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From the Aylesford Review -1961

THE NETS OF POLITICS

Colin Wilson

Colin Cross: The Fascists in Britain

(Barrie and Rockcliff, 21s.)

Sir Oswald Mosley: Mosley, Right or Wrong?

(Lion Books, 2s. 6d.)

THIS REVIEW will be more personal than a review should be; but probably it is better to be open about it, instead of concealing behind an appearance of detachment. Besides, I doubt very much whether even the most impartial critic could produce an unprejudiced article on Sir Oswald Mosley. Feelings still run too high; the liberal and cultured humanists who write for certain Sunday newspapers feel that Mosley is the one subject about which they can be irrational with an easy conscience. I personally am still young enough and detached enough to feel somewhat old-fashioned about it; I can not believe that there are subjects on which it is excusable to vent your malice and prejudice.

All the same, Colin Cross makes a very fair attempt to deal with this thorny subject in his book The Fascists in Britain. It is, of course, virtually a political biography of Mosley. In the first few chapters—dealing with Mosley’s career as an MP and the early days of the British Union of Fascists—I wondered if Mr Cross was a ‘Mosleyite’. Then, three chapters later, I wondered if he was really a ‘Red’ with a life-long grudge against Mosley. Finally, I recognised that he has done a remarkable job in keeping a balance between the two attitudes. Occasionally, like a man on a tightrope, he preserves his balance by leaning first one way and then the other; but the final effect is the same.

This is an impressive book; it left me thoughtful and disturbed. If Mosley died tomorrow (which I trust he will not), then Mr Cross might add an extra chapter and call his book The Mosley Tragedy. For, on the evidence presented here, it is impossible to doubt that Mosley could have been of the greatest statesmen of the twentieth century.

Let me make something clear before I go any further. I believe my attitude towards Mosley to be honestly impartial. A few years ago, when the ‘Angry Young Man’ craze was good material for journalists, and controversy was slightly more bitter than at present, the word ‘fascist’ was occasionally flung at me; and on one occasion a Sunday newspaper even sent a reporter to inquire whether it was true that I was secretly a member of Mosley’s Union Movement. Controversies in various newspapers and magazines followed—from which neither side received much damage. Most of my opponents gave up in disgust when they realised that my interest in politics is almost non-existent. However, in case any of them should read this review, I repeat that I am no more inclined towards Sir Oswald Mosley’s politics than towards those of Mr Macmillan. What I say about him does not conceal any sinister racialist tendency or a secret alliance with his movement. I would like my standpoint to be that of a historian in two hundred years time; if I do not succeed, it is not the fault of the intention.

What emerges then, is that Mosley is a great less black than my extreme left-wing friends sometimes paint him. Mr Cross can write: ‘By nature, Mosley is not a demagogue. His speeches tend to contain a stiff content of reasoned argument, demanding attention from the mind rather than a surrender of the will’. And a long paragraph on page 71 makes it clear that he regards Mosley, in many respects, as greatly preferable to Mussolini or Hitler. In fact, Mosley emerges from this book not merely as a brilliant and sensible man, but as basically decent and humane.

There is a very considerable problem here, that I wish I had space to discuss. The word fascist or nazi evokes an immediate picture of a sadistic monster, and Heydrich, Himmler, Hitler, Mussolini and Mosley get somehow rolled together into a composite image. In fact, they are all very different cups of tea. Heydrich was everything meant by a ‘nazi’ - stupid, brutal and sadistic. Himmler was certainly no sadist—merely a kind of bank clerk who ordered killing as coolly as he might add up a column of figures; he was the kind of fool who ‘obeyed orders’. Hitler was not a sadist either, but a twisted man of political genius, with a stupid and insane prejudice about Jews, whose mind slowly broke apart under syphilis. Mussolini was a bluff good natured Italian, of whom Moravia could say: ‘He was not a bad man. If he’d had a foreign policy as clever as his domestic one, he might still be Duce today’ (Mussolini by Christopher Hibbert, p. 61).

But the fact that most of these men were not ‘sadistic brutes’ does not mean they should not be condemned for inhumanity.

Now Mosley has, perhaps, more things in his favour than all these others put together. Not only is he, like Mussolini, basically shrewd, level headed and good-natured, but he is undoubtedly many times more intelligent than Il Duce. The chief complaints against him are that (a) he allowed himself to be financed by foreign fascists in the 1930s; (b) that he adopted anti-Semitism as a plank in his party policy in the 1930s; and (c) that he has, since the war, used racialism as a means of attracting followers.

The first of these allegations may or may not be true. Mosley himself denies it, and points out that it wouldn’t much matter if it were true; Mr Cross offers some evidence that makes it look true. The second seems very obviously true, even though Mosley denies categorically that he has ever been an anti-Semite. I am inclined to take his word that he himself has never been anti-Semitic and that his movement never had a policy of anti-Semitism like Hitler’s. Nevertheless, he can, I am afraid, be accused of condoning the anti-Semitism of some of his followers.

Where the third point is concerned, I may be prejudiced, since my own views are socialist and anti-Apartheid. Although Mosley is undoubtedly sincere when he says that he has no dislike of negroes, but that he disapproves of miscegenation, I suspect that he has condoned a racialist attitude in his followers.

His book of questions and answers, Mosley, Right or Wrong?, reveals him at his best—as the man of whom Shaw once said that he was the only politician thinking seriously about real problems. He is capable of disarming personal frankness, no doubt the result of dealing with hecklers—and his plan of a European union seems to me to be one of the sanest and most far-sighted steps towards world-government that has been proposed since the death of H.G. Wells. On the subject of Africa one may, as I do, disagree with him, but no one could accuse him of ‘authoritarianism’.

This, it seems to me, is the tragedy. Like most politicians, Mosley has compromised and played the opportunist; but no politician since Parnell has paid so fully and tragically  for his mistakes. Granville Barker wrote a play about Parnell called Waste. Mosley’s career represents the most appalling waste in the twentieth century, for I can think of no other politician (except, perhaps, Herbert Morrison and Aneurin Bevan) who had so much to ‘give’ to their own country.

James Joyce once said that he would ‘try to fly the nets’ of politics. His attitude seems to me to be the only sensible one for a writer. But Mosley himself is a writer and in certain essays on philosophy and religion he reveals himself to be a writer of remarkable perception and depth. He is now in his mid-sixties; I can not help wishing that he would also fly by the nets of politics, and devote the next ten years to that book on politics and philosophy that he has often thought of writing. If he did so, it might yet turn out that the ‘tragedy of waste’ was no tragedy at all, but only a roundabout means to a final triumph.

 

Published in European Action No 12

Colin Wilson 
Born and raised in Leicester, Colin Wilson left school at 16. He worked in factories and at various occupations, and read in his spare time. Gollancz published the then 24-year-old Wilson's The Outsider in 1956; the work examines the role of the social "outsider" in seminal works of various key literary and cultural figures. These include Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Hermann Hesse, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William James, T. E. Lawrence, Vaslav Nijinsky and Vincent Van Gogh; Wilson discusses his perception of social alienation in their work. The book became a best seller and helped popularise existentialism in Britain. Critical praise proved short-lived, however, and Wilson was soon widely criticised. Wilson became associated with the 'Angry Young Men' of British literature and he was widely regarded as "advanced, forthright, significant". He contributed to Declaration, an anthology of manifestos by writers associated with the movement, and wrote a popular paperback sampler, Protest: The Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men. Wilson and his friends Bill Hopkins and Stuart Holroyd were viewed as a sub-group of the 'Angries' - one more concerned with "religious values" than with liberal or socialist politics. Critics on the left swiftly labelled them as fascistic; commentator Kenneth Allsop called them "the law givers".

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