British Political Extremism 1930s

HideShow resource information

European Context

European Context of Political Extremism

  • Economic crisis of the Wall Street Crash pushed some European countries towards political extremism
    • Some countries - notably Germany and Spain - saw the rise of dictators such as Hitler and Franco
      • Others - Russia and Italy - already had dictatorship in place; Stalin and Mussolini
  • Other countries witnessed violent conflict between extreme political countries

In Britain, there were extreme political parties, but they never got close to power or disrupt daily life.

1 of 13

The BUF - Info

The British Union of Fascists (BUF) - 

  • Formed October 1932
    • After Sir Oswald Mosley visited Fascist Italy
    • Italian fascism shown through wearing of black uniforms, silver insignia and use of a fascist salute
  • Mosley a gifted orator
    • Used this to his advantage; over 100 speeches, 3 books and many articles for publicity
  • 1936 renamed due to German influence as British Union of Fascists and National Socialists
  • Gained support from Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail (lol no surprise there)
    • By 1954 had over 50,000 members (!!!)
2 of 13

The BUF - Reasons to Support

Why did people support it?

  • Support strongest in parts of London and some northern cities like Liverpool & Manchester
  • Typical recruits were young working class men
    • Felt disillusioned with traditional party politics 
      • Collapse of economy and 2nd Labour Gov, cuts and means testing
      • Felt there were limited efforts to deal with unemployment
    • Were impressed with contrast of dynamism of Italian fascism and Nazi Germany
  • Some traditional Labour supporters 
    • disillusioned with Labour in 1931
  • Some support from those who wanted better relations with Hitler's Germany in order to avoid another World War, or thought Hitler was a great defence against Red Scare
3 of 13

The BUF - Failure

Why did the BUF fail?

  • Mosley started following Hitler's anti-Semitic approach
    • Won some support in E. London and Manchester
      • However, for every supporter it attracted, at least one potential supporter was put off

  • 1935 membership declined to just 5,000
  • Electorally a failure
    • No MPs or even local councillors elected 
  • Unpopular violence
    • Indoor rally at Olympia Hall in 1934
    • 'Battle of Cable Street' 1936
      • To many people they were symbols of fascist brutality and racism
  • Further unpopularity in later 1930s due to close association with ideals and racial policies of Nazi Party
4 of 13

The CPGB - Info

The Communist Party of Great Britain

  • 1920-1990
  • Based on a distinct philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • Claimed to provide working classes and their middle-class supporters with a more progressive and equal society
  • After Russian revolution 1917, appeared to be building what British sympathisers named 'a new civilisation'.
  • Always small numerically, but had influence beyond its numbers
5 of 13

The CPGB - Reasons to Support

Reasons to support

  • Capitalism appeared to be collapsing, with parliamentary democracy appearing to be unable to cope
    • Revolutionary ideas grew in appeal to many idealist young people
  • Faced with mass unemployment, break-up of Labour Gov 1931 and creation of BUF, membership rose
  • Rise of fascism in Europe made communism attractive because seemed to be them carrying the fight against fascism
    • Particularly in late 1930s with outbreak of Spanish Civil War, many young communists left Britain to help fight (George Orwell)
6 of 13

The CPGB - Success


  • Several Trade Unions had leaders who were communists or at least sympathetic
    • Communists played a key role in major strikes such as Lancashire cotton industry 1932 or Birmingham rent strike 1939
  • Played a leading role in organisations such as National Unemployed Worker's Movement, which had 50,000 members in early 30s.
    • Apart from advice to workers, organised 'hunger marches' and mass demonstrations - some of which resulted in violent confrontations with the police
  • Party membership doubled in 1930s; communist newspaper 'The Daily Worker' had a circulation of over 80,000 copies
    • 'The Left Book Club' - in which communist authors were prominent - had 50,000 members by 1939
  • Most importantly - unlike the BUF - obtained 2 MPs, whilst a number of Labour MPs were sympathetic to ideas
7 of 13

The CPGB - Failure

Why was it not successful?

  • Whilst had it some influence, it remained limited
  • Membership was never more than 1800
  • National Government never felt truly worried by it
  • Police kept a close eye on their activity, whilst policies were brought in to prosecute communists
8 of 13

Direct Factors Limiting Political Extremism

National Government Policies

Legislation passed to curb activities of both communists and fascists:

  • 1934 Incitement to Disaffection Act 
    • Used to prosecute anyone advocating revolution or violence of any kind
  • 1936 Public Order Act
    • Banned wearing of political uniforms 
    • Gave police greater power to control and even ban political meetings/demonstrations

Fact that government had to introduce these policies could indicate that they did feel a slight threat from extreme political groups

9 of 13

Indirect Factors Limiting Political Extremism 1

National Government

  • Huge parliamentary majorities in 1931 & 1935
    • Ensured stability and prevented exploitation of power vacuum
    • No need for political alliances with any extremists
  • 9 years of National Gov = stability, and Foreign Policy by Baldwin and Chamberlain prevented conflict with communist and fascist countries (appeasement)

The Labour Movement

  • Rejected any alliance with communist, preventing large growth in popularity
  • Key Labour members like Bevin fought communism within Trade Unions
  • Despite huge loss in 1931, Labour retained its core vote
  • Labour remained main opposition party

International Events

  • Late 1930s truth about Stalin regime beginning to be known
  • Alienation from soviet regime with Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939
    • Took CPGB by surprise and made them look ridiculous and unpatriotic
10 of 13

Indirect Factors Limiting Political Extremism 2

Mussolini Abyssinia Invasion 1935

  • This combined with support of Franco (Spain) 1936 reduced support for fascist Italy
  • Nazi Germany discredited through violence such as Kristallnacht in 1938 and by aggressive foreign policy
  • Outbreak of WW2 further discredited BUF
    • Fear of them becoming a threat led Churchill to arrest Mosley and over 700 followers

The Economy

  • Recovered from 1933-1934
  • Mass unemployment much reduced by 1937
  • Midlands and south-east new industry growing rapidly and a comfortable lifestyle developing
  • British middle-class did not suffer economic disaster (like in Germany)
  • Pockets of deep unemployment in depressed areas, however, did not lead to political extremism
    • If anything they became demoralised / apathetic or got used to life on benefits
11 of 13

Indirect Factors Limiting Political Extremism 3


  • Communists never had outstanding leader
  • BUF had Mosley, but despite charisma he was impatient and a poor administrator
  • BUF got reputation for thuggery which lost it support

Britain Itself

  • Continued strength of political institutions
    • Especially parliament and monarchy
  • Unlike Germany and Russia, WW1 had not ended in defeat and revolution
    • Already happened for Britain in 1649 = stability
  • No widespread loss of faith in parliamentary government or in constitutional monarchy even after abdication crisis of 1936
12 of 13

Historian Quotes

  • the 1930s "are haunted by the spectres of mass unemployment, hunger marches, appeasement, and the rise of fascism at home and abroad

Stevenson and Cook

13 of 13


No comments have yet been made

Similar History resources:

See all History resources »See all Modern Britain - 19th century onwards resources »