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THE PATH TO POWER

But how did Mosley imagine that he and his Fascist movement could ever take power, providing the country with the sort of determined government he believed it needed? What did he think he was doing when he left the Labour Party (in which he was a force to be reckoned with)  and, after the interval of the New Party, when he still commanded wide respect within both Labour and Conservative ranks, into the margins of British politics with the British Union of Fascists?

The expectation of classical liberal economics as practised by Snowden and Baldwin and the National Government was that, left to its own devices, the economy would right itself. All government could do was to hold the fort, to muddle through, until that happened. Mosley on the other hand expected the crisis to deepen, leading to a collapse and the emergence of physical force politics. But the only people prepared for physical force politics were the Communists, a marginal element in the existing political scene, but they had also been a marginal element in the Russian political scene in 1917. Hence the need for a body like the BUF, organised on a paramilitary basis. The precedent he pointed to was Edward Carson and the UVF. (9)

(9) In The Alternative, discussing the atrocities committed by German soldiers in occupied territories in the late stages of the war, Mosley remarks: "That is a situation which seldom confronts Churchwardens, but is often met, in varying degree, by military police in an occupied country, where resistance is being organised on a large scale. Did all the Black and Tans emerge quite so spotless from the same test in much the same situation in Ireland, as the Churchwarden would have liked to think in Church on Sunday, just after he had voted for the Coalition Government which used them in the attempt to break the spirit of the Irish by terror? Let us remember that Britain was not fighting for her life at the time the Government employed the Black and Tans in Ireland, but that every country, which occupied another country in the late war, was, at that stage, fighting for its existence." Mosley in Parliament in the early twenties (sitting as a 'Conservative and Unionist') began his career as a fierce critic of the government's terror campaign in Ireland

According to Williamson, the violence at Mosley's rallies was almost entirely the result of Communist infiltration: 'Uproar by Communist mobs was usual at a Birkin meeting; stones, half-bricks, razor blades in potatoes flung in the face, coshes, chair legs bound with barbed wire' (A Solitary War, p.330). More surprisingly this view is supported by Robert Skidelsky. Skidelsky is now best known as the author of a massive biography of Keynes and as a major promoter of a Keynesian approach to economics. His biography of Mosley (1975) follows on his early book (1967), Politicians and the Slump: the Labour Government of 1929-31, in which he argued that the 'Mosley Memorandum' of 1929 could have been the saving of the Labour government. In the introduction to the Mosley biography, he says (after expressing his admiration of Hugh Gaitskell): 'As the Labour Government of 1964 staggered from disaster to disaster under an obviously inadequate Prime Minister, Mosley took shape in my mind as Labour's "lost leader"' (p.14).

He continues:

'the creativity with which he is now generally credited before 1931 did not suddenly disappear when he put on a black shirt. Rather, a highly unusual and penetrating mind went on developing and refining certain basic positions present only in embryo in the 1920s. Secondly, Mosley's political stands provide a mordant and ironic commentary on the history of his own lifetime. To study Mosley's thought is to be presented with an alternative history of Great Britain in the twentieth century, a history of "what might have been" which has a fascination of its own. But it would be a mistake to treat it merely as fantasy. Mosley had a remarkable gift for being in tune with the main historical tendencies of his age. When his responses to twentieth century challenges are set side by side with those of Britain's rulers, it is their lack of attunement to the new age that appears to be striking. Mosley may have been out of tune with British political culture; but Britain itself was notably failing to adapt its nineteenth century ideas to twentieth century reality. Mosley may best be seen as an "authoritarian moderniser" in a society which had "resolved unwittingly to stand on the ancient ways." It was the inherent difficulty of this position, as much as Mosley's "character defects", which wrecked his political career. But the very quality of futurism which helped bring his political ambitions to dust keeps his ideas fresh for present and succeeding generations.' (pp.16-17).

On the subject of political violence, he says:

'This whole complication of challenge and response makes it extremely difficult to assign responsibility for violence. Legally, the responsibility rests with the opponents of Fascism. They attacked Fascist meetings, processions and occasions. By and large fascists did no more than the law entitled them to do to defend those occasions. The basic reason why more communists than fascists were convicted in the courts in the 1930s is that communists broke the law more frequently than fascists. Morally, the verdict has gone against Fascism; and the Public Order Act of 1936 was certainly passed on the assumption that the fascists were the guilty party. To the Left the anti-fascists were right to attack fascism simply because it was a "bad thing". And even the moderate Right found it very hard to sympathise with Mosley. Their attitude was very much that of the newspaper which remarked of him at the time of the Smethwick by-election: "Mr Mosley rather asks for it, as he is a very provocative young man ..." (10)

'The general context in which violence took place was also favourable to opposition propaganda. The B.U.F.'s use o force always appeared to be more calculated, visible, more obviously organised than its opponents. In fact, the communists organised just as thoroughly, with as much military precision as the fascists. But their use of force was largely concealed; they were the guerrilla army; fascists the traditional army ... a fascist march through a working-class area was a visible, open act. But when bricks were hurled at it what did anyone know about those hurling them? Who were they? Where did they come from? It looked like a "spontaneous" expression of anger. But usually it wasn't ... "It is fashionable to allege that we were starry eyed idealists, but we certainly knew where to put razor blades in the potato when it came to a fight," says that veteran of many battles, Claud Cockburn ...' (pp.361-2).

(10) In 1926, when Mosley stood as a Labour candidate against the Chamberlain dynasty. It his perhaps his opposition to the Chamberlain domination of Birmingham which prevented him from acknowledging the similarity of his ideas to those of Joseph Chamberlain.

Because of the Mosley biography, Skidelsky was denied tenure at John Hopkins University and Oxford. Somewhat bizarrely, after passing through the Labour Party and SDP, he was made a life peer by the Conservative government (under John Major) in 1991, becoming Conservative spokesman on Treasury affairs in the Lords (which seems odd for a Keynesian) before being dismissed by William Hague because he opposed the war on Serbia over Kosovo.

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