Speeches and skirmishes: a night’s work for an average British Blackshirt, as recounted by BUF journalist William ‘Lucifer’ Allen
To be a fascist in interwar Britain could be hazardous. Unity Mitford was once assaulted by a crowd of communists in Hyde Park after she stopped to listen to a public speech; incensed over the swastika badge affixed to her lapel, they attempted to beat her and throw her into the Serpentine. Jeffrey Hamm (who became Mosley’s personal secretary and a Union Movement leader after WWII) was likewise once almost killed by a mob when he came across a communist demonstration and, perhaps rather unwisely, began asking pointed public questions of the speaker. Fascists courageous enough to speak or march in public would frequently find themselves the target of bricks, bottles, paving stones, and knives, and more than a few ended up in hospital or worse. The contention from fascists themselves, as well as from some historians, is that the majority of ‘fascist violence’ was actually instigated by anti-fascist activists, rather than directly perpetrated by groups like the British Union of Fascists (BUF) against others unprovoked. Violence was not an unknown feature of left-wing politics in the UK at the time, with the BUF’s uniformed military culture arguably arising (at least in part) in response to it; Mosely’s pre-fascist movement, the New Party (an offshoot of Independent Labour), had from its very first meeting been subjected to violent disruptions by socialist demonstrators incensed over Mosley’s alleged betrayal of the Labour Party, inspiring the perception among Nupa leaders (many of whom later ended up in the BUF) that “the good old English fist” was an essential element for political survival. Regardless of who was or was not most at fault for skirmishes between fascists and their opponents, there is evidence enough that fascists could also give as good as they got at times. BUF divisions like the infamous ‘I’ Squad are alleged to have deliberately instigated punch-ups at fascist rallies on several occasions, and there are even stories of BUF members smashing up meetings of rival organizations like Arnold Leese’s Imperial Fascist League. The sense of camaraderie and mission inherent in being part of a uniformed organization beset by enemies on all sides certainly seems to have attracted many adventurous young men to the fascist ranks, perhaps almost as much as the BUF creed of patriotism and a future Corporate State. All of these elements can be seen bound up in the article below, originally published in an August 1933 edition of BUF newspaper The Blackshirt. Written by BUF writer William Allen under the pen-name ‘Lucifer’, the article provides an account of a BUF meeting and street-fight from a pro-fascist perspective, demonstrating to its readers quite how dangerous an average night’s ‘work’ could be for a Blackshirt activist and how much risk there was inherent in proselytizing for the cause of a corporatist British Empire. Despite the author’s stated intentions otherwise, that sense of risk and adventure does also come across as being somewhat part of the appeal, a source of excitement and pride for those looking to save Britain and to box the nose of the “Communist menace” in the process.
When Day is Done:
Fascists Start Work
William ‘Lucifer’ Allen
From ‘The Blackshirt’, 5 August, 1933
Business is over for the day and the office has begun the usual animated discussion of the best way of spending the evening. The cashier is hurrying off for a game of golf, the book-keeper is going to play tennis, the shipping clerk is taking his girl to the cinema, and the office boy is licking stamps at record speed to be in time for “the dogs.” Only young Brown, with the Fascist badge pinned to the lapel of his jacket, does not seem interested in the great problem of how best to amuse oneself. He is methodically packing up his things and getting ready to report for duty.
In a few minutes he is saluting the sentry at H.Q.; changes quickly into his black shirt and is snatching a meal down in the canteen before the evening’s duties begin. Before long an officer comes clattering down the stairs calling for volunteers to steward a meeting, and Brown, bolting down the rest of his sandwiches, hurries upstairs to join the others in one of the vans. To-night it is the old open Morris van, which has been through more trouble and has seen more fighting than any one member in the movement.
Nobody knows how often the driver’s windows have been broken, dents of stones and gashes of sticks and other weapons scar her sides, there is not much paint left on her; but we all love the old Morris, and some day there will be an honoured place for her in the permanent Fascist Exhibition.
A Mixed Reception
To-night she is pushing her ugly nose through the West End, and the Blackshirts aboard are getting rather a mixed reception from the crowded pavements. Here and there are dark glowering faces, hostile eyes, muttering voices. Here it is that our paper sellers have been brutally attacked and injured. Continue reading