Editorial: Postscript on Mosley
As a demonstration that working-class sentiment is against Fascism, the outcry over the release of Mosley is welcome—but sentiment alone never won any permanent achievements for the working class, and the socialist movement, and the linking up of the agitation with acceptance of the Defence Regulations which give the Home Secretary power to arrest without trial is a dangerous feature. No ruling class has ever been deeply attached to democratic and constitutional methods for their, own sake, and if a time comes when our rulers want to use Regulation 18b to incarcerate without trial men and women active in the working-class movement, some of those who want Mosley sent back under powers given by that Regulation may see their mistake.
Though we are opposed to that and similar regulations and restrictions, we have no tears to shed over Mosley, whose British Union of Fascists was in favour of suppressing the propaganda of its opponents, though this aim was phrased in the contradictory declaration that “free speech” should be “regulated and controlled.”—(“Fascist Week,” January 5—11, 1934.)
Mosley the Fascist denounces Parliamentary Government, and years before, when he was in the I.L.P. and Labour Party, he was advocating the use of Emergency Powers in order to get speedy action free from parliamentary “obstruction.” In 1926 the Labour Party at first declined to endorse his candidature at Smethwick where he was put forward by the I.L.P., and the “New Leader” (December 3, 1926) said that one of the rumoured objections to Mosley was that at the I.L.P. Summer School he had “advocated the socialist use of the Emergency Powers Act.” It is ironical that Mosley owed his detention in 1940 to the Government’s use of the kind of emergency powers he himself had advocated, and that he now owes his release to the fact that Parliament, which he despises, endorsed the action of the Home Secretary. It is interesting to recall that Sir Stafford Cripps, as well as many other members of the Labour Party and I.L.P., used also to advocate the use of emergency powers. Sir Stafford Cripps wrote in 1933: “The first measure to come before Parliament under a Labour Government should be the Enabling Act to deal with the emergency by Orders in Council.” (“Where Stands Socialism To-day?” p. 39.)
On the other hand, many of those who for years denounced the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, and demanded its repeal (among them the Communists), and who opposed Regulation 18b when it was introduced in 1939, have completely changed their attitude. Yet the E.P. Act was a far less powerful weapon in the hands of the ruling class than are the present war-time Acts and Regulations. In particular that earlier Act excluded “any form of compulsory military service or industrial conscription”—but now its erstwhile opponents are favouring both the latter measures.
Much more important than the question whether Mosley should be in or out is the question how such people as Mosley come to be a force in politics at all. Among those who now oppose him are many who rapturously supported him when he left the Tory Party, flirted with the Liberals, joined the labour Party and I.L.P. (1924), went on to form the New Party (1931) and became Fascist (1932). Yet Mosley and the ideas he stood for were always a danger to the workers not merely when he donned a black shirt. Mosley was the flamboyant, rich and ambitious demagogue who offered to lead the workers to the promised land while carving out for himself a career in politics. He would never have amounted to anything if there had not been sycophantic hangers-on in the Labour Party and I.L.P. who helped to build him up so that at one time he was spoken of as the future leader of the Labour Party. He had hardly joined that party five minutes before it was reported that he had been offered the choice of 80 seats as Labour candidate. That such a thing could happen was due to the attitude of mind of the working class; not understanding Socialism they could then, and do now, believe in the dangerous illusion that leaders can bring them emancipation.
Writing years afterwards, “Reynold’s News” had this to say about him:—
:- “It should not be forgotten . . . that the Democratic movement ‘spoiled’ Sir Oswald on his ‘conversion’ from Toryism. Its leaders feted and flattered him. Even the I.L.P., archapostle of discipline, broke its constitution to endorse his candidature in a Smethwick by-election.”—(“Reynold’s [News],” July 26, 1931.)
Mosley, on his entry to the Labour Party, quickly mastered the oratory of the Labour leaders and learned how to win votes by giving the workers the soothing phrases they wanted to hear. A typical oratorical effort was the following, delivered after the defeat of the General Strike:—
:- ” . . . Without exerting anything approaching the full power of Labour, they had beaten the boss class. With one hand behind their backs they had whipped the Government. They were there to celebrate one of the greatest events in the history of the world. . . . They had shown that with industrial power alone they could beat the boss class. . . . Let them not forget this was a great workers’ victory.—(“Birmingham Post,” May 17,1926.)
Though in April, 1931, “The Labour Magazine,” organ of the T.U.C. and Labour Party, could publish an article saying that nobody “could have doubted the genuineness of Mosley’s Socialism at that time” (i.e., 1929), the truth is that Mosley was never at any time a socialist—but neither were those who supported him. What they called Socialism was merely the advocacy of planning, State control, a “living wage,” investment boards, etc., and this accounts for the fact that Mosley was able to take over many of the planks in the I.L.P. and Labour Programme into his new party. The “New Leader“ wrote (November 7, 1930), “in the ideas of the I.L.P. group and the smaller Mosley group there is a good deal in common.”
Mosley’s wealth and title, his friendship with MacDonald, his influential friends, and his fiery oratory all helped to give him a following in the Labour movement, though finally his arrogance and impatience robbed him of leadership when it appeared to be within his grasp. He quarrelled with the Labour Government in 1930 because it rejected his schemes for dealing with unemployment, and broke away with n considerable group of Labour M.P.s, most of whom, however, left him before he formed the New Party in 1931, or soon afterwards. Among those who in 1931 helped to draft Mosley’s manifesto, “A National Policy,” were Aneurin Bevan, M.P., W. J. Brown, M.P., and John Strachey. Among his admirers at that period was the late Ben Tillett, who, according to A. J. Cummings (“News Chronicle,” March 10, 1934), had declared that Mosley would one day become “the Solomon of a great philosophy of statesmanship.” Earlier the communists had been among his admirers, and at the General Elections of 1923 and 1924 the Communist Party backed all the Labour candidates including, of course, MacDonald. J. H. Thomas, and Mosley. (The Communist Party has not changed in, that respect and doubtless a year or two ahead they will be denouncing as ” fascist” the Tory M.P.s they have been backing in elections during the past two years.)
After Mosley, had been built up by his Labour admirers and had then gone Fascist he found new supporters who thought that he might be useful as a tool for anti-working-class measures. He claimed (“News Chronicle, October 19, 1936) that a number of industrialists in the North of England had been giving him secret support and the late Lord Rothermere backed him openly in the “Daily Mail.” It was one of Rothermere’s star journalists. Mr. G. Ward Price, who declared (“Daily Mail,” April 23, 1934) that Mosley had proved himself at his Albert Hall demonstration to be “the paramount political personality in Britain.”
Mr. Ward Price wrote this about a Fascist rally at Birmingham:—
:- “The hold which Blackshirt ideas have upon the best elements of British life was manifested by the rapt attention with which each step of the technical argumentation was followed” (Italics ours.) — (“Daily Mail.” January 22. 1934.)
The demand has been made that Mosley should be brought to trial, though on what precise charge is not stated. (It would be funny if the Communists wanted Mosley to be charged with sedition, for at one time they were campaigning for the abolition of the Sedition Laws “Workers’ Weekly,” October 10, 1924). If he were brought to trial it can be imagined that he would cause a good deal of embarrassment in very distinguished quarters by naming the men who backed him or who, like him, professed their admiration for Hitler and Mussolini before the present war.
One rather nauseating feature of Labour denunciation of Mosley now is the charge that he used his wealth to further his political aims.
A case in point is an article, “The Mosley Moneybags” by Mr. Will Nally, in “Reynold’s News” (November 28, 1943). Mosley’s Labour admirers never talked like that when he was in the Labour Party. Mosley declared, And it was never contradicted, that in those days he and other rich men were privately appealed to by the Labour Party for donations to their secret funds. (“Manchester Guardian” April 28, 1931.)
The moral of Mosley’s career is that the working-class movement should concern itself with the spread of socialist knowledge and with principles, not personalities. If the workers continue to put their trust in leaders and cherish the ever-renewed hope that at last they have found the inspired political Moses, who will lead them out of the wilderness, they do so at their peril.