Secrets of the Red Book: Paranoid Fascist Theory Grew from Fear of Social Change

By Martin Ceadel Fellow Of New College, Oxford | The Independent (London, England), January 9, 2000 | Go to article overview
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Secrets of the Red Book: Paranoid Fascist Theory Grew from Fear of Social Change


Martin Ceadel Fellow Of New College, Oxford, The Independent (London, England)


THE RIGHT CLUB was the creation of a small section of Britain's reactionary, anti-Semitic right wing. Now that the club's membership has been revealed by the detective work of the literary-scholar- turned- historian Richard Griffiths, it appears as the pedlar of a conspiracy theory which, absurd and pernicious though it was, had roots in a suspicion of European entanglements.

As Britain industrialised, urbanised and democratised, its economy, society and political system changed. In general, the country's social and political elites adapted to this process with equanimity and skill. The landed aristocracy married into new wealth and largely retained its social prestige. And the Conservative Party competed more successfully in the new mass politics than either Liberals or Labour.

Even so, these changes upset a far-right fringe. Some sections of the old socio-political order resented the growing power of industrialists and financiers even within the Conservative Party, and also disliked the emergent breed of professional politician. Their complaints about plutocracy were endorsed as ideologically persuasive by some alienated individuals lower down the social scale.

If Britain had lost the First World War, this fringe might have gained significant political ground. As it was, inter-war Britain remained a beacon of democratic stability and moderation. Even when the Depression caused a crisis, the outcome was not authoritarianism but an all-party coalition, the National Government of 1931-40, which soon fell under Conservative control. This stole Sir Oswald Mosley's thunder. His British Union of Fascists intended to reproduce Mussolini's success in Italy, but remained a marginal body.

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