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

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Varieties of Anti-Fascism

Abstract

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

The democracies … lead their people not to defeat but to collapse without fighting. In a word, it is not war but peace which seals the doom of liberal civilization.

Aurel Kolnai, 1939

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Notes

  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).

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  2. Enzo Traverso, ‘Intellectuals and Anti-Fascism: For a Critical Historization’, New Politics 9, 4 (2004), online at: www.wpunj.edu/∼newpol/issue36/Traverso36.htm (accessed 14 March 2008).

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  3. See for example, Francis L. Carsten, ‘German Refugees in Great Britain 1933–1945: A Survey’, in Gerhard Hirschfeld (ed.), Exile in Great Britain: Refugees from Hitler’s Germany (Leamington Spa: Berg Publishers, 1984), p. 11; Ludwig Eiber, ‘Verschwiegene Bündnispartner: Die Union deutscher sozialistischer Organisationen in Großbritannien und die britische Nachrichtendienste’, Exilforschung: Ein internationales Jahrbuch 15 (1997), 68.

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  4. For example, Herbert Loebl, ‘Das Refugee Industries Committee: Eine wenig bekannte britische Hilfsorganisation’, Exilforschung: Ein internationales Jahrbuch 8 (1990), 220–41; Hirschfeld (ed.), Exile in Great Britain; Daniel Snowman, The Hitler Emigrés: The Cultural Impact of Refugees from Nazism (London: Chatto & Windus, 2002); Marion Berghahn, Continental Britons: German-Jewish Refugees from Nazi Germany, rev edn (New York: Berghahn Books, 2006).

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  5. Werner Röder, ‘The Political Exiles: Their Policies and Their Contribution to Post-War Reconstruction’, in Herbert Strauss and Werner Röder (eds), pp. xxvii–xl International Biographical Dictionary of Central European Emigrés 1933–1945, Volume II Part 1: A–K. The Arts, Sciences, and Literature (Munich: K. G. Saur, 1983); Andreas Klugescheid, ‘“His Majesty’s Most Loyal Enemy Aliens”: Der Kampf deutsch-jüdischer Emigranten in den britischen Streitkräften 1939–1945’, Exilforschung: Ein internationales Jahrbuch 19 (2001), 106–27; Helga Grebing, ‘Was wird aus Deutschland nach dem Krieg? Perspektiven linkssozialistischer Emigration für den Neuaufbau Deutschlands nach dem Zusammenbruch der nationalsozialistischen Diktatur’, Exilforschung: Ein internationales Jahrbuch 3 (1985), 43–58; Jan Foitzik, ‘Revolution und Demokratie: Zu den sofort- und Übergangsplanungen des sozialdemokratischen Exils für Deutschland 1943–1945’, Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung 24, 3 (1988), 308–42; Isabelle Tombs, ‘Socialists Debate Their History from the First World War to the Third Reich: German Exiles and the British Labour Party’, in Stefan Berger, Peter Lambert and Peter Schuman (eds), Historikerdialoge: Geschichte, Mythos und Gedächtnis im deutsch-britischen kulturellen Austausch 1750–2000 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003), pp. 361–81; Marjorie Lamberti, ‘German Antifascist Refugees in America and the Public Debate on “What Should be Done with Germany after Hitler,” 1941–1945’, Central European History 40 (2007), 279–305.

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  6. Gaetano Salvemini, Under the Axe of Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz, 1936), pp. 119, 156. Luigi Sturzo, ‘Fascism and Nazism’, Quarterly Review 261 (1933), 162–76.

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  7. 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.

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  8. George Orwell, ‘Review of The Totalitarian Enemy’, in Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (eds), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Vol. 2: My Country Right or Left, 1940–1943 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970), p. 40. Carsten too described Borkenau as ‘the eminent anti-Nazi publicist and writer’; ‘German Refugees in Britain’, p. 22.

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  9. Franz Borkenau, Austria and After (London: Faber and Faber, 1938), p. 15.

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  10. Franz Borkenau, The New German Empire (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1939), p. 11. Further references in the text.

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  11. Franz Borkenau, ‘The German Problem’, Dublin Review 209 (October 1941), 196.

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  12. Victor Gollancz, ‘The Most Important Book the Club Has Issued’, Left News 25 (May 1938), 790–1.

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  13. 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.

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  14. Aurel Kolnai, The War Against the West (London: Victor Gollancz, 1938), p. 518. Further references in the text.

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  15. Francis Dunlop, The Life and Thought of Aurel Kolnai (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), p. 137.

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  16. 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.

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  17. Sebastian Haffner, Germany Jekyll and Hyde: An Eyewitness Analysis of Nazi Germany (London: Libris, 2005), p. 5. Further references in the text. [Orig. London: Secker and Warburg, 1940.]

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  18. Ian Kershaw, ‘Hitler and the Uniqueness of Nazism’, Journal of Contemporary History 39, 2 (2004), 242.

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  19. Georges Perec, W, or the Memory of Childhood, trans. David Bellos (London: The Harvill Press, 1996).

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  20. 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.

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© 2010 Dan Stone

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Stone, D. (2010). Anti-Fascist Europe Comes to Britain: Theorising Fascism as a Contribution to Defeating It. In: Copsey, N., Olechnowicz, A. (eds) Varieties of Anti-Fascism. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230282674_9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230282674_9

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

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