Labour Movement and Fascism

CFP: Society for the Study of Labour History

The Labour Movement and Fascism
Conference: 8 November 2003, School of Continuing Education, University of Leeds

Call for Papers

Plenary Speakers: Roger Griffin, Ken Lunn

The past thirty years have seen an extraordinary growth in the literature on fascism. Philosophers have attempted to define a 'fascist minimum', a common set of ideas that was shared by all fascist movements. Attention has been given to the factors explaining the failure of British fascism, and the cultural values of interwar fascism. Meanwhile, the contemporary far-right has hardly gone away, but has instead achieved electoral success, in continental Europe and in Britain. In seeking to understand fascism, the attention has so far tended to focus on the leaders of the fascist parties, or on the character of fascist ideas. Less attention has been given to the historical context in which the inter-war parties operated. By the time that fascism came to Britain, the Italian left had already been destroyed. The left and the right therefore responded to each other as antagonists. Fascism appeared in the press as a party that clashed with its anti-fascist adversaries.

The focus of this conference is on the relationship between the labour movement and fascism. Papers are invited on the following themes:

  • Some fascist leaders, including Oswald Mosley, John Beckett and Alexander Raven Thomson, had previously been members of the Labour or Communist Parties. How well developed was their 'socialism', and how much of it lasted beyond 1931? A few local fascists also possessed backgrounds in the labour movement or suffrage campaigns. Is it useful, therefore, to speak of a 'left-wing strand' within British fascism? How long did these former left-wing activists last within fascist parties? How easy was the relationship between them and their party?
  • Where have different anti-fascist traditions come from? Throughout its history, British fascism has experienced waves of growth. Sometimes these have coincided with periods of national or local Labour government. But how have Labour Party-controlled institutions responded to the rise of fascism? Was there a difference between police and Home Office policies towards fascism in 1936 and 1948, or indeed in 1958 and 1977? What also has been the relationship between local Labour cultures and fascism? Is it true, say, that the working-class cultures of Northern England provided an impenetrable barrier to fascism?
  • Alternatively, did the far-right parties develop strategies to relate to areas of trade union and labour strength? Have their been times when labour supporters were sympathetic to specific demands put forward by far-right groups? What has been the role of women or ethnic minorities who identified with the Labour Party: has their activity led to the adoption of distinct anti-fascist strategies? What about labour movement traditions outside the Labour Party? What tensions have their been in local and national labour movement responses to fascism or the far-right? The organisers of the conference also invite papers with a strong historical grounding that address post-war or contemporary fascism and anti-fascism; as well as studies that compare fascism or anti-fascist movements in more than one country.

The conference is organised by the Society for the Study of Labour History.

Proposals (200 words) should be sent to the organisers, care of Dr. Malcolm Chase, Reader in Labour History, School of Continuing Education, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT or email