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The British Fascists were the first avowedly fascist organisation in the United Kingdom. William Joyce, Neil Francis Hawkins, Maxwell Knight and Arnold Leese were amongst those to have passed through the movement as members and activists.

Contents

Early years

They were formed in 1923 by Miss Rotha Lintorn-Orman in the aftermath of Benito Mussolini's March on Rome, and originally operated under the Italian-sounding name British Fascisti. The party were paid little attention by the wider political establishment, being viewed as little more than an adult version of the Scout movement, and had few policies beyond admiration for Mussolini and virulent anti-communism.

Containing many former army officers and other veterans of the Great War, the party confined itself to stewarding Conservative Party meetings, and canvassing for the party (a policy which saw some of the more radical members split to form the National Fascisti). One of their few policies was a call for a reduction in income tax so that the well-off could hire more servants and so reduce unemployment. Towards the end of the life the BF advocated a corporate state.

The 1926 strike

The British Fascists name was subsequently taken by the movement in an attempt to Anglicise their aspect, and underline their patriotic credentials. It had been roundly criticised and accused of being in the pay of a foreign leader, Mussolini, largely because of their name. Along with the change of name, the British Fascists also began to become politically more mature, particularly after the General Strike of 1926, which they saw as a first step towards Communism in Britain.

They were not however permitted to join the government's official Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (set up to mobilise a non-striking workforce) without first relinquishing Fascism. As a result a further split occurred as a number of members, calling themselves the British Loyalists, did just that.

The strike severely damaged the party as it failed to precipitate the "Bolshevik Revolution" that Lintorn-Orman had set the party up to fight. In fact the strike was largely peaceful and restrained, and following it the BF lacked purpose and direction.

Decline

The movement developed a programme that called for a strengthening of the House of Lords, a cut down on those eligible to vote, and a raft of anti-trade union legislation. In 1927 the followers of the movement adopted a blue uniform, in the form of a military tunic and peaked cap.

After 1931, they abandoned their attempts to form a distinctly British version of Fascism, and instead adopted the full programme of Mussolini and his National Fascist Party. The emergence of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) severely damaged the fortunes of the British Fascists, as did the passing of a series of public order laws in the 1930s that banned uniforms and curtailed the right to demonstrate. Lintorn-Orman and the mian leadership rejected any merger although the BUF claimed the bulk of the old movement's membership in 1932, when Neil Francis Hawkins split from Lintorn-Orman and moved towards Oswald Mosley along with two other members of the Headquarters Committee, Lieutenant-Colonel H.W. Johnson and E.G. Mandeville Roe.[1]

In a bid to reverse their decline the party adopted a strongly anti-semitic platform, Thurlow notes: 'it was noticeable that the BF became increasingly anti-semitic in its death throes.' [2] Additionally, the BF became outspoken supporters of Hitler's Germany. However, the loss of members to the BUF had was too great a blow to recover from. The few remaining members struggled on until the death of Lintorn-Orman in May 1935. The party followed her in October of the same year.

References

  1. ^ Benewick, p. 36
  2. ^ Thurlow, R. (1998) Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts to the National Front (IB Tauris: London) p37

Bibliography

  • R. Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, London: Allan Lane, 1969
  • 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts!': Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the Wars, Martin Pugh (Random House, 2005)

See also

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