left that party.
For a time he sat in Parliament as an Independent, holding Harrow
against the attacks of Conservative press and party machine in two further elections, and there he was spotted as a coming
man by the bright eye of the Labour leader, Ramsay MacDonald, to be invited to join that "peoples' party" which
MacDonald in turn was to betray, in 1931. In 1924, when Mosley joined Labour, Britain was in the grip of a merciless deflation.
Other hard-faced men in high places, the Cunliffe Committee of City bankers and Treasury officials, had met in conclave
before the killing was over in 1918 and there decreed that deflation was the essential road "back to normality"
after the war. This was accepted widely. By 1925 Stanley Baldwin, Tory leader, was stating bluntly that "all the workers
in this country have got to face a reduction in wages." The Liberals were split on the question, but they were the declining
party. Even Labour, the rising party, no matter how much it denounced deflation in opposition, was led by men who tugged
their forelocks to the bankers in office. Prominent among them was the mercantilist Philip Snowden. He announced shortly
after becoming Chancellor in the first Labour government of 1924 that he was "much guided" by the findings of
the Cunliffe Committee. As Chancellor again in the second Labour government he was to say in 1931 that "the City would
not stand for" Mosley's proposals for solving unemployment.
The latter did not join a party widely proclaiming its "socialist"
goal in order to grovel in this way before the power of high finance. All his sympathies lay with the guild socialist tradition
in that party, all his ideas were opposed to the deflation demanded by the Establishment of the day. His years of synthesizing
then began, seeing much of Keynes -- at that time the leading rebel against the Cunliffe Committee's dictates -- and inevitably
coming into growing conflict with the Snowdenites; for such leaders, cast in an older mold, Mosley had far too many ideas
and most of them dangerous.
By 1925 he had written Revolution by Reason, a book revolutionary in the sense that it cut across the current orthodoxy
and proposed the deliberate raising of living standards through consumer credits, injecting purchasing power wherever it
was needed most in order to match the greater power of industry to produce. And in these proposals lay the origins of that
later breach with Labour leaders.
For, while Mosley campaigned for higher living standards at public meetings where he was increasingly
in demand, a Conservative government took measures to depress those standards through a more rigorous deflation than Mrs.
Thatcher recently has attempted -- and there on the Labour front bench in Parliament the Snowdenites bowed in deepest reverence
to the financial gods sacred to Stanley Baldwin, Tory leader. The men of like minds occupied both front benches. The men
who wanted change sat behind, with Mosley.
Incredible though it may seem to much opinion in the 1980s, Mosley did not turn to Fascism
because of "arrogance" or "ambition" but simply because he soon came to realize that socialism would
not be built under the old leadership; the logic of his ideas drew him ever more towards a form of proto-fascism but for
the word itself. For him this arose from the memory of comradeship in the trenches, uniting all classes in face of the machine-guns
which struck down all irrespective of social class. It arose from his "socialist imperialism"; its dynamic thrust
came from his synthesis of economic ideas; its method of government was inspired by Lloyd George's inner cabinet, a government
of action which had won the war of 1914-18 and which Mosley would transform into "a machinery of government" to
solve the problems left by that war.
First among those problems was unemployment. This continued to rise rapidly despite the election
of a Labour government in 1929 to solve it. Seeing that MacDonald's speeches on the subject were having no effect, Mosley
compiled his own policies of action in the famous "Mosley Memorandum" of early 1930; a government determined to
solve unemployment, equipped with the machinery to do it, was the vital part of his proposals.
Yet when placed before the men of the Cabinet,
these proposals aroused their pious horror, for the men were paragons of inaction, dedicated to muddling through. Close
contact with their woolly minds had no doubt made a parting of the ways likely in any event: this was made inevitable by
their limp response to the approaching crisis and the inertia with which they answered Mosley's dynamism. When they rejected
the Memorandum, while refusing to produce something better themselves, he resigned from the Labour government in May 1930.
Sewell of the Carmellites, replying to an obituary in Mosley's old school magazine, The Wykehamist, wrote that "when
the dust has settled" Mosley may be remembered most for his rejected Memorandum, which would have solved unemployment,
and for his advocacy of a united Europe. Prophetic words.
Much has been written about the failure of Mosley's New Party, hastily
formed under the storm cloud of crisis, lacking a press but attacked by the national press, accused of the blackest treachery
by former allies, its meetings smashed by the Labour mobs and the communists. Its electoral organization was rudimentary
and in the panic conditions of the General Election of 1931 it was swept away.
Those panic conditions, with the workless queues
lengthening ominously, set the scene for one of the great confidence tricks of British history. Assisted by some Liberals,
the Labour and Conservative leaders united to stampede the country into giving them office again -- although they were the
men most responsible for the crisis! They had the support of a servile press which both whipped up the crisis and bamboozled
the public. The first step in the charade was taken by MacDonald when his coalition was arranged. "All my friends are
with me tonight," declared the erstwhile revolutionary as he faced the House of Commons, proudly surveying his former
class enemies, the leading Tories sitting poker-faced at his side. The men of like minds were together at last.
A further step
was that trick derided by Shaw before the dumbfounded Fabians, the trick of panicking the country into defense of the gold
standard to be duly followed by the abandoning of the gold standard, yet still to the applause of the servile press.
Hence the bitterness
of Mosley, who had striven to arouse a Labour government to action long before the crisis arose, at the one-time visionaries
of "socialism" joining in the trickery which thus resuscitated the economic system they had spent their lives in
denouncing. The defeated New Party had offered a real alternative to that system and had been at least an attempt to save
Britain from the mass unemployment that followed in the thirties, and in the last issue of its paper, Action, Mosley flung
his defiance at his triumphant opponents: "Better far the great adventure, better the great attempt for England's sake,
better defeat, disaster, better far the end of that trivial thing called a political career than stifling in a uniform of
Blue and Gold, strutting and posturing on the stage of Little England, amid the scenery of decadence ..."
And for those who
stood fast, unlike those who had broken at the sight of the mobs or had chosen "safety first" in the ranks of the
old parties after all, he reaffirmed the original faith which had taken him into politics: "Before we go we will do
something great for England. Through and beyond the failure of men and parties, we of the war generation are marching on,
and we shall march on until our end is achieved and our sacrifice atoned." It was to be a stormy road.
Oswald Mosley was
bitterly condemned when he took the road to Fascism. Critics were as outraged then as they have been since. Suddenly they
began to notice certain flaws of character which had not been apparent when they praised his abilities.
Yet this recoil from men who dare to cross Rubicons
and defy the fates has occurred again and again in history.
History also shows that all new ideas, as Fascism was new in Britain
in 1932, have met with strong opposition in that country from their inception. Parliament itself was not a British invention
but was imported from France by Simon de Montfort in the very teeth of opposition from the mediaeval crown. Democracy in
classical times originated in Athens, and in modern times again in France: great thunderings greeted it from the great landed
interests when its early crude form emerged during the French Revolution. England went to war with democracy then, a conflict
intensified when Napoleon Bonaparte, its military champion, reached power in France. And England and Prussia, defenders
of the older order, defeated Napoleon and democracy at Waterloo in 1815. Nevertheless democracy was to triumph in the end
in England, through a series of political changes beginning with the first Reform Act of 1832, eleven years after the great
Napoleon died, and to such an extent that in the more spacious Victorian age English statesmen came to pride themselves
as the very paladins of democracy: Read their speeches.
Thus just a hundred years after the passing of the Reform Act, when Britain
was long settled in democratic ways, the founding of the British Union of Fascists aroused another storm in 1932.
What was Fascism?
Serious critics now agree that it took several very different forms between the two world wars. Fascism was an intensely
national idea and differing national characters and conditions produced different forms of it. Certainly this was true of
Mosley's BUF. As he patiently explained to his raging critics, all the political ideas of history had come to Britain from
abroad, but it was the true genius of the British people which created the finest examples of those ideas here in this country.
So it was with Fascism.
Mosley's Fascism was unique, above all, because of the fact that its main policies rested upon the concept of a
united British Empire, and many of its older members had seen service in that Empire. All other Fascist ideas lacked such
a wide living space. Again, its national ideology sprang from native British roots, as Mosley's slogan "Britain First"
emphasized, and mainly those roots were the earlier ideas of Joseph Chamberlain, Keynes, and Lloyd George, and the guild
socialists led by Hobson, Cole and Orage, British every one. What had happened was that Mosley had synthesized their ideas
into the British policies of the BUF. He was preeminently "the man of synthesis."
Yet patient explanation and the sheer logic of
his standpoint only drew uproar from the critics, chief of whom were in the Labour Party. How ironic it was, therefore,
that many of the ideas in The Greater Britain, Mosley's book which launched the BUF, had won him huge support while he was
in that party. So popular were these that his vote at the Labour annual conference at Llandudno in 1930 came near to dethroning
MacDonald, that grand old man of straw. A few weeks later the same proposals formed a manifesto signed by 17 Labour M.P.s,
from Oswald and Cynthia Mosley to Aneurin Bevan and John McGovern, and the famous miners' leader A.J. Cook.
Was there, perhaps,
a deep guilt complex at work in the tirades of Labour leaders when the BUF arose?
What, however, of the "political uniform"
which most enraged them? As far as Mosley himself was concerned the black shirt was adopted for reasons of a hard necessity.
It was the means of keeping order at the early meetings when Red violence was mobilized again in a fresh bid to drive him
right out of political life. His New Party meetings had been wrecked when the stewards wore no uniform (for instance at the
Rag Market in Birmingham), but BUF meetings were not wrecked because the stewards wore the distinctive black shirt; that
was the acid test.
Let it be stated clearly that it was the violence of the Left which created the black shirt uniform. Of all the
political forces of the time, the violence was mainly responsible for the black shirt's appearance on British streets.
However, what Mosley
called "the great negation" of the Left brought forth in reply the great positivism of the BUF through the clash
of ideas, a nation-wide movement which wore its political symbol with pride and with heroism in many hard battles to secure
freedom of speech for a new idea, uniting all classes in a creed "akin to a religious faith," as Beverley Nichols
wrote. Until the old parties, alarmed at this phenomenon which had arisen out of the streets scarred with poverty and depression
in the thirties to challenge the corruption of their failure and misrule, used the pretext of yet another wave of Red violence
to ban all political uniforms under the grotesquely mis-styled Public Order Act.
Yet the whole question of political ideas has
been distorted to an hilarious extent. Almost all political ideas went into uniform during the thirties. Some Social Crediters
wore a green shirt uniform. The communists sported the red shirt, seen in London and Red Madrid alike during the decade.
Even the democratic parties affected an easily recognized uniform of sorts, the top hat and morning suit of Mr. Baldwin,
at least on ceremonial occasions. This became the accepted garb of plump veterans or aspiring younger politicians. From the
assembled top hats who had signed the Versailles Treaty down to the British Chancellor on Budget Day they invariably appeared
in their own political uniform. It was to be seen in its greatest glory when the League of Nations assembled at Geneva,
all dressed like Baldwin no matter what their nationality.
The fact of the matter between the two world wars was that it was
the age of political uniforms. Mosley's black shirt was one of many. He had a political uniform, and so had the others.
Yet still the myths
persist, and one of the most ludicrous is that the BUF, after a promising start, began to fail in the mid-thirties.
A critic like R.C
Thurlow, for example, traces this to "the relative success of the national government in partially reconstructing the
economy" after the crisis of 1931. Here a comparison with the National Socialists in Germany can be drawn. They came
to power, it is widely agreed, because unemployment in that country more than doubled between 1930 and 1933. Would Hitler
have become the Chancellor of Germany but for economic catastrophe? In Britain, on the other hand, unemployment was halved
between 1932 and 1939, and yet in those seven years the BUF advanced in strength from fifty members at the beginning to the
30,000 enthusiastic people who packed the Earls Court exhibition hall for Mosley's greatest meeting, just six weeks before
war began in 1939.
This was the largest indoor political rally then held anywhere in the world. Nor did any rival organization in Britain
attempt such a meeting. And Mosley had been speaking to capacity meetings elsewhere in Britain during the previous two years,
notably in Manchester's Free Trade Hall. The ban on the black shirt made no difference, except that his meetings were bigger.
brought the National Socialists to power in Germany. Social improvement, "partial reconstruction," the creation
of jobs with belated rearmament and a rising war fever against Fascism abroad failed to stop the advance of the BUF in Britain.
But in September
1939 the iron door of war clanged down again monstrously and the second world conflict Mosley had striven to avert tore
This time there would be fifty million corpses piled across the earth, to stare at the "peace makers"
of twenty years before at Versailles, and from democracy's laboratories would emerge a new devil's weapon, the nuclear bomb,
to raise a hideous question mark high above the earth. If Mosley's struggle for peace ended in 1939, if indeed he was then
the "brilliant failure" of the obituary notices, he did not have to run the gauntlet of those fifty million unnecessary
dead when his time came to leave this earth and face another verdict beyond. But what of the politicians who took Britain
three years before the war, and again at Earls Court, Mosley had advanced the way of averting a conflict. The World Alternative,
published in 1936, urged a reconciliation of the rising war camps through a settlement of territorial problems created at
Versailles. Each of the main nations of Europe would have had a clearly defined political area, with adequate space to solve
its problems. For Britain this would have brought freedom from non-British quarrels, enabling the country to devote its
statesmanship, effort and wealth to its true interest, the development of the British Empire, whose immense and untapped
resources made possible far higher living standards for its peoples.
The official De La Warr Report of early 1939 stated that there were
then 100 million people in the Empire suffering from "malnutrition" (i.e., semi-starvation), quite apart from
the same problem among hundreds of thousands of the long-term unemployed in Britain. A world slump created this problem.
Mosley's policies would have solved it. Britain went to war instead.
Further, the ideas in The World Alternative would have led to a very
different union of Europe from that of the postwar (1957) Treaty of Rome, a union into which Britain could have entered
much stronger, at the head of the Empire. It was above all a plan for preserving world peace, inspired by the ideals of
1918. Mosley wrote then: "We must return to the fundamental concept of European union which animated the war generation
of 1918," and he looked forward to "the union of Europe within the universalism of the Modern Movement."
Was it thus so
strange that, after a disastrous war -- that great clash between Fascism and a democracy allied with communism -- he declared
in 1948 for the future "Europe a Nation" to achieve a European universalism at a higher level and (ever "the
man of synthesis," rising above that clash) turned to "the idea which is beyond both fascism and democracy"?
the thirties, his policy was "mind Britain's business," and Britain's business was the preservation of peace and
the security of Empire. To secure the Empire he called, in The Greater Britain of 1932 and at the Olympia meeting in 1934,
for adequate defenses. He was thus several years ahead of Churchill in demanding rearmament, but with a difference.
While Mosley stood
for rearmament to mind Britain's business, Churchill wanted rearmament to interfere in other countries' business.
Churchill was full
of the doctrine of the balance of power, which had ruled British attitudes for centuries. His ancestor Marlborough had fought
the French over the balance of power, and Churchill fought Germans for the same reason. Though a prolific writer of history,
he failed to appreciate that the world had changed since the days of Queen Anne. Certainly Marlborough understood his own
age: his battles restored the balance of power in Europe and his genius had made Britain a first-rate power of the day.
Churchill's war policy, on the other hand, reduced Britain to a second-rate power and replaced the former European balance
of power with a more ominous balance of nuclear terror in the world. This he did by pursuing his demand for the unconditional
surrender of Germany, ignoring the postwar consequences of that defeat. Further, he prolonged and enlarged the war to the
stage where two extra-European superpowers, the U.S.A. and the USSR, began to dominate the whole course of the war and indeed
changed the very shape of the postwar world. Once Roosevelt and Stalin, in command of bigger resources of manpower and material
than Churchill, assumed the direction of the war for their own objectives, which were not Britains's, Churchill's voice
in their higher councils counted for less and less.
The fact is that Churchill destroyed Britain as a first-rate power, and no
amount of nostalgia which surrounds his name can alter that fact.
The point where Britain became a second-rate power in effect (not
realized, however, at the time) can be fixed. It was during the Teheran conference of 1943. Churchill discovered at Teheran
that his allies were "ganging up on him" and moreover possessed the power to enforce their demands. It happened
again at Yalta in 1945, when Stalin was even more powerful and Roosevelt was a dying man.
It was quite true that Churchill realized in
later years what his years of war-time vigor had wrought; nevertheless it was then far too late. The war had brought Russian
power half-way across Europe, in the hands of those Bolsheviks whom Churchill had spent much of his life denouncing as the
most detestable tyrants. Poland, for whose freedom Britain had declared war, had been swept by Red armies into the sphere
of the USSR -- that new version of the monolithic Eurasian empire first set up in the Middle Ages under the Mongol conqueror
Genghiz Khan. It seems to be lost on most war historians that Stalin's "iron curtain" of 1945 corresponded roughly
with the furthest conquests of the old Mongol centuries before: his horde from Eurasia also watered its horses in the river
Oder. Lenin, and more particularly Stalin, simply restored that empire and called it the USSR, and Churchill helped to establish
it on formal lines at Yalta. While the original empire broke up when Genghiz Khan died and his sons quarreled over the booty,
the sons of Lenin remained united. Today, as Stalin's successors, they possess the most formidable military machine on earth.
It is grimly ironic
that the Churchill of the twenties who likened the Bolsheviks to "the heirs of Genghis Khan" was the same Churchill
of the forties whose war policies brought the Red armies to the river Oder.
As for Western Europe in 1945, shattered by six years of conflict,
faced with a Stalin crushing all opposition behind his sealed-off "Iron Curtain," Churchill was to warn in four
major speeches between 1948 and 1955 that its continued independence rested solely on American nuclear weaponry. "Nothing,"
he told the Conservative annual conference of 1948, "nothing stands today between Europe and complete subjugation to
communist tyranny but the atomic bomb in American hands." This situation was the logical outcome of the policies of
Churchill himself -- the policies which prolonged a world war until Germany surrendered unconditionally and which extended
the new-style Mongol empire to central Europe.
Against such madness Mosley had stood out from September 1939, urging strongly
the negotiation of peace in Europe, with Britain and the Empire intact. But when Churchill reached the premiership, one of
his first acts was the silencing of Mosley.
It is claimed that Britain went to war for "freedom." Not only Polish freedom but
British freedom. "Your freedom is in peril, defend it with all your might" shouted the posters in 1939. What did
the word really mean when those like Mosley, who stood for an honorable peace, lost their freedom within nine months of
the declaration of war?
Lady Mosley described in the Times of November 1981 what happened under Regulation 18B which gave the government
power of arrest without charge or trial, and denied to those arrested any recourse to the Habeas Corpus Act, supposedly
one of the historic pillars of British freedom. "My husband and I were arrested in the summer of 1940 at a moment of
general panic. All our possessions were searched, safes broken open and so forth. I welcomed this at the time, as I thought
it would ensure our early release... Months and then years went by and we remained in prison. As we had not been charged
with an offense we were denied the luxury of a trial."
Instead of a trial, Lady Mosley continued, "there was an advisory
committee, whose chairman was Norman Birkett, K.C. It was held in camera. He questioned Mosley for sixteen hours, and at
the end Mosley asked if he might put a question. It was: 'Is it suggested that if the Germans invaded we should help them
in some way?,' to which Birkett replied, 'Sir Oswald, you can put any such idea right out of your head.' In other words
I am in prison for having advocated a negotiated peace while Britain and the Empire are intact?' 'Yes' was the reply."
That was the entire
point of war-time detention without charge or trial.
How indeed could Mosley be accused of conspiring to help German invaders when
he had fought the Germans in the first war, he had called for adequate air defenses in his maiden speech in Parliament in
1919 (at a time when government was cutting Britain's air defenses), he had demanded a well-armed Britain in 1932 on founding
the BUF, he had called on BUF members in September 1939 to do their duty if called up for military service, and on 9 May
1940, just fourteen days before his arrest, he had stated in his paper Action: "Stories concerning the invasion of
Britain are being circulated. In such an event every member of British Union would be at the disposal of the nation. Every
one of us would resist the foreign invader with all that is in us. In such a situation no doubt exists concerning the attitude
of British Union."
Considering such a long and patriotic record -- a record better than that of some Labour Ministers in the government
which arrested him -- clearly Mosley could not be charged with any treasonable intention to help any invaders, German or
The sole reason for his arrest and detention was his political opposition to the war, as Birkett admitted. Yet political
opposition to wars had long been an honorable British tradition. Lord Chatham opposed war with the Americans in the eighteenth
century. Lloyd George opposed war with the Boers in the nineteenth century. Labour leaders like MacDonald, George Lansbury,
Herbert Morrison and Bernard Shaw opposed the first world war, all on political grounds. None of these was imprisoned without
charge or trial, but Mosley was.
And such was the malice in high places that he and Lady Mosley might have stayed in prison
to the end of the war, but for the rapid deterioration in his health. Deprived of vigorous exercise by confinement, the
injured leg which had invalided him out of the Army in the First World War now developed a dangerous phlebitis. Under pressure
from an uneasy Churchill, Mr. Home Secretary Morrison (a conscientious objector of 1914-18, the jailer of British ex-soldiers
in 1939-45) released him and Lady Mosley towards the end of 1943.
Oswald Mosley came out of prison to a very different Britain from
that of 1940. Politicians who had refused to unite the nation for construction in peace-time had now done that to wage a
destructive war. He regained some measure of his freedom to see his claims for what a united Britain could do fulfilled
-- but to wage war, not peace.
Unemployment had vanished. Huge armies in the field had replaced the queues of the workless, and with the rising
tempo of American war production (some of which had gone to Russia to aid its turn-around after the Stalingrad battle) these
armies spelled the end of Nazi Germany.
Another end could be foreseen. The days of the British Empire were numbered. The old imperial
spirit had been submerged beneath a wave of propaganda for worldwide democracy. Something called "trusteeship"
for the overseas territories was in high fashion, the preliminary to pushing even the cannibal islands into Westminster-style
democracies in that brave, bright postwar world when Hitler and imperialism were dead. Facing the spread of this doctrine,
growing ever more luxurious in the war propaganda hot-house, it is true that the old imperialist Churchill was to growl
out his defiance at the Mansion House in November 1942: "I did not become the King's First Minister in order to preside
over the liquidation of the British Empire." Yet he had already sold the pass.
Had he not signed in 1941 President Roosevelt's
Atlantic Charter, which in real terms meant the break-up of the Empire? Had not the President told his son Elliot that he
"meant to make Winston live up to it"? Had not Sir Stafford Cripps been sent to India by Churchill eight months
before the Mansion House speech with an offer of independence after the war? In the event the offer was rejected. Indian
Congress leaders preferred to wait and see if they could get better terms when the war was over. They got what they wanted
from a Labour government in 1947 and the liquidation of the British Empire began.
Thus the war left a world in flux and dissolution.
Every nationalist leader in the Empire was to demand the same independence. And peace brought a Britain divided again under
strident party banners: the unity of the nation was the first casualty of peace.
Two main facts stood out clearly then
First was the fact
of Britain's new second-rate status. It showed in many signs of weakness. Britain went to war as a creditor nation and came
out a debtor. Huge assets were sold to pay for the war, yet Britain owed billions to the world at the end of it, mainly as
the "sterling balances." American Lend-Lease was cut off abruptly with the defeat of Japan. A big dollar loan
was advanced instead, under humiliating conditions despite all the efforts of Keynes. The money was spent by a Labour government
in about two years, and the loan's repayment was added to the general indebtedness which has bedeviled Britain's position
to this day. Further, inflation gained its first real grip on the nation during the war: the cost of living index doubled
between 1939 and 1945. Rationing of essential foodstuffs like sugar lasted as long after the war as during it. And in 1945
the electorate's revulsion against Churchill's war-time rule swept a Labour government into power, ushering in the age of
rampant bureaucracy and industrial nationalization. Look at the plight of British Railways today.
The same dismal story was told by A.J.P. Taylor
in his English History 1914-1945: "The legacy of the war seemed almost beyond bearing. Great Britain had drawn on the
rest of the world to the extent of 4198 million pounds... The British mercantile marine was 30 per cent smaller in June
1945 than it had been at the beginning of the war. Exports were little more than 40 per cent of the pre-war figure. On top
of this government expenditure abroad... remained five times as great as pre-war. In 1946, it was calculated, Great Britain
would spend abroad 750 million pounds more than she earned... Something like 10 per cent of our pre-war national wealth
at home had been destroyed, some by physical destruction, the rest by running down capital assets."
Was it really worth fighting the war which Mosley
opposed to produce these lamentable results at home and turn Britain into a second-rate power abroad?
And this second-rate Britain was now compelled
to earn its living on uncertain world markets, in place of that first-rate Britain which had enjoyed a measure of Imperial
Preference before the war. Labour, triumphant in office, saw the end of the Imperial Preference it had always detested,
but now was to issue an urgent official exhortation: "Export -- or die!"
In the event Britain did struggle through, or
muddle through, but much less due to Labour's boasted "planning" than to the effect of America's Marshall Plan.
World markets revived, thanks to lavish American aid. British exports rose, and for a short time it seemed as if this country
would rise on the wave of a favorable position in an otherwise devastated world. Much complacency reigned in Whitehall as
they looked across the Channel towards the ruins of the Ruhr, the "knocked-out" German trade rival. This would
not last, warned Mosley in his first book written after the war, The Alternative of 1947. Once the former enemy countries
Germany and Japan began to compete again on world markets, then Britain's favorable position would decline. Indeed it would
soon be a case of "all nations will want to send more exports abroad than before."
He pointed to Japan, which was not a competitor
in 1947. When Japan joined in the struggle to export, "the experiences of Lancashire and Yorkshire from Japanese competition
in the decade of 1930 will be negligible in comparison." The truth of that warning can be seen today. Not only Britain
and the rest of Europe but also America are fulminating over the Japanese export success.
The second main fact for Britain in the postwar
world was the heavily armed Soviet power less than 500 miles east of London, which space modern tank armies could cover
in a matter of days, and the existence of large communist parties in Western Europe led by men like Pollitt, Thorez and
Togliatti, who openly stated that their loyalty to Russia came first in any clash.
American military strength offset the first danger,
and the Marshall Plan revived the economic life of Europe, reducing the second. But for that aid both France and Italy might
have been overwhelmed by communism.
Mosley paid a warm tribute to the Americans for their aid, but asserted that Europe could not
remain a pensioner under their protection. Nor had Britain a real future as Europe's off shore island "going it alone"
as the Empire broke up. The war had changed the whole position too drastically. Dean Acheson, America's elder statesman,
who from a lofty position in Washington had seen the world change, said about this time that "Britain had lost its
old role in the world and had not found another." That was true and Mosley, closer to events, now advanced that new
role for Britain, through European union. Before the war he had stood for "Britain first." Now he advocated "Britain
first in Europe." Britain must take the leadership of Europe for its role, and by its own example unite the war-torn
continent as a political entity as great as America. Europe must unite to shoulder most of its own defense in face of a
menacing Russia and to solve its many economic problems.
Yet he went further than those urgent questions. While others looked no further
than the Council of Europe (little more than a debating club), Mosley launched the Union Movement early in 1948, to be inspired
by the "idea which is beyond both fascism and democracy." He called for "the extension of patriotism"
to achieve union in the fullest sense, imbued with an idea higher than fascism and democracy, both of which had become obsolete
as the result of the war.
In those years he reached new heights as "the man of synthesis." To the challenge of the ruin of old ideas
he returned the answer of a new one. And he saw it as part of an organic process which was part of British history. In Britain,
England had been the first to unite under the Saxon heptarchy of the eighth century. Wales was then joined to England, and
the United Kingdom rose to a brilliant peak under the half-Welsh House of Tudor. Scotland then joined, to make Great Britain.
Now it was time to go further, under the pressure of great dangers, and extend patriotism to the whole of Europe in a continuing
In October 1948 -- the dangerous year of Stalin's blockade of Berlin -- Mosley spoke to an enthusiastic meeting
of East London workers and called for "the making of Europe a Nation." Yet, as he said in later years, making
Europe into a nation with its own common government did not make him feel any less an Englishman, and an Englishman of Staffordshire
where he was born. All other Europeans, Normans and Bretons, Bavarians and Prussians, Neapolitans and Milanese, would through
his idea remain Frenchmen, Germans and Italians, as would Britons remain Britons, yet they would all think and act together
In those later years he also proposed a three-tier order of governments in Europe, each with a different function.
In fact this was taking the best part of the old fascism, the corporate state, and the best of the old democracy, creating
something higher and finer than either, through yet another synthesis. The corporate state had envisaged the nation like
a human body, having a head, with a brain, with all members of the body working together in political harmony. Thus in Mosley's
vision of the future nation of Europe the first tier, the head, would be a common government -- freely elected by all Europeans
-- for Europe's defense and to organize a single continental economy. The second tier would be national governments for
all national questions -- elected as today -- and at the third level many local governments for the regions and small nations
like Wales and Scotland. They would have the special task of preserving the wide diversity of Europe's cultural life: regional
democracy with a new meaning.
Mosley's concept of Europe thus went much further than the present "European Community" and was a direct
contrast with it, replacing the national jealousies and economic rivalry of today's "common market" with an essential
harmony. "Europe a Nation" included the whole life of the continent from the head organizing a single economy down
to the many cultures of Europe. It was perhaps his greatest concept: a new order of governments giving a new meaning to
democracy, to be achieved through a synthesis of those two old opponents, prewar fascism and prewar democracy.
The turbulent year
1950 advanced Mosley's thinking again. The communist threat to Europe had lessened as the Marshall Plan put industry on
its feet, Stalin's blockade of Berlin had failed and, in 1949, the NATO alliance had been formed. Yet if communism had been
checked in the West it was sweeping everything before it in the East. China fell to Mao Tse-tung in 1949; events in Vietnam
were moving towards the fateful battle of Dien Bien Phu; by 1950 the Korean war had erupted. And the military struggle in
Korea had two momentous economic effects.
Japan, forbidden at the Potsdam conference ever to become a military power again, now experienced
a huge industrial boom by supplying the United Nations forces fighting the communists in Korea. The war gave the Japanese
the beginning of their post-war revival and a take-off for their "export miracle." From that point they did not
However, the other effect was a crisis for Britain's Labour government, still trying hard to build "socialism"
in this island while completely at the mercy of the capitalist world outside. The war sent a shock wave of rising commodity
prices through that world, to which a social democratic government had tied Britain for doctrinaire reasons, and thus right
into the island economy. They had learned nothing from the fall of MacDonald in 1931. Britain, weakened by the war, now
suffered a serious payments crisis and an upward spin in the spiral of inflation. Lord Attlee blamed certain "external
factors" for his government's problems. He was right -- but they served to show that all such governments remain at
the mercy of international forces they cannot control.
None of this surprised Mosley. He had shown where Labour's Achilles heel lay
twenty years before in his speech of resignation from the MacDonald government.
His reaction to such events was always to give
a constructive solution, and this time the solution was so far-reaching that all contemporary figures have utterly rejected
it; in any case it challenged the whole structure of their international system of trade and finance established five years
before at Bretton Woods under such glittering edifices as GATT, the IMF, and the World Bank. (They are not quite so splendid
today, as their international system groans beneath world-wide recession and immense debts.)
What Mosley proposed, at another great East London
meeting in December 1950, was the "division of the world" into several separate systems, each with a very large
part of the world.
Each of these economic blocs, he explained in later speeches and writing, would have a big population as its market,
adequate raw materials for its industry, and sufficient food. By insulating itself against the shocks of sudden movements
in prices (what he called "the world cost system") its internal economy would be impervious to such shocks. Each
economic bloc should concentrate on solving its own problems; it would be freed from the need to export, or import, since
it would have all it needed within its own "borders." Within those borders a high standard of life could be built
for its own people.
Mosley proposed that one such area, or bloc, should be formed from a fully united Europe, including Britain and
the former Dominions; America should form another; a third should be formed in Asia around Japan. Had this idea of several
"continental systems" been acted upon thirty years or so ago, today's problem of Japanese "laser beam"
import drives into our markets would not exist: Japan's market would be in Asia. Nor would America be talking of a trade
war with Europe. Europe, America, and Japan would be living at peace with each other in separate systems with economic areas
big enough for all their needs. One might call this autarkic, not interdependent, "trilateralism."
The danger today
is indeed trade war and for the obvious reason: nothing effectively had been done to avert it. Mosley's proposal would have
ruled out trade wars; since governments failed to adopt it we can expect the consequences of this failure to act. More importantly,
however, the same proposal of creating several large blocs in the world would make more unlikely a shooting war with either
of the two communist powers, Russia and China, for Mosley emphasized from the start that no such bloc should interfere with
any other, non-communist or communist.
What, though, of the men in the Kremlin who are still possessed by the messianic dream of communizing
Europe as a step towards their world utopia?
True to its character as the restored empire of Ghenghiz Khan, the USSR always looks to further
expansion, and a still badly-divided Western Europe is prone to a gradual take-over by the "splitting" tactics
in which the Kremlin excels. Again, anything which weakens NATO or "splits" America and Europe only strengthens
their hand. Further east, their occupation of Afghanistan is undoubtedly a stage for future inroads into Pakistan and India,
when the time becomes ripe, or into Iran and the oil-rich Gulf -- always, however, under the guise of peaceful intentions.
Churchill, in his days of barnstorming against early Bolshevism, used to speak of containing it by "a cordon sanitaire
garnished with German bayonets," but matters have gone beyond those simplicities.
What is needed to contain the relentless Soviet
expansion are Mosley's continental blocs, adequately armed to prevent Red Army incursions, with truly reinvigorated economies
and social systems in which the appeal of communism withers, and above all imbued with a political idea far superior to
The existence of just three such strong blocs in the world -- Europe, America, and Japan -- would bring the men
in the Kremlin hard up against a new reality, sharply reducing the danger of new adventures, even in the stormy Middle East.
And then real discussions could be held at the highest level between the leaders of the communist and non-communist powers,
to secure an effective peace.
Mosley's was not a policy for war against Russia, but the very opposite. He showed this clearly in 1956 when he
urged the reduction of tension between the Soviets and the West by taking up Khrushchev's offer, repeated several times,
of Russian troop withdrawals from Eastern Europe if the Americans also withdrew from Western Europe. Whether the Soviet
leader's offer was genuine or not should have been put to the test through hard and searching probing in direct negotiations.
Mosley's answer to all such offers was "Get into the ring with the Russians."
He would take the same line today over Soviet
proposals for cutting East-West missile strengths: hard and continual negotiations to reduce the danger of a nuclear holocaust.
In his last, short, speech before he died in 1980 he called for such action to "stop the world being blown up."
He was thus following
an old road in the fifties, but now going further. He had seen the high ideals of 1918 dashed as the war camps arose in
the thirties, and in The World Alternative of 1936 proposed their reconciliation through a new settlement in Europe. Now,
from 1950 onwards, he urged another and greater settlement of world problems, by the creation of several self-contained
blocs, the purpose of which was both to abolish trade war and reduce the dangers of a nuclear conflagration.
It was in those
years that Mosley took on his final historic roles as the man of world peace and as the forward-thinking economic European.
If his ideals of 1918 carried him through to the end of his life on the quest for peace, a similar straight line can be
traced through his economic ideas. His main goal here was so to organize society that the people would be enabled to consume
what their industry produced.
Power of industry to produce had always been greater than the power of the people to consume, and Mosley thus advanced
policies to redress the balance.
Thus, shortly after joining the Labour Party, he wrote Revolution by Reason, which propounded
the idea of raising the living standard of poorer sections of the community by means of consumer credits, injecting purchasing
power where it was needed most. Extra ability to consume in the hands of millions would raise demand until production was
equated with consumption. Naturally, the government issuing the credits would take care not to inflate.
Again, in his Fascist period from 1932, he sought
the same end by building up the home market through a higher wage policy within the corporate state. His basic reasoning
remained that of his Labour days. "In organizing production we have to think, not so much of maximum output, as of
maximum consumption," he wrote in The Greater Britain. British industry would not suffer from undercutting by cheaper
imports when it paid higher wages, because each industry would be protected on the home market, on condition that the industry
modernized itself. This he called "scientific protection."
After 1945, however, the problem became more complex. In winning the
war many scientific advances were made, and when applied to industry after the war these advanced greatly the power to produce.
Yet there was no advance towards a new-style consumption policy. On the contrary, weak governments turned to an old-style
inflation. This brought its own evils: a decline in the power of the pound, a rising cost of living, and strong sectional
power in the hands of trade unions. The devaluation trick only made matters worse. All imports then cost more, the cost of
living rose again and wage-inflation duly followed, with the result that any export advantages from a depreciated pound
were wiped out. For a Britain living by exporting this was a deadly drug.
Yet long before the opposite policies of deflation and the strong
pound were tried, the march of science and technology was preparing an entirely new phenomenon in the power of industry
to produce. It was known as "automation."
Mosley had long been familiar with the mass production methods he had seen
on his visit to America in the twenties. During the thirties, rationalization was taking place, the displacement of men's
labor by better machines. By the fifties automation was on the horizon and this, he wrote in an essay in 1955, threatened
"not merely displacement but the virtual elimination of men's labor, because its machines will require only the services
of a few specialists."
The danger to the whole of industrial society was that "under the old economics these few specialists would
draw enormous wages and the rest would be unemployed. No market would then exist for the ever-increasing products of the
machines, which would pile up in the midst of a surrounding waste of poverty." This was "the logical reduction
to absurdity of a system which had never devised any effective means of distributing the wealth which modern science can
produce." It was precisely the same problem which had led him to write Revolution by Reason -- but now much graver.
Thus in his 1955
essay, and in greater detail in Europe: Faith and Plan three years later, he outlined his solution: the "wage-price
This was a policy for the deliberate raising of wages and salaries in the primary industries and the multiplying
services in order to create an adequate market for manufacturing industry as it turned to automation. Two other things would
be required: a new type of government in charge of the policy, working with the unions and the managers throughout, and
"the insulated self-contained area freed from the world cost system." The large self-contained area was needed
to provide a really big market for the immense potential of the automation age
Half-measures under the old economics could not
cope. If government at present attempted to raise railwaymen's wages, for instance, this would "throw the whole system
out of gear because additional transport charges would be added to the price of export goods." On the other hand, under
new economics of the self- contained continental system which did not need to export, "it would be quite possible to
raise wages far above the present level in all primary industry and services -- in agriculture, mining, power, building,
banking, insurance and the Civil Service -- provided that automation in manufacturing industry had suddenly increased the
power to produce; naturally, only on that condition."
As a variation of this great increase in wages there could be a planned
shortening of hours, a three- or four-day week in work-sharing schemes, creating many jobs for the unemployed. Or there could
be both higher wages and shorter hours.
Once automation spread to all manufacturing, with greater volume of output balanced by higher
wages and shorter hours, the whole expansion taking place within an insulated continental system, Mosley foresaw greater
possibilities still. Governments operating his wage-price mechanism could then draw workers to any industry or service short
of manpower. If more miners were needed, raise their pay. If more food was required, raise the farmer's reward, to take
on more labor or to buy better agricultural machines. If education was short of teachers, then increase their salaries.
And if some branch of science or technology needed extra personnel to advance it, once proved to be beneficial after thorough
tests, rewards should be raised. Indeed, he continually stressed that science and technology should always come high in the
scale of rewards; skilled workers should come before the unskilled in industry.
"We will not direct men to do what is necessary
in the common interest, but we will pay them to do it so effectively that, in fact, they will do it, and the increased productive
power of automation will give us the means to pay them," wrote Mosley in 1958.
Yet could the wage-price mechanism be introduced
in a small island like Britain before the great area of a united Europe was formed? Would it work in a Britain faced with
high unemployment and serious inflation? It could, Mosley wrote: it would then "also be necessary to fix prices over
a wide field." This second form of the wage-price mechanism is needed indeed in the Britain of 1984. Shortening hours
to a three- or four-day week in work-sharing schemes would mop up unemployment; direct action for fixing prices over a wide
field would curb inflation, and these measures would be strengthened when wider use of automation in Britain would cut prices
the present work force in manufacturing worked half the working week, another work force of about the same size could be
recruited from the unemployed to operate the same machines for the other half of the week. That is the way to get unemployment
right down and raise output. The market to consume the bigger output would be provided by raising wages generally throughout
the whole economy. That could be done in Britain alone, with government, unions and managers acting as a team to organize
the policy; yet how much more effective it would be if the same policy was in operation throughout Europe, as Mosley emphasized.
This was his wage-price
policy long before Mr. Heath tried a "pay freeze" in the early seventies and Mr. Wilson experimented with his
"social contract" a few years later. Mosley's policy was positive; theirs were negative. His wage-price mechanism
was to be a permanent instrument of economic management while theirs were merely short-term expedients, soon abandoned.
There could be no comparison whatever.
Thus it is nonsense for Mrs. Thatcher to say that "all" wages policies have failed.
Certainly all negative policies have been tried, and they failed. What has never been attempted is the wage-price mechanism
of Oswald Mosley.
Above all other questions, however, is that of the type of government needed to make these changes. Mosley was deeply
concerned with this question in his Labour days, being much impressed with Lloyd George's inner cabinet of five men with
wide powers which had won the First World War, and in his Memorandum proposed a "machinery of government" to modernize
industry and solve unemployment. Lloyd George had overcome huge wartime problems in 1917, but a Labour government collapsed
in 1931 when faced with lesser problems of peace.
When founding the British Union of Fascists, Mosley addressed himself to the
paradox of a British democracy which could fight world wars with governments of action yet failed before the test of economic
crisis in peacetime. He pointed out in The Greater Britain that the system of government was a century out of date in 1932
while the country had changed beyond recognition during those hundred years.
Nevertheless, no attempt was made by the ruling politicians of the
thirties to remedy the situation, and the paradox was seen again in another world war when Churchill copied, to some extent,
the methods of Lloyd George. And again, with 1945, the habits of peacetime returned. Party rivalries reasserted themselves;
the time-wasting procedure of Parliament was treasured once more like some precious national heirloom. Britain's problems
were worse than ever, yet Parliament, far from becoming an efficient workshop to face a more serious age, resembled on some
days a slumbering museum and on others a beer-garden. And all the world stood amazed at that ancient ritual of M.P.s dragging
a new Speaker to his seat!
Little wonder that Britain has gone down-hill ever since under the vast weight of innumerable points-of-order and
By 1966, Mosley could say without any fear of contradiction that the old party system was, to all intents, bankrupt.
In Action he wrote: "Labour and the Tories have failed equally; the Liberals have no answer at all. No matter which
is in office they cannot cope. The only way is to go above and beyond the parties to a national union of the best of our
people" and to form "a government of true national union drawn from the most vigorous parts of the whole nation."
A government drawn from "the professions, from science, from the unions and the managers, from businessmen, the housewives,
from the services, from the universities, and even from the best of the politicians."
It would be a new-style government of action
with "hard centre" ideas and not an old-style coalition of soft center politics, elected for one term of office
with the specific task of putting Britain on its feet. It should gain from Parliament the power of rapid action under an
Enabling Act, so that the time-wasting obstructionism of present procedure would be removed.
Parliament would always retain the power to dismiss
it by vote of censure if its policies failed or if it attempted to override basic British freedoms.
This would make for the utmost action within
the constitution, and it was precisely how British governments functioned during the emergencies of two world wars, except
that such a government would be drawn from the whole nation instead of merely from the parties. In Mosley's phrase, this
was "using the methods of wartime to solve the problems of peace," bringing to an end that paradox of government
of well over a century in Britain.
It is said that Oswald Mosley was a man before his time, and there is some truth in this. His
life was spent in a Britain where big parties occupied the arena and held the devotion of millions, no matter how many their
failures. Those parties had become the political armies of the class system, and the Mosley who placed nation before party
and valued the individual for his abilities, not his class background, was in that sense a man before his time, the time
when the parties would decline through their own shortcomings and corruptions.
To turn his back on the party system when the
faith of millions in it was still unshaken, to go "out into the political wilderness," was therefore regarded
as effective suicide. For the millions who took their opinions from the party leaders, those politicians represented public
opinion, whether Stanley Baldwin with his pipe and his pigs and his limpet-like philosophy of "safety first";
or Harold Macmillan, who was also trusted because Britain had "never had it so good" and could have it better
with the Tories; or Harold Wilson, who was trusted less but knew how to "keep his options open."
Mosley was of another world to these. He stood
for action (that word so uncomfortable when things looked good and would get better). He advanced policies which would be
needed when the spell of the parties had been broken in a nemesis brought by their failure to change. When Britain faced
reality at last, that second great crisis he had long predicted came with a vengeance.
Now it remains, but much has broken down in Britain
since 1930, from the loss of faith in politicians to the ominous decline in law and order.
The dangers in such a long decline were seen
more than fifty years ago by Mosley himself. "What I fear," he warned in his Resignation Speech of 1930, "what
I fear much more than a sudden crisis is a long, slow crumbling over the years, a gradual paralysis beneath which all the
vigour and energy of this country will succumb. That is a far more dangerous thing, and far more likely to happen unless
some effort is made. If the effort is made, how relatively easily can disaster be averted..."
That call for effort made him less a man before
his time than a man of the moment, devising policies to meet an immediate situation, which he did again at several moments
in his life.
To get Mosley into true perspective: he was both a man of the present and of the future. But Britain has lived in
the past increasingly, lured by those siren songs from the Palace of Westminster, those delusions of grandeur which alone
remained after the sun of Empire set, those voices of the media constantly invoking the name of Churchill while silent over
the destruction brought about by Britain's most disastrous leader.
Hence the gap between Mosley and his countrymen. The latter are left
with the crumbling and paralysis against which he warned.
Yet there was more to it than that. There was the deep-seated hostility
of those in authority collectively known as the Establishment and who, as Richard Crossman wrote, spurned Mosley because
he was right. What was there about him which so much alarmed them? Was it, as the caustic Bernard Shaw remarked, that he
"looked like a man who has some physical courage and is going to do something, and that is a terrible thing"?
Did he have too much driving force for the men of lethargy in high place -- -had he too much of the air of Sir Walter Raleigh
for the smooth prototypes of late- 20th century British authority, the mandarin and the pundit?
Was he altogether too disturbing a personality
for those who preferred a "safe" career and easy weekends in the Indian summer of national greatness, crowned
by a place in the Honors List? Was it, as Drennan noticed, that he was a man "of strong tones, no self-complacent bladder
of conventions," whereas conventional politicians were easier meat, posturing amid growing decadence according to long-established
what of his policies? It has become fashionable to praise them. For instance, A.J.P. Taylor acclaimed the Memorandum as offering
"a blueprint for most of the constructive advances in economic thinking to the present day." High praise; why
was that thinking not carried into effect? If Mosley himself was too unorthodox to be entrusted with accomplishing his own
ideas, why was not some other figure entrusted with them, one of those "safe" politicians whom the Establishment
fact was, as Michael Foot observed, that "mediocrity and safety first" stood in the way not only of the man but
also of the policies. Yet failure to act never solves problems. Avoiding early effort only makes the effort more strenuous
if the problems, now grown huge, are not to overwhelm society. A long run of good luck and the peculiar delusion that the
Almighty is really an Englishman have encouraged the national vice of "muddling through." The luck is running out
now, and the problems stand there in gigantic proportions.
What next? How soon will there be a murmur rising higher for a man
like Mosley, his dynamic approach to life at last forgiven? But men like Mosley are rare. Will one emerge, as the great
voice still echoes down the years, calling "Britain awake"?
From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter
1984 (Vol. 5, No. 2, 3, 4), pages 139-165.
Click on this text to see Oswald Mosley giving a Fiery speech at a Manchester blackshirt rally...
The Battle of Cable Street: 80 years on
It is 80 years since the Jewish community of East London and its allies blocked the streets
in order to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through.
The Fascists were subjected to a humiliating defeat as the police
found themselves unable to clear a path.
The Battle of Cable Street, as it has become known, is the most popular anti-fascist victory
to have taken place on British soil.
This multimedia website looks at the history of 4 October 1936 and its subsequent commemoration.
In order to do this we have used a variety of primary and secondary sources, including interviews with those involved.
HOPE not hate brings
you this small resource not just to inform of an interesting historical episode but to allow visitors to draw some of the
timeless lessons that can be learnt from it, and how the HOPE not hate campaign links to our shared heritage of Cable Street.
© Reuters/ITN Source
by: David Lawrence and Eden Gallant. Written by: Steve Silver and David Lawrence.
The Jewish East End
Chapter 2.Gardiner’s Corner, 1925. © Collage, The London Picture Archive,
City of London
Arrival in England
the first Jews came to Britain following the Norman Conquest of 1066, the Jewish community of London’s East End mainly
comprised of families that had arrived between 1881 and 1914.
Many of these families
settled in England after fleeing antisemitism and murderous pogroms in Russia, Poland and many other Eastern European countries.
They followed previous waves of immigration that had brought Huguenots, Irish and other smaller groups into the area.
By the 1930s some 183,000 Jews lived in London, the majority in the East End due to cheaper rents. Stepney
was home to some 60,000 Jews and the heart of Jewish East London.
from Russia arriving in England, 1882
Dorset Road, Whitechapel, 1902
Stepney, London’s principle point of settlement for Eastern European Jews
Life in the East End
Stepney many Jews lived in terribly overcrowded conditions and in poverty, as did most East Enders during this period. According
to the 1931 census, the population density of St George’s, Stepney, was thirteen times greater than that of an outer
London borough like Woolwich.
The Great Depression of the 1930s greatly impacted
the cabinet manufacturing and tailoring trades, the two trades most Jews were employed in. As dole queues grew, people were
forced to work as “sweated labour”, accepting miserably low wages for hideously long hours.
In spite of these harsh conditions, Stepney had a vibrant and distinctive cultural identity based around
the synagogues, schools, Yiddish theatres, cafes, newspapers, trade unions and political organisations that they established
in the area.
now known as Golding Street, Stepney, 1937. © Collage, The London Picture Archive, City of London
Unemployed people outside of a workhouse in London, 1930
Ally in Stepney,
early 1900s. Permission of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
The Great Synagogue of London, 1941. Destroyed in the Blitz
in the 1920s
garment workers. Permission of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
Deprivation fostered a pernicious strain
of antisemitism, and some neighbouring communities blamed the easily-identifiable Jewish community for worsening conditions
in the East End.
In the early 1900s organisations such as the British Brothers League
(BBL) held meetings in the East End agitating for immigration controls, resulting in the discriminatory Aliens Act 1905.
Such campaigns left behind a legacy of antipathy from which Oswald Mosley was able
These tensions were greatly exasperated by the Great Depression. Drawn
from centuries old prejudice, stereotypes of Jews as exploiting landlords and money-lenders were presented in the media,
alongside contradictory associations of Jews with ghettos and poverty.
the British Brothers’ League, campaigning against “Destitute Foreigners”. The BBL influenced the passing
of the 1905 Aliens Act
Chronicle, 28 April 1905, detailing the terms of the Aliens Act.© the Jewish Chronicle
page 1 | page 2
cartoon published by the London Opinion, a regional newspaper
Antisemitic literature, 1923
Wapping,1937. A predominantly non-Jewish area. © Collage, The London Picture
Archive, City of London
Oswald Mosley and the BUF
Mosley’s “Comrades in Struggle” address
Your browser does not
support the audio element.
the British Union of Fascists (BUF) had become the largest organised antisemitic force in Britain.
Unlike other British fascist leaders of the same period, BUF leader Sir Oswald Mosley emerged from the
establishment, starting out his career as a rising star in both the Conservative and Labour parties.
Mosley became disillusioned with the mainstream and founded the unimaginatively titled “New Party”
before transforming it into the BUF after meeting Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini in January 1932.
Sir Oswald Mosley,
leader of the British Union of Fascists
Modelling himself on Hitler and Mussolini, Mosley fostered a quasi-military atmosphere in the BUF
Mosley capitalised on the anger felt during
the Great Depression to propose a single-party authoritarian regime, which he claimed would destroy class differences and
lead to the triumph of the “new fascist man”.
With this message Mosley
attracted as many as 40,000 members in 1934 and the support of the Daily Mail, who ran the notorious headline “Hurrah
for the Blackshirts” in the same year.
at BUF march in Bermondsey, 3 October 1937. © National Media Museum / SSPL
Police restrain crowds as Fascists demonstrate, Hyde Park, 9 September
1934. © National Media Museum / SSPL
As the fascist movement
developed, so too did opposition to it. Led by Communists, socialists and trade unionists the anti-fascist movement grew,
supported also by Liberals and some anti-fascist Tories.
However, those who interrupted
fascist meetings found themselves dealing with unprecedented violence from Blackshirt thugs.
The notorious Olympia meeting of 7 June 1934 came to symbolise Blackshirt thuggery. After the Daily Worker posted
the location of the West London meeting, a number of anti-fascists attended, intending to disrupt the meeting.
Hecklers were beaten by gangs of Blackshirts armed with knuckledusters and other weapons and thrown into
the street. The BUF was roundly condemned by the mainstream and the violence of the meeting effectively ended Mosley’s
pretence of respectability.
Albert Booth, Communist Party
organiser, describes the violence at Olympia
Your browser does not support the audio
© Jewish Museum, London
The Daily Worker
published a map with directions to Olympia. © of the Morning Star. see full page
depicting fascist violence, 1935
A booklet condemning the BUF’s actions at Olympia, including testimonies from prominent politicians and public
figures. see full page
With its reputation in tatters following Olympia and increasingly under the influence of Hitler, BUF leaders sought
to exploit the reservoir of antisemitism in the East End in order to save the party.
1936 the BUF was pouring most of its resources into holding meetings in the East End and distributing crude antisemitica.
Mob orators such as Mick Clarke and Owen Burke sought to whip up violence on street corners night after night.
As this approach gradually gained support in poor neighbouring areas such as Bethnal Green, Mosley announced
he would celebrate the fourth birthday of the BUF by staging a provocative march through Stepney, the heart of the Jewish
East End, on 4 October, 1936.
support of Mosley
Antisemitic BUF pamphlet by
A.K. Chesterton, who would go on to found the National Front see full page
at a rally in Bethnal Green
BUF “journalism” blaming Jews and Communists for escalating violence.
see full page
Organising against Mosley
Members of the Stepney Workers Sports Club, taken at an anti-fascist
march, 1936.© Jewish Museum, London
The announcement that Mosley planned to march his uniformed Blackshirts
through the East End of London on Sunday 4 October 1936 sent shockwaves through the Jewish community. But this community
was no stranger to adversity.
In response to the perceived inaction of Jewish authorities
such as the Board of Deputies (BoD), Stepney locals took it upon themselves to organise against the BUF. Many were already
organised in the newly formed National Union of Tailor and Garment Workers (NUTGW) and the Worker’s Circle.
In July 1936 a conference was held by 86 different organisations in order to work out a practical plan
for combating Mosley. From this conference the Jewish People’s Council against Fascism and antisemitism (JPC) was
born, and was to lead opposition to the march.
Jewish Chronicle reporting on anti-fascist conference, July 1936.© Jewish Chronicle.
page 1 | page 2
Banning the march
the run up to 4 October there were numerous incursions into Stepney. Feelings ran high as five East London mayors met with
the Home Office on 1st October to warn of the likely consequences if the march proceeded. The following day the JPC delivered
a 100,000 strong petition urging the Home Secretary to ban the march.
Government refused to ban the march and it was left to local people to defend their community from the fascists.
to the Home Office to ban the march, delivered 2 October 1936. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives,
page 1 | page 2 | page 3 | page 4
Bar the Roads to Fascism!
As the Jewish and non-Jewish establishment called for people to stay off the streets, the JPC, the trade
unions, the Independent Labour Party and the Labour League of Youth began to mobilise.
3 October the Daily Worker printed a map of the proposed fascist march and called for Jew and Gentile alike to unite en masse
in Leman Street, Cable Street, Gardiner’s Corner and St George’s Street to halt Mosley.
The most vocally anti-fascist political party – the Communist Party – initially found itself
caught in a dilemma, having already planned an anti-fascist “Aid Spain” rally in Trafalgar Square that day.
However, under much pressure from East End members, the national CP overprinted their leaflets with the
words “Alteration: Rally to Aldgate 2pm”.
The Jewish Chronicle
issued stark warnings of the violence to come and urged people to keep off the streets, 2 October 1936. © Jewish Chronicle.
page 1 | page 2
Advert from The
Jewish Chronicle, 2 October 1936. © Jewish Chronicle.
advertising Mosley’s march, 3 October 1936. see full page
The Daily Worker
rallying antifascists to Gardiner’s corner, 3 October 1936.© Morning Star.
see full page
The Battle of Cable Street
Barricades on Cable Street. Permission of Bishopsgate Institute
The Fascists are coming
As the Young Communist League began to occupy Victoria Park, where the fascist intended to hold a rally,
the event that came to be known as “The Battle” kicked off with the Jewish Ex-Serviceman’s Association
marching along Whitechapel Road, proudly displaying their medals, in order to advertise the counter-demonstration.
They soon found their route blocked by mounted police and were ordered to disperse. Upon refusing they
were beaten severely. This set the tone for the rest of the day.
As the news spread,
antifascists assembled at Gardiner’s Corner at Aldgate, blocking the gateway to the East End. Whichever route Mosley
took, they had to pass through here to go down his planned route of Whitechapel Road or Commercial Road. Estimates of the
eventual crowd vary between 100,000 and half a million. The crowd roared “They Shall Not Pass!” and “Down
Six thousand police, including London’s entire mounted
police division, tried to clear the area. Four anti-fascist tram drivers intentionally abandoned their vehicles, forming
barricades which were used by the crowd as they were attacked by police on horseback.
the police struck out with extreme brutality. Cafés were turned into first aid units by the Communist Party to treat
While Mosley waited impatiently with a few thousand Blackshirt troops,
the police decided that with Gardiner’s Corner in the hands of an unmovable anti-fascist crowd, they would clear an
alternative route to the south through Cable Street.
his troops before the march. © Jewish Museum, London
Police attempting to clear crowds for a car containing fascists.© Jewish Museum, London
Barricades in Cable Street
Cable Street had been ready since early morning. Three sets of barricades, one containing an overturned
lorry, were erected across the narrow street using material from a builder’s yard and from local Jewish people’s
homes and shops nearby.
Remembering the support of the Jewish community in the dock
strikes of 1912, Irish dockers stood in solidarity with Jews against the fascists, ripping up paving stones with pickaxe
handles to add to the barricades.
The street was strewn with broken glass and marbles
as a defence against mounted police charges. Anti-fascists chanted slogans and gave clenched fist salutes from behind the
barricades in defiance. As the police attempted to clear the barricades, locals rained down all manner of items.
Albert Booth, Cable Street organiser, describing the events of the day
Your browser does not support the audio element.
Cable Street. Permission of Bishopsgate Institute
Police attempting to clear a barricade on Cable Street
A projectile shatters Mosley’s windshield as he arrives
at Royal Mint Street
For no route left for the fascists Sir Philip Game, the Commissioner of Police, told Mosley to march his
troops west from Tower Hill and out of the area.
Meanwhile anti-fascists marched
to Victoria Park heralding a victory for the Jewish community, the people of the East End, and anti-fascists everywhere.
Cable Street barricades featuring the slogans
“Remember Olympia” and “They Shall Not Pass”
Sir Philip Game
details his exchange with Mosley. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives, London. see full page
Jewish Chronicle, 5 October 1926. © Jewish
Chronicle. see full page
While 4 October 1936 was a great success
for the anti-fascists, there was still a lot of work left to do.
For a start legal
aid had to be organised for some 79 anti-fascist men and women who were arrested that day, many of them severely beaten
by police. In contrast just five fascists were arrested.
Whilst the Jewish People’s
Council arranged free legal support, the sentencing was punitive with heavy fines and custodial sentences including hard
labour being meted out.
Albert Booth, Cable Street organiser,
details his arrest, beating and prison sentence
Your browser does not support the
© Jewish Museum, London
Metropolitan Police report on Cable Street, with a list of arrests.
© Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives,
see full page
Support for the BUF
The adage that “there is no such thing as bad publicity” seemed to apply to the BUF. Mosley immediately
sought to present his party as victims of Jewish-Communist violence and BUF membership temporarily increased in the weeks
following their humiliation at Cable Street.
Whilst the BUF greatly exaggerated
this influx of support, reports from the Metropolitan Police estimate 2,000 new recruits joined soon after Cable Street.
Police report estimating 2,000 new BUF recruits in the weeks following 4 October 1936. © Images reproduced by permission
of The National Archives, London. see full page
Fascist demonstrator arrested at Cable Street, © National
Media Museum / SSPL
Mile End Pogrom
One week after the Battle, while antifascists were holding a victory rally, the BUF retaliated in Stepney.
Approximately 200 antisemitic youths ran down Mile End Road smashing Jewish shop windows, looting and burning
cars. They attacked anyone thought to be Jewish and reportedly threw a hairdresser and a four year old girl through a plate
The day came to be known as the “Mile End Pogrom”
and remains one of the most notorious antisemitic events of 20th century Britain.
Broken shop window in the aftermath of Cable Street. ©
Jewish Museum, London.
16 October, 1936. © Jewish Chronicle. see full page
Public Order Act
The 4 October provocation led directly to Parliament debating the 1936 Public Order Act, which passed into law on
1 January 1937.
The POA controlled public processions and banned the wearing of
political uniforms in public. This undercut sections of Mosley’s support, as many poor, unemployed and ex-servicemen
found Mosley’s quasi-military uniforms attractive.
Under the provisions of
the act an order prohibiting marches in East London was renewed every three months until the disbanding of the British Union
of Fascists in 1940.
Ubby Cowan discusses the impact of the
Public Order Act Your browser does not support the audio element.
© Jewish Museum, London
Official BUF letter
expressing discontent with the POA, 1 January 1937. © Images reproduced by permission of The National Archives, London.
see full page
Legacy of Cable Street
Supporters of the Stepney Tenants Defence League
Stepney Tenants Defence League
Cable Street helped set in motion a more sophisticated and ultimately more successful brand of anti-fascist politics.
The surge in support for Mosley immediately after Cable Street helped convince
many, including Communist Party organiser Phil Piratin, that to defeat the BUF they had to tackle the genuine socio-economic
grievances exploited by Mosley within the East End rather than simply meet it with physical force.
Working with a network of tenants committees before forming the Stepney Tenants Defence League (STDL),
Piratin and colleagues tackled the high rents charged by slum landlords for substandard accommodation. The STDL orchestrated
rent strikes aimed at bringing landlords to the negotiating table, winning vital concessions and rent reductions for beleaguered
Although the STDL was organised by Communists – many of whom were
Jewish – they also saved fascist tenants from eviction. The STDL soon extended its work into the heart of the “fascist”
East End, particularly areas such as Duckett Street, Stepney. The BUF had done nothing for them. As a result BUF cards were
torn up in disgust.
By helping local people overcome their problems and helping
them to understand that these were not caused by “Jews” or “immigrants” the STDL proved that it
is unity, rather than division, which enables communities to overcome its social deprivation.
The lessons are there to be relearned.
Stepney. 1937. An area described as “95% fascist”. © Collage, London Picture Archive, City of London
Phil Piratin talking to a woman in
pamphlets. Permission of Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
Rent strike demonstration in the East End, 1938. ©
National Media Museum / SSP. © National Media Museum / SSP
Failure of BUF
After Cable Street Mussolini was so appalled with Mosley’s failure to gain “mastery of the
streets” that he decided to end his financial subsidy, a vast sum of money that effectively underwrote the operating
costs of the BUF.
Mosley attempted to prove his worth to Il Duce
at the March 1936 elections, and although the BUF polled a respectable 19% in some areas of Bethnal Green, not one single
councillor was elected. Mussolini cancelled his subsidy and without it the BUF began to collapse as an organisation.
The final nail in the coffin for the British Union of Fascists was WWII. Mosley’s links to Hitler
saw the organisation under increasing state scrutiny and becoming deeply unpopular with the public.
Mosley’s calls for an alliance with Hitler eventually led to his imprisonment in 1940, along with
Britain’s other prominent fascists. The organisation was officially dissolved in 1940.
meeting with Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini
letters expressing concern over links between Mosley and the Nazis. © Images reproduced by permission of The National
page 1 | page 2
Two veterans display the International Brigade banner
Ubby Cowan on the Spanish Civil War
Your browser does not support the audio element.
The International Brigade
The struggle against fascism in the East End was set against the backdrop of the rise of international
fascism. With Hitler and Mussolini already in power in Europe, fascist units of the Spanish army rebelled against the left-wing
government in July 1936.
On the night of the fascist uprising the Communist deputy
Dolores Ibarruri – La Pasionaria – declared on national radio that the people should fight against the fascist
takeover. She ended with the words “It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees! No Pasarán!”
This call was heard all over the world and over 2,000 men and women from Britain went to Spain to fight
on the Republican side. A quarter gave their lives.
The cause was keenly felt
in the East End and many Jews went to fight, forming roughly ten percent of the Britons in what was to become the International
The first Britons to arrive in Spain were two Jewish tailors from Stepney,
Nat Cohen and Sam Masters, who together organised the Tom Mann Centuria in honour of a founding father of the trade union
movement. Cohen was wounded and returned home in April 1937. Masters, who joined the British Battalion, was killed at Brunete
in July 1937.
Members of the Tom Mann
Centuria in Barcelona, September 1936. Left to right: Sid Avner, Nat Cohen, Ramona (who later married Cohen), Tom Wintringham,
George Tioll, Jack Barry and Dave Marshall . Permission of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
Spanish Standard Bearer of the British
Battalion (No. 1 Company) Permission of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
¡No pasarán!from the siege of Madrid
Farewell Parade of the International Brigade. Permission of Marx Memorial Library & Workers’
Aid Spain in the East End
For every person who went to fight in Spain there were many more who contributed to the Republican cause
through the numerous “Aid Spain” committees that sprang up across Britain. These committees helped bring much
needed humanitarian relief to the country.
The committees, some independent, some
attached to the labour or Communist Parities, raised money to equip the Republicans with ambulances, medical supplies and
other necessities. Enormous amounts of money were raised, including in the poverty stricken East End.
This was a campaign which united Jews, Communists, Labourites, Quakers, Liberals, Catholics and those of
no political or religious attachment. However for East End Jews already experiencing a taste of fascism at home, the Aid
Spain campaign was particularly intense.
The connection between the struggle at
home and abroad is reflected in the adoption of a Spanish slogan – They Shall Not Pass, ¡No Pasarán!
– by those struggling against Mosley.
produced by the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, 1937. Permission of Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
Pamphlet informing on international
anti-fascism, 1938. Permission of Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London
Pamphlet by the International Brigade Association and Friends
of Republican Spain, 1951
The destruction of Guernica, April 1937, by Fascist forces.
The bombing, during which hundreds of civilians died, became the subject of the famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso.
Permission of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’
Antifascism since Cable Street
The Clash performing at a Rock Against
Racism concert, Victoria Park, 1978. © Morning Star. Accessed through the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’
After the War
After WWII, Mosley
and his supporters attempted to return to business as usual under the name “The Union Movement”. However it faced
considerable opposition from a nation exhausted by war and many of its meetings were shut down by determined anti-fascist
The most well known of these organisations was the 43 Group, mainly
comprised of Jewish ex-servicemen and women. The group, many of whom were directly involved in Cable Street, drew inspiration
from 4 October 1936 to strengthen their resolve against fascism.
The actions of
the 43 Group ensured the attempted fascist revival was short-lived. By the 1950s Mosley was exhausted and was quiet for most
of the decade.
leaflet widely distributed by AJEX
Antifascist leaflet widely distributed by AJEX
On Guard, paper of the 43 Group, 1949
Len Sherman on the 43 Group Your browser does not support
the audio element.
© Jewish Museum, London
The Anti-Fascist and Anti-Racist Alliance
By the late
1950s the old forces of race hate began targeting recent immigrants from the Caribbean. Racist attacks, whipped up by the
White Defence League and Mosley’s Union Movement, culminated in the Notting Hill race riots in August 1958.
In response alliances were forged between the new and old anti-fascists in order to defend the local community.
The most well-known of these was the 62 Group, a coalition of left, Jewish and independent antifascists, including members
of the 43 Group and informed by Cable Street organisers.
It was during this period
that the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight emerged, and by the mid 1970s it was producing a monthly magazine.
Mosley’s supporters surrounded at Trafalgar Square,
1962. Permission fo the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School, London.
copy of Searchlight, 1975
Searchlight remembering the July 62 anti-fascist rally against Mosley
Searchlight continued reporting on Mosley after his death in
The National Front (NF), gaining support in the 1970s, posed the most significant fascist threat since the BUF.
The fascists again tried to exploit antipathy in the East End, this time directed against more recent immigrant communities,
primarily Bangladeshi and Bengalis.
Rock Against Racism was formed in response in
1976, attracting 30,000 people to its first major concert. This was followed up by a huge series of local and national events.
In 1977 Lewisham’s community, black and white together, formed the Anti-Nazi League, which was to
becpme a major political force, running a big campaign to expose the NF in the run up to the 1979 general election.
Antifascist committees continued to exist throughout the 1980s, and in 1985 much of the anti-fascist movement
became united by the formation of a national group, Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which was especially successful in street
protest outside Battersea Town Hall.© Morning Star. Accessed through the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’
Against Racism march in Trafalgar Square, 1978
a window in Brick Lane, 1978. © Morning Star. Accessed through the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School,
Facing tough opposition on the street, fascism turned to the ballot box, and in 1993 a BNP candidate was elected
on the Isle of Dogs in London’s East End. Whilst his seat was held only for a short time, it was a foretaste of what
was to come in the following decade.
As the forces of fascism evolved, so too did
antifascist organisations. Community Security Trust (CST) was formed in 1994 by former members of the 43 and 62 group, many
of whom were present at Cable Street.
Today they work with the police to provide
protection and representation for British Jews on issues of racism and extremism.
CST programme Streetwise runs workshops on antisemitism
and leadership training in Jewish schools nationally.
CST works closely with the police, joint patrolling Jewish
areas and training exercises and antisemitism data.