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Anti-fascist response

Unsurprisingly, the rebirth of public fascism and open antisemitism was opposed vociferously by anti-fascists. With hundreds of thousands dead and maimed by years of fighting the Nazis and with many still in uniform on the continent, there-emergence of such public fascism in Britain was greeted with extreme anger. Hamm’s meetings were interrupted with cries of, ‘Lynch him’. . . . ‘Get back to Berlin’. . . . ‘Where’s your pal Captain Ramsey?’. ... ‘Is Mosley your next speaker?’93 Many saw the hypocrisy of a supposed ex-servicemen’s organisation dominated by men who had not seen active duty because of their perceived sympathies with the enemy. The League’s meetings were regularly greeted by hundreds of anti-fascists, often Jewish, shouting down speakers, causing disruption and overturning platforms.94 Hamm also claimed that once he started the public meetings he was sacked by his employer because of Trade Union pressure and also evicted from his flat.95 Such events show the emergence of an anti-fascist consensus that would become commonplace and was a taste of the severely hostile climate in which fascists would have to operate in the postwar period.

Of course the legacy of World War II, being so present in the mind, was a central part of anti-fascist rhetoric in the immediate postwar period. For example, one leaflet titled Fascism Again in 1947? stated:

Yet here in Britain, a country which suffered longer than any other from the savagery of Fascism, complete freedom is allowed to the British satellites and admirers of Hitler and Mussolini - freedom to revive the doctrines of intolerance and racial hatred which brought the whole civilised world to the brink of disaster. Democracies biggest mistake is to regard the suppression of Fascism as “undemocratic.” The truth is that it is undemocratic not to destroy this deadly menace to liberty, decency and all the other values we so rightly hold dear.91

Similarly another called Yonr Freedom in Danger declared:

All that we fought for, all that we have sacrificed, everything for which we hope, everything which made this country, and which still makes it, a country of free men, will be lost if the Union Movement ... is allowed to continue its nefarious activities. . . . We were forced into war in 1939 by the Nazis - have we ten years after to listen to the Nazis’ friends and allies, to the speeches of a political party which, unique in British history, produced a nest of black traitors?97

Another stated, ‘The fascist plague devastated Europe in which fifteen million men women and children died. The plague is still with us . . . in this country. It is The Union Movement led by Oswald Mosley. Avoid it like the plague’.98 Meanwhile M.J. McLean, a disillusioned former Mosley support, produced a leaflet called Mosley Exposed: The Union Movement from Within that stated:

Intimate acquaintance with the leaders of Union Movement forces me to recognise the truth, that the idea behind their activities is the very idea that drove Adolf Hitler forward to the insanity of war, the idea that reduced large numbers of the German people to the level of beasts, the idea that fed on violence and fostered misery ... even for its own creators”. . . . “Now, almost before the bodies of his erstwhile “comrades” are cold in their graves, we find him poking out into obscure corners of the European Continent, disseminating his fascist propaganda and rallying the scattered Fascist remnants."

However, it wasn’t just societal opposition or anti-fascist leaflets that greeted those seeking to relaunch fascism in Britain; many were greeted by the fist and the boot. While much of the militant opposition was done by random anti-fascists or communists, the most prominent organised militant anti-fascist group of the period was the notorious 43 Group. For many years information about this much-understudied group was primarily based on the autobiographical account of leading member Morris Beckman. However, as historian Daniel Sonabend has shown more recently, ‘most of the Group veterans thought it [Beckmans book| was a load of tosh’.100 That said, Beckman’s Untold Story remains a gripping read and has certainly acted as a source of inspiration for many anti-fascist activists since its publication. However, Sonabend’s work offers a more accurate picture of the group’s scale and influence, placing the number of active members at some 2,OOO101 and arguing that with time it turned into a ‘fully functioning, multifaceted anti-fascist organisation’.102

At every level of society, be it the Jewish ex-service people of the 43 Group or general societal antifascism, those seeking to relaunch fascism in the immediate postwar years were up against it from the start. While the militant actions of antifascists certainly played a role, it was likely widespread postwar societal hostility that really stopped the fascist movement making real progress in the period. As Dan Stone has shown, ‘In Britain, pride at defeating Hitler was a commonplace sentiment across all classes for many years’.103 The conditions that postwar fascists found themselves operating in were so different to the fertile ground in which they had emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite this, though, it is remarkable how unchanged the movement was by the war years and the new climate in which they found themselves. In many cases the postwar fascist scene was the same people, propagating the same ideas as before the war, and what changes did occur were often superficial. Many historians and politicians refer to postwar fascists as ‘neo-fascists’, but in Britain there was very little ‘new’ about them. While the events in Palestine offered the far right a glimpse of hope, the spectre of six years of war against Nazism loomed large in British society, making their efforts doomed from the off. Of course, that didn’t stop them trying.

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