Passive and Active Anti-Fascism: The State and National Security, 1923–45

  • Richard Thurlow


This chapter will argue that although there were significant divisions within the state on how British fascism should be managed, the preferred formal and informal methods of control can basically be described as a passive form of anti-fascism. While the threatened invasion and imagined ‘fifth column’ crisis of 1940 marks a significant turning point between passive (political surveillance and tinkering with common law) and active (internment and proscription) state anti-fascism, the reversion to less draconian methods after the emergency suggests that the authorities were concerned, as with the Communist Party of Great Britain (CP or CPGB), not to drive alleged political extremism underground.1 While the sledgehammer response was understandable in the context of 1940, and although some plausible evidence was later discovered about actual or potential treasonable behaviour by a miniscule minority of British fascists (e.g. William Joyce), the British Union of Fascists (BUF) maintained its opposition to the war within the law. Although Mosley’s refusal to play the rules of the political game eventually led him to go beyond the pale, thus making his political behaviour unacceptable to most Conservative and Labour politicians in the inter-war period, there was a more complex response to international fascism.


National Security Civil Liberty Public Order Special Branch Agent Provocateur 
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© Richard Thurlow 2010

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  • Richard Thurlow

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