The BUF’s Norah Elam on Fascism, Women, and Democracy

Reflections on fascism and women’s rights by British Union of Fascists member Norah Elam, from a 1935 essay in ‘The Fascist Quarterly’

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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

Visions of National Socialist Democracy, Part IV: Joyce

William Joyce’s 1937 critique of British parliamentarism, and his suggested replacement: a representative National Socialist guild system

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This fourth part in the ‘Visions of National Socialist Democracy’ series constitutes a slight diversion away from German National Socialism and towards the NS of the British Isles – specifically towards the ideas of William Joyce, the British fascist who later became notorious under the sobriquet ‘Lord Haw Haw’. The piece below is an excerpt (slightly truncated for purposes of brevity) from the second chapter of Joyce’s 1937 pamphlet National Socialism Now, the primary ideological treatise for the National Socialist League which Joyce set up that same year after leaving Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. The contents of the document makes both its differences and its similarities with German National Socialism clear. The same basic ideological worldview is there, with its contempt for the plutocratic elements of liberal parliamentarism and the party system, but the solutions Joyce proposes have their own particularly British idiosyncrasies: Joyce’s inspiration for an alternative, illiberal form of representative government derives from the ideas of the earlier guild socialists, who themselves had drawn upon the form and content of the English guild system of the Middle Ages. While there is a distinctly British flavor to Joyce’s prescriptions, the resemblance of his ideas to the ‘council National Socialism’ proposed by early German National Socialists like Rudolf Jung is telling. Grappling with the problem of representation within an authoritarian system, and looking to earlier, pre-capitalist models for inspiration to resolve that problem, was an exercise which all fascists and National Socialists eventually seemed to find unavoidable. 

While the political system remains unaltered, it will be impossible to change radically the economic situation. First, the existing order of Parliamentary incumbents is too closely linked to High Finance to desire revolutionary change; so much is even true of the Labour Party, which has expelled more than one valuable member for having dared to expect Socialism within his own lifetime.

Secondly, this democratic Party System is not intended to be an instrument of fundamental change; on the contrary, it is obviously intended to keep things as they are.

The Leader of the Opposition is paid £2,000 a year to prevent the Government from doing what it pretends to think right. So much for the moral sincerity of the politicians. Even the Sermon on the Mount does not require us to pay our enemies. The answer may be: “But there is no enmity in the House of Commons.”

This answer may be taken as true; but it does not explain why the best of friends should pretend to engage in Homeric struggle and Hibernian vituperation in order to win elections.

From beginning to end, the keynote of the whole performance is callous hypocrisy. The sham fights of Westminster are meant to make the people think that somebody is caring for their interests; otherwise there might be hell to pay; it is more economical to pay the Leader of the Opposition…

…It is now clear that the National Socialist has no apology to make for his decision to end the Parliamentary farce. Constitutionally, and in perfect loyalty to the Crown as the symbol of Britain’s continuous majesty, the National Socialist proposes to make such changes in the system of Government as are necessary to produce the required changes in our system of living. Continue reading

Corporate Economics

BUF theoretician Alexander Raven Thomson’s 1935 essay on fascist economic theory

The following essay, ‘Corporate Economics’ by Alexander Raven Thomson, was first published in Fascist Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 1, January 1935. The Fascist Quarterly (renamed British Union Quarterly in 1936) was the theoretical journal of the British Union of Fascists, intended to act as a kind of counterbalance to the Left Book Club by providing a platform in Britain for the dissemination of the intellectual voices of European fascism. Raven Thomson was one of these voices – a former member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, he had joined the BUF in April 1933 and swiftly became the movement’s primary ideologist. A captivating speaker, an engaging writer, and deeply influenced by Spenglerian philosophy and political syndicalism, Thomson was a revolutionary, a radical opponent of laissez-faire capitalism who saw in the corporate state the key to social justice and the salvation of Western civilization. His writings, such as the essay excerpted below, provided the BUF with much of its theoretical foundations. 

A great problem has been created for the modern world by the collapse of the present economic system. We can no longer tolerate a system which condemns most of us to poverty in the midst of the greatest plenty mankind has ever known, which deprives millions of people of the right to earn their own living, and brings ever nearer the danger of war in the international struggle for contracting world markets. What is the cause of this universal breakdown. Where have we gone wrong?

Before we can fully appreciate the cause of the trouble, we must consider the threefold nature of organized society as follows:

  • A Central Government vested with authority to plan and direct the national life.
  • A Number of Social Groups with various purposes and interests.
  • A Mass of Individuals endowed with powers of initiative and enterprise.

The classical economic theory of the nineteenth century concerned itself almost entirely with the third and least organized aspect of society, resenting either state or group interference with economic affairs. In earlier times of comparative scarcity there may have been some justification for this view, as the initiative and enterprise of the individual was then of vital importance in developing latent powers of production and advancing technical invention. Obviously the individual would develop his powers of initiative and enterprise to the best effect, if granted the largest possible measure of economic liberty, and this is precisely what the economists of the Manchester School demanded, when they advocated “laissez faire” and free trade.

Whatever the advantages of economic liberty in solving the problem of scarcity, however, it has become a positive menace to social welfare in a dawning age of plenty. There is no need to condemn classical economic theory as such, but we must realize that there can be no absolute “laws” of economics independent of social organization. No doubt the individualist system was very necessary in an age of scarcity, and we have to thank the Manchester School for solving the problem of production, but the time has now come for a new economic system in keeping with the needs of a new age. Individual enterprise encouraged by complete liberty of exploitation has put an end to scarcity, but is completely incapable of distributing the plenty it has created to the people as a whole. Production is in its very nature an individual or at most a group process; distribution, on the other hand, is based upon the needs of the whole community, and obviously cannot succeed without a large measure of conscious social planning.

Socialism and the Class War

As individualism has now passed its period of usefulness and has become an actual danger to economic progress, the time has come to turn the focus of economic interest to the social group, if not to the nation as a whole. Hitherto those who have most vigorously attacked the present system, and have adopted such collective terms as “Socialist” or “Communist,” have never really risen above group considerations. Despite their grandiloquent claim to “nationalize” the means of production, the very basis of Socialist and Communist appeal lies in the exaggeration of class differentiation and insistence upon the “class war.” Clearly such a class-conscious doctrine belongs to the realm of the social group, and fails to rise to any appreciation of the whole community as a living organic entity. Indeed the stress laid by the Socialist upon internationalism, and his denial of patriotism, confirm his inability to grasp the full implications of social organization, which should rise far above class considerations to a realization of national purpose. The ultimate “reductio ad absurdum” is reached, when the Soviet regime in Russia claims that it is the “dictatorship of the proletariat” for this would imply the permanent and conscious ascendancy of a group over the national life. Continue reading

‘The Commercial Absurdity of Financial Democracy’

Chapter V of William Joyce’s book on British National Socialism, ‘Twilight Over England’

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William Joyce, ex-Propaganda Director of the British Union of Fascists and leader of the tiny National Socialist League, is more infamously known by his sobriquet ‘Lord Haw Haw’, a name given him by the British public in response to the jeering propaganda broadcasts he made to the United Kingdom on behalf of the German government during World War II. In 1939 Joyce, anticipating internment by the British government, fled to Germany with his wife, the Reich offering them asylum in exchange for English-language propaganda work. It was in 1940 that Joyce’s book ‘Twilight Over England’ was first published in both German and English. Intended in part for distribution to British prisoners-of-war, it is a striking book. Its cynical, informal, self-effacing tone is typical of Joyce’s writing and speaking style, and helps both disarm the reader’s defenses while seeking to inflame their sense of injustice. The book serves as an overview of UK history, politics, and economics from a National Socialist perspective, critiquing all three in service of the lambasting of the British government for its hypocrisy regarding Germany’s foreign policy and treatment of minority ethnic groups. The foundation of the book is Joyce’s passion for economic reform and issues of social justice – the book is redolent with the evisceration of Britain for its treatment of its poor, its disenfranchised, and its laboring industrial and agricultural workers. In chapters such as the fifth, ‘Finance’, which is reproduced in full below, Joyce contrasts the deficiencies of British capitalism with what he regards as the more socially conscious ideals of National Socialist economic ideology. 

In the last chapter, some account, however sketchy, was given of the deplorable economic condition into which the majority of British men and women had sunk in recent times. It must not be forgotten, however, that there was a rich and contented minority. Whereas the state of the masses of the people was unworthy of any civilized nation, above all unworthy of a nation which had such resources as England, there was in the land a ruling class which was probably more prosperous than any similar class in the world. Attached to this sacred caste was an “upper-middle-class” stratum which certainly had no good reason to complain. There were, in fact, two Englands, each ignorant of the other’s existence. If nine or ten people were crowded into a little damp basement in Hoxton Market, there were 550 persons in Britain whose personal wealth had passed the million mark.

The plain fact of the matter is that Jewish Law ruled in England. Those who merely produced wealth were the lowest caste. The path to splendour was the path of exchange. To make the soil yield up a few more turnips was to attract the highly suspicious attention of Government servants. To sit on the fattest rump that good living could provide and wait for foreign dividends to come in was the qualification for national approval and membership of the Order of Sacred Beasts. The soundest advice that a business-man could give to his son, unless destined for the Guards, would be: “Produce nothing, my boy — not even children. Buy something in the way of shares, if you can, and wait till you find some bloody fool who will pay you more than you gave for them. Also, join the Craft. Above all, do nothing extraordinary. Otherwise people won’t trust your judgement.” Continue reading