Britain’s home-grown Hitler

The same week that saw Powell’s death also saw the launch of Mosley, Channel Four’s new four-part blockbuster. Mosley, unlike Powell, was an aristocrat who definitely did want to mobilise ‘the mob’. The streets became his preferred domain, not the hallowed ground of parliament. The story of Sir Oswald (Tom) Mosley is one that needs to be told, given the fact that Britain’s putative Benito Mussolini has been semi-air brushed out of history, pushed to its marginalia.

Unfortunately, Mosley is not much of a vehicle when it comes to under­standing the evolution and complexi­ties of its eponymous anti-hero. Written by Maurice Gran and Law­rence Marks, both Jewish, it is more of a bonk-buster than a serious epic. The hype for Mosley went, “Leader, fascist, adulterer”. Unfortunately, all the emphasis appears to linger, in some detail, on the last attribute. As one critic waggishly remarked, the actor Jonathan Cake plays Mosley as a slab of beefcake. You can see why of course. Sex sells and Mosley’s ex­tremely busy extra-marital liaisons (with aristocratic women) would al­most put Bill Clinton to shame. Mosley’s sexual antics led Leon Trotsky to mock him as “the perfumed popinjay of scented boudoirs”.

Gran and Marks are also responsi­ble for the terrible TV sitcom Birds of a feather. It tells when you watch Mosley. The authors are clearly way out of their depth - yet they also have an eye for the mass market. A fairly disastrous combination. Discontent has also been expressed by many that the series relies heavily on the biog­raphy-cum-memoirs of Mosley’s son, Nicholas, entitled Rules of the game/beyond the pale: memoirs of Sir Oswald Mosley and family. Nick Cohen of The Observer complained that the Channel Four programme was part of a disturbing trend to see Mosley as “a great, if misguided, man; a Shakespearean hero” (February 15) - the same could well be said of Powell.

The most significant aspect of Oswald Mosley was that, like Mus­solini, he was a man of the left prior to his fascist conversion. Mussolini, it should be said, was editor of the so­cialist journal Avanti! from 1912 to 1914, a publication that inspired the young Antonio Gramsci. Under his editorship Avanti! assumed a leftist position, which promulgated “an out­right rejection of the compromises of reformism, placing an intransigent emphasis on maximalism: in other words the maximum programme of undiluted socialism” (D Mack Smith Mussolini 1981, p20).

Mosley’s evolution was not too dis­similar to Mussolini’s. Although he started political life as a Tory, he soon joined the Labour Party and was a Labour left until the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Disillusioned with Labour’s capitulation to the City and big busi­ness, he formed the New Party in 1931. This gathered support from both the right and the left. AJ Cook, the min­ers’ leader, joined the New Party – which, after a severe trouncing in the general election, became transformed by Mosley into the British Union of Fascists in 1932 - fascism was the “modern movement” of the time. In 1936 the BUF was renamed the British Union of Fascists and National So­cialists, with SS insignia on their uni­forms. At one point Mosley visited Hitler in Germany and the führer at­tended his wedding. He formed the virulently anti-immigrant Union Move­ment in the 1950s, last stood for par­liament at Shoreditch in 1966 and died in obscurity in his crumbling French chateau.

Melvyn Bragg on Radio Four’s Start the week confessed innocently to being surprised at the sheer extent of support for the Blackshirts from Lord Beaverbrook of the Daily Mail. Oswald Mosley’s BUF supporters stretched right into the heart of the establishment. We all know about Edward VIII, the wannabe ‘Nazi king’. Mosley, for one, was convinced that Edward would make an ideal monarch in a fascist state, and at one point waited feverishly for Edward to ask him to form a government, even though he was not even an MP by then. Fascism could have come to Britain in the 1930s given the right conditions. There is nothing in the DNA of British politics that rules out such a scenario.

But this is not what the media, the Melvin Braggs of this world, the es­tablishment, tell us. They have appro­priated history, rewritten it, and presented us with a sanitised and reinvented Britain which comes draped in the colours of ‘anti-fascism’ - World War II was a democratic crusade against the evils of Nazism. The anti­fascist ideology of the bourgeoisie is now coupled with anti-racism, in the name of western civilisation. The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, could not be more wrong when it claims that “the media still stirs up rac­ism using many of Powell’s argu­ments” (February 13). Quite the opposite. The unifying chorus that Powell was clever but went ‘too far’ is quite genuine - his racism made him unacceptable. Either that or there is a vast racist conspiracy embracing the media, Tony Blair, Tony Benn, Bill Morris and beyond.

Powell and Mosley, Mosleyism and Powellism - chalk and cheese, so it seems. But not entirely. They both shared one common element: virulent national chauvinism and a fear of na­tional catastrophe. This explains the sympathetic comments from Tony Benn, who informed Channel Four viewers last Monday that “Enoch got it wrong about immigration: but he was dead right about Europe”. Benn shares with Powell the same national chauvinist opposition to Europe (it is worth remarking that Powell was also extremely hostile to the United States - but for far from progressive reasons). Benn’s empathy with Powell on Europe should tell us some­thing. The road to hell, and sometimes fascism, is paved with good ‘social­ist’ intentions - just look at the policy documents of the Socialist Labour Party, with its little England, almost Powellite, aversion to the European Union.

As for the phenomenon of ‘Mosleyism’ - ie, of fascism coming from the left - it is not confined to Brit­ain. Indeed, ever since the so-called ‘collapse of communism’ this is increasingly the form fascism - or counterrevolutionary reaction - is tak­ing in the former ‘socialist’ countries. In Russia we already have the anti­-Semitic National Bolsheviks and the red-brown alliance. One of the best conduits for fascism, under these so­cial conditions, is the iconography of Lenin. Stalin and the hammer and sickle. ‘Red’ fascism, or social fascism, is a growing threat.

Danny Hammill