Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Review of "Fascism" by Sir Oswald Mosley

This is a pamphlet published in 1936 in which the late baronet set out his views on where Britain had gone wrong and what needed to be done to put her right.

Mosley was a man of genuinely outstanding talents, as even his enemies recognised, but his temperament and lack of judgement meant that he never fulfilled his promise in the mainstream of politics.  He was successively a Conservative, an independent and a Labour man, but he was not satisfied with any of these alignments.  He never held high office, apart from a brief spell as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in one of Ramsay MacDonald's cabinets.  By the early 1930s, he had aligned himself with Italian-style fascism.

Mosley's diagnosis of contemporary society was trenchant.  "Democractic Governments", he wrote, "are in the grip of international finance, which, in this respect, is largely Jewish".  The existing political parties were likewise "in the grip of Jewish finance".  In the international sphere, Italy and Germany had got the right idea, and communist Russia was the great enemy.  The League of Nations was merely an "unholy alliance of decaying democratic systems".

What was to be done?  Mosley declared that the existing political system, based as it was on the "strife of Parties", would be swept aside.  In its place would be built an authoritarian one-party state, which would offer "Leadership, not Tyranny".  The government would rule by decree, though it would submit itself to approval by the people in periodic referendums.  The monarchy would be retained, as it had been in Italy.

The heart of Mosley's proposals was the kind of corporatism that Mussolini was professing to implement (followed, rather half-heartedly, by Schuschnigg in Austria).  A series of industrial Corporations would be set up to represent the different sectors of the economy (including one for wives and mothers).  Workers and managers would have equal representation in each Corporation, and disputes between the two sides of industry would be settled by consumers' representatives appointed by the government.  The House of Commons would be elected on a corporate franchise - a certain number of seats would be elected by farmers, a certain number by dentists, miners, and so on - and would serve as an advisory body to offer specialist opinions on technical matters.  The Lords would be replaced by a second chamber constituted on a broadly similar functional basis, so as to represent "Education, Religion, the Services, Science, Art", etc.  The existing system of representation would be abolished.

In answer to the question of what would happen to people's freedom, Mosely was trenchant.  Most people didn't have any freedom, and voting was useless under the present system.  He promised to substitute a "dictatorship of the will of the people" for the "present dictatorship of finance".  Freedom of the press meant nothing more than freedom for millionaire press barons to tell lies (he didn't, however, advocate censorship - instead, the government would claim the right to sue papers for libel, in much the same way as the PAP regime does in Singapore).  "Real freedom", he wrote soothingly, "means good wages, short hours, security in employment, good houses, opportunity for leisure and recreation with family and friends."

Mosley's vision was self-consciously modernistic and technocratic.  He believed that "the function of the State is largely to keep the ring clear for the technician".  He had a naive but quintessentially fascist admiration for science and technology.  He paid great attention to economic policy - not unnaturally, in the wake of the Great Depression - and favoured autarchy.  His preferred economic system was a kind of third way between capitalism and socialism: private property and enterprise would be retained, but laissez-faire economics would give way to a system in which business operated in the national interest and within the parameters laid down by the fascist state.

Mosley shows the classic fascist concern for small shopkeepers.  Sometimes, however, he talks almost like a Bolshevik.  He promised to expropriate absentee landowners and to abolish hereditary wealth "unless service is given in return".  He spoke of a classless society and the abolition of the "parasitic" aristocracy.  Strikes would be banned, but they would be unnecessary in any event because the new system would lead to rising salaries and wages.  The retirement age would be lowered to 60.

What of the undesirables who had no role to play in this new utopia?  Mosley was less obsessed with race than the Nazis, but there are definite elements of racism and xenophobia on display.  Immigration would be halted.  Foreigners who had become naturalised British subjects would be deported "unless they have proved themselves valuable citizens of Great Britain".  Jews would not be openly persecuted - that would be un-British - but they would not be treated on a par with other Britons either.  Those who had "grossly abused the hospitality of Britain" would be thrown out, and those who stayed would be treated as foreigners.  With regard to people with hereditary illnesses, Mosley was at pains to stress that they would not be forced to undergo sterilisation - they could simply choose to be segregated from the rest of society instead, if they preferred.

Most naive or disingenuous of all is Mosley's claim that fascism meant peace.  He declared that a fascist Britain would fight only in defence of the British Empire, the only threat to which came from the USSR.  His analysis of the causes of war was oddly Leninist, however.  "Fascism alone can preserve the Peace," he wrote, "because alone it removes the causes of war. The main cause of War is the struggle for markets."

By the time that this pamphlet came out, fascism in Britain was already a busted flush.  Mosley's party, the BUF, had not fought the 1935 general election.  The Battle of Cable Street was looming, and the paramilitary Blackshirts were shortly to be banned.  Though he did not know it yet, Mosley's day had come and gone.  He was imprisoned when war broke out, and later moved to France.  He would end his days not as an MP, a cabinet minister or an elder statesman on the red benches of the Lords, but as an embittered, exiled traitor.