Reflections on fascism and women’s rights by British Union of Fascists member Norah Elam, from a 1935 essay in ‘The Fascist Quarterly’
Norah Elam, born Norah Doherty, was one of the most prominent members of the Women’s Section of the British Union of Fascists. Like many women leaders within the BUF, Elam had first become involved in political activism through the pre-WWI suffragette movement, joining the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in 1912 and swiftly rising to become its General Secretary by the following year. It was in the WSPU that Elam developed her skills as a propagandist and rousing political speaker. She also developed a reputation as a firebrand, someone not afraid to dirty her hands in street activism – WSPU members became notorious for militant protest actions such as window-smashing or arson, and Elam was herself arrested and imprisoned in 1914 for inciting suffragettes to violence at an open-air meeting. Her eventual transition to fascist politics was driven by a number of factors, particularly a growing sense of patriotism engendered by the War and, after women’s suffrage was finally granted through legislation passed in 1918 and 1928, a sense of disillusionment that the right to vote had not led to a significant increase in the number of women representatives. The Mosley movement, with its specific promise of women’s representation in a corporatist parliament, seemed to offer a solution that the liberal-democratic system could not, and so Elam joined the BUF in 1934. Former suffragettes like Elam found Mosleyite fascism, which presented itself as a modern and forward-thinking movement, to be a welcoming environment – 25% of the BUF membership were women, women held positions of authority and leadership in the party, and a number of women (including Elam in 1936) were put forward by the Mosleyites as candidates for election. The drive and commitment of these members was not unappreciated, as Mosley observed in 1940: “My movement has been largely built up by the fanaticism of women; they hold ideals with tremendous passion.” The article below , written by Elam and published in 1935 in BUF theoretical journal The Fascist Quarterly Vol. 1, No. 3, demonstrates some of this passion in Elam’s own words, presenting arguments for fascism not only as the true guarantor of liberty and women’s interests but also, intriguingly, as the natural continuation of the original suffragette movement.
Fascism, Women and Democracy
by Norah Elam
First published in The Fascist Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 3, 1935.
“Experience shows that in all countries today democracy can develop its nature freely, the most scandalous corruption is displayed without anyone considering it of use to conceal its rascalities… Democracy is the land of plenty dreamt of by unscrupulous financiers.” – Georges Sorel, Reflexions sur la Violence.
To a genuine cynic who lived through the struggle for votes for women from 1906 to 1914, no spectacle is more diverting than the post-war enthusiast whose one obsession seems to be the alleged danger to enfranchised women in a Fascist Britain.
This unsuspected solicitude finds its most insistent champions in unlikely places, and those who were so bitter against the pre-war struggle have today executed a complete volte face. Our new-found patrons are second to none in their determination that women shall be denied nothing in principle, even if in practice they are to be denied most things essential to their existence.
To the woman who took part in that historic fight, and, regarding the vote merely as a symbol, believed that with its help a new and a better world might be possible, this kind of patronage is as distasteful as was that of a generation ago. She thinks, and with some justification, that it is humbug that those who in all those weary years never raised a hand to help her, but on the contrary were wont to describe her as an unsexed virago or a disappointed spinster, should in the hour of success endeavour to exploit her sex in the interests of a reactionary and decadent system. Such effrontery is possible only because those who resort to it entirely misunderstood and still misunderstand the meaning of that struggle, and construed the demand for political liberty as a desire for personal licence.
The time has come when the principles which underlay that remarkable and determined manifestation for ordered change, not only in the position of women but in the accepted attitude to them, should be restated. Continue reading