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Fighting fascism: the British Left and the rise of fascism, 1919–39

Fighting fascism: the British Left and the rise of fascism, 1919–39

Keith Hodgson
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
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    Fighting fascism: the British Left and the rise of fascism, 1919–39
    Book Description:

    In the years between the two world wars, fascism triumphed in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere, coming to power after intense struggles with the labour movements of those countries. This book analyses the way in which the British left responded to this new challenge. How did socialists and communists in Britain explain what fascism was? What did they do to oppose it, and how successful were they? In examining the theories and actions of the Labour Party, the TUC, the Communist Party and other, smaller left-wing groups, the book explains their different approaches, while at the same time highlighting the common thread that ran through all their interpretations of fascism. The author argues that the British left has largely been overlooked in the few specific studies of anti-fascism that exist, with the focus being disproportionately applied to its European counterparts. He also takes issue with recent developments in the study of fascism, and argues that the views of the left, often derided by modern historians, are still relevant today.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-310-2
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements (pp. ix-x)
  4. Glossary of terms and abbreviations (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-26)

    The British left is frequently overlooked when historians examine what socialists and communists thought of fascism in the inter-war years.² There is a significant body of work dedicated to the analyses and responses of the German, Italian, Spanish and French labour movements to this complex and dangerous political phenomenon in the 1920s and 1930s.² Yet it is all too often assumed that the Labour Party, the organisations of its left wing, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and British Marxists of various hues lacked valid ideas and strategies when compared with their European counterparts.⁴ More generally, the ideas of the left...

  6. 1 White Guards and Black Hundreds: existing concepts of counter-revolution (pp. 27-49)

    Given Britain’s long democratic tradition, the domestic left had for the most part relied on foreign examples when it came to examining authoritarianism and counter-revolution. It was the French ‘Thermidor’ of 1794–95, the wave of reaction that swept Europe in 1848 and the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1871 that had largely informed their view. These images were later complemented by the repressive actions of Tsarism towards the end of the century and its crushing of the 1905 Russian revolution.¹ Their image of counter-revolution was set firmly in place by the study of the ‘White’ movements which emerged...

  7. 2 Explaining Italian fascism: from movement to dictatorship, 1919–26 (pp. 50-70)

    Given the tumultuous events surrounding the Russian revolution and civil war, the upheavals in Eastern Europe, the situation in Germany and developments on the home front at the end of the First World War, the British left could perhaps be forgiven for not placing Italy at the top of its agenda. While the origins of Italian fascism, both intellectual and organisational, would later be intensively analysed by the British left, the actual formation of theFasci di azione rivoluzionariain January 1915, and its evolution into theFasci di combattimentoin March 1919 passed virtually unnoticed in Britain as elsewhere....

  8. 3 The British left and the rise of Nazism (pp. 71-96)

    It can be difficult, with the benefit of hindsight, to imagine that people in Britain were ever unsure about what Nazism stood for. ¹ Yet it was the case that early impressions were developed without knowledge of what was to come, and it is with this in mind that their accuracy or otherwise should be judged today. It would be unfair, for example, to dismiss those who examined the Nazis’ anti-Semitism but did not predict the Holocaust. To do this would be to attribute blindness or naiveté to virtually everyone who commented upon the subject until long after the outbreak...

  9. 4 The left and fascism in Britain, 1919–32 (pp. 97-124)

    The British left formulated its impressions of European fascism from a wide variety of sources: the press, newsreels, the exile communities, information passed from the various socialist and communist internationals and from an increasing number of books and pamphlets by authors, both foreign and domestic, whose political views covered the entire spectrum from left to right. Occasionally, members of the British parties would visit a country in which the struggle against fascism was underway, or one in which fascism had come to power. They would then pass on their impressions in the form of books, articles or speaking tours. This...

  10. 5 Opposing the British Union of Fascists (pp. 125-155)

    The very existence of the British Union of Fascists, formed by Oswald Mosley in October 1932 after the failure of the New Party, was enough to command the attention of the left parties regardless of its aggressive campaigning. They invested considerable time and effort in analysing and opposing the BUF and addressed many of the issues which divide historians of fascism today. In doing so, they have bequeathed an invaluable body of evidence, often overlooked, concerning the composition, policies and activities of Mosley’s movement.

    Some scholars have questioned the left’s focus on the BUF, playing down its potential and suggesting...

  11. 6 Fascism and war (pp. 156-192)

    As the 1930s progressed, the left had new opportunities to observe fascism and deepen its understanding of the phenomenon. In Spain in 1936, there was another assault from the right on a European democracy. Despite the differing perspectives the left parties had of the Spanish Civil War, there was broad agreement on the nature and purpose of the fascist challenge there. In Italy, Mussolini’s regime had become firmly established, the final centres of opposition were nullified and the actions of a ‘mature’ fascist state could be seen. In Germany, Hitler had moved far more quickly than his Italian counterpart to...

  12. Conclusion: the old left and the ‘new consensus’ (pp. 193-212)

    Before the advent of fascism, the British left had differed over how, why and from where authoritarian and anti-working-class movements or tendencies might emerge. The parties shared a particular interested in this as they each wanted to advance the workers’ cause in their own way, to the greater or lesser discomfiture of the ruling class. A minority looked to the revolutionary overthrow of the established institutions of government, while by far the larger organisations sought to pursue reforms through the very same structures. Yet each organisation took seriously the possibility that a severe economic crisis or incorrect tactics on the...

  13. Bibliography (pp. 213-236)
  14. Index (pp. 237-242)