Review by Brett Bennet, University of Texas at Austin
Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism after 1945 , Graham Macklin (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007), 205 pages.
When referring to the historiography of British fascism, a scholar once commented, “Rarely can such an apparently insignificant topic have been responsible for such an outpouring of ink.” But statements such as this did not deter Graham Macklin from attempting to provide a fresh interpretation of Sir Oswald Mosley and the attempted revival of British fascism. The book begins with the imprisonment of Mosley and other British Union of Fascists members in 1940 and ends with his death at the age of 80 in England.
Many scholars consider Mosley’s internment in 1940 to signal the end of the British Unionist movement. But as MI5 found out, the British Unionists held “sincere” opinions, and thus continued to believe in the efficacy of their cause even after they lost favor in the public eye. A core group of believers kept the fascist flame alive. While interned, Charlie Watts and other leaders of the Unionists formed the “Hail Mosley and F’ Em All Association”, which tried to uphold the memory of Mosley and to proselytize the ideals of fascism to prisons. Others, such as Arthur Beavan, found prison more akin to martyrdom and a “purification” process—one that firmly inculcated the ideals of fascism into their mindsets. Macklin demonstrates this psychological and spiritual revival in prison well, although this reviewer felt rather surprised to see the author equating the feeling of martyrdom of the early Christian saints and the Unionists—true convictions—with the fictive sentiments in “modern Hollywood movies such as Ben Hur, Spartacus, and latterly, Gladiator”!
Out of prison in 1943, Mosley struggled to gain legitimacy, fight the stain of being an accused anti-Semite, and downplay his supposed financial connections to Mussolini. Intent on advocating his views while staying out of any major political troubles, he started The Mosley Newsletter, and published a book, My Answer, which argued that imprisonment would ultimately prove, like in Hitler’s case, that prison would soon be followed by political redemption. This success never came, and the press downplayed the book, arguing instead that he “deserved internment.” A variety of offshoot programs started up in the late 1940s with the expressed aim of furthering the Unionist movement. Macklin briefly deals with movements like the British League of Ex- Servicemen and its head Jeffrey Hamm and the revival of the Unionists with “the Battle of Ridley Road,” a battle between anti-fascists and Jews against the British Unionists. This incident received press attention that hurt the Unionist movement and helped galvanize those against them. Mosley needed a new plan. In 1947, Mosley called together a meeting and formed a new party, the Union Movement. Yet this party failed to establish a large political base: the new party gained only 1,993 out of 4,097,841 votes in the 1949 London Municipal election. A variety of tactics to engage voters ensued after the sluggish showing, including trying to link the right and the left together through labor agitation and unions, promoting anti-immigration ideals in predominantly white neighborhoods, and connecting race and nation to the holistic themes of ecology and organics. Although the author briefly outlines each movement, Macklin often fails to explain the larger intellectual origins, context, and implications of the movements he discusses, such as highlighting why fascists might look to organics as an ideal base to build a national movement upon.
The book takes a more interesting turn when the author examines Mosley’s attempt to connect with a larger European fascism. Macklin argues that Mosley failed in Britain but succeeded more within the European context in spreading his socio-political vision. Mosley hoped for an “alternative” to then current political and social structures, which he outlined in his book Alternative. He proposed an idea “beyond fascism and democracy” that cast off the older and more narrow ideals of nationalism—in essence, he sought a “Europe-a-Nation.” His ideas of aggressively appropriating African markets for Europeans caught the attention of Germans and South Africans who harbored far right sentiments after the war. Mosley continued traveling and making extensive contacts in Spain, Germany, Argentina, Sweden, France, and Portugal trying to create a larger political movement. Working through various groups and publications, most notably, Nation Europa, a German publication, Mosley continued to spread his ideal of a united European fascism with both his time and money. Yet other groups often distanced themselves from him for political reasons, and those that shared his beliefs usually did not control large political organizations; most of the funding and press came from Mosley’s end, not the other way around.
Towards the last chapters of the book, Macklin analyzes the origins of Holocaust historical revisionism in Great Britain. Through his Mosley Newsletter and the party newspaper Union, Mosley deemed Jewish death and internment at the hands of the Germans as “concentration camp fairy tales.” Like many revisionists, Mosley cited the lack of a paper trail therefore proved that the Holocaust was not state planned, and thus, not real. Macklin then traces the origins of Holocaust denial in the British People’ s Party the Constitutional Research Association. The evidence, though interesting, sometimes seems brief and patchy, leading to a mosaic of individuals with different motivations and beliefs about Nuremburg and the Holocaust.
Mosley moved to France in 1953 and helped run the far right journal The European, which his wife edited. He stayed in touch with many far right French intellectuals but never entered fully into the national political scene for fear of being deported back to Britain for having close ties with the Organization de L’Armee Secrete, which attempted to assassinate Charles de Gaulle. In 1963, he left France by order of the government. Slowly, Mosley’s named became less synonymous with negativity as World War II distanced itself, non-European immigration into Britain allowed him to become anti-color instead of anti-Semitic, the publication of his autobiography My Life, and with the publication of the revisionist biography by Robert Skidelsky. While Mosley never achieved the political success he envisioned in the 1930s, by continuing to keep himself active and in the public eye, he was able to rebuild his political and personal reputation in the eyes of many Britons that tended towards the right.
The book provides an accurate, extensive, and almost encyclopedic analysis of British fascism led by Mosley after World War II. Anyone pursing the subject of fascism or the politics of the far right in the Post-World War II period would be well advised to consult this book. But sometimes the cynical statements about how such a massive amount of writing has been pursued on such a small political movement does hit home: The numbers of Mosley followers was often very, very small – such as only 2,000 or so votes against 4 + million, or only 0.0005% of the total votes! Any future attempts to explain or interpret British fascism in the post-war period might attempt to pursue a more intellectual oriented history, or think about looking at the cultural origins of those that still supported fascism. Until then, this book remains a good place to start.