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Books Know the enemy

TONY CONWAY finds contemporary relevance in a study of fascism’s first steps as a political ideology in the UK

Fascism in Liverpool 1923-1940: The Flash in the Pan
By Chris Jones
Self-published, £5

THIS admirable short history is, as the date suggests, an analysis of the main fascist parties in Liverpool in the period when fascism was on the March in Europe. 

As the author demonstrates, fascism in Europe crossed the sea to disparate communities in Britain, among them the Italian diaspora in Liverpool. While it is asserted that the organisation came from the consulate in Liverpool, the author can find no documentary evidence of this. It is, however, worth noting that Mussolini appointed two ambassadors, both of whom at the time of appointment were fascists. 

As the author states, fascism grew quickly in the 1920s as a reaction to the Bolshevik revolution. Leading parliamentarians such as Sir Robert Burton Chadwick were on the Fascist Grand Council. 

Jones highlights what is still a relevant and ongoing discussion today, namely: whether the first organisation of British Fascism, the BF, was ideologically fascist or, like the Front National in France (now the RN), essentially a reactionary right-wing conservative movement. 

In 1925, the BF “kidnapped” Harry Pollitt, later general secretary of the CPGB, on a trip to address communists in Liverpool, and also threw bombs at a public meeting addressed by Willie Gallagher. The fascists responsible were tried, and acquitted. Interestingly these early British fascists were keen to separate themselves from Mussolini and the anti-semitic actions of newer fascist groups in tactical positioning that resonates today.

The work goes into extraordinary and useful detail of how fascists attempted to infiltrate the police. Cenotaph commemorations were attended. During the later 1920s further splits occurred. They never united and electoral support was derisory.

By the early 1930s, however, the pamphlet identifies the British Union of Fascists as the only game in town. Chris Jones quite rightly identified them as a ramshackle bunch and draws on sources to show this. He also highlights the conflict British Fascism had within itself about anti-semitism. The BUF were increasingly anti-semitic.

And, with resonance today, far-right and fascist commentators moved to condemn racial integration, a fact identified by Chris Jones as part of the propaganda of the fascist press of the 1930s. 

The pamphlet explores the actions of local BUF cadres in some detail and should be read by anti-fascists. An internal review highlights most of the members as being unemployed. 

Detailed analysis of key individuals have been put together on the local far right and fascists such as Ernst Ashton and Harold Soref, the latter being of particular interest and worthy of more research.

The violent nature of Liverpool’s fascists is also emphasised with evidence. A whole section covers the battle of Lime Street when Mosely was supposed to speak a week after the events of Cable Street. The police, like at the better known battle in east London, again cleared the way for fascists. When Mosley spoke he was pelted with stones and a slim youth, Melander, was charged with wounding him, but the charge was dropped as no evidence was presented.

The Flash in the Pan also analyses the failure of fascists to get their people elected. It shows the importance of social activities for the far right. 

The Liverpool fascists were inevitably influenced by the rise of the National Socialists in Germany and the German Consulate was used as a base for activity. This led to expulsions, and towards the end of the period covered saw Parliament carry legislation that led to the detention of the most enthusiastic Nazis, including 21 from Liverpool. 

Altogether this is a fascinating account of the activities of the far right and, in some areas, of the Communists and Jews who fought them. A worthwhile read.

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