Churchill Archive Platform - Fascism

The rise of the political ideology of fascism in Italy in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, and its related variant of National Socialism in Germany, posed a major threat to the ideals of liberal democracy that had grown in Europe prior to 1914. Fascism represented an authoritarian, even militaristic, approach to politics that largely drew its support from individuals eager to join a mass movement that would allow them to renounce their individuality in exchange for membership in a larger group that would provide them with a sense of meaning, belonging, identity, and power. Scholars have provided many explanations for the rise of fascism, placing varying degrees of emphasis on historical, economic, and psychological factors. The strength of fascism in Europe during the interwar years derived from the ability of its leaders to preach a dynamic and extreme version of nationalism as a solution to the postwar economic and political woes blamed on liberal democracy.

Historically, the horrors caused by the First World War, which included millions of deaths, had not only done much to discredit the liberal parliamentary democracies that fought it, but also called forth political revolutions based on the ideology of communism. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, a brief but disruptive socialist uprising in Germany, and a successful but short-lived uprising in Bavaria under Kurt Eisner all posed an internationalist threat to the established order from the extreme left. Fascism rejected both liberalism and communism, giving it an appeal to conservative elements in European society who saw in the movement the best hope for preserving the social and economic status quo. In Italy, the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini proposed a new corporate model for Italian society that stressed cooperation between government, workers, and big business and eliminated the class conflict on which Karl Marx had based his communist ideology. Mussolini’s corporatism appealed to the fascist notion that the interests of the state or nation superseded that of the individual or any special interests.

Mussolini rose to power in Italy in the early 1920s, but Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party did not come to power until 1933, after the Great Depression had done its worst to the German economy. Hitler largely blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in the First World War and its economic problems, and his virulent racialist philosophy and anti-Semitism distinguishes the Nazi agenda from other fascist movements. However, the use of violence to subdue one’s enemies and to promote an extreme nationalist agenda characterized both the ideology and practice of fascism regardless of location.

The triumph of fascism in Italy and Germany, the spread of right-wing ideology in Eastern Europe, and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936—39) posed a threat to liberal democracy and individual rights across Europe that Winston Churchill, among others, stringently and vehemently opposed. The fact that Hitler’s brand of fascism presupposed territorial expansion and war brought Germany on a collision course with Britain and the other European democracies.

Where to Find Documents in the Churchill Archive

The following does not represent a comprehensive list of the documents or files related to fascism in the Churchill Archives, but it could serve as a useful starting point to help you find documents related to specific aspects of the topic. You can expand your search by exploring more documents under the general headings of “Fascism,” and search for sub-topics by country or period in the drop-down menu that accompanies your search results. Many of the documents in the archive, of course, relate to the British response to continental developments, particularly Nazi aggression prior to and during World War II, but I have mainly focused below on the interwar period when fascism as a movement and ideology came into public consciousness and provoked a variety of responses, both favorable and unfavorable.

Italian Fascism

On Italian fascism and the British response to Mussolini, one will find a variety of sources. One might start with CHAR 1/179/52-53, which features a 1927 account of a rally in Italy commemorating the fifth anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome and features a more general discussion of Italian fascism and Mussolini’s popularity (“It is wonderful how Mussolini holds not only his power, but the public imagination and interest….”)

CHAR 9/82A-B (20 Jan 1927 - 09 Dec 1927) contains material related to Churchill’s impression of Mussolini and Italian fascism at that time. Image 169 contains his assessment of Mussolini that “I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been,” with “his gentle and simple bearing” so that “anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understood it, of the Italian people….” Churchill also speaks of the economic improvement under fascism. The file also contains a typescript of Churchill’s press statement of 20 January on "Anglo-Italian Relations." Churchill makes clear that he regards fascism in Italy as preferable to communism.

Yet, as the material in CHAR 9/122 illustrates, within a decade, Churchill was advocating the use of force to save European civilization and to prevent Europe from “being cast down once again into [the] barbarism of [the] Dark Ages.” (Image 18) This file contains other speeches, notes, and reports related to Churchill’s position on the League of Nations and the importance of Franco-British alliance.

In CHAR 2/237/54-57, one will find a letter from Sir Leo Chiozza Money to Churchill in which the author responds to Churchill’s speech on the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, making a positive case for Italian fascism and arguing that Britain’s hostile position toward the invasion will drive Mussolini into the arms of Hitler. Reaction to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia also appears in correspondence in CHAR 7/34A-B.

CHAR 2/268 contains additional material related to Italian Fascism. A paper on “Fascist Ambitions,” sub-titled “Anti-British Propaganda in Italy” provides a good sense of how Fascists promoted themselves in Italy and makes a case for the benefits of fascism, but lays out quite clearly the true nature of the regimes in Italy and Germany, (“Fascism is revolutionary and fundamentally anti-Conservative”). Dated 1936, the author predicts the fall of fascism.

Articles and clippings from the Evening Standard in CHAR 8/570 (13 May 1937 - 03 Sep 1937) relate to the threat of fascism, the international conflict between fascism and communism, and the Rome-Berlin axis.

German National Socialism

We cannot separate fascism as a political ideology from the actions and policies of fascist states because of the direct correlation between their aggressive militarism and their overall philosophy. CHAR 2/282 (29 Mar 1936 - 26 Sep 1936) contains a rich collection of sources that illustrate this point with regard to Nazi Germany, especially transcripts of speeches on the threat from Nazi Germany, German rearmament, and Nazi persecution of the Jews. CHAR 2/273 ([Oct] 1930 - 24 Jul 1936) demonstrates this point as well, with foreign office documents related to Hitler’s rise to power, Nazi propaganda, and the German occupation of the Rhineland. This file contains material illustrating the anti-Semitic nature of the Nazi brand of fascism.

CHAR 2/608A-C contains correspondence with Churchill related to the Munich Conference, with one letter in particular from the Dane Erik Christiansen, dated 10 January 1938, in which the writer expresses concern about the reliability of the Nazis keeping their word on Czechoslovakia given their recent track record with the Sudetenland and the ultimate aims of the German fascists. It also includes published material on Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, as well as a relevant source on "The Fallacies of Fascism" by Aurel Kolnai.

CHAR 2/311A-B (04 Jan 1937 - 08 Jan 1938) features correspondence between Churchill and A. H. Richards, the Secretary of an organization called Focus in Defence of Freedom and Peace, some of which relates to Nazi Germany. The file contains other pertinent documents as well, including a typescript of an article Churchill wrote called “A Better Way,” dealing with the similarities between communism, fascism, and Nazism, which seems to contradict Churchill’s early admiration for Mussolini and Italian fascism.

CHAR 2/307 (08 Jan 1937 - 09 Dec 1937) features extensive correspondence on Germany under Hitler and the growing threat posed by Nazi Germany to Czechoslovakia.

CHUR 4/141A-B (31 Jan 1935 - 20 Feb 1949) contains materials Churchill collected for Volume I of his history of the Second World War, “The Gathering Storm,” including some containing some quotes from David Lloyd George complimentary toward Hitler and the Nazis. Lloyd George describes Hitler as having effected “a marvelous transformation of the spirit of the German people,” while acknowledging that his methods “are certainly not those of a parliamentary country.” (1936) He expresses admiration for the “new Germany, which interests me more than any other country in the world today.” (1935) He also expresses confidence that “Hitler is no fool” and that he will not attack the British Empire. (1936) In September 1936, Lloyd George called Hitler “unquestionably a great leader” who “has done great things for his country.”

CHAR 2/340A-B (19 Aug 1937 - 23 Nov 1938) includes a paper by Sheila Grant Duff of the New Fabian Research Bureau on Germany and Czechoslovakia. She identifies the source of tension between the countries as the German desire to control the foreign and domestic policy of Czechoslovakia. The paper includes a section on Nazi ideas, especially those related to the belief that Germany had a right to the territories of her neighbors to the east.

The literary file CHAR 8/615 (May 1938 - Sep 1938) consists of articles Churchill wrote for the publication The News of the World that reflect on the general world and European situation. In an article on “The United States of Europe” (29 May 1938), Churchill described nationalism as “a means, not an end” and wrote of “a new internationalization of fascist ideas,” which he viewed as doomed for failure because of the competing nationalist interests of the Germans, the Italians, and the Japanese.

CHAR 2/254 (01 May 1936 - 31 May 1936) and CHAR 2/358A-B (28 Jan 1939 - 30 Apr 1939) contain additional material related to British attitudes toward Nazi Germany. CHAR 2/254/23-24 (09 May 1936) features a letter from Lord Londonderry to Churchill that is an example of pro-Nazi sentiment in Britain. CHAR 2/576A-C contains documents expressing concerns about the Nazi peril as early as 1934.

British Fascism

In CHAR 2/268 (14 Feb 1936 - 26 Oct 1936), Churchill has written “Keep” on the top of a memorandum on “Fascist Ambitions: Anti-British Propaganda in Italy,” which refers to the fascist party of Canada having an organization akin to the Italian Fascist Party. This memorandum also contains references to the British fascist party, including an interview with the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley by an Italian journalist who described Mosley as “the most sublime manifestation of European man.” It also contains much praise for what the Fascists had accomplished in Italy. However, the memorandum also points out that ‘it would be a mistake to suppose that Fascism is prepared to tolerate other forms of government in other states” and that it “has particular loathing for the conservative democracies of England and France.”

In CHAR 20/30/1-8, one will find a letter to Churchill from J. S. Paterson complaining about the fascist sympathizer the 5th Lord Templeton, Controller of Factories and Storage for Northern England. Paterson writes of Templeton: “He wore the black shirt quite openly and was to be seen on our streets and in public places in this dress. His appointment has done more to spread “fear, alarm and despondency” than all the subversive speeches ever made or likely to be made throughout Galloway….”

One can also find material on British fascism in correspondence from Churchill’s constituents in CHAR 7/34A-B (Jan 1936 - Dec 1936) and CHAR 7/57A-B (08 Dec 1938 - 02 Aug 1939). The latter file specifically addresses the issue of anti-Semitism in the British Union of Fascists.

The Spanish Civil War

CHAR 7/57A-B also includes petitions calling for British assistance to Spanish republicans fighting against the fascist forces. Other key sources relating to the Spanish Civil War include Churchill’s letter to Anthony Eden commenting on the importance of France remining neutral (CHAR 2/257/27), a letter from Azcárate to Churchill in April 1937 (CHAR 2/314/8-10) and Churchill’s speech from 14 April 1937 on the European situation and non-intervention in the Spanish Civil War (CHAR 9/123/81-89).