Why did neither the CPGB nor the BUF have much political impact in 1930s Britain?
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Why did neither the CPGB nor the BUF have much political impact in 1930s Britain? The early 20th century brought the arrival of political extremism and radical ideologies in Europe. Major economic and social upheaval from WW1 changed the industrial, political and social nature of the countries affected by the war. Political extremism is radical left or right wing parties that want social/political change, usually by unconstitutional means. Communism emerged in Russia with the installation of the Soviet regime, and Fascism arrived in Italy and Germany. In Britain, although the BUF and the CPGB were set up, the economic and political circumstances during the 1930s allowed democracy to survive. To those concerned with British security, the BUF/CPGB were never a real threat, they were rather more of a nuisance. 1 The BUF and CPGB believed they would be able to capitalise on the depression, however this was not the case, as the conditions a revolution needed to prevail were not present in Britain. The economic circumstances in Italy, Germany and Russia, were completely different- the effects of the depression in Europe were more severe, and had more of a lasting effect, whereas Britain had recovered within two or three years. Economic circumstances meant that most people accepted capitalism, as living standards were rising. Demographic change, resulting in major loss of workforce and economic dislocation were other factors which encouraged the installation of dictatorships in Europe. Immigration also caused political/social unrest abroad, for example, in Germany; Jewish immigrants were blamed for the economic state. Britain's island status meant that the threat of political extremism was not as concerning as it was in most other parts of mainland Europe.
As the brutality of the Soviet regime was revealed, i.e. 'show trials'- involving public executions of Stalin's enemies-, which were endorsed by the CPGB (the Daily Worker's headline read- "Shoot the reptiles".11) Labour did not want to be seen by voters as having any contact with this, and wanted to keep its earned image of respectability-connections with this would have greatly lowered their support. Labour was also extremely suspicious of the CPGB and believed that their desire to affiliate was in order to bring the party down and achieve global communist control. Labour worked to marginalize the CPGB, and by using popular and moderate policies such as gradualism, left-wing supporters still remained loyal to them. Again, the economic situation was satisfactory, so for the majority, there was no need to turn to communism. Dominated by Conservatives, the National Government denied the BUF space on the political right. The National Government was extremely popular, and was perhaps able to capitalize on Labour's 1931 crisis. The National Government was one of the only British governments that were supported by more than 50% of the electorate.12 Their success was mainly due to the range of people which it drew votes from- they were a coalition of elements from all major democratic parties, and so appealed to almost all sections of society. Therefore, they faced no serious opposition, and again, as Labour did, were able to effectively contain political extremism. Stability and reassurance were offered by the National Government, as they were seen as a safe-option both politically and socially, at a time when communism and the end of capitalism were feared.
Without a successful government, which the National Government proved themselves to be, the economic situation may have been entirely different, and may have encouraged the installation of a dictatorship. Despite slow progress, the National Government was eventually able to steer Britain out of an economic crisis. Britain's public appeared to have great confidence in it's leaders, and traditional British political methods and democracy succeeded. If the government had not been as successful however, perhaps the BUF/CPGB may have had more political impact. Although important, internal problems within the CPGB/BUF, are of lesser significance. If the economic/political circumstances were different, these problems may not have hindered the growth of the parties. An economic situation similar to Europe, may have caused people to be desperate for a political/social change, without paying attention to problems suffered by the CPGB/BUF such as leadership and financing. However, with better tactics and administration, both parties may have made a greater impact on the 1930s political scene. 1 Colin Cook, British Fascism, Modern History Review p2 2 Stevenson, John and Cook, Chris, Britain in the Depression- Society and Politics 1929-39 Longman p15 3 Rees, Goronwy, The Great Slump, Weidenfeld & N p40 4 Class handout 5 Stevenson, John and Cook, Chris, Britain in the Depression- Society and Politics 1929-39 Longman p33 6 Stevenson, John and Cook, Chris, Britain in the Depression- Society and Politics 1929-39 Longman p33 7 Class handouts- The British economy in the 1920s 8 Pearce, Robert, Britain- Domestic Politics 1918-39 Hodder & Stoughten p112 9 Murphy, Derek, Britain 1914-2000 Collins Educational p83 10 Class notes 11 Class handout 12 Rowe, Christopher Britain 1929-98 Heinemann Advanced History p19 13 Class notes 14 Class handout 15 Class handout 16 Class handout 17 Class handout 18 Class handout ?? ?? ?? ?? Emily Kaill 1
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