British Fascism & the Far Right — A Reader’s Guide
By Twitter User @FFRBookSeries
There is a large volume of literature on the far right in the UK covering the fascist tradition from the 1920s to the present day. But which books should you read?
This article provides a brief, necessarily selective, introduction to the extensive bibliography on the UK far-right.[i] It is aimed at activists and the general reader rather than academic specialists. Most of the books listed here can be bought new or second hand relatively easily.
· Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front 2nd Edition (London: I.B. Tauris, 1998)
· John E. Richardson, British Fascism: A Discourse-Historical Analysis (Stuttgart: ibidem-Verlag, 2017)
· Mark Hayes, The Ideology of Fascism and the Far-Right in Britain (Ottawa, Canada: Red Quill Books, 2014).
Martin Durham, Women and Fascism (London: Routledge, 1998)
Thurlow’s book remains the best single volume covering the history of British fascism from the 1920s to the National Front. It is impeccably researched, accessible and makes effective use of primary sources from both the far right and the National Archives. It is probably the best starting point for a reader new to the subject although it now needs to be supplemented with other books on more recent developments.
Richardson’s book is more up to date and also covers the entire history of British fascism but draws on discourse analysis to provide an interesting examination of far-right propaganda techniques. He provides some great examples of how groups such as the British National Party (BNP) used codewords and ‘doublespeak’ to hide their core fascist ideology as well as examining their use of visual imagery. It also has good sections on gender, the environment, economics and violence.
Hayes’ book also contains a potted history as well as a lengthy discussion of fascist ideology and the many contested interpretations of it. The author is a former Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) activist so this is written from a staunchly anti-fascist perspective but it provides a good summary of theories of fascism applied to the UK context.
Durham’s book is one of the best discussions of gender and gender politics in the far right and includes examples from the British Union of Fascists and the National Front. As well as exploring the role of women within far-right organisations, he also examines fascist policies on birth control, abortion, eugenics and women’s rights.
· Stephen Dorril, Blackshirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and British Fascism (London: Viking, 2006)
· Colin Holmes, Searching for Lord Haw-Haw: The Political Lives of William Joyce (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)
· Francis Beckett, Fascist in the Family. The Tragedy of John Beckett M.P. (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)
· Thomas Linehan, British Fascism, 1918–1939: Parties, Ideology and Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000)
· Kenneth Lunn, and Richard Thurlow, (eds.) British Fascism: Essays on the Radical Right in Inter-war Britain (London: Croom Helm. 1980. Republished, Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).
· Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933–39 (London: Constable, 1980)
· Adrian Weale, Renegades: Hitler’s Englishmen (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1994).
Julie V Gottlieb, Feminine Fascism: Women in Britain’s Fascist Movement (London: I B Tauris, 2003)
Sir Oswald Mosley and William Joyce (aka Lord Haw-Haw) are the two most written about figure in British fascism and the biographies by Dorril and Holmes are by far the most impressive works on both. Holmes’ biography is scrupulously researched and referenced, highly readable and does a great job of locating Joyce within the wider context of British fascism, anti-Semitism and Nazi-fellow travelling. Dorril’s book demolishes the lies and obfuscations cultivated by postwar fascists keen to whitewash ‘the great leader’. The sources are not included in the book though and it is weaker on the post-war era. Francis Beckett’s biography of his father John Beckett, who moved from the extreme left to the extreme right, is a superbly written combination of memoir, biography and political history which reveals much about the motivations that drive fanaticism and the personal consequences that often follow.
There are several books covering the interwar years but the monograph by Linehan and Lunn and Thurlow’s edited book are strongly recommended for the breadth of their coverage — looking not only at the BUF but Arnold Leese’s virulently antisemitic Imperial Fascist League and other extreme right groupuscules. Linehan also examines the cultural aspects of fascism, an approach that has rightly become more common among scholars. Griffiths book remains the best account of the Nazi fellow travellers in elite circles in the UK who favoured appeasement as a result of their antisemitism or pro-Nazi views. Weale’s book is still unsurpassed on the British traitors who sided with the Nazis during the war. Gottlieb’s book fills an important gap in the historiography with an impressively researched account of female fascist activism and the influence of feminist ideology and elements of the women’s movement on the fascist agenda.
· Graham Macklin, Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism after 1945 (London: I. B. Tauris, 2007)
· Trevor Grundy, Memoirs of a Fascist Childhood: A Boy in Mosley’s Britain (London: Heinemann, 1998)
· George Thayer, The British Political Fringe: A Profile (London: Anthony Blond, 1965).
Macklin’s book is the definitive account of Mosley’s post-war career and also an invaluable guide to the transnational and transatlantic extreme right networks that kept the ideological flame alive as they tried to adapt to the new realities of a ‘post-fascist’ epoch. Grundy’s book is a memoir of growing up with parents who were fanatical Mosleyites and is insightful about the psychological attractions of fascism as well as the personal cost. Thayer’s book is a journalistic account of ‘extremists’ of both left (including anti-fascists) and right but is still useful for its discussion of the revival of Nazism in the UK in the 1960s.
· Paul Jackson, Colin Jordan and Britain’s Neo-Nazi Movement: Hitler’s Echo (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)
· Ray Hill and Andrew Bell, The Other Face of Terror: Inside Europe’s Neo-Nazi Network (London: Grafton, 1988)
· Nick Lowles, White Riot: The Rise and Fall of Combat 18 (Bury: Milo Press, 2001)
· Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Black Sun: Aryan Cults. Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (New York: New York University Press, 2003)
· Nick Lowles and Steve Silver, (eds.) White Noise: Inside the International Skinhead Scene (London: Searchlight Publications, 1998)
· Anton Shekhovtsov and Paul Jackson, (eds.) White Power Music: Scenes of Extreme-Right Cultural Resistance (London: Searchlight Publications, 2012).
Colin Jordan — often described as ‘Britain’s Nazi Godfather’ was the leading figure in the national socialist tradition in the UK. Jackson’s biography is a thorough account of his career in various fringe neo-nazi groupuscules before he founded the British Movement (BM) which became the second largest extreme right group (behind the NF) in the 1970s. Jordan later became a ‘theoretician’ and inspiration to the transatlantic extreme right. Ray Hill was a leading figure in the BM but later recanted on his views and worked as an anti-fascist mole for Searchlight. His book is a vivid description of extreme right wing hatred and violence as well as a salutary lesson in redemption. Lowles’ volume is a fine journalistic account of the rise and demise of Nazi street gang and would-be-terrorists, Combat 18.
Goodrick-Clarke’s book is a well-researched and referenced scholarly account of the underground Nazi groups which have links to radical religions, the occult and other esoteric trends. The book has a global focus but has lots of material on the UK including on the white supremacist music scene which is clearly explained in the two booklets edited by Lowles and Silver and, Shekhovtsov and Jackson. The wider subcultures of postwar British fascism, including music, fashion, racist novels and ‘metapolitics’ are explored in Copsey and Richardson’s edited book.
National Front (NF) & British National Party (BNP)
· Martin Walker, The National Front (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1977)
· Stan Taylor, The National Front in English Politics (London: Macmillan, 1982)
· Matthew Collins, Hate: My life in the British Far Right (London: Biteback, 2011)
· Nigel Copsey, Contemporary British Fascism: The British National Party and the Quest for Legitimacy 2nd edition (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2008)
· Nigel Copsey and Graham Macklin, (eds.) The British National Party: Contemporary Perspectives (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011)
· Matthew J. Goodwin, New British Fascism: Rise of the British National Party (Abingdon: Routledge, 2011)
· Daniel Trilling, Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right, (London: Verso, 2012)
· Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley (eds.) Tomorrow Belongs to Us: The British Far-Right Since 1967 (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018).
The NF was the most successful far right group in Britain throughout the 1970s and Walker’s book is an admirably clear history of the early years of the party by a Guardian journalist. Taylor’s book is the most accessible academic account providing much useful information on the party’s electoral performance and ideology. Collins’ memoir gives an occasionally unsettling inside account of the seedy underbelly of British fascism. The author is a far-right activist turned anti-racist campaigner who was originally active in the NF and on the fringes of C18 before working against the extreme right.
The BNP is the most successful extreme right party in electoral terms in British history and the scholarly accounts by Copsey and by Goodwin provide much telling detail on its modernisation programme in the first decade of the 21st Century when it moderated its rhetoric and presentation — if not the fascist ideology at its core. The book edited by Copsey and Macklin provides a variety of informative perspectives on the wider context such as the BNP’s relationships with other far-right parties at home and abroad, its treatment by the media and anti-fascist opposition. Trilling’s book is a very readable journalistic account of the BNP which is particularly strong on how disillusionment with New Labour contributed to the BNP’s growth. Copsey and Worley’s edited book examines a range of issues connected with the contemporary UK far right including economics, gender, transnational links, homophobia, Holocaust denial and music.
UKIP & The English Defence League (EDL)
· Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin, Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014)
· Paul Stocker, English Uprising: Brexit and the Mainstreaming of the Far-Right (London: Melville House, 2017)
· Hilary Pilkington, Loud and Proud: Passion and Politics in the English Defence League (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016)
· Joel Busher, The Making of Anti-Muslim Protest: Grassroots Activism in the English Defence League (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)
· Hsiao-Hung Pai, Angry White People: Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right, (London: Zed Books, 2016).
Ford and Goodwin’s deservedly award-winning book is the definitive analysis of the social, cultural and economic underpinnings of the rise of the populist radical right party Ukip. While it is based on the very best political science methodology, the authors have taken care to ensure that the book is clearly written and accessible for non-specialists. It is essential reading to understand the appeal of the radical right in the UK to sections of the electorate and important background context for the Brexit result. Stocker’s book locates the Brexit vote in the longer term context of far-right ideas and policies becoming increasingly normalised and mainstream. It is particularly strong on the culpability of the tabloid media in this process.
Busher and Pilkington’s books on the EDL are both academic ethnographies. The authors spent considerable time with far right activists in order to better understand their motivations and worldview. It can be difficult when scholars do this as there is a risk that they ‘go native’ and end up being insufficiently objective but both tread this fine line carefully and there are some genuine insights into the psychological and social elements of far right activism. Pai’s book takes a similar approach but it is written by a journalist and so is an easier, if somewhat flawed, read.
[i] For a more detailed bibliography of the British far right, see Philip Rees, Fascism in Britain: An Annotated Bibliography. (Hassocks. Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1979) and Craig Fowlie ‘The British Far Right since 1967 — A Bibliographic Survey’ in Nigel Copsey and Matthew Worley, (eds.) Tomorrow Belongs to Us: The British Far-Right Since 1967, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018) pp. 224–267.