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Old March 11th, 2012, 07:43 AM   #1

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My Essay on British Fascism - Left or Right?

In this essay I will examine Fascists and Fascist sympathisers in British public life and politics between 1923, the year of Mussolini’s rise to power, to 1939, the outbreak of WWII which by and large signified the end of the Fascism’s influence in British politics. In order to better determine the political position of Fascism on the left-right spectrum.

In this essay I aim to discover, examing the Fascist movement’s and Fascist sympathisers in Britain, whether or not it is accurate to say that Fascism is an ideology of the left, or of the right.
In this essay, I will use the following acronyms.

ILP (Independent Labour Party)
BUF (British Union of Fascists)
BF (British Fascisti)

Fascism was a political ideology that attracted a wide range of support across Europe in the 20’s and 30’s, challenging the pre-existing hegemony of Liberal, Socialist and Conservative ideas on European politics. These movements, who balanced anti-Communism, militarism and nationalism with anti-capitalist and collectivist rhetoric, sought to establish dictatorships across Europe. Its offshoots included National Socialism in Germany and Falangism in Spain. Even in Democracies like Britain and France Fascist and quasi-Fascist movements appeared to threaten the political establishment, then and ever since fierce debate has raged over the political position of Fascism in regards to the left-right spectrum.

I will examine not only the range of political parties founded in imitation of continental Fascists and the reasons people joined them but also the surprisingly large number of public figures, intellectuals and politicians who sympathised openly with the Fascism as well as examining the opinions of those who observed this phenomenon as it happened. These people range from national icons like Sir Winston Churchill to the man voted ‘Most Evil Briton’ Sir Oswald Mosley. They come from all ends of the political spectrum, from right-wing Tory MPs to ILP Radicals and Utopian Novelists of the left.

I will examine the reactions of pre-existing political ideologies and parties to Fascist competition at the ballot box and beyond, and Fascisms relation to ideological currents that already existed in British politics.

I will evaluate a number of theories as to the political position of Fascism on the political spectrum using evidence ranging from the revisionist and Conservative theories that style Fascism as another form of Leftist Totalitarianism to the Marxist theories of Fascism as a terroristic form of capitalism and then build upon the pioneering work of the New Consensus in Fascism studies.

I will endeavour to accurately place Fascism either on the right, the left or beyond the political spectrum. As we will see, it seems accurate to say from my research of the reasons for Fascism and Fascist sympathising that Fascism was attractive to people from both ends of the political spectrum as a mode of organising a movement and achieving political ends, rather than as a coherent ideology in itself.

Though it largely failed to penetrate the mainstream of British life, Fascism was a constant presence in the public eye as a new political system and as a new style of politics since 1921. To many people it was essentially foreign; others immediately sought to apply it in a British context, while others saw Fascism as a dangerous development that's spread must be stopped before it could reach Britain.

After the outbreak of World War Two, Fascist quickly became a term of abuse, a shorthand for brutality and tyrannical rule and the original meaning of the word became blurred. This remains true today, and debate on the topic still inspires heated emotional responses even in academic circles, historian David Renton has likened any attempt to examine Fascism as a set of ideas to supporting the ideology itself, yet I believe the debate on the nature of Fascism, must go on regardless of strongly held opinions.

The key area of debate to be examined in this essay is of course whether Fascism was right-wing or left-wing, a general consensus appeared in the aftermath of WWII and has largely been accepted by the public; that Fascism was a far-right ideology and thus the opposite of Communism, there have always been those who challenged that consensus. World famous Novelist and Political Journalist George Orwell summed up this controversy perfectly in his essay, What is Fascism? 'All Conservatives... are held to subjectively pro-Fascist... British rule in India... is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism... Defenders of old-style capitalism... maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing... the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people'.

From the beginning, Fascism coupled it's nationalism with anti-capitalist rhetoric and made promises of a classless future while at the same time seeming to align itself with right-wing forces against Social-Democracy and Communism, resulting in a confusion as to it's proper place on the political spectrum, a confusion that has always been used to the benefit of those who wish to brand their enemies with a tint of Fascism.

Recently in America, this controversy has again been thrust into the open by Conservative journalist Jonah Goldberg who has scandalised academia with his publication of Liberal Fascism: A Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Identity, in which he attempts to prove that Fascism was left-wing and that it was left-wing propaganda designed to discredit Conservatives to say otherwise. Though he concerned himself almost entirely with American politics, Goldberg's book is littered with the occasional references to British politics, including a smug remark in the foreword that tells us that by restricting himself only to American politics he has done himself a disservice, because 'by excluding Oswald Mosley British Union of Fascists, I have cut myself off from a wonderful supply of left-wing pro-fascist rehteroic and arguments'. As we shall see in this essay, he may not be far wrong, for Mosley did indeed tell an American interviewer that; 'it's all nonsense to believe that fascism was ever a conservative movement or a movement of the right.'

Goldberg's interpretation of evidence leads him to clearly wild conclusions about the nature of liberalism, but the evidence he presents is often extremely compelling.

I will show how revisionists like Goldberg are not only part of a wider project designed to re-brand Fascism as an ideology of the left, a project that is evident in the work of far-less populist but nonetheless significant studies of the links between far-left Socialism and the so-called 'radical right', but also an inevitable side-effect of several decades of lazy and biased historical accounts of Fascism rooted more often than not in Marxism.

I believe this work to have contemporary relevance because ever since the recession began, we in Britain and throughout the world are experiencing the same kinds of doubts that emerged after the Wall Street crash, doubts about the usefulness of parliamentary government, democracy and the value of the free market, while in the Middle East protesters have risen up against self-styled nationalist dictators like Gaddafi who claimed to be revolutionary socialists. As technocrats take power in Italy and Greece and far-right movements across Europe seek to gain mainstream respectability, now is a better time than ever to throw out old clichés and develop a proper evaluation of the political spectrum and Fascism's place on it.

Part One
Fascism as a Right-wing ideology

The British Fascisti, Rothermere Fascism and the Tory Party
“The Roman genius impersonated in Mussolini, the greatest lawgiver among living men, has shown the path to many nations how they can resist the pressures of Socialism and has indicated the path that a nation can follow when courageously lead”
-Sir Winston Churchill, speaking to the Anti-Socialist Union, February 19335

The first problem that presents itself to those who propose the view that Fascism and it's offshoots were primarily left-wing and that the conflict it had with Communism and Social-Democracy was a conflict between different versions of the same leftist statist tyranny, is the fact that Conservatives were often rather keen on it. This rather obvious fact is often ignored in revisionist accounts of Fascist history, whose credibility relies on maintaining that Fascism is only seen as a right-wing ideology due to leftist distortion. In fact, contrary to the claim made by George Watson that no one at the time ever doubted Fascism was a Socialist project, the view that Fascism and National Socialism were right-wing ideologies was very common place in the 1930's and 20's, as Orwell's remarks in his review of Mein Kampf shows us, 'Left and Right concurred in the very shallow notion that National Socialism was merely a version of Conservatism'

In this section we shall see how Mussolini’s rise to power inspired Conservatives in Britain, both on the fringes of the movement and within the Party itself. If we are to take seriously the claims of those who see Fascism as a revolutionary, anti-capitalist and anti-Conservative ideology how are we to reconcile this with the undeniable attraction of many clearly right-wing figures to Mussolini’s Fascism and even to Hitler's National Socialism? How do we also reconcile this with the appearance of a fundamentally reactionary Fascist movement in the 20’s that shared none of the revolutionary trappings of the movement Mosley founded in the 30’s?

The British Fascisti (BF) later renamed the British Fascists, were the first political group to adopt the creed of Italian Fascism into a British context. Founded in 1923 not long after Mussolini assumed power, the BF was reportedly founded in response to news that the Labour Party had decided to send delegates to a Socialist conference in Hamburg.8 From its very beginning the BF was rooted in reactionary and right-wing ideals that can hardly be described as revolutionary or leftist by any stretch of the imagination. Policies advocated by the BF included everything from restricting universal suffrage and restoring the powers of the House of Lords to tax cuts and a flat out ban on all Trade Unions, and a half-hearted commitment to Corporatism added later on does little to discredit the impression that without the uniform and name, the BF was hardly different from any other small subgroup of Tory die-hards. Sir Patrick Hannon of the Conservative Party actively promoted the British Fascisti.

Indeed, the BF's founder Lintorn-Orman saw the organisations primarily aim as to act as stewards for Conservative Party meetings, something they were allowed to do on certain occasions by sympathetic Tory MP's. During the General Strike of 1929, the BF saw their role in clear terms, to defend the government against the Bolshevik strikers. However, persuading cautious government officials to allow black-shirted counter-revolutionaries to break picket lines proved rather harder than persuading a Conservative candidate to allow a few Fascists to guard his meetings, and the government demanded BF members only partake in strike breaking activities once their uniforms had been taken off and their political allegiances set aside. After the General Strike ended without bloodshed, the BF show a loss of direction and were swept up when Mosley, who had supported the Strikers, founded the British Union of Fascists in 1931.

Though it would be correct to characterise the British Fascisti as a side-line movement with even less impact on British politics than the much more significant BUF had, there were symptoms of a much wider phenomenon in British politics, namely the Conservative admiration of continental Fascism as a vigorous anti-Communist and patriotic force in world affairs.

As the quote at the beginning of this section illustrates; Churchill was just one of many Conservatives who shared this view. Churchill's speech to the Anti-Socialist Union, a group not only supportive of Conservatism but of laissez-faire economics, shows us a great deal about how the ideology of Fascism which claimed a Socialist heritage became attractive to a Conservative establishment in a Britain that saw Fascism simply as another barrier against the threat of Communism.

The free-trade pressure group soon found itself working with members of the British Fascisti. If Fascism was just another form of leftist-totalitarianism, this clearly wasn't evident to the Anti-Socialist Union and its membership, nor to Winston Churchill himself. Such sentiments went far beyond these organisations mentioned here.

Daily Mail Editor and Right-wing Newspaper Baron Lord Rothermere’s support for Fascism both at home and abroad made him infamous. At the time it supported the British Union of Fascists with its famously ill-considered 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' editorial, the Daily Mail was one of the most widely read papers in Britain. What's more; the blackshirts referred to were not the staunchly Conservative militia of the British Fascisti, but Oswald Mosley's supposedly revolutionary British Union of Fascists.

It would be unwise for anyone who attempts to examine the ideological claim that Fascism be a revolutionary ideal without providing a convincing reason why such an ideal was able to attract such enthusiastic support from the right. While it may be easy to explain away the BF as a undeveloped group who do not meet the conditions required to be called a genuine part of Fascism (as BUF members did, as we will see later) it's very existence, coupled with examples of very public admiration displayed by Conservatives to Fascism, shows that Fascism did seem to have synergy with right-wing Toryism in Britain. This opens up all kinds of questions about the validity of Mosley's supposedly revolutionary aims and as we will see in later sections, Mosley was hardly a typical Tory but was in fact one of the greatest potential Labour leaders of his generation, it then seems odd that one who said he was 'not, and have never been, a man of the right’ to offer himself as leader to what is clearly a political tendency inhabited by the most reactionary and right-wing of figures.

The obvious answer, and one taken by generations of Marxist historians and by Marxists in particular is to question the sincerity of Fascism's leftist and revolutionary sentiments.

What I believe matters instead is the reality of class relations and of the actions of the Fascist movement. Mosley, like many others who sympathised with Fascism, was from an Aristocratic background and Mosley actually began his career as an MP for the Tory Party, campaigning for the National Government. The reason behind these Aristocratic Tories attraction to Fascism had much more to do with preserving their own class interests than anything to do with ideas about making society fairer or more just. In fact, we should be clear that in the vast majority of cases Conservatives did not even want to introduce the radical reforms to the British Constitution a Fascist regime would imply, they simply saw it as a desirable state of affairs for other countries (as Churchill did).

Fascism's main appeal was as Churchill told Mussolini on a visit to Italy was its “triumphant struggle with bestial appetites of... Leninism.” Churchill was quick to tell Mussolini that; 'we have not yet had to face this danger in the same deadly form. We have our own way of doing things.' What this tells us is that many members of the ruling classes and those who shared an ideological allegiance to Toryism saw in Fascism just another way of preventing the advance of Socialism and defending the Capitalist system or so-called Western Civilisation.

When Rothermere's pro-Fascist headlines lead to a mass influx of Daily Mail readers into the BUF, they were referred to contemptuously by the BUF left as 'Rothermere Fascists' and were considered to have failed to understand the movement’s revolutionary aspirations. The existence of these 'Rothermere Fascists' is something revisionist historians who've sought to re-brand Fascism as a left-wing ideology have largely ignored. These Rothermere Fascists saw Fascism not as an exclusive ideology, but one that was compatible with and complemented the native British traditions of Toryism.
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Old March 11th, 2012, 07:43 AM   #2

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Part Two
Fascism as a Left-Wing Ideology

When Sir Oswald Mosley threw his hat into the ring and claimed his position as “The Leader” of Fascism in Britain, it was a position he would easily maintain despite loud protestations of less politically talented leaders such as Arnold Leese, Lintorn-Orman complained loudly that Mosely and his followers had 'brough their ILP propadanda with them''14' and were diluting the purity of the Fascist message with Socialism and resisted any attempts by the BUF to swallow up the BF.

This attempt by Mosley to strong arm himself into the leadership of the British Fascist Movement was the ending of a rather odd story that begins when Mosley resigned from his cabinet post in the first Labour government of British history.

Mosley, student of Keynes and Lloyd George, proponent of an English New Deal, who had championed the Miners Union during the General Strike, travelled to India to meet Gandhi, and had been marked down as a future Labour Prime Minster and who had also established his reputation as a great orator speaking out against the brutality of the British Government during the War for Irish Independence had decided to turn his back not only on the Labour Party but on Social-Democracy itself and adopt Fascism. Shortly before this decision, many of Mosley's friends and associates began to leave his 'New Party' claiming to have sensed the 'coven hoof of Fascism15' in Mosley's newfound fondness for a uniformed party militia (the 'greyshirts'). Among those who parted company with him included Sir Harold Nicholson and John Strachey, both of whom would end up as opponents of Fascism. But many more from the Independent Labour Party and the New Party followed Mosley into the British Union of Fascists, not least among whom was John Becket, a socialist firebrand who had won renown for stealing the Speakers Mace during a Parliamentary debate. The British Union of Fascists, in stark contrast to the British Fascisti, expounded a wide ranging and surprisingly specific programme of socialist (albeit highly technocratic) reforms. Presenting themselves as a Revolutionary movement, the BUF's message was a deeply anti-Conservative one.

If we understand Conservatism in Britain as a movement dedicated to the preservation of tradition and slowing the pace of progress for the sake of stability, then the British Union of Fascists and Oswald Mosley were not Conservatives in the normal sense. While Churchill may have admired in Mussolini a suppressor of Bolsheviks whose methods were 'not necessary' in Britain, Mosley saw in Mussolini a man of action who had shown the way to achieve the necessary economic reforms without the need to deal with the 'Old Parties'.

BUF rhetoric was geared towards calls for drastic change, not stability or the preservation of traditional methods of government. In the 100 Questions, a policy document produced by the BUF, Mosley unequivocally calls for the abolition of the House of Lords and the reorganisation of British industry into a system of corporatism (effectively workers control of industry).

Scholars like Philip Coupland and Robert Skidelsky have written extensively on the BUF's connection to the socialist tradition in Britain. Skidelsky’s biography of Mosley focuses mainly on Mosley the politician and his role as the leading exponent of Keynesian economics in Pre-War Britain, and fleshes out in detail Mosley's objections to Liberal Capitalism and fierce determination to solve the problem of unemployment. Skidelsky's view is clearly flavoured by his own belief in the benefits of Keynesianism and his admiration for Mosley as an individual.

Coupland on the other hand, is far more interested in the rank and file of the BUF and demonstrates that, using a model of class analysis, that the BUF was attractive to many working class socialists, though ultimately the movement ended up being dominated by members of the officer classes. At the centre of Coupland's study is Alexander Miles attempt to found a Fascist alternative to the Trade Union movement, the Fascist Union British Workers, and the relative influence that they had on the BUF. Though noting that the BUF was ultimately dominated by 'middle-class ex-officers' and the FUBW was liquidated by them in 1933-4, Coupland concludes “'left-wing' aspects of Fascism continued to be functional in incorporating a significant working class membership within the BUF”.

The Intellectual-Left and Mosley

The case for the BUF's status as a left-wing movement is reinforced by Mosley's relationship with Left-wing Intellectuals like Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and others. Wells and Shaw were two of the most well-known and popular proponents of Socialism in the history of the United Kingdom, though their work in this area is now largely forgotten in favour of their popular works of fiction and plays, it is worth remembering that at the time Wells and Shaw saw themselves as socialist propagandists for a new society and new politics and gave a great deal of their time over to that mission.

Wells and Shaw's behaviour in the Inter-War period attracted a great deal of criticism from the new generation of left-wing thinkers who had lionised them as youths, after the war Michael Foot angrily upbraided Shaw for his support of Hitler and Mussolini. Shaw's response was unapologetic, 'the careers of Hitler and Mussolini were produced solely by the disgust and disillusionment of the proletariat with party politics'. Wells, likewise, saw the rise of Fascism as a step in the right direction (i.e., away from democracy) and while their left-wing critique of parliamentary democracy and ambivalent attitude towards dictatorship failed to take hold within the Fabian Society of which they were both leading figures, they clearly had a profound impact on Mosley, who held a high opinion of both and clearly expected both to support him, saying he would ''he would personally seek out G.B. Shaw, H.G. Wells and other intellectuals to seek their support'. Though neither did, we can see from their statements on Mosley that they were sorely tempted by the idea of an authoritarian regime putting Britain on track. However, in the end Wells (whom Goldberg implies is an all-out Fascist) dismissed Fascism as ‘national egotism’ and Shaw sadly compared Fascism to an ‘old fashioned automobile, a wonderfully awesome thing to watch, and the explosions are thrilling, but it never took you where you wanted to go.’

Such views were not limited to Shaw and Wells, but were surprisingly prevalent among some Labour intellectuals. In 1933 George Landsbury, the newly elected Labour leader, declared that “If I were a dicator, I would do as Mussolini is doing.”26, and George Catlin and Raymound Postgate both called for the creation of a paramilitary wing of the Labour Party.

Mosley, in abandoning the Labour Party and founding in quick succession the Proto-Fascist New Party and then the openly Fascist British Union of Fascists, was arguably taking tendencies that existed amongst the Labourite Intelligentsia to their logical conclusion.

Part Three
Complications and Counter-Arguments

As we have seen in the last two sections, the evidence presented so far is contradictory. It is unconvincing from a logical point of view that Fascism and sympathy for Fascism can be both a product of left-wing authoritarian tendencies in Britain and a phenomenon on the fringes of the Tory Party inspired mainly by anti-Communism, for it is a fact that both these tendencies, even though as we have seen they were at great variance with each other they actually did combine into a single movement under the control of a single man, the British Union of Fascists and it's 'Leader' Oswald Mosley.

Extreme left-elements like the Alexander Miles and extreme right-elements like Lintorn- Orman may have rejected Mosley, but the mainstay of Fascists in Britain remained united in a single body that almost equally balanced supposedly socialist domestic reforms with a drastic anti-Communist and Imperialist mind-set. This dilemma requires us to examine in more detail the validity of Fascist left-wing rhetoric and the social forces that comprised it, and to compare its ‘National Socialism’ with other forms of socialism native to Britain.

Class analysis

Marxists have traditionally approached the dilemma of Fascism’s leftist rhetoric and attempts to appeal to the working class with a Class analysis of the movement that pins it down as a middle-class radicalism, bourgeois radicalism that came about as a result of a crisis in capitalism.

While David Renton has angrily denied that working class Fascism is possible, even he was obliged to cite the fact that the CPGB of the day recognised that the BUF was threatening its core constituency of working class support. Phil Piratin's, a Communist MP, memoir Our Flag Stays Red directly confirms the attraction of the BUF to the working class in this description of a BUF march;

‘I was curious to see who and what kind of people would march. The Fascist Band moved off, and behind them about fifty thugs in blackshirt uniforms. Then came the people. About 1,500 men, women (some with babies in arms) and youngsters marched behind Mosley's banner. I knew some of these people, some of the men wore trade union badges. This had a terrific effect on my attitude to the problem."
Yet David Renton, who clearly has read this book for he cities it directly, believes that working class support actually disqualifies one from being a Fascist in a feat of quite amazing mental gymnastics.

At the same time, Mosley’s outrageous claim that the BUF was ‘ninety percent manual workers’ is not supported by any real evidence, in fact, Martin Pugh believes that the BUF’s obsession with working class support may have been counterproductive, as the BUF’s presence was always better received in the countryside and that the over-concentration of propaganda activities in the East End and other urban centres damaged the movements chance of success as the reaction to such activities was almost always violent, as the highly organised Anti-Fascist movement was strongest in the inner cities.

But an obsession with working class support was what Mosley certainly had, and this undermines to a degree the Marxist argument. Mosley could, as Martin Pugh demonstrated, have simply appealed to middle England and built a successful movement based on that. However, Mosley insisted on focusing the movement on the urban proletariat, ‘you get, first of all, working class support, and only later on do you get the support of the prosperous and the respectable.’

If the Fascists were a reactionary right-wing movement of the upper-classes, as the traditional Marxist model maintained, such a fixation on the working class would be unnecessary. This fixation shows Mosley’s residual left-wing instincts clearly.

The Communist concept of 'Social Fascism'
and the problem of defining Socialism

Another interesting fact emerges when one examines the positions of Communist Parties to Social-Democracy in the 1930's, was that Communist propaganda characterised Socialist parties like the Labour Party as 'Social Fascists'. An article in the The Communist Review from 1930, states, 'It has been generally held that the Labour Party and trade unions stand in opposition to Fascism and that Fascism in this country will come through the attempts of the Labour Party to democratise and socialise capitalism', which is a fairly typical left-wing view of Fascism but then adds 'this theory assumes that the Labour Party and the trades union bureaucracy have undergone little change, and that Social-Democracy is fundamentally opposed to Fascism instead of being a fellow traveller along the historical path that leads to Fascism, and an offspring from the same family tree.' Such an attitude towards the main left-wing party in Britain by the Communists instantly raises questions about the validity of a shallow characterisation of Fascism as not being part of the left. For the idea of Social Fascism rests on the idea that the Labour Party is akin to Italian Fascism as both, 'stand for a new type of State apparatus' rather than for a communist revolution.

What this means is that attempts to use the state to reform capitalist society were objectively Fascist from the Marxist point of view of the day. This line of reasoning displays clearly that the Communist Parties saw Fascism not as a simply reactionary phenomenon, as David Renton would, but as an ideology, ‘among the working class inimical to Communism.’ Democratic leftists were quick to point out the similarity between Fascist and Communist Totalitarianism in response to this argument.

We must ask ourselves why this is. The answer that becomes clear from researching the origins of Fascist ideology closely is that though it may not have been accepted as part of the left nor typically leftist, Fascisms historical ancestry is undoubtedly left-wing and socialist but not Marxist, as demonstrated by Zeev Sternhell’s studies of Fascism in France and Italy35, and the same can be said of the historical ancestry of Mosley’s Fascism. Mosley's socialism, he explained '"was always [inclined] 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." Guild Socialism, a marriage between British feudal nostalgia and the syndicalism of the 'Latin countries' was denounced as one of the 'ideologies among the among class inimical to Communism' by the Sixth Congress of the Communist International. Thus, we see that this is not only a matter of a conflict between Fascism and Socialism, it's also a matter of disputes within Socialism itself.

Indeed, the Socialist Standard commented wryly that, 'Every Labourite will laugh at the notion that the Mosleyite programme of reforms is Socialist; but they have little enough reason to laugh. Who, if not the Labour Party and I.L.P., started this dishonest practice?... If the Fascists can get support by misrepresenting Socialism that is largely due to all the Labour speakers who have done the same in the past'39, this argument is especially relevant in the post-Blair era when the Labour Party has almost entirely accepted capitalism while remaining a constitutionally socialist party. How do we define socialism? A simplistic economic definition of socialism as ‘state planning’ does not necessarily exclude compatibility with right-wing ideological beliefs or even imply equality. If we define like Orwell did as 'human brotherhood' there is no reason to exclude nationalism. If we define socialism in purely Marxist terms then we exclude not only Fascism but countless other forms of socialism incompatible with that narrow view. John Ruskin, one of the fathers of British socialism, proudly declared himself ‘a violent Tory of the old school’ and Marx warned against ‘feudal socialism’ in the section of the Communist Manifesto that dealt with rival socialist tendencies.

Bear in mind Marx’s description of autocrats seeking to ally with the workers against capitalism, for it makes a rather good description of Mosley’s political career. Raised from aristocratic stock, Mosley spent his entire political career attempting to win the working class support not for international socialism and brotherhood, but for an authoritarian reimaginining of the Empire as a state-socialist superpower and to restore England's greatness, and to 'let the world go hang'. Mosley's Socialism was a Socialism of a distinctly unleftist bent. Indeed, Mosley admitted seeking support from the ruling elite 'I had people in very strong and big positions — in fact, many of them financed me — helping me and assisting me— who could see what was coming. I mean, they may have been backing several parties at the same time as these people do.' However, he never turly fit into the Conservative Party either, as he was already a advocate of an authoritarian socialism when he first ran on the Tory ticket '' Jeffry Hamm, a lifelong support of Mosley, stated proudly that 'Mosley's first election address, as a Conservative candidate for Harrow in 1918, contained the extraordinary phrase 'socialistic imperialism', years before anyone had heard of Hitler's 'national socialism.'' Mosley therefore can be correctly identified as belonging to the tradition of so-called 'Tory Socialism', a tendency examined by George Watson, who purports socialism itself was originally right-wing! Bernard Shaw, for instance, saw no reason why Toryism was incompatible with radical Socialism, 'The Tory is a man who believes that those who are qualified by nature and training for public work, and who are naturally a minority, have to govern the mass of the people. That is Toryism. That is also Bolshevism.'

The Innate Complexity of Totalitarianism
and the Mode of Operation Theory

‘In the ranks of Conservatism there are many who are attracted there by the Party's tradition of loyalty, order and stability - but who are repelled by its lethargy and stagnation. In the ranks of Labour there are many who follow the Party's humane ideals, and are attracted by its vital urge to remedy social and economic evils - but who are…. repelled by its endless and inconclusive debates, its cowardice….
These elements comprise the best of both Parties: and to both Fascism appeals.’
-British Union of Fascists propaganda

Throughout this essay, I have examined the complex question of whether Fascism was a left-wing or a right-wing ideology through the prism of the British experience during the twenties and thirties. This period was a time of great uncertainty and upheaval throughout the world, and this was reflected in the political dialogue within Britain. In a period of intense economic uncertainty and when democracy seemed to be in retreat around the world, many became disillusioned with Parliamentary government, Capitalism and Liberalism. While after the War, these three qualities would again became unquestioned pillars of Western society (at least until now) during this period they were commonly regarded as anachronisms about to be swept away by a new kind of authoritarian politics, by a liberating Socialist revolution or by a return to a radical form of traditionalism.

Orwell dismissed the kind of classical liberalism Jonah Goldberg's lionises in the last chapter of Road to Wigan Pier 'It is meaningless to oppose Socialism on the ground that you object to the beehive State, for the beehive State is here.' Therefore, as is Goldberg's method, it is ridiculous to jugde what is left and what is right by a standard that was not in use at the time, ie by judging Fascism leftist as it does not fit with right-wing American Classical-Liberal Republicanism. Interestingly, Orwell believed British Fascism had come about because of Marxist propaganda driving right-thinking individuals away from the sensible cause of Democratic Socialism, 'If you present 
Socialism in a bad and misleading light--if you let people imagine that 
it does not mean much more than pouring European civilization down the sink 
at the command of Marxist prigs--you risk driving the intellectual into 
Fascism.' It is important to grasp this attitude when understanding why people turned to or admired Fascism, or even suggested similar things (it's an uncomfortable thought that Orwell would today be regarded almost universally as Fascist his Nationalism, Imperialism and stress on the importance of the collective over the individual) that this was the heyday of statist politics, both on the left and the right. All of these currents manifested themselves in Fascism, an ideology that simply cannot be pinned down simplistically as either far-left or far-right.

While it might be said this was not true of America, this was certainly true of Europe. While we may strive in vain to relate the ideology of Fascism to the contemporary right or the contemporary left, at the time it had a great deal in common with both. We should also remember that this was a far less tolerant Europe, one in which racist assumptions and attitudes were more deeply rooted than they are today, often supported by scientific theories now considered defunct. This was as true of left-wing figures in this period as it is of right-wing ones. Thus we shouldn't be so surprised that the Left may have had things in common with Hitler and Mussolini then, for this was a Left that knew neither cultural relativism nor multiculturalism.

However, this aside we still have to deal with the fact that even at the time a great debate raged over whether Fascism was genuinely a force for the left or the right, whether it's anti-capitalism was genuine or simply abandoned. The evidence I've presented here seems inconclusive either way. On the one hand, I've argued and demonstrated the fallacies and inaccuracies involved in left-wing-Marxist theories while on the other demonstrated the blatant revisionism and distortion of evidence employed by supporters of the theory of leftist-totalitarianism. In conclusion, I've come to see that Fascism seemed to attract supporters who were both genuinely left-wing and genuinely right-wing, as well as a mixture of both. I've come to the conclusion as a result of my research that what attracted figures from both the left and right to the Revolutionary Nationalist ideology of Fascism was not so much it's specific policies or philosophical arguments (though it goes without sharing that all those who were seduced by Fascism shared the same antipathy for contemporary liberal society and for Marxist revolutionary ideology) or even racial prejudice, it was as a mode of operation that Fascism appealed to so many. Fascism presented a way to break through the stagnation of political debate and enforce radical action on society, doing away with the obstruction of opposition. Whether or not this action was leftist or rightist in intent, the methodology was the same and the perceived problems were the same. Liberal Capitalism and Marxism were the problems, and a Totalitarian movement was the solution. This common admiration for the methods of Hitler and Mussolini united left-wing Intellectuals like Bernard Shaw and HG Well's with dyed in the wool reactionaries like Linton-Orman or Lord Rothermere. It was this demand for drastic action unimpeded by opposition that pervaded all of Mosley's ideological and political leanings. But at the same time we should also be sure to stress that Fascism was not simply a mode of operation, it was also an ideology of palingenetic ultranationalism that repulsed cosmopolitan authoritarians like Wells.

I believe this theory has strength because it is able to explain away similarities while stressing the deep differences between Fascism and other ideologies, it absolves the democratic left of the tint of Fascism that the right-wing revisionists attempt to pin on it without having to censor the history of Socialism to enforce a narrow Marxist view based on ridiculously harsh perimeters that make no historical sense. It allows us both to face up to the authoritarian potential innate in the left and the unexplored complexity of the rights relationship with capitalism. But it also allows us to question the validity of Fascists claims to be a revolutionary force, without having to claim that they were 'lying'. Pragmatically, Fascists and Proto-Fascists had to seek support from the establishment because they were unable to defeat the established leadership of the Socialist Movement on their own terms. Indeed, Mosley decision to adopt Fascism had as much to do with his frustration with opposition from within the left as with his visits to Italy. The other theory I present alongside the mode of operation is that totalitarianism is innately complex, for it has the potential to be both equalitarian and hierarchical and both reactionary and revolutionary, resulting in baffling overlaps between seemingly incompatible ideologies. It also allows us a leeway by which we can distinguish between those who simply admired the efficiency of Fascist nations but had no deep ideological attachment to it, and those who were deeply and those who were deeply inamoured with Fascist ideology.

Thus, the political position of British Fascists and Fascist sympathisers in the 1930's and 20's was varied, and we should acknowledge the diversity of this short lived current in British politics, understanding that Fascism was able to attract authoritarian thinkers of both the left and the right, and even was able to maintain a respectable standing in the eyes of those who had virtually nothing in common with Fascism (figures such as George Landsbury, Ramsay McDonald and Winston Churchill). Fascism is neither entirely left nor right in its purest form, but at the end of the day it ended up more right than left for pragmatic reasons and due to the reactionary logic that underpinned it's upper-class leadership, that's the conclusion.

Baker, David. Ideology of Obsession: A K Chesterton and British Fascism. London: I.B Tauris; illustrated edition, 1996
Beckett, Francis. The Rebel Who Lost his Cause. The Tragedy of John Beckett. London: London House, 1999

Dorril, Stephen. Blackshirt; Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism. London: Viking, 2006.
Engels, Karl Marx and Friedrich. The Communist Manifesto. London: Lawerence and Wishart, 1888Gottleib, Julie V. Feminine Fascism. London: IB Tauris and Co LTD, 2003
Farrel, Nicholas. Mussolini: A New Life. London: Wiedenfield & Nicolson, 2003.
Goldberg, Jonah. Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. New York: Doubleday, 2007
Gottleib, et al. The Culture of Fascism. Visions of the Far Right in Britain. London: IBTauris and Co LTD, 2004
Griffith, Gareth. Socialism and Superior brains; The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw. Oxon: Routledge, 1993

Hamm, Jeffery. Action Replay. London: Howard Baker Press, 1983.

Jones, Nigel. Mosley. London: Haus Publishing, 2004.
Kallis et al. The Fascism Reader. London: Routledge, 2003Hill, Douglass ed. Tribune 40. London Quartet books LTD, 1977
Linehan, Thomas. British Fascism 1918-39. Parties, ideology and culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000.

Mosley, Nicholas. Beyond the Pale: Sir Oswald Mosley and Family, 1933-80. London: Martin Secker & Warburg, 1983
Mosley, Sir Oswald. My Life. London. BCA; 1st Edition edition (1968)

Mosley, Nicholas. Rules of the Game: Sir Oswald and Lady Cynthia Mosley, 1896-1933. London: Fontana. 1983.
Orwell, George. Essays. London: Everyman Publishers UK, 2002
Orwell, George. The Road to Wigan Pier. London: Victor Gollanez, 1937.

Overy, Richard. The Morbid Age; Britain and the Crisis of Civilisation 1919-1939. London: Penguin, 2010.

Paxton, Robert O. The Anatomy of Fascism. London: Penguin, 2005.
Piratin, Phil. Our Flag Stays Red. London: Thames Publications, 1948
Pugh, Martin. ‘Hurrah For the Blackshirts!’. Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars. London: Jonathan Cape London, 2005
Renton, David. This Rough Game, Fascism and Anti Fascism. Gloucester: Sutton publishers LTD, 2001
Skidelsky, Robert. Oswald Mosley. London: Macmillan publishers, 1990

Schüddekopf, Otto-Ernst. Revolutions of Our Time: Fascism. London: Wiedenfield &
Nicolson, 1973.

Sternhell, Zeev. The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution. Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1989
Sykes, Alan. The Radical Right in Britain: British History in Perspective. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
Watson, George. Lost Literature of Socialism. Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press, 1998
Wells. Herbert.G. Experiment in Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown and Company USA, 1962

Coupland, Philip M. “Left-Wing Fascism’ in Theory and Practice: The Case of the British Union of Fascists” Twentieth Century British History Vol 13, No 1, 2002: .pp 38-61.

Coupland, Philip M. “Wells Liberal Fascism” Journal of Contemporary History Vol 35, No 4, 2000; pp. 541-558

Hardcastle, Edgar. “What to Do About Fascism?” Marxist Internet Achieve. Web. 27 Sept. 2011
< What to Do About Fascism? >

Murphy, J.T. “Growth of Social-Fascism in Britain.” Marxist Internet Achieve. Web. 28 Sept. 2011.
<CPGB: Growth of Social-Fascism in Britain >

“The Strategy and Tactics of the Communist International in the Struggle for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” Marxist Internet Achieve. Web. 28th Sept. 2011 <http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/6th-congress/ch06.htm>
Mosley, Sir Oswald. “100 Questions.” Friends of Mosley. Web. 20th Sept. 2011. < Oswald Mosley and British Fascism - 100 Questions >

Mosley, Sir Oswald. “Stability and Progress.” Friends of Mosley. Web, 20th Sept. 2011. < The Greater Britain - Stability and Progress >

Buckley Jr, William F. “William F Buckley Jr interviews Oswald Mosley for Firing Line : March 25th 1972” Friends of Mosley. Web. 8th Sept. 2011.
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Old March 11th, 2012, 12:22 PM   #3

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Very well written essay. It was a pleasure to read.

Also, by any chance, would you be a member of AlternateHistory.com? I used to be there a lot.
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Old March 11th, 2012, 12:57 PM   #4
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I don't accept Marxist definitions of right and left, instead I accept those of Julius Evola (considered the most consistent right winger). Central to his views is that right wing is about hierarchy in some form of other. Nazism was not right wing enough for him since it stressed national collectivism, but he saw some what he considered good things in the SS. Looking at Marx from this perspective he also talks about "lumpenproletariat" and makes distinctions about "ahistorical" societies. Also "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a hierarchical concept. I would position those socialist Marx dismissed as utopian as being to the left of him using this spectrum, and possibly even social democrats historically (although recently of course they represent middle class interests more).
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Old March 11th, 2012, 03:06 PM   #5
Joined: Dec 2011
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thank you very much for this in-depth and erudite essay. I read it with great interest. I am not that expert in British history, but nevertheless contributed to similar threads on the now closed BBC history messageboards. Did also in depth research for the Belgian interwar period for Socialism, Communist and Fascist movements. And indeed as in Britain things aren't that clear cut and in Belgium the situation was even more complicated with the Flemish and later the Leopold III question.

I read for instance in your "exposé":
Mosley...into a system of corporatism (effectively workers control of industry)
I don't see "corporatism" as a socialist idea. Socialists were a horizontal levelled organisation I think of opposed classes, while the corporatism was initially from the Roman-Catholic church seen as an alternative for the Socialist struggle of the classes, as it was a vertical organisation along corporations. It seems that Italian Fascism started something similar to please to the Catholic Church in Italy. But I thought that it was similar but during a quick research this evening I learned about a fundamental difference.

Already nearing midnight here on the continent (Central European Time) I add some URLs to further discuss them tomorrow:
Corporatism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Christian corporatism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Socialism and Communism
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_International"]Second International - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
[ame="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile_Vandervelde"]Emile Vandervelde - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia[/ame]
The 1917 Stockholm Peace Conference - Background

Kind regards and welcome to the boards. With esteem for your first contribution.

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Old March 11th, 2012, 10:35 PM   #6
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All this academic theorising is fine but the ugly reality of British Fascism was exposed in the infamous Fascist rallly in Olympia London in 1934 where Mosley's blackshirts sickened neutral observers by their thuggery and by the equally infamous ''Battle of Cable Street '' where working class Socialist east Enders in London fought pitched street battles with Mosley's Blackshirts.
George Orwell's views on Fascism were much more representative of ordinary British attitudes to Mosley and Fascism which Orwell -enermy of totalitarianism of both right and left- abhorred.
Orwell also put his ideological money where his mouth was by stopping a bullet while fighting Spanish Fascism during the Spanish Civil War (he survived).
I also live in Scotland -today the most politically left wing , and traditionally, left wing part of the United Kingdom which percentage wise contributed more personnel to the anti-Fascist International brigades who fought Franco and the Fascists in Spain 1936-39 than any other part of the U.K. -the Scottish working class Socialist and Communist men who fought with the Internaional Brigades against Fascism in Spain(1936-39) are still treated as heroes in modern Scotland.
Curio corner-One of Mosley's Blackshirted bodyguards during his 1930's peak years was London East End Jew Gershom Mendelsonbtter known as British European and world boxing champion Ted ''Kid'' Lewis who post- 1945 claimed that he was a political innocent abroad in the 1930's when defending anti-Semite British Fascist leader Mosely as one of his bodyguards.
Incidentally, George Lansbury the Labour party leader briefly in the 1930's, was a Pacifist -whch made him both persona non grata and an unlikely bedfellow to the British Fascists.
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Old March 12th, 2012, 06:02 AM   #7
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And what political party was Mosley a member of?

The Labour Party.
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Old March 17th, 2012, 02:40 PM   #8
Joined: Dec 2011
From: Belgium
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Originally Posted by PaulRyckier View Post

thank you very much for this in-depth and erudite essay. I read it with great interest. I am not that expert in British history, but nevertheless contributed to similar threads on the now closed BBC history messageboards. Did also in depth research for the Belgian interwar period for Socialism, Communist and Fascist movements. And indeed as in Britain things aren't that clear cut and in Belgium the situation was even more complicated with the Flemish and later the Leopold III question.

I read for instance in your "exposé":
Mosley...into a system of corporatism (effectively workers control of industry)
I don't see "corporatism" as a socialist idea. Socialists were a horizontal levelled organisation I think of opposed classes, while the corporatism was initially from the Roman-Catholic church seen as an alternative for the Socialist struggle of the classes, as it was a vertical organisation along corporations. It seems that Italian Fascism started something similar to please to the Catholic Church in Italy. But I thought that it was similar but during a quick research this evening I learned about a fundamental difference.

Already nearing midnight here on the continent (Central European Time) I add some URLs to further discuss them tomorrow:
Corporatism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Christian corporatism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Socialism and Communism
Second International - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Emile Vandervelde - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The 1917 Stockholm Peace Conference - Background

Kind regards and welcome to the boards. With esteem for your first contribution.

many excuses for the delay. I was urgently on a French messageboard. And again discussed the evergreen: "Is history writing a science?", which popped up here too, on a new history messageboard, where I also contribute to:
History Forum

Will try as soon as possible to comment further on the subject of your post, as promised.

PS. And I forgot: to read and then even only what interests me on the three messageboards that I frequent, takes also a lot of time. See now the Russian Federation threads once for instance...

Kind regards and with esteem for your messages up to now and I hope to see you more on this messageboard as it are quite interesting subjects that you tackle.

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Old March 26th, 2012, 02:01 PM   #9
Joined: Dec 2011
From: Belgium
Posts: 1,256


I bump this thread only to say that I am not forgotten you. Just as usual lack of time.

Kind regards and with esteem,

PaulRyckier is offline  

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