Confronting the challenge of socialism: the British Empire Union and the National Citizens’ Union 1917-1927
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AbstractThis thesis discusses two important anti-socialist organisations which have received little attention from historians: the British Empire Union (BEU) and the National Citizens’ Union (NCU). It assesses the ideology, activity and impact of these bodies between 1917 and 1927. Difficulties arise in this task due to the absence in the archives of substantial amounts of manuscript evidence such as minute books and correspondence. The history of these organisations has, therefore, been reconstructed primarily from contemporary published sources. This material allows us to develop a picture of these organisations which reveals a close affinity with mainstream Conservatism both in terms of ideology and personnel. This contradicts to an extent the impression given in the relatively thin treatment of these organisations in the historiography, which tends to focus on their alleged extremism. The thesis shows that the BEU and the NCU embodied opinions which encompassed a range of political positions, ranging from support for the Liberal-led post-war Coalition as a means of uniting all those ‘Constitutionalist’ forces opposed to socialism, to calls for the setting up of an ‘English Fascisti’ to emulate Mussolini’s example in Italy and physically destroy the socialist movement in Britain. The thesis examines the role of the BEU in combating the alleged menace of ‘British Bolshevism’. It assesses the importance of the NCU in the events leading to the collapse of the Coalition government in October 1922; and its role in strikebreaking. It looks at how both organisations had a part in the development of Conservative strategies for defeating the electoral challenge of the Labour Party. It assesses the relationship between the British anti-socialist right and fascism as it was understood in the 1920s. The thesis concludes that the two organisations under discussion were relatively influential inside the Conservative Party, particularly among backbench MPs and party activists; they were important catalysts in the development of anti-socialist alliances in municipal elections, which arguably influenced Conservative strategies in parliamentary contests; and they were able to divert potentially ‘fascist’ energies and obsessions into the respectable, mainstream political discourse of British Conservatism. Ironically the Conservative Party's openness to anti-socialism contributed significantly to the marginalisation of the BEU and the NCU, as did the weakness of the revolutionary socialist threat in Britain, particularly after the failure of the General Strike in May 1926.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Master of Philosophy