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

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The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory
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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’2 — 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 interwar 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 Dave 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.3 Furthermore, ‘anti-fascist culture’, as Enzo Traverso notes, was ‘to a very great extent, a culture of exile’.4 Its proponents were people who knew whereof they spoke and urgently felt a need to transmit their views to as wide an audience as possible in the hope of persuading the supposedly stolid and cynical British to take seriously what, from the editorial office of the Times, looked rather too ridiculous to warrant much attention other than to be praised occasionally for having supposedly saved Italy (and later, Germany) from left-wing militancy.

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)1

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Notes

  1. Aurel Kolnai, ‘Must Democracy Use Force? Part I: Pacifism Means Suicide’, The Nation, 148, 4 (21 January 1939), 87.

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  2. Nigel Copsey, Anti-Fascism in Britain (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 2.

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  3. See also Nigel Copsey and David Renton (eds.), British Fascism, the Labour Movement and the State (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

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  4. Dave Renton, ‘A Provisional History of Anti-Fascism in Britain: The Forties’, paper given to Northern Marxist Historians Group, 18 September 1996, online at: http://www.dkrenton.co.uk/old/old2.html (accessed 2 October 2012).

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  5. See also, for a case study, Neil Barrett, ‘The Anti-Fascist Movement in South-East Lancashire, 1933–1940: The Divergent Experiences of Manchester and Nelson’, in Tim Kirk and Anthony McElligott (eds.), Opposing Fascism: Community, Authority and Resistance in Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 48–62. My claims here are not meant to suggest that British writers had no insights into the nature of fascism, only that the émigrés’ analyses were, overall, more penetrating and urgent.

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  6. Compare Andrzej Olechnowicz’s comments on my views in ‘Labour Theorises Fascism: A.D. Lindsay and Harold Laski’, in Nigel Copsey and Andrzej Olechnowicz (eds.), Varieties of Anti-Fascism: Britain in the Inter-War Period (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 202–23.

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  10. The best evidence of the relative unimportance of Britain as a destination for the exiles is the four pages devoted to Britain out of the nearly 900 that make up Jean-Michel Palmier’s, Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration in Europe and America (London: Verso, 2006), 149–53.

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  20. Fox, ‘Nazi Germany and German Emigration’, 61–70. Among their most relevant publications, see Ernst Toller, I Was a German (London: John Lane, 1934);

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  51. for an example from Britain, and Peter Monteath, ‘A Day to Remember: East Germany’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Fascism’, German History, 26, 2 (2008), 195–218, for the ways in which the GDR’s official ceremony has been taken over and developed by grassroots movements since the demise of the regime.

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  52. See also George L. Mosse, Confronting History: A Memoir (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000), 100–12, for an interesting consideration of this point.

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© 2013 Dan Stone

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Stone, D. (2013). Anti-Fascist Europe Comes to Britain: Theorising Fascism as a Contribution to Defeating It. In: The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137029539_6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137029539_6

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-44018-4

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