Why did political extremism grow in the 1930s? PS3/4 8


Background reasons

  • Social and political impact of WW1 main background reason. Made many question value of deomcracy and look fro answer in political extremes. Disenfranchisement from the elite, especially when the elite had a fatal impact upon the workers during WW1
  • Economic crash of 1929 and Great Depressions 30s, more immediate reason. Poverty and desperation -> people look for radical solutions in political movements aka Fascism and Communism
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Communism in Britain

  • Communist Party of Great Britain founded in 1920 (alliance of smaller socialist groups inspired by the 1917 Bol Oct rev) + the Call of Comintern (Lenin)
  • Party membership peaked in 1920s at 10,000 in 1926 then lowered but in 1930s peak was in 1939 of 16,000 when many supported Communist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War (36-39) as the threat of Nazis grew.
  • Two Communist MPs elected in 1920s, but both lost their seats in 1929. 25 communist candidates who stood for election in 1929 polled no more than 5% of votes in constituency
  • One Communist MP elected in 1935 -> Willy Gallagher, held seat til 1950 but no more.
  • Why did communism not get more support in 20s/30s?
  • Comintern told GB Communists to infiltrate Lab party, but Lab did not take communists
  • Communism only strong in South Wales, Tyneside and East End LDN
  • Lots of opposition: GB Commies arrested treason 1926, movement discredited by gov propaganda (National Gazette said General Strike was a Communist plot) and association with the Zinoviev letter, 1924.
  • Failure of GS 1926 = limitations of radical activity
  • TUC not radical enough to set up Red unions, even committed communists not revolutionary- National Unemployment Workers' UNion largest CGroup but not revolutionary
  • Stalin's purges after 1934 and Nazi-Soviety Pact 1939 discredited movement
  • Communism didn't die out, became an intellectual movement w/ cambridge spies Kim Philby
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Fascism in Britain

  • Facist dictatorship of Mussolini in Italy attracted interests and admiration (Churchill admired him) and some sympathy for anti-semitism
  • Racial violence, intolerance and blind obedience to a leader found limited favour in Britain
  • Moderate elements of fascism including imperialism, white supremacy, discipline and national efficiency were appealing to right-wing. + loyalty, patriotism and sense of community. Fear of communism and working class unrest after general strike attracted some to Fascism. 
  • Impact of Depression attracted some of the 2 million unemployed to fascism -> formation of the Britsh Union of Fascists in 1932 (Mosley, ex-Labour Party), whose Memorandum had been rejected by RMD. 
  • Modelled party on Mussolini's blackshits, organised rallies, songs, and banners. 
  • Press were sympathetic-> those papers owned by Lord Rothermere (Daily Mail "Hurrah for the Blackshirts" and Daily Mirror). Membership peaked 1934 at 50,000, violence broke out at a rally at Olympia in London June 1934. Rothermere then withdrew support, membership dropped to a low in 1935, rising to no more than 20,000 in 1939.
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Why did Fascism fail to attract support in GB

  • Gov action-> Public Order Act 1936 banned processions and demonstrations in paramilitary uniform, effectively outlawing demonstrations by Black shirts
  • Public opinion turned against the BUF after the Battle of Cable Street Oct 1936, when they had a prevocative march through the Jewish East End. Scenes of racial violence shocking, but anti-fascists turned out to support Jewish community. Communists did not depend upon street demonstrations -> so grew faster than fascists in 1930s.
  • Growing unpopularity of Nazi Germany + increasing threat of war made fascism unpatriotic as a threat to UK national security. Especially once Germany began to rearm in 1935 and annex new land in 1938
  • FPTP did not favour smaller parties unlike PR of Germany
  • Mosley was a weak leader-> chose wrong policies, focused on anti-semitism and praise of Germany instead of concentrating on working class issues.
  • Upper-class background did not attract working class support (Mosley was interned during WW2) 
  • But, British fascism not dead, 2,000 went to fight for Franco in Spain.
  • Were some sympathetic MPs including Captain Archibald Ramsey (outspoken anti-semite and admirer of Hitler who was also interned in war)
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