Rise of Fascist Term Paper

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'During the 1920's one or two extreme right-wing organizations appeared in Britain including the Imperial Fascist League. They were essentially symptoms of the fears about Bolshevik subversion and nationalistic attacks on the Empire."

These groups were not destined to gain the power of a later organization headed by Sir Oswald Mosley: the British Union of Fascists, founded in 1932. Mosley was able to tap into the disillusionment felt by many veterans of the First World War, and the government's difficulty coping with the Great Depression. He "claimed that when the national government failed, his movement would step in to save Britain from Communism."

For the first two years of its existence the British Union of Fascists was successful in recruiting thousands of members in depressed areas across Britain. Their doctrines borrowed much from the established fascist governments in Italy and Germany, which Mosley visited himself. Oswald Mosley's wife, Dianna, was one of the few people in the world to be well acquainted with both Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler.

The British Union of Fascists "received financial support form Mussolini, and adopted the idea of the corporate state."

Mosley also perpetuated the practice of finding racial scapegoats for economic instability -- he blamed the Jews, and endorsed Hitler's management of them. Of course, however, this was well before anyone became aware of the scale by which Hitler was massacring them.

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Although the British Union of Fascists identified themselves as fascists it has been difficult for historians to clearly define what fascism truly was. The British form tried mostly to emulate the Italian model created my Mussolini. Stuart Hood described the general movement: "Fascism as a mass political phenomenon was the response . . . To a series of threats: recession, mass unrest, the Russian revolution, the organized working class and its left wing parties."

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Despite the seeming abundance of forces pushing Britain towards fascism, by 1934 the British Union of Fascists was clearly losing power. A sharp decline in the movement's popularity occurred after a mass rally at Olympia in London, which escalated into a violent riot. "The violent methods alienated many of the respectable Conservatives and major newspapers such as the Daily Mail which has given Mosley favorable publicity."

Yet in truth, it is difficult to imagine that fascism failed in Britain because of an aversion to violence. The British built their empire with the barrel of a gun, and most of the young members of the British Union of Fascists were eager to participate in the "quasi-military" organization that encouraged the use of violence.

British history would indicate that fascism lost momentum for reasons other than their long democratic history. Historically, British ideology and pride came from their ability to dominate other cultures. Linda Colley describes some of the attitudes inherent in the formation of the British empire: "It means seizing land, planting it and changing it. It means employing guns, technology, trade and the bible to devastating effect, imposing rule, and subordinating those of a different skin pigmentation or religion."

The idea of violence, and threat there of, was precisely what made England a world power. So, it is likely that it was not the violence people associated with fascism that halted the movement in Britain.

Another major aspect of fascism was that it played upon a sense of lost national pride and humiliation. German and Italian citizens felt that their nations has fallen from glory, and been wronged by the rest of the world. This sentiment, coupled with the idea of racial superiority, urged the populous to fulfill their country's destiny -- which was, of course, to dominate the globe. For Britain, this was one major aspect for the recipe for fascism that they were missing: they had not been humiliated by the First World War.

Furthermore, although the other factors contributing to fascism in other parts of the world were in place, they were not as acute in Britain. "Unemployment in Britain was bad, though not as bad as elsewhere; there was poverty, dissatisfaction and industrial unrest, but the national strike of 1926, which lasted a matter of days, was a mild affair compared to Italy's 'Biennio rosso,' the 'Two Red Years' of 1920-22 that saw factories occupied and widespread strikes and demonstrations by agricultural as well as industrial workers."

The economic and civil factors that contributed to fascist movements were less strong in Britain.

Unlike the Germans or Italians, the British maintained the same parliamentary government through the First World War. Through this government the perceived threat of Socialism and Communism was virtually eradicated. Pugh writes, "Another part of the explanation for the survival of the National Government lay in the fragmented and demoralized condition of the left after 1931. For some Socialists the betrayal of his party by Ramsay MacDonald and the timid economic policy of his government called into question whether it was realistic to achieve socialism by any parliamentary methods."

With the Socialists virtually powerless in English parliament the threat to the ruling class was less than in nations with strong left wing political parties. Accordingly, the reactionary response to the Socialist threat was also less intense.

The economic turmoil that encompassed the world during the Great Depression was by no means felt uniformly. In addition to the demoralization the German people experienced from the end of the war, they were also forced to cope with economic sanctions and reparations. This made a reorganization of government essential in Germany. In Britain, on the other hand, even though wages fell, prices fell even faster and "as a result those in work, who formed the majority, enjoyed, on average, a rise in 17 per cent in real wages between 1924 and 1935."

Essentially, living standards rose in Britain even during the Great Depression. This was not only the result of an increase in real wages, but also a consequence of the decreased population growth of the middle classes. It might be noted that when this phenomenon was first noticed the government saw it as a problem, and tried to implement a program of reproductive selection. But by the time of the Great Depression, the decreased numbers of children families were having resulted in an increase in families' total living standards. With fewer children the average family had more money to spend on their existing children.

This also contributed to the rise in living standards in Britain, and made fascism much less of an economic necessity than in other nations

All of these factors made it very difficult for the British Union of Fascists to gain a strong hold on the public, or any real hold on the government. By the outbreak of the Second World War public opinion had fallen directly opposite to the Germans, Italy, and fascism. Propaganda became an advanced governmental institution, and aided in the demise of British fascism. Suddenly, patriotic posters and pamphlets appeared everywhere, and the notion of fascism became extremely unpatriotic. "These posters [played] on two psychological needs: the need for men and women to belong to a group, and the need for the group to have its own symbols, flags, badges, banners, uniforms, and colors."

Propaganda helped to polarize the world as Axis or Allied, German or British, fascist or democratic. Thus, a fascist government coming to power by any legitimate means was forever thwarted in Britain.

The fascist regimes that were born in the Post World War One era were derived from many of the same economic and social pressures that Britain faced at the same time. A moral and spiritual void had been carved out of the carnage of World War I. This made people vulnerable to ideas and practices that may have once been considered barbaric or cruel. The economic downturn following the war and during the Great Depression resulted in increased unemployment and a population of disillusioned veterans. Also, the violent nature of Britain's history meant that they were not new to the idea of military rule. The Bolshevik revolution in Russia created a powerful fear of Communism and Socialism in the British ruling class. Yet, in the face of all these factors that might have led to a fascist government to Britain, there were other issues that prevented fascism from spreading.

In general, the recipe for fascism was not as potent in Britain as elsewhere in the world. The Communist threat was never as real -- the labor party was rendered ineffectual. Britain was not hit as hard by the depression, and in fact, living standards rose during the time. Furthermore, the British had not suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the other world powers, nor did they seek national redemption. With all these things combined fascism in Great Britain never amounted to more than a few thousand young men roving the streets at night, looking for people to beat up. Finally, once World War II began fascism was no longer considered a reasonable form of government -- fascists became formal enemies of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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