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Political Extremism; why did political extremism not attract greater national support in
Why might extremism take control in the 1930s?
~ The impact of the depression the economic issues and misery caused by unemployment would be a
possible cause of turning people towards extremism.
~ The rise of extremism across Europe Germany, Italy and the USSR even the USA saw a concerted
rise in support for left wing groups.
The Left Wing
The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was set up in 1920. Limited likelihood of succession, GB
led Lenin to encourage the CPGB to seek cooperation with Labour. BUT Labour was anxious to be
seen as respectable therefore they rejected affiliation with the Communists three times in the 1920s. In
1925 Labour insisted that members of the Communist Party were ineligible to join Labour.
Support for CPGB
~ In 1929 membership of the CPGB stood at 3,000. The impact of the Great Depression therefore
helped their cause. Membership steadily grew (9,000 in 1932, 16,000 in 1938).
~ The CPGB helped organise a few strikes, several spies were recruited from Cambridge, and several
poets announced their support for communism. BUT the depression did not cause the revolutionary
situation the left had hoped for.
The Popular Front
~ In 1933 Moscow called for all communist/socialist groups to unite as a popular front against the rise of
fascism. This did appeal to a far left group within Labour (Stafford Cripps and the Socialist League)
BUT again the Labour refused to affiliate with the Communists. When in 1938 details of the purges and
Great Terror emerged the Labour party further disassociated itself with the Communists especially
when the CPGB endorsed Stalin's `killings'.
Left Book Club
~ The biggest area of Communist influence was in the Left Book Club. Set up in 1936 it had 50,000
members by 1937. In the same year 730 local discussion groups had been set up. Support for the ideas
of the Book Group was strengthened by the impact of the Spanish Civil War, in which Franco's Fascist
became the enemy to the more left wing Republicans.
In the end the impact of the CPGB was very limited.
~ The Left Wing Book Group became a vent for ideals and for frustrations limiting the need to turn
~ Then in 1939 the USSR signed the Nazi Soviet Pact. Communist groups were ordered to now support
fascist groups. The popular front was jettisoned. Cripps and the Socialist League were thrown out of
~ The outbreak of War in 1939 turned people totally away from extremism as patriotic feeling took over.
The Far Right
~ The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was set up in 1932. Oswald Mosley came from an educated,
privileged background. In the 1920s he had been a Tory MP but crossed to Labour in 1926. He rose
rapidly in the Labour Party and in 1929 was part of the small ministerial team set up to tackle
unemployment. He believed that the way forward was a mixture of Keynesian economics, and Italian
Fascist ideas. In the end MacDonald rejected the ideas and Mosley resigned from the Labour Party.
The key view of the BUF was that Mosley was a playboy with low morals, that membership peaked at
20,000, and that the nature of fascism was not British.
~ A number of racial ideas had come from Britain (Social Darwinism)
~ Universal suffrage was inappropriate and that paternal rule of the colonies was preferred.
~ Anti Semitism was rife in Britain and the Empire was based on racial ideas plus Mosley was a
dedicated hardworking man , an excellent orator, and intellectually superior to Hitler.
The Rise of the BUF
~ In the 1930s the Daily Mail had started giving its support to the BUF. In 1934 the rally held at the Albert
Hall was a great success. And membership was at 50,000 A similar rally held a month later at Olympia,
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Many people were attacked and BUF stewards accused of excessive
violence. The infiltration by Jews and Communists at the rally, though, meant that Mosley could not
deliver his speech. Many in Britain had a distaste for this and turned against the BUF. Linked to events
in Germany (Night of the Long Knives), and the popular portrayal of the BUF as racist thugs dented
~ The BUF adopted a distinctly more antiSemitic stance and allied themselves closer to the Nazis.…read more