Anti-Fascist Europe Comes to Britain: Theorising Fascism as a Contribution to Defeating It

  • Dan Stone


Anti-fascism is, in a sense, a Continental European idea and not a British one. The urgency of the fascist threat was never felt as keenly in Britain as on the Continental mainland between the Wars, and the instrumentalised ideology of anti-fascism as it informed the post-war communist republics was of course not experienced by the British people, even if pride in defeating Hitler became central to post-1945 British national identity. Thus, without overlooking the very real commitment to anti-fascism made by many in Britain — as Nigel Copsey points out, ‘far more people supported the anti-fascist cause than ever supported fascist organisations’1 — I want here to advance the argument that towards the end of the 1930s anti-fascist exiles contributed a theoretical seriousness, if not necessarily a practical pugnacity, to inter-war anti-fascism in Britain. The British manifestation of what David Kettler refers to as ‘the legacy of Antifascism as total ideology’ was certainly driven, as David Renton reminds us, by the activities of anti-fascists (as opposed to those who were not fascist but did nothing to combat fascism), but the writings of these exiles, I submit here, were also forms of anti-fascist activity, and ones that made no little contribution to bringing about an urgent realisation of what fascism meant.2 Furthermore, ‘anti-fascist culture’, as Enzo Traverso notes, was ‘to a very great extent, a culture of exile’.3


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  1. 1.
    Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000), p. 2. See also Nigel Copsey and David Renton (eds), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Enzo Traverso, ‘Intellectuals and Anti-Fascism: For a Critical Historization’, New Politics 9, 4 (2004), online at:∼newpol/issue36/Traverso36.htm (accessed 14 March 2008).Google Scholar
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    George Seldes, Sawdust Caesar: The Untold History of Mussolini and Fascism (London: Arthur Baker, 1936). Seldes was an American radical journalist. See also R. J. B. Bosworth, The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of Mussolini and Fascism (London: Arnold, 1998), ch. 2.Google Scholar
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    Franz Borkenau, The New German Empire (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1939), p. 11. Further references in the text.Google Scholar
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    On Personalism see John Hellman, ‘From the Söhlbergkreis to Vichy’s Elite Schools: The Rise of the Personalists’, in Zeev Sternhell (ed.), The Intellectual Revolt Against Liberal Democracy 1870–1945 (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1996), pp. 252–65.Google Scholar
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    Francis Dunlop, The Life and Thought of Aurel Kolnai (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), p. 137.Google Scholar
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    On Haffner in the context of the German exiles in Britain see Werner Röder, Die deutschen sozialistischen Exilgruppen in Großbritannien 1940–1945: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Widerstandes gegen den Nationalsozialismus, rev. edn (Bonn-Bad Godesberg: Verlag Neue Gesellschaft, 1973), pp. 132–4.Google Scholar
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    See Jeffrey C. Isaac, ‘Critics of Totalitarianism’, in The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought, in Terence Ball and Richard Bellamy (eds) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 192 for broader context.Google Scholar

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© Dan Stone 2010

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  • Dan Stone

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