‘I was following the lead of Jesus Christ’: Christian Anti-Fascism in 1930s England

  • Tom Lawson
Chapter

Abstract

Religion has recently re-emerged from the shadow cast by the idea that the history of modernity and post-modernity could only be sought in secular terms. There has been a flurry of publications reasserting the centrality of religion, especially Christianity, in twentieth-century Britain.1 The study of political extremism has also been reinvigorated using the concept of ‘political religion’.2 However the role of Christians and their churches in the history of British political extremism, both in terms of support and opposition, remains — despite notable exceptions — underexplored.3 This chapter attempts to fill a small part of that gap by exploring Christian anti-fascism in Britain. In doing so it will further assert the importance of Christian discourse in the history of modern Britain by demonstrating that Christians — especially the Church of England — provided both a language of opposition to fascism and inspired anti-fascist action. But it will also be noted how Christian faith could also underpin fascist politics too. I will thus seek also to problematise the history of anti-fascism by exploring its discursive basis in order to demonstrate how far fascism and anti-fascism could share a vocabulary. As such the history of Christian anti-fascism might occasion some recasting of the binary opposition between fascism and anti-fascism which has characterised historiography thus far.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Most notably Callum Brown, Religion and Society in Twentieth-Century Britain (London: Longman, 2006).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See for example Michael Burleigh, Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics From the European Dictators to Al Qaeda (London: HarperCollins, 2006).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See for example Thomas Linehan, ‘The British Union of Fascists as a Totalitarian Movement and Political Religion’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 5, 3 (2004), 397–418; idem, ‘On the Side of Christ: Fascist Clerics in 1930s Britain’, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions 8, 2 (2007), 287–301. See also Lydia Sheldon, ‘Fascist Christians/Christian Fascists’, BA Dissertation, University of Winchester, 2008. Thanks to Tom and to Lydia for providing me with some of the references that informed this chapter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    See David Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s (Basingstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2000).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    Tony Kushner, ‘Long May its Memory Live! Writing and Re-Writing the Battle of Cable Street’, in Tony Kushner & Nadia Valman (eds), Fascism and Anti-Fascism in British Society (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2000), p. 123.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Cited in Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain (London: Macmillan, 2000), p. 19.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    See for example ‘The Struggle Against Fascism in the Thirties’, North East Labour History Society Bulletin 17 (1983), 21–3.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Nigel Todd, In Excited Times: The People Against the Blackshirts (Whitley Bay: Bewick Press, 1995), p. 12.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto (London: Phoenix Press, 1978), accessed on-line at http://libcom.org/library/battle-cable-st-1936-joe-jacobsGoogle Scholar
  10. 13.
    Thomas P. Linehan, East London for Mosley: The British Union of Fascists in East London and South-West Essex (London: Frank Cass, 1996), pp. 27–8.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts: Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars (London: Johnathan Cape, 2006).Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Adrian Hastings, A History of English Christianity (London: Collins, 1986), p. 314.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    E. R. Norman, Church and Society in England, 1770–1970: A Historical Study (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976), p. 360.Google Scholar
  14. 21.
    See Tom Lawson, The Church of England and the Holocaust (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006), pp. 31–80.Google Scholar
  15. 34.
    Hensley Henson, Retrospect of an Unimportant Life Vol. II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1944), p. 330.Google Scholar
  16. 54.
    Sylvia Scaffardi, Fire Under the Carpet: Working for Civil Liberties in the Thirties (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1986), p. 43.Google Scholar
  17. 57.
    Jim Desormeaux, ‘Poplar Days’, in Kenneth Brill (ed.), John Groser: East London Priest (Oxford: Mowbrays, 1971), pp. 35–6.Google Scholar
  18. 61.
    Kenneth Leech, Struggle in Babylon: Racism in the Cities and the Churches of Britain (London: SPCK, 1988), p. 96.Google Scholar
  19. 65.
    John Groser, Politics and Persons (London: SCM Press, 1949), p. 54.Google Scholar
  20. 78.
    Tom Linehan, British Fascism 1918–39: Parties, Ideology and Culture (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 156.Google Scholar
  21. 80.
    H. E. B. Nye (ed.), ‘Fascism versus Democracy’, Erminio Turcottie (ed.), Fascist Europe: Europa Fascista (Milano, 1939), p. 79.Google Scholar

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© Tom Lawson 2010

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  • Tom Lawson

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