Echoes of A New Tomorrow: Life after Revolution in the Commonwealth of Britain

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For King, Country and Capital: The Counter-Revolution in Britain, 1930–1934 (Part One)

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FOR KING, COUNTRY AND CAPITAL
THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN, 1930–1934

PART ONE: AN INSIDIOUS CONSPIRACY (1930–1933)

ERIC HOBSBAWM

1967

Although my father was a tradesman from the East End, I missed the Revolution. At the time I was eleven years old and living in Vienna with my mother and my sister, our father having recently died. Two years later, my mother died as well, and my sister and I were orphaned. We found ourselves in unusual circumstances – notwithstanding the obvious; my mother’s sister married my father’s brother, and the new couple took us both in. We moved to Berlin shortly after, about the time that the worst effects of the economic crisis began to hit, and I watched as all around me my peers at school turned to Naziism. I chose the opposing path, and quickly began a lifelong affiliation with socialism.


Shortly after the Nazis took power, my family moved to London. Although not refugees, it certainly felt at the time as if we had arrived in some sort of safe haven. I was in my early teens and attended the local secondary school in Marylebone, though generally I felt bored and isolated, and soon I retreated to the local library where I would read poetry and Marxist theory side by side. In the evenings I listened to hot dance records, sometimes going to Socialist Youth events at the local dance hall with my cousin, trying to impress girls with our considerable musical knowledge.


It was coming back from one such event in February 1934 that I first encountered the public face of fascism in the Commonwealth of Britain. Coming out of the Peterloo Club on Connaught Street, my cousin and I were stopped by three men, only a few years older than we were, dressed identically in blue shirts and black berets. They asked whether we were members of Socialist Youth, and I said yes. They then asked whether we were Jewish, and while neither of us had been brought up in observant households, my mother had always told me never to do anything to suggest that I was ashamed of being a Jew. Again, I answered yes.


At this point, one of the men produced a cudgel. He told us that he and his colleagues had spent the evening in Whitechapel, patrolling the streets looking for “communist Jews” to harass, but that the streets had been empty. Their appetite for violence had not been sated. The emergence of a group of half a dozen more young socialists leaving the dance hall stopped them from inflicting physical violence upon us instead, and having enough sense to realise that they were outnumbered, the thugs contented themselves with spitting on the ground at our feet before walking off into the night. My cousin and I almost certainly escaped a beating, quite possibly being spared serious injury thanks to the timely arrival of our oblivious comrades. We walked eight strong back towards our homes, my cousin and I shaken, grateful for the lively conversation and the company.


The streets in Whitehall had been deserted that night because, two days earlier, a bomb had gone off in a deli in Mark Street, killing the Ashkenazi family who ran it and injuring three customers queuing outside. The men I encountered with my cousin were Blueshirts, members of the paramilitary group attached to the violently anti-Semitic National Union of British Fascists, which had risen to prominence around the time that I arrived in England. That this coincided with the rise of the Nazis in Germany was no accident; its organisational capacity having been all but destroyed by its failed involvement in the counter-revolutionary efforts of 1927–1929, the British fascist movement lay dormant during the first years of the Commonwealth before being resuscitated by the arrival of foreign money in early 1933. The British Fascisti as led by Rotha Lintorn-Orman during the Revolution, always idiosyncratic in their understanding of fascism, had collapsed in the months after Lintorn-Orman’s arrest and subsequent conviction on various counts of conspiracy. Barring a bizarre, abortive attempt by members of the Loyalist Volunteer Force in late 1932 to break her out of Holloway Prison, where she was serving a fifteen-year sentence, Lintorn-Orman’s departure from the leadership of British fascism apparently occasioned little lasting regret amongst the rest of the movement. In her absence, a more ideologically “pure” strain of fascism was able to take hold in the Commonwealth, something her scout-like loyalty to King and Country had always prohibited.


BLUESHIRTS%201933.jpg

A Blueshirt rally in rural South-east England, 1932.


The schism in the fascist movement started in October 1929 with the seizure of the leadership of the British Fascisti by Brigadier-General R. B. D. Blakeney. General Blakeney had been the leader of a group of former Fascisti who had renounced their political affiliation so as to join the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supply, the Baldwin government’s strike-breaking paramilitary force – ironically structured along the lines of Lintorn-Orman’s organisation[1]. With the OMS quickly falling into obsolescence after the London Docks Massacre in June 1927, Blakeney quietly rejoined the BF and became instrumental in setting up the Q Divisions. After Lintorn-Orman’s arrest, he set about remodelling the organisation along the lines of the OMS, envisaging a movement of patriotic people across the country coming to gather under the Fascist banner to restore King and Parliament.


While Blakeney played scoutmaster trying to marshal the housewives of Middle England into a counter-revolutionary army, a hardcore faction of the BF centred around Arnold Leese and Neil Francis Hawkins emerged as a rival tendency within the movement. Leese was originally a veterinary surgeon who specialised in the treatment of camels. During the 1920s he had been converted to both fascism and anti-Semitism by his neighbour Arthur Kitson, a monetary theorist whose contribution to economics extended no further than an entrenched belief that the Jews controlled all of world finance. Kitson was also a member of an exclusive group calling themselves “the Britons”, as later was General Blakeney. This was a network of various high-profile figures within the far-right establishment in Britain, mainly noted as the publisher of a journal called The British Guardian, which featured articles by Nazi race scientists and whose masthead depicted a swastika. Francis Hawkins, on the other hand, was a veteran of the BF’s executive committee and had at one time been considered as a preferable leader to Lintorn-Orman. He was more committed to fascism as the term was generally understood, preaching corporatism hand in hand with anti-Semitism. Along with Leese, he was unenthusiastic about Blakeney’s new direction for the BF, and in January 1930 the pair formed the National Union of British Fascists. Blakeney took what was left of the BF and reconstituted it into the Loyalist Volunteer Force.


During the period 1930–1933, the fascist tendency in Britain almost disappeared from public view. The Bureau of Domestic Affairs, under CPGB control, apparently considered that British fascism had been defeated along with the Cliveden Parliament in 1929. The Commonwealth government at this point lacked a sophisticated intelligence network, and certainly made no attempts to investigate the state of domestic far-right organisation, let alone infiltrate or else counter the tendency. The extent of the Communist government’s official dealings with the fascist movement started and ended in autumn 1929 with the trials of the 94 Q Division squadristi captured at Cliveden, and that of Lintorn-Orman herself. More concerned was the Domestic Bureau with prosecuting members of the British Army and the Metropolitan Police who had participated in crimes against the workers’ movement. Having put up no real fight between 1927–1929, it was hardly suspected that the fascists would cause any major problems in the immediate term.


Underground and out of the view of the government, the far-right nevertheless did survive. A material lifeline was provided chiefly by that part of the old aristocracy which did not flee to Newfoundland. Alan Percy, continuing to style himself the 8th Duke of Northumberland, funded an underground newspaper, The Patriot, which published articles raging against the destruction of the British Empire by “Judaeo–Masonic” forces. Meanwhile, the former Duke of Wellington and the former Duchess of Hamilton led much of the remaining British aristocracy in patronising the so-called Nordic League, an underground network of fascists and anti-Semites modelled along the lines of the Nordische Gesellschaft set up in Germany by Nazi race-theorist Alfred Rosenberg. It is commonly thought that Nordic League had no public face, instead serving only to facilitate the private interaction of figures from across the far-right in their work towards preventing the “Judeo–Bolshevist” takeover of the Empire. This is in fact not true: the Nordic League maintained an association with a sinister group going by the name of the White Knights of Britain. Formed in the mould of the American Ku Klux Klan, the “White Knights” were a quasi-masonic organisation whose nativist ideology was made visible through arcane ceremonies in some areas of rural England between 1931–1934. Its membership was nevertheless small, and this exclusive group prided themselves on their “pure” Anglo-Saxon heritage.


Perhaps most strategically significant development during this period was the emergence of the group known as “the Link” in spring 1933. Set up by Admiral Barry Domvile as a means of strengthening ties between the newly-elected Nazi government in Germany and the fascist movement in Britain, the Link quickly succeeded in its aims and by the summer was providing the various far-right groups in the Commonwealth with money and materiel. Aside from being motivated by its basic hatred of communism, the German government feared that a strong Britain would act as a buffer against its plan of rapid expansion in Central Europe. The Foreign Ministry in Berlin saw association with the Link very simply as good diplomacy.


CABLE%20ST%20FIGHTING.jpg

Anti-fascist members of Socialist Youth chase after LVF paramilitaries in the East End, 1933.


The chief material beneficiaries of this relationship were the LVF and the NUBF, specifically their “Blueshirt” paramilitary division. Almost immediately after the news reached Britain that Hitler had been elevated to the German chancellorship, the LVF organised a series of demonstrations across the south of England (attempts to organise north of the River Trent were exposed and smothered by local communist groups). Marches took place in towns in Essex, Hertfordshire, Surrey, and as far north as Stamford in Lincolnshire, Leese’s power-base. These stunts eventually attracted the attention of communist and anti-fascist groups. As the fascists demonstrated predominantly in areas with a less embedded Leftist presence, counter-protestors soon organised at a national level and became mobile to meet the fascist tendency wherever it emerged. More often than not, these clashes turned into running battles – as was the LVF’s hope. Their rallies were usually only conceived to provide an excuse for more open militarism, chiefly street fighting and basic thuggery. The Socialist Youth initiative, which in Marylebone I later experienced as a social phenomenon, was instrumental during this period in providing improvised resistance. By 1934, the Workers’ Brigades had taken over the job of combatting fascist action, hence I was more or less free to enjoy my dance music – although some more committed anti-fascists in our number enlisted in the WB in order to fight the enemy within.


This “Summer Campaign” soon attracted a response from the government. Chairman Horner convened an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee on 4 August. In addition to the seven men of the Exco, Marshal Tom Wintringham and Lieutenant-General Jock Cunningham from the Workers’ Brigades general staff were also in attendance. The committee resolved that the fascist threat was considerable, but stopped short of declaring the situation an emergency. This was the course of action favoured by Oswald Mosley, then Director of the Office of Economic Planning, although Domestic Bureau director Tom Bell pointed out that the government had no established procedure for declaring of a state of emergency, thus the distinction was moot. Ultimately, it was decided that the response should be coordinated by Harry Pollitt, Chairman of the Committee for Defence and Anti-Fascist Action (Dafacom), who would work with the military to assess the immediate threat to the integrity of the Commonwealth. This, broadly, was not judged to be fatal.


Throughout August and September, regional battalions of the Workers’ Brigades were put on stand-by. Particularly in the Home Counties, the main centre of fascist activity, battalions were deployed unarmed in the service of policing LVF demonstrations. Anti-fascist youth groups continued their own informal resistance campaign, although over the course of the month gradually gave way to the WB. Meanwhile, the Domestic Bureau quietly began arresting dozens of people suspected of fascist activity. Rough figures from September 1933 suggest that there were anywhere from 20,000–40,000 active fascists in the country at the time, although the data is not entirely reliable, and many groups had overlapping memberships. A likely figure is perhaps 25,000 all told, of whom one fifth could be estimated to have taken part in LVF activities. The NUBF alone grandly boasted to have 50,000 members, claiming that the Blueshirts were 20,000 strong[2]. The Bureau of Domestic Intelligence put NUBF membership at 10,000 in May 1934, with a nominal strength of 5,000 attributed to the Blueshirts. Even this is perhaps an exaggeration. What we do know is that over 1,000 people were arrested during August–September 1933, of whom about 250 were not released soon after. Those interned included members of the old aristocracy, who were targeted with almost blanket abandon on the basis that they were most likely to be sympathetic to the counter-revolutionary movement. A coup for the government was the arrest of Alan Percy in London in late August. While he was steadfast in his refusal to cooperate with the government, a raid of his present address found issues of The Patriot magazine, leading to the arrests of some of the chief propagandists of the fascist cause.


Yet the demonstrations continued unabated. Going into autumn, it appeared that the two sides were settling into a stalemate as the WB continued its policing efforts and the Domestic Bureau scrambled to unravel the underground network of far-right movements. This notion was violently discredited by the detonation of a bomb in Toynbee Street, a predominately Jewish road in Spitalfields, on 27 September. Six people were killed. The bomber was chased by local residents to nearby Cobb Street where, despite attempting suicide, he was subdued and captured. The Domestic Bureau soon took him in for interrogation, although by this point the NUBF’s Blueshirts had already claimed responsibility for the attack. The bombing marked the start of the “Autumn Campaign”, which continued well into the following year and saw an escalation of the anti-fascist conflict into something approaching civil war.


On 1 October 1933, Wal Hannington, President of the Commonwealth, took to the airwaves on the CBC Wireless Service to address the nation on the subject of the recent fascist activity. His speech was, for the most part, calculated to reassure. But there was no doubt that the government remained defiant in the face of attack. Hannington’s brief speech concluded with the following call to arms:


Those who attack us, these enemies within, do so because they hate the way of life that we have forged for ourselves since the victory of 1929. They despise us for having overthrown the unjust order of old, the order which kept the workers in the dirt and power in the hands of the capitalist class. These counter-revolutionaries are the same people who only a few years ago grew fat off the fruits of our labour. And to their attempt to restore this broken system we say, No more!


Make no mistake, comrades, these fascists hold nothing but contempt for our freedoms, our prosperity and our solidarity. Yet it is these very qualities that will help us to victory over the fascists and their insidious conspiracy to destroy this new world that we have made. We must stand strong in the face of oppression, as we did four years ago when we achieved victory in the face of all that the capitalist class could throw at us. The workers, united, will never be defeated. Solidarity forever!




1: This, as far as I can tell, holds true IOTL. Churchill apparently used the organisational structure of the BF as the basis for his new counter-strike movement.


2: “Blueshirts” is not alt-historical differentiation for its own sake. IOTL, before Mosley’s British Union of Fascists and “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” on the front of the Daily Mail, the reformed BF movement attempted to create its own paramilitary force. Members wore blue shirts and black berets. On the other hand, the link between the British “Blueshirts” and the Irish group of the same name later associated with Fine Gael is, as far as I can tell, entirely coincidental.
 

stnylan

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All in all the Fascist resurgence is a very convenient excuse to beef up the machinery of state :D
 

DensleyBlair

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All in all the Fascist resurgence is a very convenient excuse to beef up the machinery of state :D

Very convenient indeed – particularly if your name happens to be, just to pick an example out of thin air, Oswald Mosley. :p

Classic case of "people on the ground do all the work, opportunists in power take all the credit".

*deep breath* AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Yep, it's happening all right. Stayed tuned for the final showdown in part two! :D

Hope you enjoyed seeing Hobsbawm turn up again, by the way. :)

_______________________________

My brain is near enough melting in a pool of subcultural theory and Thatcherite spatial practice so I'm resolved to take a break from my diss and spend some time next week writing for fun. With any luck, this will mean I can get another couple of updates written up to keep this ticking over till I'm next off in April. As it stands, I have about enough of a reserve to keep the current pace up until the end of February or so. My plan in the slightly longer term is to be in a position to keep this sort of hibernation pace going until the middle of June, when I'll have the summer again to make some real progress – but we'll see how things go.

In the meantime, depending on how next week goes, I'll look to put part two of the Hobsbawm chapter out either middle of next week or the week after. Just to keep you hanging... :p) Please do remember also that voting remains open for the 2019 Year-end AwAARds! Whether you wish to cast a vote in support of this AAR or not, the AwAARds are a great way to give all of your favourite authors a token of your appreciation for their work over the year, and the more people we have represented at the ballot box the more fun the contest becomes! :)


Until then, thanks everyone as always for your comments and support. If anyone else is out there reading but has never dropped in to say hello, please do consider showing your face. I'd love to hear what you think of the story so far. :)

Cheers!
 

DensleyBlair

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Apologies everyone for the delay. The New Year hasn't entirely been kind to my mental health so far and I've been on a bit of a go-slow with life in general. Nevertheless, part two of the Hobsbawm update is ready to go and will be up imminently! Please enjoy. :)
 
For King, Country and Capital: The Counter-Revolution in Britain, 1930–1934 (Part Two)

DensleyBlair

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FOR KING, COUNTRY AND CAPITAL
THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION IN BRITAIN, 1930–1934

PART TWO: COLD SUMMER, HOT AUTUMN (1933–1934)

ERIC HOBSBAWM

1967



The campaign of parades and rallies conducted by the far-right in Britain between August–September 1933 had merely been a prelude for the main assault on the new society of the Commonwealth. While the Loyalist Volunteer Force marched around the Home Counties, out of sight the Blueshirts – the paramilitary group attached to the National Union of British Fascists – were preparing for a lengthy campaign against the state, marked by horrific episodes of violence as had not been suffered in living memory. Even at its bloodiest points, the Revolution had never seen the people of Britain suffer such concentrated, hate-filled attacks as those perpetrated by the Blueshirts between October 1933 and June 1934. The period (confusingly remembered as the “Autumn Campaign”) was a stark reminder that, in spite of the optimism surrounding the new world built under the Commonwealth, the revolution had not solved once and for all the question of the division that had led to the downfall of the United Kingdom five years earlier.


Starting in October with a campaign of bombing and intimidation in the predominantly Jewish areas of the East End, particularly Spitalfields and Whitechapel, by the start of winter 1933 the Blueshirts had expanded their area of operation to encompass parts of central and northern London. The audacious raid of a Workers’ Brigade magazine just outside of Hatfield, Hertfordshire on New Year’s Day marked a turning point in the campaign, with the focus shifting from exclusively targeting Jewish people and communists towards direct action against state infrastructure and political figures. All told, 109 people were killed as a result of fascist activity over a nine-month period. The crisis led to the introduction of emergency laws in the Commonwealth, as well as creating the conditions in which Oswald Mosley was able to take power in May 1934. The final defeat of the fascist movement at the end of June came as a result of concerted action by the government, the military and the new intelligence services. Between August 1933 and June 1934, it is thought that over 5,000 people were arrested or interned. Perhaps an even greater figure were likely detained under subsequent anti-fascist measures introduced by the first Mosley executive. Aside from the human toll, numerous houses, shops and public buildings were destroyed or damaged. Bombs were found from up and down the country in trains, dance halls and telephone boxes. The Autumn Campaign, broadly summarised, may be described as the closest thing Britain has experienced since the Seventeeth century to an armed civil war.


Following my first encounter with foot soldiers of the fascist cause in early 1934, the events of the crisis were never far from my own life. Since October, 47 people had already been killed, mostly in the East End, and violence had spread out towards the traditionally more affluent areas of Canonbury and Dalston to the north. 26 of these people had been Jewish; a dozen were members of communist or socialist groups, and the other nine maintained no apparent political affiliations. There was no mistaking the motivation behind the attacks, which were calculated as “retribution” for the alleged role of a global conspiracy of “Judeo–Bolshevists” in the downfall of the United Kingdom (and with it the British Empire). As a young communist who was also Jewish by parentage, the background fear of being caught up in the violence was a constant companion during this time (in February 1934 I was 16, and a member of my local branch of Socialist Youth). On 17 February, a bomb was detonated in Wardour Street – apparently accidentally – when a cadre of Blueshirts mishandled the device travelling from the East End towards Hyde Park, symbolic as the site occupied by unemployed workers in summer 1928. In a grim twist of fate – one might call it justice – the Blueshirts were the only people killed in the explosion. Nevertheless, the incident was the final straw for my aunt; our house was only a mile away, and all indications suggested that the violence was spreading west. She took my sister and left to stay with a friend in Worcestershire until the start of summer. My uncle and I stayed in London, he at work as a GP and me studying for my CGE exams that May.


On 3 March my aunt’s paranoia was vindicated when a bomb went off in the ticket hall at Marble Arch Station, killing 14 people. Amongst the dead were two schoolmates of mine, not close friends but comrades nevertheless. As far as I was aware, neither was especially left-wing, nor were they Jewish. Rather, the fascists had opened up a new front in their campaign, now targeting the infrastructure network that kept the Commonwealth running from day to day.


The decision of the NUBF to widen the scope of its engagement against the Commonwealth brought a new level of gravity to the situation. In effect, the government was now fighting an irregular war against an internal enemy, who made scant distinction between combatant and civilian in their crusade against the vague forces of global “Judeo–Bolshevism”. While the fascist enemy remained largely unseen, surfacing only in the immediate moments before one atrocity or other, the ubiquitous presence of WB volunteers on the streets of London became in those days a fact of life. For the most part, these were men and women from our own communities. Since the Revolution, the Commonwealth – directed mainly by pacifists confronted with the task of defending British communism – had kept up an ill-defined relationship with its armed forces. The Workers’ Brigades organised by Tom Wintringham during the Revolution had been assembled along lines of voluntary association, trained in techniques of guerrilla warfare and held together by a wider sense of class solidarity and anti-fascist politics. At the peak of their strength during the Revolution, the WB included about 20,000 volunteers – but it was never anything other than an irregular force. After the Revolution, Wintringham was named a Marshal of the Commonwealth and appointed as the first chairman of the Committee for Defence and Anti-Fascist Action (Dafacom) in the executive of George Hardy. As the Dafacom chair, Marshal Wintringham worked to oversee the transition of the WB into a regular army capable of defending the Revolution.


WORKERS%20BRIGADE%20FIGHTERS.jpg

The Workers' Brigades were composed of volunteers trained by Marshal Wintringham in the arts of irregular warfare. Organised democratically, they proved instrumental in channeling the bottom-up opposition to the fascist uprising.


This effort of reorganisation included the problem of how to deal with the old British Army (BA). In 1929, the regular BA was about 250,000 men strong, with about 100,000 serving in the reserve corps. Clearly, this constituted a sizeable force capable of answering the need to defend the Commonwealth from potential attack. Wintringham recognised this and based his reorganisation programme around the existing force. In July 1929, the BA was reconstituted as the Army of the Commonwealth (AOC). A series of directives issued in the same month articulated the so-called “Wintringham Doctrine”, which became central to the organisation of the AOC in the following years. Paraphrased, the doctrine stated that the relationship between an individual soldier and the AOC was to be one of voluntary association. In practice, this left all existing members of the old BA free to leave the forces should they not feel themselves able, for whatever reason, to defend the values and the existence of the Commonwealth. A corollary directive ensured that those who left service under the Doctrine would not be subject to prejudice in any form, and would in fact be afforded an honourable discharge so long as no exceptional circumstances applied. (The troops involved in the Riverside Massacre, for example, were court-martialled in August.) It was a largely successful move on Wintringham’s part, resulting in the retention of the overwhelming majority of non-commissioned soldiers in service. Discharges were more common amongst the officer class, and the exodus of military leadership preluded the formation of a new officer corps “drawn from the ranks” on the basis of aptitude starting in January 1930.


The Workers’ Brigades were retained in more or less unmodified form as a reserve corps. By 1934, the development of the WB was considered by successive Dafacom chairmen to be one of the more effective methods of defence against internal counter-revolutionary activity, promoting as it did principles of anti-fascist solidarity. Links were formed between the WB and various left-wing social groups, and by summer 1933 about 100,000 volunteers were registered with their local battalion. Some of these were highly specialised units well trained in techniques of irregular warfare (Commander Phil Piratin’s Stepney Column is likely the most renowned). Others, particularly those in more rural areas, were run more like fitness clubs, conducting drill exercises and only giving basic instruction in guerrilla tactics and the use of weaponry. After 1936, when responsibility for the Workers’ Brigades was taken out of the hands of the regional councils, proficiency became more standardised.


During the Autumn Campaign, the government relied on WB columns to do the majority of the fighting in the defence against fascism. In the East End, as they had done against the Metropolitan Police in 1928, the Stepney Column were instrumental in leading the fightback against the Blueshirts, and much of the decision by the NUBF to focus on other areas of London after February 1934 is down to the simple fact that they had been pushed out by superior organisation. Chairman Arthur Horner, a fervent anti-fascist who served as the honorary brigadier of the Rebecca Column active in South Wales, praised the defensive efforts of WB columns in a radio broadcast in early March. Linking the struggle against the far-right counter-revolution in explicit terms to the wider struggle for class solidarity, he declared that: “The fight against fascism is the fight for trade unionism … one-hundred per-cent conscious militant trade unionism is the most important safeguard against fascism.” Thus the battle between the Blueshirts and the WB was characterised in more ways than one as a battle for the very soul of the Revolution.


Horner maintained an admirable public front against the fascist insurgency, but his personal activism was not enough for the government – specifically the CPGB – to shake off the general feeling that it was generally at fault for having presided over the re-emergence of British fascism at all. Legislative politics during the first period of the history of the Commonwealth was dominated by an ambiguous group called the United Socialist Front, a party of independent trade unionists with no established leadership. Between 1929–1933, as the controlling force in the Workers’ Assembly, the USF exclusively elected Communist chairmen, who in turn appointed almost exclusively Communist executive committees (Oswald Mosley the notable exception to this rule). At the 1934 election, however, the USF lost their plurality to Mosley’s Party of Labour–Unionist Action, which took over 42 per-cent of the vote and became the largest bloc in the Assembly. Although kept from an outright majority, the shift in power was impossible to ignore, and it was generally felt that the CPGB would have a hard time continuing to justify their dominance of government. Their own highest vote share, achieved the previous year, was a mere 18.5 per-cent. Despite the best efforts of the CPGB machine to maintain its privileged position in the good graces of the USF, Mosley’s candidacy ultimately won out and on 21 May 1934 he was elected Chairman of the Executive Council by the members of the Workers’ Assembly.


MOSLEY%20CLENCHED%20FIST%20SALUTE%201937%20SMALL.jpg

Oswald Mosley was elected Chairman of the Executive Council at the height of the fascist uprising in 1934. He would go on to hold power as head of government for almost three decades. Seen here addressing a rally in Trafalgar Square in 1937 during the Spanish War, Mosley maintained a genuine popularity for much of his first decade in power, following which his premiership shifted away from the initial tenets of the Revolution and became the subject of growing opposition from the Left.


Mosley came to power at a time when not only the political structures of the Commonwealth, but also the politicians who inhabited it, were threatened by grave opposition to their personal security. Having been largely defeated in its efforts at widespread street warfare by spring 1934, and its campaign of terrorist activity against the Jewish communities of London only inspiring ever more fervent resistance, the NUBF adopted a doctrine of more precisely-targeted political and infrastructural sabotage in April. Codenamed “Plan S”, this campaign saw a rise in the bombings of WB column headquarters, local CPGB buildings and in some cases even the homes of prominent political and trade-unionist figures. This had evident implications for the election campaign, and polling stations across the country were put under heavy guard by local WB volunteers. This did not stop instances of violence. In one of the rare episodes to have occurred outside of London, on 15 April a satchel bomb was detonated outside the Luton branch of the CPGB, killing seven. Another high-profile incident was the discovery of an explosive device underneath a train carriage in which Harry Pollitt was due to travel back to London from a TUC event in Liverpool[1]. The device was discovered while the carriage was empty, and no one was harmed. Unfortunately, this was not to be the last time a high profile political figure was targeted. Arthur Cook, the legendary union leader who had already served as the Commonwealth’s first president and its second chairman, was perhaps Mosley’s most important political ally. In this capacity, he had been appointed president for a second time by the Workers’ Assembly after Mosley’s election to the premiership. On 28 May, Cook was accosted by a gang of Blueshirts coming off the platform at Paddington Station. The thugs were apprehended, but they had already inflicted grievous harm and Cook was taken to hospital in a critical state. He died on 1 June, leaving the Commonwealth without a head of state.


Incensed more than ever before, Mosley announced an immediate escalation of existing emergency measures designed to counter-act the fascist threat. Arrest numbers surged – in the first week of June alone, it is thought that 500 suspected fascisti were interned – and on 9 June, my seventeenth birthday, Mosley appeared in the Assembly to announce the capture of Blueshirt chief-of-staff Eric Piercy. After this coup, the NUBF’s organisational capacity plummeted, and direct action by the Blueshirts reduced to zero by the end of the month. Mosley, triumphant, declared victory over the fascists and rolled back the emergency measures he had implemented earlier in the month. It went hardly noticed that he did not, crucially, roll back the measures implemented by Chairman Horner the previous year. On the contrary, Mosley used these remaining powers vigorously until they lapsed in October, prosecuting an extra-judicial campaign against the counter-revolutionary networks that saw more people detained on suspicion of having collaborated with the fascists between June–October 1934 than during the Summer and Autumn Campaigns combined. In total, of the estimated 25,000 fascists in Britain at the start of 1933, it is thought that nearly 5,000 were interned at some point during the period August 1933 to October 1934. Most were held without charge and released after a few weeks or months. About 2,000 were eventually tried, often in camera. The overwhelming majority of these cases resulted in conviction, on charges ranging from assault to multiple counts of murder. The official death toll recorded for the fascist forces during the counter-revolution is 24. This figure only takes into account individuals killed as a result of anti-fascist fighting, as well as the handful killed as a result of botched terrorist operations. The true number, considering extra-judicial killings and later killings by the state, is unknown. It likely sits comfortably above 100.


Mosley continued his quiet campaign of dismantling the networks of British fascism long after he had declared victory over the counter-revolution. This declaration saw his already considerable national popularity rise even further, and quickly he was being hailed as the defeater of British fascism. This image, which Mosley actively encouraged, gave him great latitude in his subsequent programme of constitutional reform, much of which he justified on account of correcting apparent deficiencies in George Hardy’s system which had led to the rise of fascism in the first place. All things taken into account, this is a fanciful estimation by historical standards. Nevertheless, it was effective, and Mosley’s reforms ushered in a period of PLUA dominance that persisted until only months ago. During this time, the Commonwealth was greatly transformed, from a communist state of its own type, to something far less indicative of the optimism and working-class consciousness that first heralded its formation.


But it is not my intention here to provide a broad assessment of the last 35 years of British history, nor is it my desire to hold Mosley or his allies accountable for anything other than their participation in the events of the crisis of 1933-1934. Instead, I will conclude by returning to Marylebone in July 1934, where aged 17 and free to explore London having completed my exams, I was struck by a sense that it was not the state that had driven the fascists from our streets, but the working classes, united in defence of the dream which they had fought for only five years earlier. Some years later Mosley curtailed the operation of the Socialist Youth, but in the meantime I have fond memories of the summer I spent in Spitalfields, aiding in the reconstruction of a bakery on Brick Lane along with my friends and comrades from the local branch. It is striking to me looking back how many of these people would go on to remain sceptical of Mosley and his conception of a socialist politics, abstracted from the human scale and buried by economic theory. Today, when something of this capacity for action on the human scale has been uncovered, it is important to look back over the history of socialist government in Britain to recall moments of untapped potential in search of new modes of organisation. I believe the fight against fascism, and the grass-roots reconstruction effort that followed, was one such moment. Then as now, the Commonwealth was animated by the spirit of true working-class solidarity.




1: The Fascist targeting of Pollitt is partly inspired by a bizarre episode from OTL. In 1924, five members of the British Fascisti were arrested for forcibly removing Pollitt from a train bound for an event in Liverpool, where he was due to address a gathering of the National Minority Movement. The group explained to police that they had attempted to bundle him onto another train so that he might enjoy a weekend break, even going so far as to give him £5 spending money for his trouble.


2: Other sources dispute this (possibly giving some wider idea of the book’s overall reliability), but Oswald Mosley contends in his memoirs that Cook’s premature death in 1931 was likely the “result of kicks on the legs by some cowardly louts who had once attacked him on a railway station”.
 

Wraith11B

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No worries... we'll see you when we see you!
 

stnylan

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Mind you, I am not sure I would trust Hobsbawn to tell me it was raining, even were I was outside and getting wet. :) The kicker is the little bit at the end "But it is not my intention here..."

Again, one of the delights of this AAR is how marvellously in-universe and biased (and therefore plausible) its accounts are.


On other matters, look after yourself.
 

DensleyBlair

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Mind you, I am not sure I would trust Hobsbawn to tell me it was raining, even were I was outside and getting wet. :) The kicker is the little bit at the end "But it is not my intention here..."

Again, one of the delights of this AAR is how marvellously in-universe and biased (and therefore plausible) its accounts are.

I do have fun writing as Hobsbawm. That fantastic combination of a great writer who has a very definite way of seeing things. Mischievous while also being deadly serious.

No worries... we'll see you when we see you!

On other matters, look after yourself.

Thank you both.

________________________________________

I've just had a look at the list of chapters I have ready to go and it's more than I'd remembered, so the good news is there is little reason for things to slow down any more than they have done over the coming months. I'll aim to put the next update out sometime next week. Look forward to more Mosley squirming his way up the greasy pole! :p

Until then, thanks for all the comments, reactions and so on. No greater kick than people engaging with something you put out into the world. :)
 
Mosley Ascendant: A Brief History of the PLUA, 1934–1936

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



MOSLEY ASCENDANT: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PLUA, 1934–1936

A. J. P. TAYLOR

1961


Anyone who saw Britain 15 years ago might well have said it deserved to die. It was governed by an effete ruling class, debt-laden, squalid, and wracked by discord and poverty. It was such a mess that when the government fell in 1929, a French delegate to the League of Nations observed that it had merely fallen victim to “the British malady”. Then the Unions came to power and did much to alleviate the lot of the British people, but held too close to the Soviet path and soon fell victim to sectarian violence. The people of Britain called upon one man to deliver them from the crisis: Mosley. A giant among the Syndicalist bloc, Chairman Mosley is also the greatest Briton since the time of Wellington and Nelson.

Life magazine, 29 July 1940


Oswald Mosley was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee for the first time on 21 May 1934, coming to power at the height of the period during which the Fascist terror ravaged the social and political landscapes of the Commonwealth. His early period in power, which I will take as lasting from his election up to British intervention in the Spanish War on 12 September 1936, is remembered as a period of settlement and readjustment for the Commonwealth. Successfully suppressing the far-right threat at home, Mosley enacted sweeping constitutional reforms designed to bring greater stability and efficiency to the Commonwealth project. Having built his reputation as a vigorous reformer of the economy, and credited with securing the monetary foundations on which the Commonwealth was constructed, Mosley used his expanded powers to move power out of the hands of the regions, consolidate the executive apparatus of the state and reduce the role of the legislature. The Communist Party, hopelessly in hock to Moscow, was sidelined and Mosley’s PLUA rose to a preeminent position among the party factions, although in contrast to most of his contemporaries, with the exception of Dr Salazar in Portugal, Mosley’s ambition was never the creation of a party state. Instead, Mosley aimed to transcend party loyalties and become a uniting figurehead, his concern never for the glory of Communism but always for the welfare of the Commonwealth. In this goal, for a period during the Thirties and the Forties, it might reasonably be said that he succeeded. Now, as Britain looks ahead for the first time in a generation to life beyond Mosley, I will give some account of the means by which he achieved this extraordinary feat of statesmanship.


MOSLEY%20LIFE%201940.jpg

Chairman Mosley on the cover of Life magazine, 1940.


Between Summer 1933 and Spring 1934, the Commonwealth had been wracked by the most grievous, sustained internal assault on its existence since the abolition of the United Kingdom. Remembered as the “Autumn Campaign”, or often simply as the “Counter-Revolution”, the period saw intense activity by Fascisti paramilitaries known as “Blueshirts”, characterised by street-fighting and bombing campaigns chiefly concentrated in central and east London. It was during this time that Oswald Mosley was first elected to the Chairmanship of the Executive Committee, confronted with the question of defeating the fascist threat immediately upon coming to power. Aside from issuing various emergency powers designed to deal with the urgent threat of right-wing violence, Mosley recognised that the long-term defeat of fascism required more permanent reforms to the political structure of the Commonwealth, which had proven insufficiently robust in the face of far-right organisation. Central in Mosley’s mind was the problem of bureaucracy, which had vexed him since the very earliest days of his political career as a member of the Labour Party in Birmingham. For Mosley, the political system of the Commonwealth as devised by George Hardy was unnecessarily convoluted. This stemmed chiefly from a concern for accountability, which was the natural result of leaving the drafting of a constitutional framework to a group of men distrustful of state power – particularly as existed in Soviet Russia. Hardy had left behind a complex system of checks and balances, splitting power up between the people, the regions, the workers and their representative bodies: the Trade Unions Congress, the Assembly and the Executive Committee. Furthermore, each of these bodies was to be elected as often as possible – a compromise hit upon by Hardy and his followers between the necessity of state power and a desire to hand agency back to the people. Mosley articulated his opposition to this bloated state of affairs with his famous dictum that “freedom is not quantitative” – that is to say, one’s freedom cannot be measured by the number of occasions on which one is entitled to vote.


Following the neutralisation of the fascist threat, Mosley and his ministers thus embarked upon a programme of constitutional reform formulated to leave the Commonwealth with a more streamlined, robust government capable of serving the spirit of the Revolution. The People’s Assembly was the first body to be remodelled; elections were changed from an annual to a quadrennial cycle, and membership of the assembly was now a part-time role (with the exception of the Chairman of the Assembly, who remained as a full-time officer with a seat on the Executive Committee). The purpose of these changes was two-fold: on the one hand, the lengthening of the period of time between elections was intended to bring more stability to the Assembly, which – Mosley argued – would now be free to act with an eye towards longer-term policy decisions. On the other hand, the effective power of the Assembly was reduced as it was effectively relegated to the status of a part-time body, removing the threat of the development of a professionalised political class of bureaucrats or technocrats while opening up more space for the Executive Committee to take control of government. This was countered somewhat with a raft of centralising reforms transferring various powers from the regions to the national government. Mostly these were matters of the economy and thus subsumed directly into the Office of Economic Planning (still controlled by Mosley himself), though certain responsibilities involving the security of the Commonwealth were vested in the Assembly, including most powers over the Workers’ Brigades (to be managed by the Committee for Defence and Anti-Fascist Action [Dafacom] but managed, through the Assembly, “by the people themselves”).


Much of this reformist work was undertaken in the name of ‘Action!’, which was for Mosley something of a rallying cry throughout his political career. Always distrustful of policy derived from ideology, although unswervingly committed to socialist principles of management and distribution, ‘activism’ was at the heart of the Mosleyite creed. Indeed, in early 1935 Mosley took to the airwaves in one of his regular public addresses on the CBC Wireless Service to declare that “now, with the fascist menace defeated, is the time to build a new Commonwealth of action!” Central to this primacy of ‘action’ was a belief among Mosleyite reformers that freedom was an active process, not something to be debated and bartered amongst representatives and bureaucrats. This was the dogmatic principle behind much of the centralisation of the state between 1934–6, during which time the importance of executive power was broadly elevated above legislative and deliberative bodies. At the national level, as has been discussed already, the operation of the People’s Assembly was reformed and simplified. Locally, the deliberative function of the Regional Councils was all but abolished, with local elections deciding the appointment of an executive rather than a legislature. Aside from forming yet another part of the ‘streamlining’ mission undertaken by the first Mosley executive, this move had the auxiliary effect of reducing the power of opposition political parties at the regional level. Prior to 1934, although nationally the Commonwealth was dominated by the PLUA, the United Socialist Front and the CPGB, regionally the picture had been much more complex; a wide tapestry of various (usually left-wing) opposition groups were able to win seats on regional councils, and sometimes even gain control of local executive offices. Following the removal of the deliberative function of the regional councils, the potential for minority movements to build political bases for themselves was thus diminished. As a result, all but the most well-organised (and usually well-funded) opposition groups were driven ‘underground’, out of electoral politics and into various programmes of community organisation.


One such group was the Communist Workers Party (CWP), founded by a group including Sylvia Pankhurst in 1931 as a left-communist alternative to the various state-socialist parties that dominated politics in the early Commonwealth. The CWP were influenced heavily by the ‘council communist’ thinking of Dutch astronomer Anton Pannekoek, organised in opposition to the CPGB and influential in some local authorities. On the whole, however, the CWP eschewed electoral politics and focused their energies dually on organising against fascism and imperialism on the one hand, and on campaigning in the factories for the rights of the Workers’ Councils on the other. After 1934, the CWP retained the bulk of its influence among various chapters of Socialist Youth, from whose ranks it recruited the vast majority of its support. The party also benefited from the tacit support of George Hardy, still the General Secretary of the TUC, who had fallen out with the CPGB over its close ties to Moscow and disliked Mosley and the PLUA for obvious reasons. From the start of the 1940s it was the heavy influence of the CWP within Socialist Youth that provoked Mosley’s campaign against the organisation, whose members he denounced as “effete factionalists”. Industrial reforms implemented around the same time are commonly accepted as being formulated in response to the slump in productivity brought on after the end of the Anti-Fascist Wars, though it should not pass unnoticed that these contributed also towards the marginalisation of the CWP, which retained a healthy following in the unions, as an oppositional force within public life.


SYLVIA%20PANKHURST%20TOAST%201921.jpg

Sylvia Pankhurst (centre) at a CWP dinner in the late Thirties.


In contrast to this spectre of “factionalism”, which was cited in PLUA literature as a destabilising influence within the Commonwealth increasingly during the years of the Anti-Fascist Wars, Mosley clung hard to his personal reputation as an almost apolitical figurehead, capable at once of uniting the Commonwealth against fascism – both internal and external – and of nigh on singlehandedly overseeing the transition of Britain from imperialist–capitalist monarchy to socialist democracy. Despite the fact that it contested every election and occupied the overwhelming majority of political offices nationwide, Mosley’s aspiration for his own party – the PLUA – was that it should function more as a “non-partisan” organisation of government than a popular political movement. In this respect, Mosley’s goal was accomplished by the almost absolute removal from British public life of party-political contestation: the PLUA took on the character of the ‘natural party of government’, its plurality unchallenged and its identity tied up irretrievably with the national character of the quietly renamed People’s Commonwealth.


Mosley’s great political move in securing this legacy was the maintenance of electoral restrictions from the Workers’ Commonwealth; namely, a ban on all capitalist and fascist political parties and free contestation otherwise. Thus Mosley was able to achieve PLUA dominance without resorting to the suppression of rival political groups. Instead, he used his famously deft control over party messaging to position the PLUA as the natural home for anyone concerned by the ill-effects of factionalism. Mosley exploited the one awkward fact about the British electorate that few wished to openly articulate: that it was not, for the most part, revolutionary. Under Mosley’s long stewardship, the PLUA managed to render the principles of revolutionary government sufficiently abstract so as to gain the trust (and the votes) of millions who previously had remained uncertain of the Commonwealth project, keeping to a tack of socialism that basically stressed the national interest rather than agitating for internationalist revolution. As the Chairman once admitted to a foreign diplomat, “the British people will take Socialism fine, but Communism they will never stomach.” Successfully playing this double game, using his service in the CPGB governments as proof of his revolutionary credentials while simultaneously denouncing the operation of those governments as too closely aligned with Moscow, Mosley was thus able to position himself beyond reproach as the Commonwealth’s national figurehead. While this manoeuvring drew the ire of his opponents on the Left, it paved the way for a generation of stable government and economic prosperity.


It would be a gross oversimplification to suggest, however, that this broad party-political consensus translated into the decline of Britain into a one-party state. As has been outlined above, the political structure of the Commonwealth after 1934 still left room for the existence and operation of various political parties, a number of whom were at points represented at the highest levels of government. In spite of its role in the fomentation of fascist unrest, the CPGB retained a respectable level of representation in the Assembly and was thus present in the Executive Committee even after 1934. Former Chairman Arthur Horner chaired the Dafacom in Mosley’s first executive and later served as President of the Commonwealth, succeeding David Lloyd George after his dismissal at the height of the Rhineland Crisis in April 1936. Fellow Communist Arthur MacManus directed the Bureau of International Relations until replaced by Stafford Cripps in 1935. Cripps and Lloyd George were both members of the Popular Front, a group that emerged during the Counter-Revolution intended as a broad coalition against fascism – albeit via electoral processes rather than the politics of the street. Generally, the PF pitched themselves as marginally more liberal than the directorial PLUA, though this difference was rarely invoked. In reality, the main distinction between the two groups was that one was led by Oswald Mosley – dynamic, aristocratic, charismatic – and the other was led by Stafford Cripps, a bourgeois Christian socialist who was principled, decent and fiercely intellectual. The two men got on well, and Cripps maintained a constant presence in the Executive Committee until his appointment as Secretary for the Commonwealth to the Syndicalist International in 1943. Nevertheless, he remained too independent a figure to ever fall completely within Mosley’s orbit, and resisted calls to merge the PF with the PLUA right up until his retirement in 1948, when he was succeeded as party leader by the equally independent academic Harold Laski.


CRIPPS%201940.jpg

Stafford Cripps writing letters whilst International Secretary at his Gloucestershire home in 1940.


Good relations between the PLUA and opposition parties in the Assembly were maintained in large part by the work on James Maxton, Mosley’s trusted lieutenant who dominated the Assembly as its Chairman from 1935 until his death in 1946. Appointed Secretary for the Provision of Education in Mosley’s first executive, Maxton’s subsequent move to the Assembly chairmanship proved a canny move on Mosley’s part, ensuring a charismatic and eloquent advocate for the PLUA in charge of the legislature. By 1934 Maxton’s fame as an orator was legendary, carried forward from his earliest days as a left-wing critic of the final governments of the United Kingdom. His influence was key in securing the passage of many of Mosley’s early reforms through the Assembly, often dressed up by Maxton in suitably inspiring rhetoric invoking ancient liberties and appeals to the working man. Yet Maxton’s charm worked both ways, and he worked in no small part to dissuade Mosley from pursuing further centralising reforms after the initial round of changes during 1934–6. Always a militant socialist, his allegiance to the PLUA was assured mostly by his personal friendship with Mosley. Rarely did he let this get in the way of telling Mosley when his policies drifted too close to statism for Maxton’s old radical trade-unionist tastes. In this regard also he remained sympathetic to many of the abstentionist opposition groups. His sister Annie, formerly a member of the Independent Labour Party like Maxton, had been elected to the Glasgow Regional Executive as a member of the anti-statist Continuing Socialist Front in 1932, and he was friendly with the party’s co-leader Fenner Brockway, also previously of the ILP. The CSF, led jointly by Brockway and the writer George Orwell, had crystallised out of the ruins of the former United Socialist Front, the vague political grouping which retained a plurality in the Assembly until 1934. Previously pacifist, under Brockway and Orwell’s leadership the party grew into a mass movement in the fight against international fascism. Responsible for a large proportion of the grassroots organisation of volunteers during the Spanish War, the CSF did not contest national elections though did take control of some regional executives at the end of the Thirties. Following Maxton’s death, and with Orwell’s death soon after, the CSF lost a great deal of its influence and saw the majority of its support drift towards the Popular Front, thus indirectly propping up the PLUA.


It was thus through a variety of methods that Oswald Mosley was able to oversee the final transformation of the PLUA from a popular movement in post-revolutionary Britain into the natural party of government after 1934 and beyond. Using political reform, parliamentary dealing and the sheer power of his own charisma, Mosley fashioned for himself a position as the unchallenged head of government in the Commonwealth from 1934 until only months ago. Going into the Spanish War (1936–9), Mosley had largely seen off his internal opponents and emerged well-placed to deal with the challenges facing the Commonwealth on the international stage as it approached the end of its first decade. It was an auspicious beginning for a man whose time in power would go on to influence not just life in Britain, but politics the world over.
 
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stnylan

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a ban on all capitalist and fascist political parties and free contestation otherwise. Thus Mosley was able to achieve PLUA dominance without resorting to the suppression of rival political groups.
This is a masterful example of propaganda, the first sentence absolutely disproving the point of the second, but the second sentence is the one that most people will remember :)
 

avalanches

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Mosley becoming a “nonpartisan” figure head of a centralized Britain under the PLUA’s thumb is far out stuff - another great update!

Not sure if this going too far ahead, but I’m guessing Cripps would play a major role for Britain in this timelines equivalent to WWII?
 

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This is a masterful example of propaganda, the first sentence absolutely disproving the point of the second, but the second sentence is the one that most people will remember :)

I’m not sure whether I should be worried by this apparent facility for writing propaganda, but thank you! :D

You will have gathered by now that Taylor is in this timeline a sort of self-appointed Mosley apologist number one. His admiration for the Chairman allows for some interesting lapses of strict logical judgement…

Mosley becoming a “nonpartisan” figure head of a centralized Britain under the PLUA’s thumb is far out stuff - another great update!

Cheers! I’m trying to craft a narrative arc for Mosley that manages to convey how weird his “socialism” always was while remaining reasonably plausible within a British context. The tone I’ve landed on sort of sits somewhere between parish council village hall communitarianism and man-in-Whitehall directorialism. From my point of view as a writer, going deeper into the Mosley years this I think keeps open the question of Mosley’s exact sympathies. (This is the sort of meta-debate going on amongst the different authors of each chapter, all arguing over the state of the revolution circa 1970.)

Not sure if this going too far ahead, but I’m guessing Cripps would play a major role for Britain in this timelines equivalent to WWII?

This timeline’s WWII equivalent is not entirely clear cut, but Cripps certainly plays a large role within international diplomacy over the coming decade. Hopefully this will be elaborated upon further very soon! :)

______________________________

Well I’m now firmly back in strike world so my schedule is entirely up in the air. Should be able to find a moment to put the next update up some time later on this week. I can’t remember exactly which chapter is coming up, but we’re either in for an overview of foreign affairs going into the second half of the 1930s, or else a slightly deranged alternative look at Mosley’s rise to power. Either way, keep your eyes peeled over the next few days! :)

thanks as ever for all your feedback and support. Particular thanks to all those who voted for this AAR in the recent YAYA’s. I’ve said it before but it remains true: this is a labour of love anyway so every bit of encouragement I get back from you all really is just the icing on the cake. I appreciate all of it. :)
 
The Return of the Red Adder

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



THE RETURN OF THE RED ADDER

BY
PETER COOK AND DUDLEY MOORE


WITH
PETER SELLERS
AS “BOYD GORGE, PRESIDENT OF THE COMMONWEALTH”



A voice over begins over a black screen. We see stock footage of the revolution.


Britain, 1928: a country beset by turmoil on all fronts. Traditional politics had found itself battered by crisis after crisis after crisis. First, the miners’ strike turned into a general strike. Then, the general strike turned into a class war. The capitalist class collapsed. The aristocracy fled. The politicians trembled in fear as events spiralled out of their control. The country teetered on the edge of oblivion.


The stock footage ends. We see a silhouette against a dark screen.


Only one man stood between triumph and disaster. Only one man had the talent, the charm and the unbridled sex appeal required to lead the people of Britain out of the gutter and into the promised land.


We hear a crowd screaming and chanting. Men stand awestruck, one with a solitary tear of pure admiration running down his cheek. Women are overcome; one faints.



As his vision for a new world swept across the land, millions were drawn to his banner. His was a gospel of hope, a gospel of rebirth, a gospel of salvation. The prophet who preached it became a legend amongst men.

His name?


The silhouette gives way to the man himself, on stage before an hysterical crowd.


THE RED ADDER


The theme music begins, sung by a male voice choir in the fashion of a workers’ hymn. We see footage of Redadder stood on a rooftop, surveying his domain.


Good folk of England fair rejoice,
The hour of glory is arriving!
Our saviour’s definitely not moist,
Nor dim, deluded nor conniving.

Red Adder, Red Adder!
He’s Britain’s guiding flame.
Red Adder, Red Adder!
He has a made up name.

They say he’s loved by common men,
They say he’ll free the working classes.
Pay no mind to the fact his friends
Don’t know their elbows from their arses.

Red Adder, Red Adder!
His genius knows no bounds.
Red Adder, Red Adder!
He’s mentally unsound.

Camera pans back from rooftop to reveal Redadder stood on a stage set. Green screen shuts off behind him. We see a wind machine, which turns off. He leaves the set and exits stage left. Fade to black.


THE%20RED%20ADDER%20TITLE%20CARD.jpg


INT. The office of the Chairman of the Executive Council—March 1936.

Redadder is sat at his desk, head in hands, moaning. Enter Baldwin.


—You called, sir?

—What?

—Well, you moaned. Which usually means you’re about to call. Indigestion is it again, sir? I’ll get the tablets.

—No, Baldwin, it’s not indigestion. I wish it were, then I could just drug it away. Actually, there’s a thought… What would you say if I asked you to go and drug the President of the Commonwealth for me?

—Why? Has he got indigestion?

—I hope so. I hope that useless old man gets everything that’s coming to him. No, unfortunately that’s not it, Baldwin. It’s worse.

—Oh. Syphilis, then?

—What? No, not worse like that, Baldwin. Worse in the sense that this is something that affects all of us.

—Ah, but syphilis does affect us all, Chairman Redadder. You can’t be too careful, not these days.

—Look, Baldwin, your vigilance in matters of sexual health is appreciated. By whom, I have no idea, but I’m sure there’s someone out there glad of the fact that you do not have VD. But what I mean to say that our problem is a political one. Look:


Redadder shows Baldwin a dossier of photographs.

That senile idiot has somehow gone and got himself photographed sitting next to the German chancellor, old Adolf H.

—I got myself photographed with a dolphin once, too. Off the Costa del Sol it was. Saved up all year to go.

—No, not a dolphin. Adolf H. You know, Herr Hitler? Old blue eyes? Hair more combed-through than a needle-infested haystack at a private eye convention? Moustache like a little strip of Velcro keeping his lips from falling off?

—Oh yeah, I know the one. Funny fella, from the pictures.

—Now, Baldwin, poor old Charlie Chaplin has made his views on being confused for Herr Hitler quite clear—

—Not Charlie Chaplin, sir! Nah, he looks nothing like the fella you’re on about. His films are nothing like Chaplin’s. See Chaplin’s are all traditional like, with romance and drama and a plot-line and so on. But this Hitler chap, whenever I see his stuff on screen it’s much more physical, just funny faces and stupid uniforms and raving gibberish. Never quite sure where the jokes land, mind.

—Baldwin, what you have seen at the pictures wasn’t some striking work of avant-garde cinema. It was, in fact, the news. Herr Hitler is not an actor, he is a very dangerous man. His speeches aren’t gibberish, they’re German. And there are fewer laughs than a Gilbert and Sullivan play.

—Yeah, but what’s all this got to do with all of us?

—Let me put it like this. You remember that day, all those years ago, when I fished you out of that Middle England cesspool of despair you used to have to call home?

—Bewdley, sir?

—Yes, Baldwin. Bewdley. And what a sinister old place it was, all lace curtains and bay windows, snooping on your neighbours in the evenings, dobbing them in to the Neighbourhood Watch for taking two bananas at the market instead of the regulation single. The maudlin strains of music hall bleeding through from the house next door when old Gladys knocked the dial on her wireless one notch too high. Well, it will be back to Bewdley you go unless we can sort this mess out! I dare say it will be back to Bewdley for all of us!

—Oh, I see. Very wise words, Comrade Chairman.

—Never mind very wise words, Baldwin, it’s the truth, that’s what it is! If news spreads that Boyd Gorge, President of the Commonwealth, is openly associating with Hitler then we’re finished! I mean, of all the people to have his picture taken with, really! The bastard Führer of Führers! I thought old Gorgey was meant to be the finest political mind of his generation. Eh? How does the finest political mind of his generation have the idea not only to go and have dinner with the bloody fascist-in-chief, mind you, but to invite the cameras along as well? He’s the bastard President of the Commonwealth, for goodness sake, not Greta bleeding Garbo! All he has to do is sit out the way where the press can’t get to him, look pretty for a few years and not cavort with murderous, freedom-hating leather-trouser fanciers. Not a hard task is it, Baldwin? And yet the finest political mind of his generation couldn’t manage it. Couldn’t last two years before he thought, You know what? I could do with a bit of scandal in my life. How about I hop on a plane to Nuremberg, get papped with the wearer of the world’s most ridiculous moustache and have my career just about good as ruined by tea time? Finest political mind of his generation, my foot! Just go and get him for me would you, Baldwin?

—The wearer of the world’s most ridiculous moustache, sir?

—What? No! Boyd Gorge, man, Boyd Gorge!

—Boyd Gorge, President of the Commonwealth?

—Well I hardly need Boyd Gorge, President of the Fisherman’s Friends’ Association of Kilmarnock, do I?

—Depends if you’re having respiratory problems, sir.

Depends if you’re having respiratory problems! Listen to yourself, Baldwin! Who do you think we’ve been talking about all this time? And, for that matter, what do you think the Fisherman’s Friends’ Association of Kilmarnock do? They’re not petty lozenge-merchants, Baldwin, they’re a fine association of working men! Oh, never mind – just go and get him would you.


Exit Baldwin. Redadder stays in his office, pacing. After a beat, Baldwin returns with Boyd Gorge, in a wheelchair and accompanied by a young nurse.


PETER%20PETE%20AND%20DUD.jpg


—Comrade Redadder, President of the Commonwealth Boyd Gorge.

—Ah, young Redadder! Good to see you again! How are things? You know, I was just on holiday on the Continent and everyone wanted to know all about you! Wouldn’t stop pestering me! Redadder this, Redadder that. Made quite the impression you have, man. Quite the impression indeed. Anyway, enough of my rambling. What can I do for you? Indigestion again, is it? I can ask Mrs Miggins to make some of her special tea but after last time I think she’s still quite upset. No business saying what you did to a woman of her stature in the community, none at all Redadder, even if you are the Chairman of the Executive Committee.

—No, Comrade President. This isn’t about indigestion. And it’s not about Mrs Miggins and her special sodding tea, either. And frankly while we’re on the subject, I think I was perfectly entitled to say whatever I bloody well pleased after putting that awful thing she passes off as folk medicine down my throat. If I wanted to drink reheated cat piss I’d go straight to the source, never mind Mrs Miggins.

—Suit yourself, Redadder. Personally, I prefer she does the dirty work for me. Never been good around animals. So what is it you want, then?

—Well actually it’s about your recent trip to the Continent, Boyd. See, certain pictures have come to my attention. Pictures of you, Boyd – not very flattering pictures either, if I do say so myself.

—Oh God, it’s Deauville isn’t it? I knew that photographer was no good! Artistic, he said it was. Artistic! Said it was the local custom, posing that way. I promise, Redadder, I didn’t think anything would come of it.

—These photos are from Berlin, Boyd. Although if the Comrade President has any other dirty laundry he thinks it’a best he let me know about before the press gets a hold of it…

—Berlin, thank God! Er, I mean… No, I was only joking. Didn’t even go to Deauville. Never heard of the place.

—Hmm, yes, well. Look all I wanted to ask was why you felt it necessary to go and have your picture taken with Adolf bleeding Hitler, Boyd? What on earth possessed you to go and take high tea with the personification of pure evil?


LLOYD%20GEORGE%20HITLER%201936.jpg


—Hitler? What, old Addy? Evil? Come off it! Oh that is a good one, Redadder. You are a card! What a notion… Hitler, evil!

—Boyd, this is a man whose favourite spectator sport is the violent murder of political opponents. Who preaches hatred like he’s reading out the shipping forecast… This is a man who thinks the list of member states of the League of Nations is a mail order catalogue.

—Well, only human aren’t we, Redadder?

—Look, you’ve got one chance to explain yourself to me. And if it’s not the best explanation you’ve ever given, you can say goodbye to your fancy holidays and all.

—You know something, Redadder? I’ve had this kind of trouble before, you know. Aye, I’ve had this trouble before. A wee lad I was, barely six or seven years old, just drifting off to sleep one night in bed, my eyelids growing heavy, everything going dark – you know how it is when you’re going to sleep of an evening? Aye, well. There I was, drifting away into the dreaming realm, when I was disturbed by a noise outside. I remember this distinctly, Redadder, a noise outside. A sort of rustling it was, you know, swish swish, scratch scratch, a distinctly rustly sort of a commotion. You get the idea I’m sure, you’re a clever man, Redadder – I’m sure you’re familiar with a bit of rustling around in the garden at night. Aye, well. I remember this noise, this rustling, and in my half-conscious state I was certain that I could make out a shape emerging from the black of the night – you know how it is in the nighttime, Redadder? Dark, aye. Very dark. Very, very dark indeed. Aye, well. There I was, clutching my blanket, scrambling around on the bedside table for a light, picking up a box of matches, striking each one and watching as it burnt out – we had no candles in those days, you’ll remember. Didn’t make it north of the border till after the War, aye. Quite simply, Redadder, at that time we didn’t have the technological capacity. Aye, the technological capacity. Wasn’t until the Revolution that we truly learnt how to harness the power of wax. Aye, well, there I was, lighting match after match, my wee room illuminated for a time by a brief glow before fading back into the clutches of darkness, all the while this figure creeping towards me. And eventually he gets in through the window – aye, Redadder, through the window – and I see him. Impressive figure he was – I knew it was a he for I could make out the silhouette of his great sideburns glinting in the light of the moon. And he stood there and he said, Boyd – he called my name – he said, Boyd: you are the saviour of the Deutscher Volk. Aye, the Deutscher Volk – you know how it Redadder, these Germans, speaking Deutsch. Aye, well, I said, What you mean I’m the saviour of the Deutscher Volk? (I picked up the language quite quickly after, you understand.) I said, What do you mean? And he said, Boyd: it is I, Kaiser Wilhelm. I have had a terrible vision, of Deutschland destroyed by war, hounded by instability, political extremists at every door, plagued by the spectre of chaos. And I said, Aye, plagued by the spectre of chaos, I see. But what’s this all got to do with me? And hearing these words, he came right up close to my bedside. He took off his helmet – you know the sort, Redadder, with the metal spike on top, aye – he took off his helmet and placed it down on the bed, and he looked me right in the eyes and he said, Boyd: only you can avert this tragedy. Then, mysterious as he came, he vanished without a trace. And I’ll tell you something for free, Redadder, that night never left me. Kaiser Wilhelm’s dire warning followed me in all that I did. Which is why, years later at the Congress of Versailles, I made sure to include a special clause in the treaty – you know the one, Redadder, with the indemnities and the war guilt, aye – I made sure to put an end to the terrible pain that had afflicted me since that encounter. Which is why I specifically requested that the German ambassador pop out out to the local tabac and buy me a replacement box of matches, and a candle of my own.

—It’s a touching story, no doubt about it, Boyd. But unfortunately for you, it leaves me absolutely none the wiser about your weekend fling with a man who’s won the Europe’s Foulest Fascist Award five years in a row. I’ve got no choice but to—

Shouting can be heard from the vestibule outside.

—Murder! Murder! It’s bastard pigging murder!

—Oh for Pete’s sake, just when we were getting somewhere… Comrade Baldwin, go and see what that commotion is, will you?

A man enters the room, still shouting.

—Murder it is, Comrade Redadder! Murder!

—Comrade Paxton, what a lovely surprise! I had no idea you were in the area. Now I know the President’s actions at Versailles were controversial, and believe me I’ll be giving him a stern talking to in good time, but—

—No, not him! Hello, by the way, Comrade President of the Commonwealth Boyd George – I would’ve entered in a more dignified fashion, had I known we were in the company of the elderly. But it’s murder nonetheless, Redadder, and I must denounce it in the strongest terms.

—What could possibly be the matter, Paxton? Spit it out, man!

—The milk, Comrade Redadder, the bloody milk!

—Bloody milk? That does sound like murder, Redadder… In my day—

—Not now, Boyd. Actually, could you take him outside, Baldwin? I’ll deal with him later. Now what have you got yourself all worked up over milk for, eh Paxton? Have the cows gone on rent strike again? Because by God, if they have— Those bastard farmers, Paxton! The bastard lot of them! Two years ago I explained how we were leasing the milking stalls well under the market rate, but did they listen? Like hell they listened!

—It’s nothing like that, Comrade. It’s the tea-room at the Assembly Hall, Redadder. Mrs Miggins has run out of milk!

—Oh good, we’re really focusing on the big issues of the times today, aren’t we?

—I’m glad you see the enormity of the situation, Comrade Chairman. It’s a travesty, an utter travesty. However does Mrs Miggins expect the government to function if it can’t have its tea just right? It’s and assault on the working men of the Assembly, Redadder. If we don’t get a milky brew before the start of business it will spell chaos, Redadder, total anarchy! Without the soothing yet stimulating drink inside us, our wits will be dulled and our basest passions enraged. It’s a terrible predicament, Redadder, and the consequences don’t even bear thinking about. Who knows what foul tyranny an uncaffeinated legislature would wreak upon the country? I tell you, Redadder, this is tantamount to murder of the working class, and action must be taken to avert a crisis at once!

—Look, Paxton, your passionate concern for the welfare of the working man in all matters is as commendable as ever, but I really do have more pressing things to be thinking about today than your dairy supply problem. I mean really, Comrade Paxton, you’re a very intelligent man – that’s why you’re the Chairman of the People’s Assembly – but shouldn’t your talents be put to use in solving a problem that requires more than just sending someone out to the shops? I really don’t need this today, Paxton, I’m already up to my ears with this Boyd Gorge nonsense and— Hang on… that’s it! Baldwin, would you kindly bring the Comrade President back into the room? I have a very special assignment for him.

Cut to the closing titles. Underneath the names of the cast and crew, we see Mrs Miggins’ Tea Rooms at the People’s Assembly. Boyd Gorge, in his wheelchair accompanied by the young nurse, is behind the counter pouring milk into mugs of tea. Mrs Miggins’ makes a big fuss over him, which he appears to enjoy a great deal. Across his shoulder is a sash imprinted with the words DIRECTOR OF THE BUREAU FOR LACTIC AFFAIRS. The ending theme plays:

The President went off the rails,
And caused a national disaster.
To save himself further travails,
Redadder put him out to pasture.

Red Adder, Red Adder!
With cunning, tact and nous.
Red Adder, Red Adder!
That scheming little louse.

Boyd Gorge, Boyd Gorge!
Cavorting with the Hun.
Boyd Gorge, Boyd Gorge!
Now he’s on the milk run.


"The Return of the Red Adder" was broadcast on CBC 2 between 1970–73. It was created by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. The programme marked a seminal moment in the 'satire boom' of the 1970s, during which period a more liberal cultural climate and the change in government after 1967 allowed for the development of an irreverent view of the Mosley era.
 
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SibCDC

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It's been a while since I last commented on your AAR but I had to show my appreciation for this latest chapter. Somehow its political criticism reminds me of Bertolt Brecht's How Much Is Your Iron?.
 

stnylan

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Just brilliant.
 

Wraith11B

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I understood half of what you posted half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you wrote half as well as you deserve.
 

DensleyBlair

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It's been a while since I last commented on your AAR but I had to show my appreciation for this latest chapter. Somehow its political criticism reminds me of Bertolt Brecht's How Much Is Your Iron?.

Good to see you again, Sib! I'll take Brechtian any day of the week. :)

Just brilliant.

Thanks stnylan!

I understood half of what you posted half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you wrote half as well as you deserve.

You know, I wrote this back at the end of September. When I re-read it for uploading I hadn't looked it over in months, and I kid you not more than any other update this one made me pause before posting to ask myself whether it was actually just one liberty too many. :p

_________________________________

Thanks as ever for the comments, ratings and general support. My diss is pretty much done at long last so all my writing energy can be once again devoted to the Commonwealth. Normal programming will resume with the next update, which when it comes will take us through the European situation in the final few years before the much-previewed Spanish War. Watch this space for a couple of weeks time. :)
 

coz1

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A most amazing bit of writing there, @DensleyBlair and one certain to pique my interest given my love for all three of those actors (especially Moore and Sellers!) For that and including some gems of characters, I have nominated you the next Character WritAAR of the Week. Congrats!
 

DensleyBlair

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A most amazing bit of writing there, @DensleyBlair and one certain to pique my interest given my love for all three of those actors (especially Moore and Sellers!) For that and including some gems of characters, I have nominated you the next Character WritAAR of the Week. Congrats!

Thank you ever so much, coz! Was shocked to see it had been almost seven years since I was last nominated for this particular award! :eek: (Entirely fittingly, back in 2013 it was also for services rendered to importing Blackadder tropes into AARland. :D) I'm glad my little gamble on a foray into comedy paid off. :)