Growth of Political Extremism; Communism, Mosely, British Union of Fascists (Britain 1900-1951 Period Study 1918-51)


  •  Main extremist parties in the UK
  • Reasons for the emergence of extremim
  • The British Union of Fascists
  • Why did fascism grow?
  • Why didn't the British Union of Fascists get more support?
  • Why didn't Communism get more support?

Part of Domestic politics 1929-39

For OCR Unit 1

Britain 1900-1951

Period Study 1918-51

  • Created by: oanderton
  • Created on: 25-08-20 16:35


In Britain, there were extreme political parties, but they never got close to power or disrupt daily life.

  • Economic crisis
    • Wall Street Crash 1929
    • Banking Crisis 1931.
      • Causes rise of political extremism in Europe.
    • Mass unemployment. Wall street Crash raises it to 3 million it Britain.
  • Political extremism in Europe took control through revolution.
    • Also witnessed violent conflict between extreme political countries.
  • Rise of fascist dictators.
    • Hitler (Germany)
    • Franco (Spain)
    • Mussolini (Italy)
  • Rise of communist dictators
    • Russia (Stalin)
  • 1930s devil decade
    • Depression worldwide in all big powers.
    • USA Great Depression
    • Britain faces economic cirsis, defecit budget, failures to solve unemployment.
    • German depression & hyperinflation after WW1.
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Main Extremist Parties in the UK

Communism Party of Great Britain  (1920-1990)

  • Inspired by the 1917 revolution
  • Beliefs:
    • Based on philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
    • Wanted a worldwide revolution.
    • Communism can only strive if other countries follows suit.
    • There will be a national working class
  • Claimed to provide working & middle classes with a progressive and equal society.
  • Building 'new vililisation' after Russian revolution 1917.
  • Small party with influence beyond its numbers.
    • Initial membership only 2,500; peaked at 18,000, because of Spanish civil war and Hitler.
    • Put 25 candidates forward in 1929; got on average 5% of vote.

British Union of Fascists (1932) - Formed by Oswald Mosely

  • Bigger of the extremist parties; 50,000 members by 1934
  • Strong support in Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds  

Neither could dominate in Britain
Working and middle class polarised to the left or the right.

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Reasons for the Emergence of Extremists

  • Mass unemployment
  • Pressure of living on the Dole
  • World depression due to Wall Street Crash 1929
  • Fascism and communism against capitalism
    • Was seen by many as the cause of the Great Depression.
  • Capitalism and democracy had been discredited by many people.
    • Due to events of World War 1.
  • Important educated academics also believed in extremism 
    • e.g Cambridge spies
  • Many people see communism as an antidote to fascism 
    • Lead to polarisation
    • You were either a Communist or a Fascist.
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Why Did People Support BUF?

Reasons people Supported the British Union of Fascists

Economic depression & unemployment

  • Wall Street Crash 1929 - raises unemployment to 3 million.

Working class discontent

  • Typical recruits were young working class men.
  • Felt disillusioned with traditional party politics.
  • Collapse of economy and 2nd Labour Gov, cuts and means testing.
  • Felt they had been failed by the government.
  • Felt there were limited efforts to deal with unemployment.
    • Geddes Axe cuts in 1919, failure of 1924 Labour, 1924-1929 Conservatives, and 2nd Labour gov.

Political extremism in Europe

  • Impressed by the dynamism European extremists - Italian fascism and Nazi Germany.
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ii. Why Did People Support BUF?

  • Support from those who wanted better relations with Hitler's Germany
    • Wanted to avoid another World War.
    • Thought Hitler was a great defence against Red Scare

Disillusioned Voters

  • Support from traditional Labour supporters after 1931 split.
    • Disillusioned with Labour in 1931.
  • Old Labour supporters went to political extremes; both fascism & communism.
  • Support from those who wanted better relations with Hitler's Germany
    • Wanted to avoid another World War.
    • Thought Hitler was a great defence against Red Scare
  • Seen as an antedote to Communism.
  • Ex soldiers still liked the discipline of being the army.
    • Promoted themseves militaristic.


  • The London standard and daily mail got behind the party - got a huge amount of publicity 
  • Mosley had a lot of charisma. - Heavily promoted the party.
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Why did Fascism Grow?

Why Did Fascism (as an ideology, not just BUF) Grow?

  • Degree of sympathy for anti-Semitism from the ruling classes.
  • Racial unity was seen as an antedote to class divisions.
    • Could create a national community.
  • Blind obedience, social violence and racism not part of the British mindset.
    • We respect our empire and probably lean on it more than other countries
  • Fascism fits into Conservatism at the far end - patriotism
  • Hatred of Communism.
    • Seen as an antedote to Communism.
    • Polarised fascists further - drove them furter to the extremes.
  • General strike hated by a large number.
    • Was ascociated with trade unions & Communism.
    • Fascism seen as an antidote - could forcefully end strike action.
    • Desire for national efficiency
    • Fascism erradicates complexities and discussions that come with democracy.
  • "The greater Britain" wanted to put Britain first appealed to people
  • Strong opinion that fascism had solved economic problems
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Failure of the BUF

Why Did the BUF Fail?

  • Electoral failure.
    • No MPs or even local councillors elected 
  • For every supporter it attracted, at least one potential supporter was put off.

Violence & Violent Riots

  • Extremism went too far and made them unpopular.
  • Violent rallies
    • Indoor rally at Olympia Hall in 1934
    • 'Battle of Cable Street' 1936
  • To many people they were symbols of fascist brutality and racism
    • Racism wasn't part of British culture due to relations with the Empire.

Mosely's Leadership

  • Started following Hitler's anti-Semitic approach.
    • 1935 membership declined to just 5,000
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ii. Failure of the BUF

  • Further unpopularity in later 1930s.
    • Due to close association with ideals and racial policies of Nazi Party,
  • Terrible at paperwork, so couldn't get unity in party policies.
    • Was the only character in the movement. No one else could do it.
  • Focuses on the wrong part of fascism - anti Semitism and Hitler.
  • Mosley was upper class but couldn't get their support.
    • Couldn’t get the support of the working classes because he was upper class.

Opposition, Caused by the Outbreak of War

  • War destroyed the party
  • Mosley and fascists could be Hitler supporters.
  • Horror of the Holocaust.
    • Fascists discredited by association with Nazis because they had destroyed a group of people

Economic recovery.

  • New industries = the middle classes were not suffering
  • Undermined one of they key reasons for the growth of extremism.
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Why did People Support CPGB?

Why Did People Support the Communist Party of Great Britain?

  • Poor economic situation.
  • For a more equal and progressive society.
    • Attracted middle and working class.
  • An antedote to fascism.
    • Appealed to many idealistic young people, who were scared of it.
  • Breakup of the Labour party 1931.
    • Numbers increased after the split.
    • Some Communist & Labour ideas overlapped.
  • Two communist MPs elected in 1922.
  • Lots of publicity
    • Disrupted fascists meetings to get publicity using violent means.
    • Published an influential newspaper, The Daily Worker
      • 180,000 distributed across the country.
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Why Was Supprt for CPGB Limited?

Why did the Communist Party of Great Britain not get more support?


  • Much greater fear of communism than fascism by the establishment.
    • Secret service kept an eye on the CPGB
    • Controlled very heavily.
    • Conservatives and establishment over exaggerated the threat of communism.
  • 1934 Incitement to Disaffection Act 
    • Law put in place to protect against Communism.
    • Stopped them openly preaching about revolution.
  • Party faced considerable opposition.
    • Discredited by the Zinoviev letter (fake) & anti-Russian propaganda
  • Distaste growing towards political extremism.
    • Discredited political extremes.
    • Nazi Noviet Pact & Collectivisation 
    • Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia
    • Kristallnacht horrified the British people
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ii. Why Was Supprt for CPGB Limited?

Issues with Leadership

  • Both CPGB and BUF had no outstanding leader
  • Strength of Britain's political institutions.
    • Monarchy democracy
  • Labour would accept their affiliation.
    • Party was caught between working with Labour & the trade unions & staying independent.
  • Failure of the general strike.
    • Showed the limitation of radical working class activity.
  • Leaders arrested for treason in 1926.
    • Imprisoned for a few years.

Communism as an Ideology

  • Britain did not have the same appetite for Communism.
    • Rigid class system and constitutional monarchy doesn't sit well with the British mindset.
  • Pure communism was a minority political a belief.
    • Support concentrated in certain radicalised areas.
    • Not widespread.
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iii. Why Was Supprt for CPGB Limited?

Extreme Actions

  • Moscow encouraged them to stir up revolution and class conflicts.
    • Made them unpopular
  • Violence of communists towards other left wing groups in the Spanish Civil War.

Labour Party was a Moderate Alternative

  • Labour Party and trade unions were moderate.
    • Rejected all attempts to bring about a popular front against fascism.
  • Moderates like Bevin influential in the trade union movement.

Economic recovery.

  • New industries = the middle classes were not suffering
  • Undermined one of they key reasons for the growth of extremism.
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What Lead to the Growth of Political Extremism?

Fascism & Communism rose for many of the same reasons...

  • Economic depression & widespread unemployment
  • Exploitation of working class discontent.
  • Polarisation; fascism was seen as an antedote for communism, and vice versa.
  • Political extremism in Europe
  • Publicity
  • Disillusioned voters

Why Did Political Extremism Fall?

Fascism & Communism fell for many of the same reasons...

  • Opposition
  • Issues with leadership
  • Ideologies themsleves.
  • Economic recovery 
  • Extreme actions & violence
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