Imagine a world in which a major financial crisis, essentially a credit crunch causing the collapse of major banks and the stock market, had occurred seven or eight years before. Consider that the result of that financial crash was worldwide austerity and enormous poverty. Imagine people travelling across Europe – refugees and economic migrants. Take a leap to imagine that austerity combined with mass migration caused a rise in nationalism. Politics moved to extremes, with right of centre parties drifting further right. Politicians formed extreme right wing parties and fascism was in its ascendancy. Communist and extreme left wing MPs having a much greater voice than previously. Envisage some politicians condemning some sectors of society just for their religion. Picture the spectre of loud voices in American politics advocating isolationism, leaving Europe to get on with their own mess.
This may seem familiar, and you might think that this is a description of the 2008 credit crunch, austerity, refugees from Syria, the rise of UKIP, the condemnation of Muslims and the outpourings of wall-planning US Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But no, I am painting a picture of the world in 1936. The Great Depression and the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the poverty that followed it, the movement of displaced people across Europe, the rise of Oswald Moseley’s blackshirts, the condemnation of Jews and the refusal of the US to join the League of Nations and its general isolationism – that eventually led to its refusal to join the Allies in the Second World War.
Supported by the Daily Mail
Two years earlier, on 22nd January 1934, the Daily Mail published an article in support of Moseley’s Blackshirts. In that article, Lord Rotheremere praised Mosley for his “sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine” and went on to call people who disagreed with Moseley “Timid alarmists” and “panic-mongers”. Today Paul Dacre and Boris Johnson call it “project fear”. So the the sentiment is the same and the parallels continue.
So with the support of the Daily Mail, that bastion of family values, Moseley’s blackshirts – more properly known as the British Union of Fascists (BUF) – decided to march in uniform through the East End of London, which had a large Jewish population. This was designed to be inflammatory, and is very similar to the English Defence League (EDL) march through Tower Hamlets.
Fascism Becomes “Establishment”
The police protected the BUF march, just as they did with the EDL march. They used the “freedom of speech” argument in both cases. In both cases the idea that “freedom of speech” of this type should be protected caused some friction. Protesters against the BUF march, both local and politically sympathetic individuals who travelled to the area, fought the police who were trying to ensure the progress of the Fascists through their chosen route.
Just like the EDL march, most of those arrested at the BUF march were those demonstrating against the Fascists, which included women who had thrown the contents of their chamber pots at the police. Some of the anti-Fascist demonstrators sentenced to three months’ hard labour. A £5 fine (about the equivalent of £320 in 2016) for affray.
Battle of Cable Street
4th October 2016 sees the 80th anniversary of this event – known as the Battle of Cable Street. The parallels between events 80 years ago and today are unlikely to stop. Those leading political events are not recognising the similarities, they still rely on the mantra “project fear”.
Yet all the signs are there – Austria may yet elect an extreme right wing president, the far right is ‘surging’ in Germany, and Marine Le Pen has spoken at the Cambridge Union and is listed as a candidate in the 2011 TIME 100 Poll of most influential people. UKIP has moved from “swivel-eyed loons” to a potential partner for the Conservatives at the 2015 general election. The loyalty of people is questioned based only on their religion. In short, the whole recipe is there just as it was in the 1930s.
The question for us is whether we want this seemingly inexorable degeneration into xenophobic isolationism to continue. Our new Prime Minister assures us that Brexit means Brexit. But apparently, we are less astute at noticing and defining Fascist. Should we not call out these extremists for what they are? Or should we do as the BBC does and use euphemisms? Or perhaps we should follow the Daily Mail and whole-heartedly support UKIP, just as they supported the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s?
Name calling may not help, but certainly euphemisms don’t either. We should call out his extreme nationalism. With respect to the astute and insightful observations of the Prime Minister – Fascism means Fascism.