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British Union of Fascists
Founded 1932
Dissolved 1940
Preceded by New Party
British Fascisti
Succeeded by Union Movement
Ideology Fascism,
British Nationalism,
British Imperialism,
National Corporatism
Political position Far right
International affiliation N/A
Official colours Flash and Circle

The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was a political party in the United Kingdom formed in 1932 by Sir Oswald Mosley, and existing until 1940, when it was legally proscribed by the authorities.

Contents

Background

Oswald Mosley had been a minister in Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government, advising on rising unemployment. In 1930 he issued his 'Mosley Memorandum': a proto-Keynesian programme of policies designed to tackle the unemployment problem, and resigned from the party soon after, in early 1931, when the plans were rejected. He immediately formed the New Party, with policies based on his memorandum; but, despite personally winning 16% of the vote at a by-election in Ashton-under-Lyne in early 1931, the party failed to achieve any electoral success.

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

Character

Mosley, known to his followers as 'The Leader', modelled his leadership style on Benito Mussolini and the BUF on Mussolini's National Fascist Party in Italy, including an imitation of the Italian Fascists' black uniforms for members, earning them the nickname "Blackshirts." The BUF was anti-communist and protectionist, and proposed replacing parliamentary democracy with executives elected to represent specific industries, trades or other professional interest groups – a system similar to the corporatism of the Italian fascists. Unlike the Italian system, British fascist corporatism planned to replace the House of Lords with elected executives drawn from major industries, the clergy, and colonies. The House of Commons was to be reduced to allow for a faster, "less factionist" democracy.[2]

The BUF's programme and ideology were outlined in Mosley's Great Britain (1932) and A. Raven Thompson's The Coming Corporate State (1938). Many BUF policies were built on isolationism, prohibiting trade outside an insulated British Empire. Mosley system aimed to protect the British economy from the fluctuations of the world market, especially during the Great Depression, and prevent "cheap slave competition from abroad." [3]

Prominence

The BUF claimed 50,000 members at one point[4] and the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail was an early supporter, running the headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!"[5].

Despite strong resistance from anti-fascists, including the local Jewish community, the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain, the BUF found a following in the East End of London, where in the London County Council elections of March 1937 it obtained reasonably succesful results in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch and Limehouse, polling almost 8,000 votes, although none of its candidates were actually elected.[6] However, the BUF never stood in a General Election. Having lost the funding of newspaper magnate, Lord Rothermere, that it previously enjoyed, at the 1935 General Election the party urged voters to abstain, calling for "Fascism Next Time".[7] There never was a "next time", as the next General Election was not held until July 1945, by which time World War II in Europe had ended and fascism had been discredited.

Towards the middle of the 1930s, the BUF's violent activities and its perceived alignment with the German Nazi Party began to alienate some middle-class supporters and membership decreased. At the Olympia rally in London, in 1934, BUF stewards violently ejected anti-fascist disrupters, with one protesters claiming to have lost an eye, and this led the Daily Mail to withdraw its support for the movement. The level of violence shown at the rally shocked many, with the effect of turning neutral parties against the BUF and contributing to anti-fascist support. As one observer remarked I came to the conclusion that Mosley was a political maniac, and that all decent English people must combine to kill his movement”[8]. The reaction to the Olympia rally can be illustrated in the growth in British Communist parties from 1935 onwards.[9]

Final years and legacy

With lack of electoral success, the party drew away from mainstream politics and towards extreme antisemitism over 1934-1935, which saw the resignation of members such as Dr. Robert Forgan. Its provocative antisemitic activity in London led to serious, often violent, conflict, most famously at the Battle of Cable Street in October 1936, when over 100,000 anti-Fascists of English, Irish, Jewish and Somali (amongst others) descent successfully prevented the fascists from marching through London's East End.

Membership fell to below 8,000 by the end of 1935. The government was sufficiently concerned, however, to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and required police consent for political marches. This act hindered BUF activity, although in the years building up to the war they enjoyed brief success on the back of their 'Peace Campaign' to prevent conflict with Germany. In May 1940, the BUF was banned outright by the government, and Mosley, along with 740 other fascists, was interned for much of World War II. After the war, Mosley made several unsuccessful attempts of reviving his brand of fascism, notably in the Union Movement.

The BUF and Suffragettes

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

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

Mosley's electoral strategy had been to prepare for the election after 1935, and in 1936 he announced a list of BUF candidates for that election, with Elam nominated to stand for Northampton. Mosley accompanied Elam to Northampton to introduce her to her electorate at a meeting in the Town Hall. At that meeting Mosley announced that 'He was glad indeed to have the opportunity of introducing the first candidate, and it killed for all time the suggestion that National Socialism proposed putting British women back into the home. Mrs Elam, he went on, had fought in the past for women's suffrage ... and was a great example of the emancipation of women in Britain'.[11]

The BUF in popular culture

The television serial Mosley featured the BUF and Oswald Mosley, through his political career to the internment of the BUF.

In the film It Happened Here, the BUF appears to be the ruling party of German-occupied Britain. A Mosley speech is heard on the radio in the scene before everyone goes to the movies.

Emblem of P.G. Wodehouse's fictional Black Shorts movement, featured in the television series Jeeves and Wooster.

Harry Turtledove's alternate history novel, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, is set in 2010 in a world where the Nazis were triumphant, the BUF governs Britain — and the first stirrings of the reform movement come from there. The BUF and Mosley also appear as background influences in Turtledove's Colonization trilogy which follows the Worldwar tetralogy and is set in the 1960s.

In Ken Follett's novel Night Over Water, several of the main characters are BUF members.

The BUF is also in Guy Walters book The Leader (2003), where Mosely is the dictator of Britain leading up to World War II.

British humorous writer P.G. Wodehouse satirized the BUF in books and short stories. The BUF was satirized as "The Black Shorts" (shorts being worn as all the best shirt colours were already taken) and their leader was Roderick Spode, owner of a ladies' underwear shop.

In the 1992 Acorn Media production of Agatha Christie's One, Two, Buckle My Shoe with David Suchet and Philip Jackson, one of the supporting characters (Played by actor Christopher Eccleston) secures a paid position as a rank-and-file member of the BUF.

The BUF and Oswald Mosley are also alluded to in Kazuo Ishiguro's novel The Remains of the Day.

Mark Gatiss's second Lucifer Box novel The Devil In Amber's main villain is a thinly-veiled version of Mosley named Olympus Mons.

BUF Anthem

The BUF Anthem resembles the German Horst-Wessel-Lied, the anthem of the NSDAP or Nazi Party, which is now banned in Germany, and was set to the same tune.

The lyrics are as follows:

Comrades, the voices of the dead battalions,
Of those who fell that Britain might be great,
Join in our song, for they still march in spirit with us,
And urge us on to gain the fascist state!
(Repeat Last Two Lines)
We're of their blood, and spirit of their spirit,
Sprung from that soil for whose dear sake they bled,
Against vested powers, Red Front, and massed ranks of reaction,
We lead the fight for freedom and for bread!
(Repeat Last Two Lines)
The streets are still, the final struggle's ended;
Flushed with the fight we proudly hail the dawn!
See, over all the streets the fascist banners waving,
Triumphant standards of our race reborn!
(Repeat Last Two Lines)

Prominent members

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

See also

Further reading

  • Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism by Stephen Dorril
  • 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts!': Fascists and Fascism in Britain between the Wars, Martin Pugh (Random House, 2005)

References

  1. ^ a b Thorpe, Andrew. (1995) Britain In The 1930s, Blackwell Publishers, ISBN 0-613-17411-7
  2. ^ Tomorrow We Live (1938)
  3. ^ Tomorrow We Live (1938), by Sir Oswald Mosley and http://www.oswaldmosley.com/audio/speeches.html entitled http://www.oswaldmosley.com/audio/speeches.html'
  4. ^ Andrzej Olechnowicz, ‘Liberal Anti-Fascism in the 1930s: The Case of Sir Ernest Barker’ in Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, (Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter, 2004), p. 643.
  5. ^ [http://www.voiceoftheturtle.org/dictionary/dict_h1.php#hurrah Hurrah for the Blackshirts
  6. ^ R. Benewick, Political Violence and Public Order, London: Allan Lane, 1969, pp. 279-282
  7. ^ 1932-1938 Fascism rises - March of the Blackshirts
  8. ^ LLOYD. G, Yorkshire Post 9 June 1934
  9. ^ STEVENSON. J, Britain in the Depression (Longman Group UK LTD: 1994) p155
  10. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pk7zp/Mother_Was_A_Blackshirt/?from=r&id=35227e69-fcbf-45d7-8295-2c78e9703b74.0
  11. ^ McPherson, Angela; McPherson, Susan (2010). Mosley's Old Suffragette - A Biography of Norah Elam. ISBN 978-1-4452-7308-2. http://www.oldsuffragette.mcpherson.org.uk. 

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