Oswald Mosley


The beginnings of the New Party were beset with many difficulties, although it was Mosley’s drive and strength of personality that acted as the catalyst for many other talents that rallied round him to give form and purpose to the new enterprise.

Many MPs who supported the Mosley Memorandum remained within the mainstream parties but there were a few notable exceptions that thought, as Mosley did, that nothing could be achieved without changing the system. The New Party was launched on February 28 1931 in the face of bitter opposition from a minority element in Labour’s rank and rank that considered Mosley’s repudiation of the old parties, but particularly that of the Labour Party, as an act of betrayal.

From the start of the New Party’s speaking campaign, this element pursued each speaker with chants of “traitor” and “Judas” with the intention of breaking up the meetings, a feature of Mosley’s political life that dogged his efforts to put his message across. His response was to stand up to this attempt to silence him.

Along with this angry mob came the communists to jump on the bandwagon. At the outset of the New Party’s beginnings Mosley was seriously incapacitated with pleurisy. During this early period of the party much of its campaigning was placed on the shoulders of his wife and the candidates in the New Party’s first election fights. The word “fight” being appropriate.

The news that organised communist violence threatened the party’s campaign to the degree that serious injury would be incurred worried Mosley … the safety of his wife being paramount in his mind.

Even though he had not fully recovered from his illness, Mosley returned to the fray supporting the New Party candidate in Ashton-under-Lyne, Allan Young. A week before the election, Mosley spoke at a meeting of seven thousand displaying all the talents of a great orator that would later earn him the support and admiration of his Blackshirts during that phase of his political career for which he became a legend.

After the count, Mosley faced the wrath of the Labour and communist opposition to the New Party candidates. With characteristic courage and aplomb, he remarked before descending and walking through the ugly throng, “This is the crowd that has prevented anyone doing anything in England since the war”.

The left-wing John Strachey, then still a supporter of Mosley, took this as a sinister turning point and gave warning that “at that moment British fascism was born” and suggested that Mosley was now in opposition to the working class.

What Mosley was really saying in “that moment of passion” was that communists, ever opportunistic, were exploiting the feelings and aspirations of the Labour Left, sowing the seeds of division, leading on to violence. His stand against the MacDonald government in the interests of the unemployed was the act of a revolutionary with the working class nearest his heart. The communists recognised the threat that Mosley presented, not against the workers but against their long-term goals.

Violence in British politics was nothing new but for Mosley it presented a personal challenge with so much at stake. He was determined to face that challenge and encouraged the formation of a Youth Movement composed of younger men fit enough to defend the New Party speakers against the threat of communist violence whilst Strachey and others feared this could develop into a “proto-fascist defence force” … with some justification.

The captain of the England Rugby Football team, Peter Howard, was assigned to train a team of young men for the purpose of protecting speakers and, later, he and the Jewish boxing champion, Ted “Kid” Lewis, were to act as Mosley’s bodyguard when he addressed 20,000 in Glasgow on September 20th 1931.

Apocryphal is the story that Mosley asked Kid Lewis why he did not hit back with greater force to which Lewis responded that he was afraid of killing someone.

After a meeting at the Rag Market in Birmingham, Mosley and his new bodyguard in the form of the Youth Movement were charged with assault but later acquitted.

The New Party fared badly in the General Election in October with Mosley himself coming bottom of the poll. In Whitechapel, Kid Lewis polled only 154 votes.

Mosley began to talk more and more in the style of the warrior hero with a stridency that appealed to youth.

In the New Party’s paper Action he wrote, “Better the great adventure, better the great attempt for England’s sake, better defeat, disaster, better far the end of that trivial thing called a Political Career than stifling in a uniform of Blue and Gold, strutting and posturing on the stage of Little England, amid the scenery of decadence, until history, in turning over an heroic page of the human story, writes of us the contemptuous postscript: These were the men to whom was trusted the Empire of Great Britain, and whose idleness, ignorance and cowardice left it a Spain. We shall win; or at least we shall return on our shields”.

A split in the party had already occurred between those who feared the move towards fascism and those who favoured the more strident tone. John Strachey and Allan Young had left, along with the estrangement of several intellectual supporters.

The real turning point was Mosley’s visit to Rome in January 1932 as part of his decision to “study the modern movement in all countries”. Along with Italy and Germany, he also intended visiting Russia … having then no particular leaning towards fascism. He took Harold Nicholson (then the editor of Action) along with him but a rift between them began after Mosley spoke favourably of Mussolini’s achievements.

To Mosley, Mussolini was the man of the hour who triumphed over adversity. What they indeed had in common was that both Mosley and Mussolini were former socialist firebrands, men of the Left who had become impatient with the old men of the worn out parliamentary parties … the old men who had betrayed the younger fighting soldiers of the trenches.

Before the Great War, Lenin had regarded Mussolini as the great socialist hope of Italy but the experience of war had changed him and led him afterwards to adopt the fasces and the black shirt and the martial paraphernalia of the fascist movement.

Class war had been rejected in favour of national unity.

Mosley’s first wife, Cynthia, had shared her husband’s compassion for the workers during the Labour Party days and had corresponded with Leon Trotsky and visited the old Bolshevik revolutionary then living on the Turkish island of Prinkipo in 1930.

Three years later she died with Trotsky reflecting in his diaries on whether she had “lived long enough to cross over into the fascist camp”. It was extremely unlikely.

Nevertheless, Mosley was impressed enough by the Italians and sought to emulate them causing Nicholson to argue the case for remaining “constitutional” and returning to Parliament.

There was no question of anti-Semitism then. The issue simply did not arise. Within his social circle, Mosley mixed and rubbed shoulders with several prominent Jews. In the New Party he had enjoyed the support of the welterweight boxing champion, Kid Lewis, also a Jew whose original name was Solomon Mendeloff. Lewis had been hired as the physical youth training instructor for the New Party and if these early defenders of free speech were seen to be the forerunners of the Blackshirts then their origins were far from being anti-Jewish.

As for Mussolini, his confidante was the daughter of a Venetian Jew, Signora Sarfatti, who had been at Il Duce’s side since his socialist days as editor of Popola d’Italia. The Chief Rabbi of Rome was a member of the Fascist Party.

Mosley was a technocrat whose only interest in a political system was that it worked in the best interests of the people … and, in the case of the unemployed, Italian fascism had made enormous strides in the direction of solving the problem. German National Socialism was to achieve the same results later.

Not everyone in the New Party empathised with Mosley’s sympathy for, if not an outright approval of, the “new movement” in Italy. For those who detected the “cloven hoof of fascism” in Mosley’s plans, their path was one of desertion.

Mosley, however, decided on a different course with a clear vision of the future.

Robert Edwards

©2002  'Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists by Robert Edwards'

This website is produced on behalf of European Action.

All the text is the copyright property of Robert Edwards, unless otherwise stated

oswaldmosley.net - 2008