Did Oswald Mosley inspire Donald Trump?

The parallels between the US president-elect and the British fascist leader are too striking to be ignored

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The word “fascist” is often dreadfully misused. But the parallels between Donald Trump and the fascist leaders of the Thirties – especially Britain’s Sir Oswald Mosley who was the founder of the British Union of Fascists – are too striking to be ignored. When commentators try to normalise the Trump triumph, it has a whiff of the attempts to normalise Hitler’s victory in 1933.

Mosley was, and Trump is, a very rich man, expensively educated, who persuaded the poorest people that their route out of poverty and powerlessness is to support policies and people which will make it easier for the rich to exploit them.

They did this by inventing enemies, at whose door all the hardships and frustrations of their lives could be laid: in Trump’s case, Muslims, immigrants, "illegals", the "liberal elite". 

Trump differs from Mosley in that he did not include Jews. Or did he? Minnesota Senator Al Franken pointed out that a Trump campaign advertisement claiming a plot to take over the world by international financiers included shots of three people alongside quick shots of Wall Street and Washington DC – and the three happened to all be Jews: billionaire George Soros, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellin, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Franken told CNN: “When I saw the ad, I thought that this was something of a German shepherd whistle, a dog whistle, to a certain group in the United States. I’m Jewish, so maybe I’m sensitive to it, but it clearly had a sort of Elders of Zion feel to it.”

The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion was a fabricated book published in 1903 that linked Jews to a plot to take over the world. Post-Holocaust anti-Semitism isn’t overt, as I explain in my new book Fascist in the Family. It’s done with code words and phrases, and by subconsciously linking Jews with financial corruption.

The advert was condemned by the US Anti-Defamation League, which said it peddles “painful stereotypes and baseless conspiracy theories.” All the “real Americans” briefly shown – the victims of this plot – were identifiably of another ethnic origin. It also displayed the characteristics of those employed by Hitler's minister for propoganda, Joseph Goebbels. On the screen, apropos of nothing that was in the commentary at the time, flashed a picture of Hillary Clinton with one word, in huge letters: CORRUPT.  It was there for a split second – long enough to register it, but not long enough, unless you were concentrating,  to be consciously aware that you had registered it.

Trump argues that we should shrink the state, leave it only capable of making war and incapable of making welfare, depriving it of the power to help people, but keeping the power to hurt people. He has sold working class Americans an idea that is, self-evidently, the opposite of the truth, using techniques pioneered by fascist leaders in the Thirties.

This is how it works. Mosley, when he abandoned democratic politics for fascism, said: "I am done with those who think. Henceforth I will go with those who feel." The workers were to subcontract their thinking to him, just as Trump asked the American working class, on whose side he claims to be, to contract out their thinking to him. They seem, for the moment at least, to have said: “ok, boss.”

It is not just substance, but style as well. Mosley’s rallies were very like Trump rallies. Mosley’s way with hecklers could have been Trump's textbook.

Mosley would turn the lights on them, pause, and watch with grim approval while his supporters beat them up and threw them out, occasionally remarking grimly that they should be treated with “old-fashioned fascist courtesy.” Trump paused while his supporters attacked them, and said ironically that the protesters should not be hurt, before adding that if they were hurt, he would consider paying legal expenses for those who had done the hurting.

Mosley was a classic narcissist, as Trump is. Trump’s strange behaviour in the last debate with Hillary Clinton, prowling around the stage growling abuse, is that of a man-child, angry that attention is not focused on him, as well as that of a man who cannot tolerate having to debate on equal terms with a women. Mosley never had to face that particular challenge. If he had, he would doubtless have behaved just as badly as Trump did with Clinton.

Francis Beckett’s latest book is Fascist in the Family (Routledge, 2016)