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Fascism in Britain, past and present

Uncle Sid | 05.10.2010 18:00 | Analysis | Anti-racism | History

Current fascist groups such as the BNP and EDL claim not to be is instructive, however, to compare their utterances with those of the British Union of Fascists in the last century.

The EDL and the BNP are often labelled by their as "fascist" and "racist", an accusation which both groups are very keen to avoid. The EDL point to the very small number of non-whites in their ranks, and state that they are not anti-Muslim but anti-Islam (whilst reminding us, correctly, that Muslims are not a race but a cultural/religious group). The BNP have a harder time in appearing non-racist, but they attempt to side-step the issue by referring to "indigenous British" rather than "white" (which is, of course, what they mean...); meanwhile, the BNP is very keen to criticise Islam, even to the extent of attempting to make links with certain Hindu or Sikh groups.

It's interesting to compare the rhetoric of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF) with those of the modern-day BNP and EDL. Here's an extract from a speech made by Mosley at the Albert Hall in October 1934 :

"Now they [The Jews] seek to howl over the length and breadth of the land that we are bent on racial or religious persecution....That charge is utterly untrue.....Our Empire is composed of numerous races, a great conglomeration of races of the earth, bound together in a mighty unity, and any suggestion of racial or religious persecution strikes a blow at the conception of the British Empire....We do not attack the Jews on racial or religious grounds. We take up the challenge that they have thrown down because they fight against Fascism and against Britain!"

Later in the speech, Mosley expanded on his theme :

"They [The Jews] oppose us for every reason of their tradition and character.......They owe allegiance - and admit they owe allegiance - not in the first place to this Empire, but to their own relatives and their own kith and kin in nations beyond our frontiers. There, not on grounds of race or religion but on the fundamental principle of Fascism, we declare that we will not tolerate an organised community within the state which owes allegiance not to Britain but to another race in foreign countries......"

This is a very interesting quote. To put it in context, the speech was Mosley's unveiling of his new policy on the Jews; it's not so widely known that the BUF was not originally anti-semitic when it was formed in 1932, but Mosley decided as his party grew to adopt an overt anti-semitic policy.

So, it's instructive to compare Mosley's 1934 rhetoric with the current lines of the BNP and EDL, as mentioned above. Mosley was keen to claim not to be opposing the Jews on "racial or religious" grounds, but because they were an enemy to Britain, with their own "allegiance". How similar this sounds to voices from the BNP/EDL claiming not to be against individual Muslims, but to oppose Islam as a whole. As anti-semitism grew in the 1930s, Jewry was the obvious target for an ambitious fascist; in 2010, conflicts between Islam and "The West" mean the target is again obvious. I shan't labour the point too much, but anyone who has read much BNP or EDL propaganda will recognise the themes Mosley was speaking of 76 years ago. Fascism evolves and alters, but certain patterns persist. I look forward to the BNP and the EDL joining the BUF in the ranks of failed, defunct fascist groupings.

Uncle Sid