History Repeats Itself

The British Union of Fascists of the 1930s is compared to the modern day Unite the Right movement.

During the 1930s, fascist movements in Europe rapidly gained popularity. In 1933, the Nazi party took control of the German government. In 1932, Britain’s own fascist party, the British Union of Fascists (BUF), was founded by Oswald Mosley.

Like the National Socialists in Germany and the Italian Fascists, the BUF were totalitarian nationalists with a strong belief in racial supremacy.

On Oct. 4, 1936, tensions between the fascists and their opposition came to a head during a march by the BUF down Cable Street in London’s East End.

Mosley’s choice of location was not a coincidence: the East End of London was culturally diverse, and was home to 60 percent of the city’s Jewish population. The BUF intended their march to strike terror into Cable Street’s immigrant community.

When the BUF began to march, however, they met with opposition. A large coalition of anti-fascists, including local community members, socialists, communists, anarchists, and trade unionists, barricaded their path.

In the resulting fight, 175 people were injured and 150 were arrested. Eventually, Mosley decided to call off the march.

While one must exercise caution when comparing historical events to the present, drawing parallels can be an important element of a historian’s understanding of events. Dr. Nigel Sellars, a professor of history at CNU specializing in the history of labor, believes Cable Street and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville are easily comparable.

White nationalist demonstrators waving torches and spouting anti-semitic slogans came into conflict with a group of counter-protesters in Charlottesville this August. One demonstrator drove a car through a throng of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others.

“In both cases what you have are these racist, nationalist types, who are trying to provoke incidents,” says Sellars.

Sellars drew connections between the “alt-right” and fascist groups of the past. “One of the things that I think we have to compare is that the alt-right really is racist, yet they try to hide the fact that they’re neo-Nazis.”

“They disguise things by using these whitewashed terms, and honestly I think it’s disingenuous, dishonest, and deceitful,” says Sellars.

According to Sellars, there are a variety of parallels between the beliefs of the alt-right and fascist groups of the past.

“Personally, what I think is happening is we’re seeing the death throes of movements like this,” says Sellars. “They really are frightened people who are fearful of everything, and they fear that they are increasingly irrelevant.”

Dr. Anthony Santoro, a Distinguished Professor of History and President Emeritus at CNU and an expert in the history of Nazi Germany, believes the majority of neo-Nazis today know nothing of the Nazi party’s history in Germany, much less of Oswald Mosley.

“These are un-American people, who are ignorant, bigoted and racist, and that dear lady who was killed was murdered by a coward driving a car,” says Santoro.

“These skinheads, if they were numerous in number, would be a threat to the society, but fortunately they’re a fringe group of hateful lunatics and they should be described as such.”
Santoro also condemned the use of swastika flags by ralliers in Charlottesville. “Any good American shouldn’t have been in that parade—if someone’s marching next to you with a swastika that should be a sign to you you don’t belong in that company.”

“The very nature of what they did is trying to be divisive in our society. They’re not going to succeed, but they should be exposed for the people that they are,” says Santoro.