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Introduction

By the time the cannons fell silent across Europe in 1945 the leading architects of fascism were dead. Mussolini was hung upside down from a metal girder in the Piazzale Loreto and Hitler hurriedly cremated after swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. With much of Europe turned to rubble, few families left untouched and the newsreel footage of Jewish bodies being pushed into mass graves seared into societal consciousness, most understandably thought that fascism would die with its founders. Despite all this, fascism survived World War II, and though changed, it survives to this day. Despite being the country that ‘stood alone’ against fascism and whose national myth is forever entwined with the idea that it sacrificed so much to oppose it, Britain is no exception here. In 1946 the British journalist, author and anti-fascist Frederic Mullally stated that, ‘In the midst of the uncertainties and hazards of war, here we thought, was one thing that could be taken for granted: fascism had had its day in England; there could be no “come back’”.1 Yet the truth is that during the war years there were fascists in England working to keep the flame alive, and even before the killing had stopped British fascists were readying themselves to relaunch in the hostile postwar period.

Many contemporary historians have argued that the start of the war marked the end of prewar British fascism, while some go further and state that it marked the end of British fascism all together.2 However, in truth the search to find a definitive endpoint for interwar fascism and a clear start point of the postwar movement is a fruitless one. The lines between the two blend into each other beyond distinction as British fascism continued through the war years and into the postwar period making the division into pre and postwar a false paradigm. As Graham Macklin argues in Failed Fiihrer’s ‘the ongoing centrality of race, racism, and anti-Semitism, within the racial nationalist tradition reinforced a seamless continuity’ between the two periods.3 In reality the history of British fascism is best understood as an unbroken thread and a continual holistic tradition with a traceable lineage that runs through

the war years and into the postwar period. By understanding the phenomenon as continuous, the war and immediate postwar years take on a new significance, shifting from an abstract, irrelevant and often overlooked period in the history of British fascism, to a flame carrying period that kept the ideas of prewar fascism alive. It was the transition phase and training ground when the baton of British fascism was passed on to those individuals who later achieved unprecedented success with the National Font and then the British National Party. Only by understanding fascism in the immediate postwar period can we properly understand the much more influential far-right movements that emerged decades later.

While British fascism is best understood as an unbroken thread, the world of the 1950s was of course very different to that of the 1930s, especially in terms of the political climate in which the fascists were operating. It goes without saying, for example, that the postwar world was a measurably more hostile climate in which to propose fascism. This had obvious effects on the scale of the postwar movement but also its ambitions. In the 1930s many believed the world was their oyster and the march towards fascism was inevitable and unstoppable. While some of the more deluded activists were unaffected by the war years, many tempered their ambitions in the immediate postwar period to the mere survival of the movement. However, while it is important to highlight these discontinuities, what is most interesting is just how similar the postwar British fascist movement was despite the fact that it operated in such a different world.

This book tells the story of this period, when British fascism was at its lowest ebb. It provides an in-depth analysis of the core ideological beliefs and priorities of the various ideologues and fascist organisations that existed in the immediate postwar era. It explores the policies and ideologies of a number of individuals and groups that attempted to re-launch fascist, antisemitic and racist politics in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust. It shows how the war, the revelation of the Holocaust and the advent of non-white immigration into Britain, forced a change in the ideological priorities of Britain’s far-right, shedding new light onto the most understudied period of fascism in Britain, while simultaneously adding to our understanding of the evolving ideology of fascism, the persistent nature of antisemitism and the blossoming of Britain’s anti-immigration movement.

One of the central questions it sets out to answer is: how did some people remain unmoved by the horrifying revelations of the Holocaust? How after news of Belsen, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec, Buchenwald and Chelmno did so many refuse to turn away from fascism and antisemitism? For many fascists, the answer was simply denial: denial of the gas chambers, denial of mass murder, denial of the six million dead. This book shows how British Holocaust denial actually pre-dates its Franco-American counterparts giving British antisemites the ignoble honour of being the very first to properly deny the Holocaust, laying down the blueprints for the denial industry that lasts to this day.

Despite their best efforts to deny the truth of the Holocaust, however, many British fascists understood it remained the primary roadblock to the resurrection of their besmirched ideology and looked for alternative ways to escape the political ghettos to which they had been confined. The immediate postwar period saw the arrival of large scale non-white immigration, provoking a racist societal reaction and a glimmer of hope for beleaguered fascists. However, while British fascists were the first to deny the Holocaust they were surprisingly slow when it came to seeing the opportunities provided to them by non-white immigration. Now in an age when any immigration will be met by far-right outrage, the arrival of Windrush in 1948 from the West Indies provoked little or no reaction from most of the far right who remained preoccupied with antisemitism. With time however, they came to see it as their best recruiting tool, shifting towards anti-black racism. Sadly, this research further challenges the idea of a tolerant country with a racist fringe and shows how Britain’s far-right were often following societal racism, not leading it.

Another reason why overlooking the immediate postwar period is folly is that a number of British fascists in the period produced works that sit amongst the most influential fascists texts ever produced in the UK. Oswald Mosley’s ‘Europe a Nation’ theory, Francis Parker Yockey’s neo-Spenglerian tome Imperium, as well as the conspiratorial antisemitism produced by A.K. Chesterton all remain in print to this day. Some of the works produced in this period provide rare examples of British fascist ideas being exported as well as imported. Fascistic ideas in the postwar period moved to and fro across borders making it imperative to take a transnational approach to the study of this period. Extensive archival research, especially in America - notably the private archive of the Armenian American Avendis Derounian - resulted in some exciting revelations regarding the extent of far-right transnational cooperation in the period. Holocaust denial and fascist networks across the Atlantic, Europe and the beleaguered British Empire are all highlighted showing how far-right people and ideas operated internationally.

Building on existing scholarship of this period, this book fills in the blanks and sheds important new light onto the least studied period of British fascism. By looking at the moment when the movement was arguably at its lowest point, we can better understand the survival instinct of fascism. If fascism didn’t die with the gas chambers it’s likely that nothing will kill it, revealing its ability to change and adapt and the persistence of prejudice and hatred.

 
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