EVER wondered what your dad did in the war? Wrong question; ask rather what he was up to before it started.
Did he sport a lapel badge showing Mussolini’s boyish profile? And after the war, having sadly lost to the wrong side, when you and your mother thought he was asleep in front of the football, was he dreaming of black-shirted world domination?
In Britain’s Fascist Thread, on BBC Radio 4, for three weeks from February 12, Camilla Schofield, senior lecturer in modern history at the University of East Anglia, explores what she calls ‘the unbroken thread of fascism in Britain’.
Despite there being no far-Right MPs in our parliament, unlike those of France, Italy, Spain, the EU and Eastern Europe, and the failure of the National Front or British National Party ever to gain a seat in the Commons, Schofield believes that fascism has always been endemic to Britain. We invented it and still embrace it.
Schofield – who, according to the UEA website, grew up in the USA – took the term ‘unbroken thread’ from a new book by Joe Mulhall entitled British Fascism After the Holocaust: From the Birth of Denial to the Notting Hill Riots 1939-1958.
According to its publicity, the book is ‘adding to our understanding of the evolving ideology of fascism, the persistent nature of anti-semitism and the blossoming of Britain’s anti-immigration movement’.
Mulhall is a ‘historian of fascism,’ and senior researcher at the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate, which has just launched a report on far-Right ‘terror’ in Europe.
The Radio 4 programme starts with soundtrack from the British Union of Fascists (BUF) rally at Olympia, London, on June 7, 1934, when 12,000 gathered to hear former Labour minister Oswald Mosley proclaim a new political movement, which became known as the Blackshirts.
A crackly voice from the newsreel also tells us it was ‘new’. But Schofield, who teaches 20th century British history, the ‘British Empire and postcolonialism’, insists it was the revival of an entrenched ideology.
‘Is fascism a fundamentally alien thing?’ she asks. ‘Something we fought against in our finest hour, intrinsically opposite to our values, or something closer to home, more deep-rooted?’
We know her answer and no one in the programme disagrees as she finds ‘a century-long thread of fascism in Britain which runs parallel to the stories we commonly tell ourselves, but which is a persistent part of this nation’s story’.
There is loud fascist cheering from the soundtrack before we hear about the evils of the Edwardian past: eugenics, race theory, social Darwinism, all apparently the result of British imperialism.
According to Dr Liam Liburd (not Libtard), lecturer in ‘colonial and post-colonial British history’ at King’s College, London, ‘fascism is a (British) Imperial outgrowth’. A British response to Gandhi in India, Labour militancy and the Bolshevik revolution.
In 2020 Liburd received a PhD for work on The Eternal Imperialists: Empire, Race and Gender on the British Radical Right, 1918-1968.
He also blames the rise of fascism on ‘diehard conservatives and Tory peers’, and suggests that support for Mussolini was not just about making the trains run on time, a long-held British aspiration, but connected to ‘imperial anxiety’.
For Liburd, everything is about the evils of empire. But Canadian Julie Gottlieb, professor of modern history at Sheffield University, unexpectedly blames women and ‘feminine fascism’.
Her research includes women’s history and gender studies, the construction of gender identities in politics and women in the Conservative Party, ‘comparative fascism, particularly gender and fascism in comparative perspective’ (for some reason ‘comparative’ has to be repeated). And, of course, good old race and identity ‘in the British context’ and – not surprisingly – the history of suicide.
She blames 1930s fascism on Rotha Lintorn Orman, a Kensington toff and former Girl Guide, who in 1923 tried to bring the ‘Italian Fascisti’ to Britain, mainly because she liked the uniform.
Twenty-five per cent of BUF members were female. ‘British fascism always had a feminine edge,’ says Gottlieb mysteriously; perhaps she means ‘camp’, a word that is now non-PC.
Liburd marched us back to Empire and its nadir with the Amritsar Massacre in 1919. General Dyer ordered it with the ‘casual authoritarianism of colonial rule’. The British, Liburd said, approved of this ‘swaggering imperialism, connected to white supremacy and the colonies’.
He didn’t mention that Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War, demanded that Dyer be punished for the massacre. The Army Council forced him to resign.
Churchill loomed large over the whole programme despite never being mentioned. The arch-imperialist was of course also violently anti-fascist. That conundrum obviously couldn’t be harnessed to back up their argument.
Back in the blighted motherland, we heard about the notorious Daily Mail support for the Blackshirts (the Daily Mirror supported Hitler) and Lord Rothermere’s postcard competition when he invited readers to state what they liked best about Mosley to win free tickets to the Olympia rally.
A lot of communists entered the competition, gained entry and heckled Mosley relentlessly. We were on P G Wodehouse ‘Blackshorts’ territory, a very comical British dénouement.
The humour was lost on Schofield, but she did admit that after the rally the Mail withdrew its support for Mosley, the BBC banned him and BUF membership collapsed, leaving it dead in its jackboots.
Many of us might think that the ‘thread’ snapped then. Not at all, even if there are no actual fascists about; the point of the series is to express the new historical narrative pouring from our universities about the all-encompassing effect on Britain of colonialism and ‘white supremacy’.
UEA, where Schofield teaches, advertises its BA in history thus: ‘Imagine analysing depictions of slave ships, or considering the social and political power of African American jazz.’
Liburd not only lectures at King’s College, but blogs for the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR), a research centre and ‘pedagogical outreach initiative’ focused ‘on the study and countering of radical Right extremism and intersecting phenomena e.g. populism, gender, anti-semitism, and Islamophobia’.
CARR is led by Professor Matthew Feldman, an American graduate of Oxford Brookes University, and former co-director of Teesside’s Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies, with American Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss, who specialises in study of ‘white supremacy’. Her new book is entitled Hate in the Homeland.
This BBC programme represents ‘hate of the homeland’ – that is, the UK.
The next two episodes will scrutinise the ‘thread’ after the war and as it ‘exists’ today. Apparently, our fascism is little changed from Mosley’s time.
‘It relies on a remarkably similar language of victimhood,’ says Schofield. It seeks ‘an absolutist view of free speech’, and the ‘domination of people of colour, Islam, and the Left’, and believes in a ‘Jewish world plot’.
In fact, she says, what we have now is ‘the essence of fascism; fantasies of racial purity and distorted myths of the past … the way those war stories have been repeated has disfigured our view of ourselves, masking the ordinariness, the Britishness of fascism.’
She blames the current surge in ordinary British blackshirtedness, or what she calls the ‘Blitz spirit’, on Brexit and the pandemic.
Gottlieb also notes with dismay that the Right is demanding free speech, and the common British delusion of freedom. She says: ‘After 1945 we were lulled into a false sense of security about Britain’s virtue, and Britain being the antithesis of Nazism.’
Liburd warns: ‘British fascism is indigenous.’ That language of anthropology is increasingly popular among academics ‘decolonising’ the language when talking about Britain, and he tells us: ‘The ideology of fascism was a British political tradition, of Empire and Imperialist attitudes, to “make Britain great again”.’
Trump had to appear, although difficult beast Churchill didn’t, and somehow they forgot to explore Left-wing opposition to fighting Nazi Germany after the 1940 Nazi-Soviet pact, or mention how the British Communist Party called for an armistice with Hitler on the basis of ‘the right of all peoples to determine their own destiny’.
Hopefully the series will explore the relationship of modern fascism to the failure of state education since the 1970s, which has left working-class communities semi-literate and gullible to dangerous ideas.
They might also explain why working people now reject socialism with all its promises of progress and liberty, the great alternative to the evils of fascism.
Could that be something to do with the Labour movement passing almost entirely into the hands of wealthy middle-class academics, the sort who have produced this programme, as far removed as possible from the people who once voted Labour? People who perhaps resent being called fascist if they try to express their views on immigration.
If you can’t get enough national self-hatred, you can listen to The News Quiz on Radio 4, where Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell just referred to Nelson as ‘a tiny little imperialist’, and last night Lucy Worsley was on BBC One exploring ‘the dark side of the Blitz spirit’.
She tells us: ‘If Hitler’s intent in bombing London had been to fuel class division, it was starting to look like that was working.’
That wasn’t his intention and the bombing didn’t achieve its aim of breaking British morale. But that is by the BBC by.