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British Union of Fascists

Sir Oswald MOSLEY was from 1932 the leading figure in the British Union of Fascists (retitled the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists in 1936) and the Union Movement when it was formed in 1947. He was detained under Defence Regulation 18b in 1940 with his wife, Lady Diana MOSLEY, and released in November 1943.

In the 1930’s many towns in the North of England were in the grip of the depression. Mass unemployment brought about by the ‘Wall Street Crash’ of 1929 and the subsequent collapse of the markets across the globe was affecting the whole of the country but the North, with its reliance on the traditional heavy industries and shipbuilding, was bearing the brunt.

The conditions were ripe for the emergence of a new political movement in the shape of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. Recognisable by their black shirts, the Fascist organisation echoed many of the sentiments of Mussolini’s paramilitaries in Italy and Hitler’s National Socialist Party.

The British Union of Fascists managed to develop a strong loyal core of supporters, which included the paramilitary wing known as the Blackshirts, which was formed to maintain order at political meetings and deal with any violence, that came their way from opposition groups.

On the afternoon of Sunday 10 September 1933 a convoy of coaches arrived at Victoria Bridge, on the Yorkshire side of the Tees. They were carrying more than one hundred Blackshirts from Tyneside and the Manchester area. Led by their propaganda officer, Captain Vincent Collier, they assembled in military order, crossed the bridge and marched up Stockton High Street to a spot to the north of the Town Hall where they had planned to hold an open air meeting.

While they had hoped to arrive unannounced, the Blackshirts were surprised to find their plans had been leaked to local Trade Union organisers and members of the Communist party who had arranged a ‘reception committee’. It was reported at the time that as many as two thousand opponents of the Fascists had arrived to disrupt their meeting. No arrests were made but a number of the Fascists were injured in the battle, some of them seriously. It was reported that as many as twenty of their number were treated in hospitals in the region that night.

Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts arrived in Devon at Plymouth in the summer of 1933 and quickly became a vibrant political force in the city. Activity spread throughout the county, particularly amongst farmers in North Devon, and within six months branches of the British Union of Fascists were established in a number of towns. A disastrous meeting at Plymouth late in 1934 severely impeded the party's momentum but the Fascists regrouped at Exeter, the new regional capital.

The BUF had developed a significant but notorious profile throughout the mid-1930s, even if it had failed to gather any electoral success. Brutal beatings were meted out to protestors at a meeting at Olympia in June 1934, and street attacks on communists and Jewish people increased in regularity and continued through until 1936. The BUF intended to celebrate their summer campaign on 4 October with the march and meetings in Shoreditch, Limehouse, Bow and Bethnal Green. Some of their number, though, had declared it to be a ‘pogrom’ in East London’s Jewish areas.

By April 1936, Mosley announced a change to the party?s name. It would now be officially known as The British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. This alteration in name seems to be a clear indication that Mosley was attempting to align himself more closely to Nazi Germany. At this point in time Mosley?s policies were taking a strong anti-Semitic approach.

The Battle of Cable Street is remembered as a legendary moment in the history of the East End. Powerfully represented in a striking mural, the memory of Cable Street has been physically marked on the capital. On Sunday 4 October 1936 a march through East London led by Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF) was disrupted by anti-fascist counter demonstrators. The BUF intended to parade through areas with significant Jewish populations but were halted by a coalition of working men and women, Jewish people, dockers and immigrants. The event has developed an almost mythic status in some circles, representing the East End’s clear rejection of fascism, and is celebrated with a plaque and the mural on walls along Cable Street.

The counter-demonstrators – using the rallying cry ‘¡No pasarán!’ (‘they shall not pass’), borrowed from Spanish Republicans – had overturned a brick-laden truck to create a barricade. Stones and insults were hurled, and Irish immigrant dockers who lived on the street joined in to halt the march. Following conversations between Game and Mosley, the fascists agreed to abandon the planned route and turned westward towards the Embankment. Much of the direct confrontation, though, were not between the marchers and the anti-fascist protestors, but between the counter-demonstrators and the police.

The Public Order Bill was quickly developed – coming into law at the beginning of January 1937 – and, among other things, banned the use of stewards at open air meetings, ensured that police would have the power to ban marches or alter routes, and outlawed the wearing of political uniforms.

Among the banned uniforms were the black shirts of the British Union of Fascists. The BUF did not dissent from this ruling, reiterating their ‘desire at all times to conform with the law of the land’ (MEPO 3/2153). 2 However, they argued that the police would not be able to ban the wearing of ‘an ordinary shirt of black colour with a black tie under an ordinary suit’. Meanwhile, the Independent Labour Party were outraged that the red shirts and blouses of their Guild of Youth were being treated in the same way, stating they could not be seen as a military uniform and that they were ‘worn mostly on rambles, for sport purposes, and on weekend outings’.

Fascist “5th Anniversary Demonstration” held 3rd October, 1937, by the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists who marched in procession from Millbank to Rotherhithe where a meeting was addressed by Sir Oswald Mosley, and marched back to Upper Thames Street for dispersal. About 3,400 fascists, including, including 630 women and 220 youths and girls, took part. Police estimated that over 50,000 persons took part in the counter demonstrations.

In his 1937 book "Fascism: 100 Questions Asked and Answered", Oswald Mosley, the Leader of the British Union of Fascists staed his views. Jews should be extradited from Britain, except “patriotic” ones, but they too should be excluded from citizenship and political influence. The press will not be free “to tell lies” about Mosley's government. Strikes will be declared illegal, political parties dissolved and parliamentary democracy replaced by a curious corporative system reminiscent of medieval guilds or estates. Instead of voting for different party labels General Elections would be based on an occupational franchise. Local government will be under the control of fascists appointed from above. The fascist government will hold frequent plebiscites to ascertain the will of the people. Of course, such plebiscites will simply rubberstamp the decision of the fascist regime.

In foreign policy, the fascist leader calls for “peace”, expresses support for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and wants to give Japan a free hand to create an empire of its own in China. The real enemy of Britain and the British people is the Soviet Union (called “Soviet Russia” in the pamphlet).

He stated: "We do not attack Jews on account of their religion, for our principle is complete religious toleration, and we certainly do not wish to persecute them on account of their race, for we dedicate ourselves to service of an Empire which contains many different races and any suggestion of racial persecution would be detrimental to the Empire we serve. Our quarrel with the Jewish interests is that they have constituted themselves a state within the nation, and have set the interests of their co-racialists at home and abroad above the interest of the British State". [Oswald Mosley, Tomorrow We Live: British Union Policy (London 1938)]

The Blackshirts continued to promote the movement until June 1940 when leading members were arrested and interned. Lady Mosley maintained her fascist beliefs for her entire life and refused to back down on any of the comments she made about her fondness for Hitler and other members of the Nazi party.

During his long life, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley knew just about everybody worth knowing. Politicians like Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Lloyd George. Leading society hostesses such as Lady Cunard, Mrs Randolph Hearst and Nancy Astor. He also knew Beaverbook, Northcliffe and Rothermere: the three most powerful press barons of their day. Authors like Compton Mackenzie and Henry Williamson were among his friends. And of course, Mosley had a unique personal insight into the characters of Hitler, Mussolini, Goering and the Goebbels.

Michael Foot, Leader of the Labour Party during the 1980s, commented: "He came near to diverting the whole course of British history... What Mosley so valiantly stood for could have saved his country from the Hungry Thirties and the Second World War".

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Page last modified: 22-02-2017 16:27:45 ZULU