Six Britons who tried to emulate Mussolini and Hitler – A timely look at fascism and its failure in the UK
Failed Fuhrers – A History of Britain’s Extreme Right by Graham Macklin (Routledge and New York -www.routledge.com) US$ 26.00. pp. 580.
“Some day, in the not too distant future, when the trade unions are being particularly tedious, students are being unusually destructive and the pound is buying less and less, then a Fuhrer will appear and tell the British they are a powerful nation. ‘Britain Awake’ will be his slogan and some carefully chosen racial minority will be his scapegoat. Then you will see if the British are easy to regiment.” – Len Deighton – “Bomber” (1970)
There’s an on-going belief put forward by people who live in storm-proof bubbles that fascism could never take root here in the UK.
The well-plugged myth says that we are a tolerant lot on this little island, ever ready to pick-up an opponent, dust him or her down, and start all over again.
The line was certainly pumped into children of my generation. How often I heard as a child in Church of England (Anglican) schools that the British are too balanced, too sensible and too mature to fall for that kind of paraphernalia, with all those charismatic leaders, uniforms, drums, jackboots, street marches, and violence.
So, three cheers for Gerald Macklin, the Oslo-based academic and author who asks us to take another look at the little known activities of fascists in the UK during the 20th-century and the opening decades of this one.
Drawing on extensive archival research and often obscure primary texts and propaganda material as well as official records from British government archives and its secret services M15 and M16, Failed Fuhrers has been hailed by Macklin’s intellectual peer group as “the definitive historical account of Britain’s extreme right.” In other words, it’s essential reading for all students and scholars of race relations, extremism and hate.
The book charts the evolution of the extreme right from what, at first sight, appears to be its genesis after the World War I (1914-1918) to present-day incarnations. The author focuses on the careers of six men whose names and careers have, until recently, been almost airbrushed out of the British story. They were all fanatics, driven by comforting racial delusions.
But has fascism gone for good?
Not according to Yanis Varoufakis who writes in his new book Another Now (Bodley Head, 2020): “If cathedrals were the middle ages’ architectural legacy, the 2020s will be remembered for electrified fences and flocks of buzzing drones. Finance and nationalism, already on the rise before 2020, were the clear winners. The great strength of the new fascists was that, unlike their forerunners a century ago, they don’t need to wear brown shirts or even enter government to gain power. The panicking establishment parties – the neoliberals and social democrats – have been falling over themselves to do the job for them through the power of bi tech.”
Arnold Leese (1878-1956), a world authority on camel diseases, who believed that the Jews are taking over the world with the aid of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in one hand and the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in the other. Founder of the short-lived Imperial Fascist League, Leese went to his grave believing that Oswald Mosley was a Jew financed by Jews to stop he emergence of ‘real’ Fascism in the UK.
Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) is the best – known of all the failed fuhrers. One of his more adventurous 16th century ancestors organised a privateer fleet against Spain and, as a reward, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth1. Mosley – whose first father-in-law, Lord Curzon, also suspected Mosley was a Jew – was tipped to be prime minister in waiting after entering the House of Commons as its youngest member after World War I. He founded the British Union of Fascists in 1932 and put his followers into black-shirts as he pulled on his jackboots. He took substantial sums of money from both Mussolini and Hitler. Mosley spent a large part of World War 2 in prison under the hastily imposed Regulation 18b. He re-formed after 1948, and became a leader of the Union Movement. He died in luxury at his home – the Temple of Glory – outside Paris in December 1980 and is now considered a father figure of fascism to fellow travellers in Europe, especially Italy.
Benito Mussolini with Oswald Mosley in 1933
at a Fascist parade in Rome.
A.K. Chesterton (1899-1973) the nephew of the famous author G.K. Chesterton and an early supporter of Oswald Mosley. He wrote a book about Mosley, Portrait of a Leader, but went on to refer to his former hero as “The Bleeder,” because of the way Mosley used, and then discarded, anyone with ideas that challenged his own. Chesterton, a middle class academic turned activist, was another screaming anti-Semite and a founder member of the National Front (NF), which attracted flash-in-the-pan support from what Marxists called the déclassé in parts of the UK in the 1960s and 1970s.
A.K. Chesterton- An imperialist who mocked
the Nazi race myths
Colin Jordan (1923-2009), another wannabe British Hitler, was often photographed doing the Nazi salute with his French (very wealthy) wife whom he stole away from a Fascist colleague
Colin Jordan with his French wife, Francoise Dior.
John Tyndall (1934-2005), a Mosley sound-alike who spent a large part of his time expelling anyone who threatened his leadership of one of a myriad of small and largely inconsequential groups he led.
John Tyndall, the Oswald Mosley sound-alike
Nick Griffin (1959- ), who was educated at Cambridge and who purged his British National Party (BNP) of anti-Semites and replaced them with Islamophobes. In 2009, two BNP candidates, one of whom was Griffin, were elected to the European Parliament. They lost their seats in 2014 when the BNP vote was transferred en masse to UKIP, an anti-immigration and anti-European Union group led by Nigel Farage.
Nick Griffin . . .-
. . . out with Jew haters . . . in with Islamophobes
Mosley is the only one of them with real presence and stature.
His was the template that shaped the tiny organisations the other failed fuhrers founded, while from France, he mocked them as “dwarfs standing in the jackboots of giants”.
Macklin has already written about Mosley after the Second World War, in a book called Very Deeply Died in the Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism after 1945. In this latest effort, he has little new to say about Mosley, but he does drop in quotes from ancient M15 operatives who claimed to have infiltrated Mosley’s BUF.
Mosley told his senior people that he knew all the names and one of them, he said, was W.E.D Allen, a former Ulster MP, who wrote a flattering book about him under the name James Drennan. Mosley said he had nothing to hide, so why worry about people boasting they’d infiltrated his organisation?
The men so many British failed fuhrers tried to emulate.
Benito Mussolini with Adolf Hitler in Berlin
So, at the end of the day, Britain’s six failed fuhrers didn’t amount to much.
But it would be a mistake to totally dismiss their ideas. Macklin shows that the League of Empire Loyalists was close to the right wing of the Conservatives Party before the war. And because of the unwelcome return of anti-Semitism in so many parts of Europe, there’s a danger that Oswald Mosley will be turned into some sort of cult figure for those with hate in their hearts and bricks in their hands.
The danger is real because Britain faces mass unemployment this year and there is a growing sense of cultural disengagement.
But fascism? It couldn’t happen here,could it?
Just re-read the quote from Len Deighton at the beginning of this article and think on . . .
Sir Oswald Mosley with a group of followers.
Forty years after his death (December 1980)
his legend grows in European far-right circles.
In the Introduction to Failed Fuhrers, Macklin makes a point that needs a follow-up..
He says that it would be wrong to believe that British fascism experienced the equivalent of a virgin birth after 1918. There were, he points out, many pre-war ideological and political tributaries that gradually coalesced into a body of thought that under-pinned what became British fascist doctrine during the early 1920s.
And then this: “Adumbrating the contours of British Fascism’s intellectual antecedents during the Edwardian era – social Darwinism, racism, eugenics, imperialism and jingoistic nationalism to name but a few – is beyond the scope of this study, though it would undoubtedly enhance our understanding of British Fascism’s domestic roots, which are often obscured by claims that this was little more than a foreign import”.
What is needed, he suggests, is a deep probe into the origins of failed British fascism because “it is equally important not to down-play the radicalising effect that the contagious encounter with Italian Fascism and German National Socialism had upon native British fascists. It is perhaps enough to remark at this juncture that the study of British fascism awaits its own Zeev Sternhell, whose work diligently traces ‘proto-fascist’ precursors in pre-1914 France”.
Zeev Sternhell (1935-2020) was the Polish-born Israeli historian whose study of French fascism flabbergasted French intellectuals when they discovered that so many of their country’s elite were sympathisers, if not uniformed activists.
His book The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution (Princeton University Press, 1994) has no equivalent in Britain.
A Sternhell-like inquiry into some who gave credence to the fascist mind-set before the Second World War would include some surprising names.
Winston Churchill raising a glass to Mussolini at the Italian and Foreign Press Club in Rome on January 20, 1927 (three years after the murder of the Italian socialist leader Giocomo Matteotti); “I could not help being charmed like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing and by his calm, detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers. Secondly, anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understood it, of the Italian people and that no lesser interest was of the slightest consequence to him. If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been wholeheartedly with you from the start to the finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism”.
Lord Lloyd, head of the British Council, writing in Rome 1940 in a pamphlet approved by the British Government: “The Italian genius has developed, in the characteristic Fascist institutions a highly authoritarian regime which, however, threatens neither religious nor economic freedom, not the security of other European nations”.
San Jose University, USA, on the Nature and Ideology of Fascism
The accomplishments of Mussolini and his Fascist Party were widely admired and was looked upon as having saved Italy from a communist dictatorship of the type that developed in the Russian Empire.
An American admirer was Hugh Johnson (above) the man who managed government policy during World War I. Franklin Roosevelt chose Hugh Johnson to design his program called The New Deal for coping with the problems of the Great Depression. There was not much faith in a purely market economy at the time. Johnson adopted some of the policies of Mussolini for the Roosevelt New Deal. He also adopted programs of other corporatist leaders in Europe such as Miguel Primo de Rivera in Spain. This was the origin of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Thus the modern platform of the Democratic Party had its origin in corporatist programs of Mussolini’s Fascist Party in Italy and other such statist leaders..
Duff Cooper (Eton College/ Oxford University / Grenadier Guards and member of The Coterie, a fashionable set of English aristocrats and intellectuals, in an article published on November 28, 1938): “Concerning the Abyssinian Episode (Mussolini used various chemical weapons against Africans) the less said the better. When old friends are reconciled after a quarrel it is always dangerous for them to discuss its original causes.”
Cole Porter waxed lyrical in a song
“You’re the tops/ You’re the Mussolini.”
(lyrics he later deleted)
Churchill (again): “Italy has shown there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the masses if the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilised society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter, no great nation will be un-provided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism”.
Sigmund Freud (pictured right below)
In 1934 Freud treated a young man whose father was close to Mussolini. Afterwards, Freud was asked to send a small gift to Mussolini. Freud sent the Italian dictator a book he wrote with Albert Einstein (picture left above) called “Why War?” Freud ‘s dedication inside the book read “To Benito Mussolini, with respectful greetings of an old man who recognises in the ruler a cultural hero.”
Michael Parenti, author of ‘Waiting for Yesterday – Pages from a Street Kid’s Life’ (Bordighera Press, USA, 2013)
In a chapter called Benito in the Old Country, Parenti writes: “For many of the old Italian immigrants, Benito Mussolini appeared on the world stage in 1922 as something of a redeemer. Through his exploits in Africa and by ‘standing up’ to other European powers, Mussolini won ‘respect’ for Italy and for Italians everywhere – or so many of the immigrants imagined.
“Not enough good things could be said about Mussolini in the American press in the 1920s. Pick up the May 5 1928 issue of the Saturday Evening Post just under the Norman Rockwell cover, instead of the usual list of contributing authors, the entire space is taken up in large print with: ‘Beginning a Series of Personal Memoirs by BENITO MUSSOLINI.’ ”
Parenti said that an elderly Italian said to him – “When Mussolini came along, they stopped calling us ‘ wop.’ ”
“What a waste that we lost Mussolini. He is a first-rate man who would have led our party to power in Italy.”
(Vladimir Lenin, address to a delegation of Italian socialists in Moscow after Mussolini’s March on Rome in 1922, quoted in Third World Ideology and Western Reality (1986) by Carlos Rangel, p15
George Orwell – The Lion and the Unicorn – The Collected Essays 1940-1943 – “To understand Fascism they (the British ruling class) would have had to study the theory of Socialism, which would have forced them to realise that the economic system by which they lived was unjust, inefficient and out-of-date. But it was exactly this fact that they trained themselves never to face. They dealt with Fascism as the cavalry generals of 1914 dealt with the machine guns – by ignoring it. After years of aggression and massacres, they had grasped only one fact, that Hitler and Mussolini were hostile to Communism. Therefore, it was argued, they must be friendly to the British dividend – drawer. Hence the truly frightening spectacle of Conservative M.P.s wildly cheering the news that British ships, bringing food to the Spanish Republican government, had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes.” (page 93).
Lord Rothermere (owner of the Daily Mail and one-time media supporter of Oswald Mosley): “The first meeting between Signor Mussolini and myself took place in the summer of 1924, at a time when the murder of the Socialist Deputy, Matteotti, by a criminally extremist section of the Fascist Party, had, as Mussolini told me, ‘hampered his work.’ The calm strength and self-reliance Mussolini showed then, his set determination to cut out the evil growth that had manifested itself in the Fascist organisation of his creation, were proof unmistakable of his great force of character”. media
Ward Price (author of I Know These Dictators published by The Right Book Club, 1937)
with Hitler in Germany
Ward Price, Daily Mail correspondent in Berlin, 1932 – “Ignorant and prejudiced people talk of Italian affairs as if that nation were subject to some tyranny which it would willingly throw off. With that rather morbid commiseration for fanatical minorities which is the rule with certain imerffectly informed sections of British public opinion, this country long shut its eyes to the magnificent work that the Fascist regime was doing. I have several times heard Mussolini himself express his gratitude to the Daily Mail as having been the first British newspaper to put his aims fairly before the world.,”
Mussolini – he broke the power of the Mafia in Italy
Later, the power of the Mafia (and the Allies) broke him.
‘Sicily 43 – The First Assault on Fortress Europe’ by James Holland (Bantam, 2020, 640 pp: £25)
In his review of this book in The Times of September 12, 2020 Gerard DeGroot said that an enormous espionage effort had preceded the invasion of Sicily by the Allies in 1943. He wrote: “In Operation Mincemeat the British Secret Intelligence Service tried to divert enemy attention from Sicily by dumping a recently deceased Welsh vagrant, in the uniform of a British Marine officer, off the Spanish coast. In his pocket were plans for a fictitious invasion of Greece. In the US the Office of Strategic Services collaborated with Mafia bosses such as Lucky Luciano and Vito Genovese to obtain intelligence from their gangster colleagues in Sicily. Italian Mafiosos despised Mussolini, who had tried to rid Italy of their perfidy.” Nigel Cawthorne devotes a chapter to Mussolini’s clamp-down on the Mafia in mainland Italy and Sicily in his book The History of the Mafia (Arcturus Publishing, 2012). In it he says that as the Allies advanced in Sicily the Mafioso were freed from prisons because they were anti-Fascists. “They were regularly installed as mayors and given other political positions thanks to the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. Even the mayor of Palermo, Lucio Tasca Bordonato, was a member of the Mafia, in spite of the fact that he had been nominated by the Allies.”
The man Mussolini chose to take on the Mafiosa was Cesare Mori, a conservative monarchist and one-time enemy of Mussolini. In 1925, Mori was appointed prefect of Palermo. Mussolini called him his “Iron Prefect” and the locals in Sicily called him “The Man with Hair on his Heart.” Mori swamped the mafia’s strongholds with carabinieri, leaving the Mafiosi no choice but to give themselves up. Mori was not just out to capture the Mafiosi – he wanted to humiliate them. “I wanted to give the population tangible proof of the cowardice of criminals” he wrote in his memoirs.
All quotes from politicians and newspaper owners in the above are from The Trial of Mussolini by “Cassius,” (Michael Foot, leader of the British Labour Party between 1980-1983) published in 1943 by Victor Gollancz Ltd, London). This short book was reviewed by George Orwell in an article asking Who Are the War Criminals in Tribune, 22 October, 1943.
In his book “Dictators” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019) Frank Dikotter mentions some of the celebrities who were in thrall to Mussolini and he writes (page 13) – “Great leaders also came (to Rome) to pay homage. Mohandas Gandhi, who visited twice, pronounced him ‘one of the great statesman of the time’, while Winston Churchill in 1933 described ‘the Roman genius’ as ‘ the greatest law-giver among living men.’ From the United States alone, he (Mussolini) received William Randolph Hearst, New York Governor Al Smith, banker Thomas W. Lamont, future vice- presidential candidate Colonel Frank Knox and Archbishop of Boston, William Cardinal O’Connell. Thomas Edison called him the ‘ greatest genius of modern times’ after a short meeting.”
An examination of the intellectual antecedents of fascism would include studies of social Darwinism and jingoistic nationalism.
But taking the dictators seriously comes with a health warning.
The former Conservative MP and journalist Matthew Parris came under a great deal of criticism for presenting a programme on the BBC’s Radio Four called Great Lives on August 7, 2020.
His guest was Professor Margaret MacMillan of Oxford University who delivered the Reith Lectures on the BBC in 2018
She told Parris that she did not admire Benito Mussolini “but he is someone who sums up some of the difficulties of power and of making decisions when you are in power.” She said that it is easy to write Mussolini off as a character out of a comic opera but that a lot of people admired him – Winston Churchill being one of them.
Later a Radio 4 listener criticised Parris for including Mussolini in the Great Lives series and for not sufficiently drawing attention to the way Mussolini’s soldiers treated Ethiopians and Jews.
Parris was quoted as saying (The Times/ August 20, 2020) that he would happily devote a programme to the Devil if it would make for informative listening but drew the line at Hitler.
One of the men from the short-lived age of British Imperialism was Cecil Rhodes – damned as a precursor of not only apartheid but also of fascism. Rhodes went to his grave believing that only Britain’s success as an imperial power would save England from civil war.
Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902): “I was in the East End of London yesterday and attended a meeting of the unemployed. I listened to the wild speeches, which were just a cry for ‘bread! bread‘ and on my way home I pondered over the scene and I became more that ever convinced of the importance of imperialism. My cherished idea is a solution for the social problems ie., in order to save the 40 million inhabitants of the United Kingdom from a bloody civil war, we colonial statesmen must acquire new lands to settle the surplus population, to provide new markets for the goods produced in the factories and mines.The Empire, as I have always said, is a bread and butter question.If you want to avoid civil war, you must become imperialists.”- “Cecil Rhodes and his Time” by Appolo Davidson (Progress Publishers, Moscow) 1984.
The poet Basil Bunting warned that without social and economic changes, England would end up having a civil war.
In the mid-1930s Bunting who was a Quaker, a socialist and a conscientious objector during the First World War, wrote to Ezra Pound, whose broadcasts on the Italian Radio for Mussolini led to his incarceration in a Washington mental hospital for 13 years after the Second World War, lamenting the difficulty of achieving any meaningful change in Britain.
He told Pound that the nation’s “owners” had “the whole press in their pocket” and that the political opposition was led by men from Oxford and Cambridge.
He told Pound that “what seems quite certain is that not only no great change, but not even any substantial alleviation of the lot of the poor in England is going to be possible in England without civil war.” (This comes from an article “The UK after Covid” by Alex Niven in the New Statesman of 21-27 August,2020.
Carl Yung, (above) breathless when he contemplated the fuhrer, said: “I saw pictures of him in the Czechoslovakia crisis; there was in is eyes the look of a seer . . . Hitler is the mirror of every German’s unconscious . . . He is the loudspeaker which magnifies the inaudible whispers of the German soul until they can be heard by the German’s unconscious ear.” T hen comes Jung’s pronouncement: “Hitler’s power is not political; it is magic.” (from page 181 in The Death of Sigmund Freud – Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism by Mark Edmundson (Bloomsbury, 2008)
In May 1933, T.S. Eliot delivered lectures at Virginia University USA which were a further development of his essay ‘On Tradition and Individual Talent.’The following year, the lectures were gathered in a slim volume called ‘After Strange Gods.’ They contain some of the strongest evidence of Eliot’s dislike of non -Christian religions and his anti-Semitism.
Eliot did not permit these lectures to be reprinted in his lifetime.