By East End Walks
October 13, 2008
Bad as things are, with the BNP gaining dozens of council seats around the country, we can be thankful that they haven't got a leader of the calibre of the late and unlamented Oswald Mosley.
I first studied him in depth as a post-graduate writing a dissertation back in the early 1980s about the largely class-based, West End versus East End, conflict within the Jewish community in the 1930s about how to understand and respond to Mosley's brand of fascism and antisemitism. One indicator of the divide between different worlds is that this paper - the JC - geographically and politically closer the the West End sent a "special correspondent" to hang out and merge in within the East End in the summer of '36 to tell it as it was. The way the JC wrote about it, you would think they were sending a correspondent to some far-flung corner of the globe about which they knew nothing.
Even Mosley's bitterest opponents acknowledged his skill as an orator and organiser. And the conditions were ripe for fascists to grow - high unemployment, economic depression, loss of national prestige, fascism already established in Italy, and advancing in Germany, and a distinct minority to scapegoat for Britain's ills.
In the end he and his movement failed to take advantage of the situation - not for want of trying though, as the people of the East End - Jewish and non-Jewish will tell you.
Since July this year I have been leading walks, called "ANTI-FASCIST FOOTPRINTS", specifically about this period and this locality. As well as looking up the work I did in the past, I have enjoyed delving into proper research again reading many books and articles about Mosley and his movement.
Yesterday afternoon I was taking 30 people on one of my walks. The night before I had found some new material. One of the issues I'm keen to dig out more information about is about who was materially supporting Mosley. Certainly he put part of his personal fortune (and some of his wives' fortunes) into the movement. But he was also being backed by certain industrialists. Beyond knowing that Viscount Rothermere (owner of the Daily Mail) was a strong supporter at least until mid 1934 I hadn't delved that much into political support for Mosley within Westminster.
This weekend I found an interesting article about Fascism and the establishment which records questions and discussion on Parliament, after Mosley's famed Olympia rally of '34. This rally attracted many thousands of supporters. Communist Party activists, Jews among them, made several brave attempts to disrupt the meeting and many of their members who did so were badly beaten up by thuggish BUF stewards armed with knuckle-dusters. The one-sided violence and its brutality turned off some of Mosley's "very respectable" supporters, but what was said in Parliament? An article I stumbled across the other night recorded this exquisite parliamentary exchange:
William P.C. Greene, Conservative party M.P. for Worcester and a landowner in Australia asked:
"Is it not a fact that ninety per cent of those accused of attacking Fascists rejoice in fine old British names such as Ziff, Kernstein and Minsky"
F.A. Macquisten Conservative M.P. with business interests in Rhodesia replied:
"Were some of them called Feigenbaum, Goldstein and Rigotsky and other good old Highland names?"
Very nice, isn't it? Makes you wonder whether had Mosley got beyond a certain threshold, how many traditional Conservatives would have swung behind him and also you wonder whether certain parliamentarians today might harbour similar sentiments about the BNP and its opponents.