The British Union of Fascists, or BUF, was a fascist political party in the United Kingdom formed in 1932 by Oswald Mosley. It changed its name to the British Union of Fascists and National Socialists in 1936 and, in 1937, to British Union. It was finally disbanded in 1940, after it was proscribed by the British government following the start of the Second World War.
The BUF emerged in 1932 from the British far-right, following the electoral defeat of its antecedent, the New Party, in the 1931 general election. The BUF's foundation was initially met with popular support, and it attracted a sizeable following. The press baron Lord Rothermere was a notable early supporter. As the party became increasingly radical, however, support declined. The Olympia Rally of 1934, in which a number of anti-Fascist protestors were attacked by the paramilitary wing of the BUF, the Fascist Defence Force, isolated the party from much of its following. The party's embrace of Nazi-style anti-semitism in 1936 led to increasingly violent clashes with opponents, notably the 1936 Battle of Cable Street in London's East End. The Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and responded to increasing political violence, had a particularly strong effect on the BUF whose supporters were known as "Blackshirts" after the uniforms they wore.
Growing British hostility towards Nazi Germany, with which the British press persistently associated the BUF, further contributed to the decline of the movement's membership. It was finally banned by the British government in 1940 after the start of the Second World War, amid suspicion that its remaining supporters might form a pro-Nazi "fifth column". A number of prominent BUF members were arrested and interned under Defence Regulation 18B.
British Union of Fascists
|Founded||1 October 1932|
|Dissolved||23 May 1940|
|Succeeded by||Union Movement|
|Paramilitary wing||Fascist Defence Force|
|Grassroots wing||January Club|
|Colours||Red, White, Blue|
Oswald Mosley was the youngest elected Conservative MP before crossing the floor in 1922, joining first Labour and, shortly afterwards, the Independent Labour Party. He became a minister in Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government, advising on rising unemployment.
In 1930, Mosley issued his Mosley Memorandum, which fused protectionism with a proto-Keynesian programme of policies designed to tackle the problem of unemployment, and he resigned from the Labour party soon after, in early 1931, when the plans were rejected. He immediately formed the New Party, with policies based on his memorandum. Despite winning 16% of the vote at a by-election in Ashton-under-Lyne in early 1931, however, the party failed to achieve any other electoral success.
During 1931, the New Party became increasingly influenced by Fascism. The next year, after a January 1932 visit to Benito Mussolini in Italy, Mosley's own conversion to fascism was confirmed. He wound up the New Party in April, but preserved its youth movement, which would form the core of the BUF, intact. He spent the summer that year writing a fascist programme, The Greater Britain, and this formed the basis of policy of the BUF, which was launched on 1 October 1932.
The BUF claimed 50,000 members at one point, and the Daily Mail, running the headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts!", was an early supporter. The first Director of Propaganda, appointed in February 1933, was Wilfred Risdon, who was responsible for organising all of Mosley's public meetings. Despite strong resistance from anti-fascists, including the local Jewish community, the Labour Party, the Independent Labour Party, and the Communist Party of Great Britain, the BUF found a following in the East End of London, where in the London County Council elections of March 1937, it obtained reasonably successful results in Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, and Limehouse, polling almost 8,000 votes, although none of its candidates was elected. The BUF did elect a few councillors at local government level during the 1930s (including Charles Bentinck Budd, Worthing, Sussex 1934, Ronald Creasy, Eye, Suffolk 1938) but did not win any parliamentary seats. Two former members of the BUF; Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas and Harold Soref were later elected as Conservative Members of Parliament (MPs) in the United Kingdom.
Having lost the funding of newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere that it had previously enjoyed, at the 1935 General Election the party urged voters to abstain, calling for "Fascism Next Time". There never was a "next time" as the next General Election was not held until July 1945, five years after the dissolution of the BUF.
Towards the middle of the 1930s, the BUF's violent clashes with opponents began to alienate some middle-class supporters, and membership decreased. At the Olympia rally in London, in 1934, BUF stewards violently ejected anti-fascist disrupters, and this led the Daily Mail to withdraw its support for the movement. The level of violence shown at the rally shocked many, with the effect of turning neutral parties against the BUF and contributing to anti-fascist support. One observer claimed: "I came to the conclusion that Mosley was a political maniac, and that all decent English people must combine to kill his movement."
In Belfast, April 1934 the group founded an autonomous branch of the party in Northern Ireland called the "Ulster Fascists". The branch was failure and became virtually extinct after less than a year in existence.
The BUF drew towards antisemitism over 1934–35 owing to the growing influence of Nazi sympathisers within the party, such as William Joyce and John Beckett, which provoked the resignation of members such as Dr. Robert Forgan. This anti-semitic emphasis and these high-profile resignations resulted in membership dropping to below 8,000 by the end of 1935 and, ultimately, Mosley shifted the party's focus back to mainstream politics. The party continued to clash with anti-fascists, most famously at the Battle of Cable Street in October 1936, when organised anti-fascists prevented the BUF from marching through Cable Street. However, the party later staged other marches through the East End without incident, albeit not on Cable Street itself.
BUF support for Edward VIII and the peace campaign to prevent a second World War saw membership and public support rise once more. The government was sufficiently concerned by the party's growing prominence to pass the Public Order Act 1936, which banned political uniforms and required police consent for political marches.
In 1937, William Joyce and other Nazi sympathisers split from the party to form the National Socialist League, which quickly folded, with most of its members interned. Mosley later denounced Joyce as a traitor and condemned him for his extreme anti-semitism. The historian Stephen Dorril revealed in his book Blackshirts that secret envoys from the Nazis had donated about £50,000 to the BUF.
By 1939, total BUF membership was probably approaching 20,000. On 23 May 1940, the BUF was banned outright by the government and Mosley, along with 740 other fascists, was interned for much of the Second World War. After the war, Mosley made several unsuccessful attempts to return to politics, notably in the Union Movement.
Mosley, known to his followers as The Leader, modelled his leadership style on Benito Mussolini and the BUF on Mussolini's National Fascist Party in Italy, the uniform chosen for members was a black fencing jacket, its colour in honour of the Italian Fascists' uniforms and its cut a nod to Mosley's proficiency at the sport. The uniform earned them the nickname "Blackshirts", which they readily accepted for themselves. The BUF was anti-communist, protectionist, technocratic, and proposed replacing parliamentary democracy with executives elected to represent specific industries, trades or other professional interest groups—a system similar to the corporatism of the Italian fascists. Britain was to remain a democracy, although the House of Lords was to be replaced with a Senate consisting of "notables" from all spheres of public life appointed by the King on the advice of the fascist Prime Minister and the House of Commons was to be renamed the "Chamber of Corporations" and would consist of occupationally elected MPs who would be free to vote as they saw fit.
The BUF's programme and ideology were outlined in Mosley's The Greater Britain (1932), Tomorrow We Live (1938) and A. Raven Thomson's The Coming Corporate State (1938). Many BUF policies were built on isolationism, prohibiting trade outside an insulated British Empire. Mosley’s system aimed to protect the British economy from the fluctuations of the world market, especially during the Great Depression, and prevent "cheap slave competition from abroad."
In a January 2010 BBC documentary, Mother Was A Blackshirt, James Maw reported that in 1914 Norah Elam was placed in a Holloway Prison cell with Emmeline Pankhurst for her involvement with the Suffragette movement, and, in 1940, was returned to the same prison with Diana Mosley, this time for her involvement with the fascist movement. Another leading suffragette, Mary Richardson, became head of the women's section of the BUF.
Mary Sophia Allen OBE was a former branch leader of the West of England Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). At the outbreak of the First World War, she joined the Women Police Volunteers, becoming the WPV Commandant in 1920. She met Mosley at the January Club in April 1932, going on to speak at the club following her visit to Germany, "to learn the truth about of the position of German womanhood".
The BBC report described how Elam's fascist philosophy grew from her suffragette experiences, how the British fascist movement became largely driven by women, how they targeted young women from an early age, how the first British fascist movement was founded by a woman, and how the leading lights of the Suffragettes had, with Oswald Mosley, founded the BUF.
Mosley's electoral strategy had been to prepare for the election after 1935, and in 1936 he announced a list of BUF candidates for that election, with Elam nominated to stand for Northampton. Mosley accompanied Elam to Northampton to introduce her to her electorate at a meeting in the Town Hall. At that meeting Mosley announced that "he was glad indeed to have the opportunity of introducing the first candidate, and ... [thereby] killed for all time the suggestion that National Socialism proposed putting British women back into the home; this is simply not true. Mrs Elam [he went on] had fought in the past for women's suffrage ... and was a great example of the emancipation of women in Britain."
Former suffragettes were drawn to the BUF for a variety of reasons. Many felt the movement's energy reminded them of the suffragettes, while others felt the BUF's economic policies would offer them true equality - unlike its continental counterparts, the movement insisted it would not require women to return to domesticity and that the corporatist state would ensure adequate representation for housewives, while it would also guarantee equal wages for women and remove the marriage bar that restricted the employment of married women. The BUF also offered support for new mothers (due to concerns of falling birth rates), while also offering effective birth control, as Mosley believed it was not in the national interest to have a populace ignorant of modern scientific knowledge. While these policies were motivated more out of making the best use of women's skills in state interest than any kind of feminism, it was still a draw for many suffragettes.
Despite the short period of operation the BUF attracted prominent members and supporters. These included:
|Silvertown by-election, 1940||Tommy Moran||151||1.0|
|Leeds North East by-election, 1940||Sydney Allen||722||2.9|
|Middleton and Prestwich by-election, 1940||Frederick Haslam||418||1.3|
while Beckett was a one-time Labour MP for Gateshead (1924-29) and Peckham (1929-31)
The Silvertown by-election of 1940 was a wartime by-election.
Silvertown was a safe Labour seat, and none of the major parties stood against the Labour candidate.It was one of the last by-elections contested by the British Union of Fascists which campaigned on a platform calling for an immediate peace with Nazi Germany, a policy which won them only 151 votes.Alexander Raven Thomson
Alexander Raven Thomson, usually known as Raven (1899–1955), was a Scottish politician and philosopher. He joined the British Union of Fascists in 1933 and remained a follower of Oswald Mosley for the rest of his life; he was considered to be the party's chief ideologue. He has been described as the "Alfred Rosenberg of British fascism".Alliott Verdon Roe
Sir Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe OBE, Hon. FRAeS, FIAS (26 April 1877 – 4 January 1958) was a pioneer English pilot and aircraft manufacturer, and founder in 1910 of the Avro company. After experimenting with model aeroplanes, he made flight trials in 1907–08 with a full-size aeroplane at Brooklands, near Weybridge in Surrey, and became the first Englishman to fly an all-British machine a year later, with a triplane, on the Walthamstow Marshes.British People's Party (1939)
The British People's Party (BPP) was a British far-right political party founded in 1939 and led by ex-British Union of Fascists (BUF) member and Labour Party Member of Parliament John Beckett.Canadian Union of Fascists
The Canadian Fascist Party was a fascist political party based in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in the 1930s. The formative core of the party was a splinter group from the Canadian Nationalist Party that found the principles of corporativism to be more important than the largely racial motivations of the Nationalist Party. This disposition is highlighted in one official statement that "anti-semitism was a symptom of Germany not of Fascism". The party was founded as the British Empire Union of Fascists and was affiliated with the British Union of Fascists. It later became known as the Canadian Union of Fascists and Canadian Union. It published its own newspaper, The Thunderbolt.
The party was led by "Chuck" Crate, who became leader at the age of 17. He had contacted the British Union of Fascists, who put him in touch with the party. John Ross Taylor of Toronto became the party's secretary and organizer.The party had a hard time attracting supporters because most Canadians who supported fascism leaned towards the racist brand espoused by Adrien Arcand and others. At the party's first meeting, there was an attendance of roughly 200 people.This disparity between the party and Arcand's would continue throughout its existence. Before the government took action against Canadian fascist parties, the Canadian Union of Fascists and Arcand's group held simultaneous fascist congresses in Toronto. While Arcand's group, dubbed the "National Union" drew a crowd of around 4,000, the Canadian Union managed to draw only some 30 local residents to its cause.The party was dissolved when the Second World War began. The party told its members to obey the law but to work for a negotiated peace. Crate escaped a treason charge and ended up in the Royal Canadian Navy.
The party, though not officially racist or anti-semitic, had strong connections to Adrien Arcand's National Unity Party.Diana Mitford
Diana, the Hon. Lady Mosley (17 June 1910 – 11 August 2003), born Diana Freeman-Mitford and usually known as Diana Mitford, was one of the Mitford sisters. She was first married to Bryan Walter Guinness, heir to the barony of Moyne, and upon her divorce from him married Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet of Ancoats, leader of the British Union of Fascists. This her second marriage took place at the home of Joseph Goebbels in 1936, with Adolf Hitler as guest of honour. Subsequently, her involvement with Fascist political causes resulted in three years' internment during the Second World War. She later moved to Paris and enjoyed some success as a writer. In the 1950s she contributed diaries to Tatler and edited the magazine The European. In 1977 she published her autobiography, A Life of Contrasts, and two more biographies in the 1980s. She was also a regular book reviewer for Books & Bookmen and later at The Evening Standard in the 1990s. A family friend, James Lees-Milne, wrote of her beauty, "She was the nearest thing to Botticelli's Venus that I have ever seen".Edward Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford
Lieutenant Colonel Edward Southwell Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford, (31 January 1907 – 3 January 1982), was the only son of Jack Southwell Russell, 25th Baron de Clifford, and Eva Carrington.
In 1935 he became the last peer to be tried in the House of Lords for a felony, manslaughter, the result of a car accident. He was found not guilty. He lost his father to a road accident; in his maiden speech in 1928 in the House of Lords he called for mandatory driving tests. Later he spoke for speed limits, both of which measures were introduced in 1934. He was one of four peers to have at times before 1945 supported Sir Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists.English National Association
The English National Association (ENA) was a political group active in the United Kingdom during the Second World War. It was accused of having fascist sympathies.
Formed by John Webster in 1942, the ENA was led by Edward Godfrey, a former member of the British Union of Fascists who had served under Admiral Sir Barry Domvile in the Royal Navy. The ENA, which sought to regroup former members of the British Union of Fascists, was originally called the British National Party (BNP). The group was funded by the Duke of Bedford, a veteran supporter of right-wing movements, most notably the British People's Party. Calling for a negotiated peace, the group attempted to march on the Cenotaph in 1942 but the demonstration was banned by the authorities and the group came under suspicion. The BNP, which emphasised anti-Semitism, initially gained some support and not long after its foundation claimed to have 50 branches across the country. It also enjoyed the support of a number of right-wing journals, such as those of Captain Bernard Acworth and Joseph Ball, as well as the backing of the British League of Ex-Servicemen and Women, a group that had been associated with the BUF and which was later taken over by Jeffrey Hamm. William Craven, a farm worker from Gloucester who was sentenced to life imprisonment for twice writing to government agencies of Nazi Germany to offer his services, was also a BNP member following his expulsion from the BUF for extremism.In order to avoid the attentions of the government Godfrey disbanded the BNP in 1943 before recreating the group immediately as the ENA. Like most groups in existence at the time however many supporters were loath to join as they feared that active groups were too easily infiltrated by MI5. Before long Webster had left to form his own English Legion and they did not survive the war.The group contested the 1943 Acton by-election with Godfrey officially running as independent, although he finished bottom of the poll with 258 votes.Frank McLardy
George Frank McLardy MPS (17 November 1915 – 16 December 1981) was a member of the British Union of Fascists, a British Nazi collaborator and an Unterscharführer in the Waffen-SS British Free Corps during the Second World War.Jeffrey Hamm
Edward Jeffrey Hamm (15 September 1915 – 4 May 1992) was a leading British Fascist and supporter of Oswald Mosley. Although a minor figure in Mosley's pre-war movement he became a leading figure after the Second World War and eventually succeeded as leader of the Union Movement on Mosley's retirement.Mary Richardson
Mary Raleigh Richardson (1882/3 – 7 November 1961) was a Canadian suffragette active in the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom, an arsonist and later the head of the women's section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Sir Oswald Mosley.Neil Francis Hawkins
Neil L. M. Francis Hawkins (1903 – 25 December 1950) was a leading British fascist, both before and after the Second World War. He played a leading role in the British Union of Fascists, controlling the organisational structure of the movement.Oswald Mosley
Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley of Ancoats in Manchester, 6th Baronet, (16 November 1896 – 3 December 1980) was a British politician who rose to fame in the 1920s as a Member of Parliament and later in the 1930s became leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Mosley inherited the title 'Sir' by virtue of his baronetcy; he was the sixth baronet of a title that had been in his family for centuries.After military service during the First World War, Mosley was one of the youngest Members of Parliament, representing Harrow from 1918 to 1924, first as a Conservative, then an independent, before joining the Labour Party. He returned to Parliament as the MP for Smethwick at a by-election in 1926, having stood as a Labour candidate, and served as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Labour Government of 1929–31. He was considered a potential Labour Prime Minister, but resigned due to discord with the Government's unemployment policies. He then founded the New Party. He lost his Smethwick seat at the 1931 general election. The New Party became the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932.
Mosley was imprisoned in May 1940 and the BUF was banned. He was released in 1943 and, politically disgraced by his association with fascism, moved abroad in 1951, spending the majority of the remainder of his life in Paris. He stood for Parliament twice in the postwar era, garnering very little support.Patrick Boyle, 8th Earl of Glasgow
Patrick James Boyle, 8th Earl of Glasgow, DSO (18 June 1874 – 14 December 1963) was a Scottish nobleman and a far right political activist, involved with fascist parties and groups.Robert Forgan
Robert Forgan (10 March 1891 – 8 January 1976) was a British politician who was a close associate of Oswald Mosley.Robert Gordon-Canning
Robert Cecil Gordon-Canning (24 June 1888 – 4 January 1967) was a notable British fascist, anti-Semite and supporter of Arab nationalist causes. He was briefly married to Australian actress Mary Maguire.Robert Row
Robert "Bob" Row (1915–1999) was an English fascist from Lancaster, a member of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) who was detained by the British government under Defence Regulation 18B during the Second World War. After the war he wrote and edited British fascist publications and remained a believer in Mosleyism until his deathThomas Haller Cooper
Thomas Haller Cooper, (29 August 1919 – 1987), also known as Tom Böttcher, was a member of the German Waffen-SS British Free Corps and former member of the British Union of Fascists.Unity Mitford
Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford (8 August 1914 – 28 May 1948) was a British socialite, known for her relationship with Adolf Hitler. Both in Great Britain and Germany, she was a prominent supporter of Nazism, fascism and antisemitism, and belonged to Hitler's inner circle of friends. Following the declaration of World War II, Mitford attempted suicide in Munich, and was officially allowed safe passage back to England in her invalid condition, but never recovered.
Unity was a member of the Mitford family, tracing its origins in Northumberland back to the 11th century Norman settlement of England. Her sister Diana was married to Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.