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

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

Women and British Fascism

Anne Brock-Griggs’s pamphlet, ‘Ten Points of Fascist Policy for Women’

Anne_Brock-Griggs01Anne Brock-Griggs was an early member of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), joining the movement partly in response to her disappointment with establishment conservatism. She made her name through her spirited speeches at outdoor meetings, and in recognition of her talents was appointed to  BUF staff as Woman’s Propaganda Officer in 1935. Later she was to be promoted to Chief Woman’s Officer, national leader of the movement’s Women’s Division, and represented the views of women members in the Woman’s Page of party newspaper Action. The following pamphlet, ‘Women and Fascism: Ten Points of Fascist Policy for Women’ was published in 1936 as a statement on the BUF’s official stance on women’s issues – like much Mosleyite writing it has a strong focus on welfare and social reform. In 1937 Anne Brock-Griggs stood unsuccessfully as BUF candidate for Limehouse, East London, and she was active in the Peace Campaign against entry into the Second World War. Detained during the war under Defence Regulation 18B, when released she joined Mosley’s post-war Union Movement, but suffered from ill health. She died from cancer sometime in the 1960’s. 

1. Women in Parliament

Women will vote according to the contribution they make to the life of the community, in the corporations to which they belong, and will be eligible to represent their corporations in Parliament.

In whatever trade or profession is in question, the women concerned will have representation. Where women predominate so may their elected representatives.

For the first time, women will be able to control their own affairs and advise on the affairs of State. A number will be represented in the Corporations as consumers, being the chief buyers of products for the family.

In the Home Corporation, women who run a home or are employed in domestic work will be represented. This will be recognised as one of the most vital corporations in the Fascist State, and will give the career of the homemaker the status of a profession.

2. Status of Women

In the machinery of the Corporate State, Fascism assures women an equal status with their men-folk, for it enables them to direct and control the conditions under which they live.
The fascist conception of individual liberty in private, and obligation in public life, gives them every opportunity they require in their future status as women citizens.

Fascism requires that women, equally with men, should offer a disciplined co-operation in the welding together of an ordered state. Fascism will lay upon all citizens of the state the duty of working in harmony, not in the interests of any section or class, but for the benefit of all its people. Continue reading