With moves to reboot British Nationalism finally stirring, it is essential that mistakes from the past be avoided and insights gained. Very few people can look back on the chequered history of British Nationalism from the vantage point occupied by John Bean. As a veteran nationalist of over sixty years standing, and a man who has first-hand knowledge of everyone of importance in the movement from Sir Oswald Mosley, A.K. Chesterton, and Enoch Powell to John Tyndall and Nick Griffin, John Bean has seen it all. In this exclusive and wide-ranging interview with Alternative Right he offers his reflections and conclusions on a still sadly unfinished project, namely the preservation of the British race, culture, and nation.
Liddell: First of all, I read your biographical memoir, Many Shades of Black. That was a fascinating account of political struggle from a very human perspective. However, to my mind, there seemed to be a bit of a gap between your fascinating description of life in post-Independence India, where you briefly worked in the chemical industry, and your active involvement in the Union Movement, following your return to the UK. What was the deciding moment or chain of events that turned you onto a nationalist course of action?
Bean: The few months I worked in India in 1950 played a major part in fashioning the mould in which my life-long socio-political views were to be cast. The rather insular young nationalist who had eagerly volunteered for RAF aircrew in March 1945 found that his nationalism had widened to a European nationalism. However, the beginning of this metamorphosis began when serving in the Royal Navy on a former German ship, the Nordmark, in 1947-48. Its wartime function was to supply surface raiders and occasional U-boats and carry Merchant Navy survivors of British ships that had been sunk to internment in Germany. Two of these former prisoners had been contacted by the Royal Naval authorities and came to Portsmouth and spoke of their experiences on board as prisoners. They said that conditions were cramped and although the food was poor it was the same as served to the German crew. Above all they were treated correctly as prisoners of war. For the first time I began to question the image that wartime propaganda had given our recent enemy.
Arriving in India, as a nationalist I was interested to hear the opinions of so many older Indians who wished the British Raj was back, and praised its incorruptibility. In spite of its presence for some 250 years, I found the average Indian did not differentiate between a Briton, Frenchman, Swiss or German: we were all Europeans, all white men to them. Perhaps more important, I was soon conscious of the fact that I was in the presence of a deep-seated culture, but only as an observer and that for reasons I could not then define I would always be an observer, never to be enjoined within that culture. In contrast to the outward looking cultural ethic of the European, ever looking to cross previously defined frontiers, that of India to me at the time appeared as inward looking, each concentrating on his own soul personified by the navel contemplation of Buddha.
On reflection perhaps I was being too simplistic. Not taken into account was the fact that there are greater racial differences between, for example, The Brahmins and the Negritto type Dravidians of southern India than the Norwegians and Sicilians of Europe. Before I am taken to task for confusing the Indian caste system with race let it be remembered that ‘caste’ is of Sanskrit origin and just means ‘colour.’ It was devised by the Aryan invaders from the Caucasus who founded the Indus Valley civilisation around 1500 BC, who the Brahmins still associate themselves with. Returning to India 40 years later I found that my earlier interpretation of the reasons for the cultural differences between the European and the Indian still had some substance – particularly in rural areas – but, sadly, was becoming considerably affected by the materialistic aspects of Western culture.
Liddell: Much of the political activity of Union Movement involved rowdy meetings with heckling, provocative marches, and brawls. This can of course be dated back to the British Union of Fascists versus hard left politics of the pre-War period, with a similar style of street politics continuing up to the National Front in the 1970s. In Many Shades of Black, this 'aggro-politics' often seems to coincide with ethnic tensions in working class neighbourhoods – Irish, Jewish, Black vs. English. In retrospect such violence seems to have contributed to the marginalization of British Nationalism and to have been a major tactical error. Were there any benefits from this kind of aggro-politics? Given the roughness of the areas Union Movement and subsequent nationalists operated in, how avoidable was such an element?
Bean: On my return from India the first few months were occupied with obtaining a new job (still in the paint and resin industry) and establishing a home for our impending start of a family. As a reaction to the stories I had heard in the Navy about the generally civilised behaviour of German sailors during the war, when on leave in early 1948 I had obtained a copy of Oswald Mosley’s “Greater Britain” from New Cross public library. Although impressed with much of its content I did nothing about it at the time. In 1950, four months after my return from India, I contacted the Mosley movement, basically for an update on Mosley’s post-war view. His British Union of Fascists had been disbanded to be replaced by Union Movement. This had gone beyond narrow nationalism to ‘Europe a Nation’. Although then, as today, I thought that a single European government was a step too far, my cultural experiences in Trinidad and more so in India, made the European idea in post-war Mosleyism more acceptable to my own ideas. I joined Union Movement in the late summer. In the autumn for the first time I heard Mosley speak at a meeting held in Kensington Town Hall. Although he had turned 60 he was still a first class orator and held the majority of his 500 audience spellbound. The meeting was held in peace with not even a heckler.
Jeffery Hamm’s League of ex-Servicemen held meetings – mainly but not exclusively in London – from early 1947 until Mosley’s Union Movement was formed late in 1948. Supported by mainly British Fascists, it continued to attract the same pre-war violent confrontations from the Communists and militant Jews. The militant Jewish group was now called the 43 Group (formed in 1943) with the express purpose of rooting out and destroying any Fascist or anti-Semitic elements that reared their heads following the release of Mosley and his support from 18b internment – without charge or trial.
Towards the end of 1949, however, the Communist Party must have received instructions from Moscow that Fascism in Britain no longer posed a major threat to ‘democracy,’ because the organised opposition practically ceased overnight. The pitched battles that were fought in Ridley Road, East London, where no holds were barred by Jew or Gentile, came to a halt. Now this was not good for Mosley’s Union Movement as the publicity that had been created was turned off. It had been a vital tool in attracting not only some of his pre-war supporters, but their sons and daughters in the brave new world of London’s East End at that time. Inspired by Alf Flockhart and Jeffery Hamm, but not directly by Mosley, attacks were initiated against Communists in their stronger areas and against the many Communist controlled ‘Peace Movements’ with a return of publicity as initiators of violence
I supported it and indulged in it to some extent, but it was a fatal mistake. It was repeated by John Tyndall 20 years later with the National Front marches that initially attracted more members, but the attraction of Left wing violence meant that the National Front carried the blame for the violence. Thus the NF carried on the same theme as Union Movement of marching its way into obscurity.
Liddell: Would it be fair to say that British politics has always had a 'physical' side? One thinks of the 18th and 19th century political mobs, the typical unruliness of the hustings, often fuelled by free alcohol provided by candidates, as well as our great tradition of forceful heckling.
Bean: This is true, although it tends to be overlooked by establishment media commentators of today. My experience of the ‘physical’ side of political campaigns in both Union Movement and the first BNP (1960-68) showed that some who had fought the fiercest drank the least in the pub meetings that usually followed an ‘encounter.’
Liddell: You were involved in a fair number of brawls and tussles, often due to attacks from Leftists. You describe these in great detail in Many Shades of Black. Without advocating violence, what practical advice would you pass on to nationalists who find themselves in similar physically threatening situations?
Bean: Unless you outnumber your militant opponents don’t trail your cloak to encourage violence. If you are still in charge of speaker equipment that can overcome opposition chanting then hand over to those who can sometimes control the gathering by humour (which I tried at my Southall election meetings with some success) and not to those who prefer to ‘wind up’ your opponents.
Liddell: Would it be fair to say that overall the Leftists with their superior numbers, covert support from the establishment, and greater ruthlessness came out on top in the street fighting?
Bean: Hopefully without sounding like a bragging football hooligan, I do not recall the militant leftists coming out on top when their numbers were evenly matched. As for ruthlessness, I never met anyone more ruthless than Alf Flockhart of Union Movement – who I did not like – or my own ‘bodyguard’ in the early BNP – who I did like because his ruthlessness was controlled.
Liddell: I get the impression from your book that you deeply regret nationalist politics having taken this course. How much of a dead-end do you think it has been? When did you come to this realization?
Bean: It should be noted that the League of Empire Loyalists, led by A.K.Chesterton, never indulged in any violent actions to gain publicity. They preferred well thought out stunts to gain publicity. These included hiding under the stage at Tory meetings then commandeering the microphone to condemn their betrayal of the Empire, or having one of their members dress up as Archbishop Makarios and gaining access to the 1956 Commonwealth Conference. Several LEL demonstrators were subjected to violence, usually form outraged Conservative meeting stewards. It was, of course, all rather pointless because the electorate had noted that history had already decided that there was no longer any British Empire to be loyal to.
Liddell: Supposing violent street politics had been avoided, do you think the British nationalist movement would have been able to avoid political marginalization and be in a much healthier position today, or would other factors have ensured its marginalization anyway?
Bean: One only has to look at the reasonable progress being shown by Marine Le Pen with the Front National in France to see that if British nationalism had been able to distance itself from violence over the last 30 years or more then it would be more of a threat to the Lib-Lab-Con political establishment. But the latter’s control of the media would probably still have prevented substantial nationalist Parliamentary representation today.
Liddell: One of the most fascinating excerpts in your book Many Shades of Black is when you describe your face-to-face meeting with Sir Oswald Mosley. The two of you failed to see eye-to-eye, and he comes across as rather imperious. Apart from what you mention in the book, what do you remember about that meeting and what other impressions did you have of the man?
Bean: On reflection my tea-time meeting with Mosley at the Eccleston Hotel gave classic examples of the duality of his character. In the preliminary discussion, which centred on my support for European co-operation and even a confederation, he listened attentively to my argument, courteously making non-committal acknowledgements although without entering into any debate. It was when I said that due to his past actions and positions, such as anti-Semitism, and the way he had been woefully misrepresented in the media on so many issues, he had no chance of being elected to any form of power, that he became irritated and changed to the imperious Mosley. Additionally, I had the impression that for him this was a another case of déjà vu where he, an aging man whose contemporary critics admitted could have been prime minister, was being told where he had gone wrong by a political tyro. Immediately after the meeting, in some ways, I regretted this additional disappointment I had given him.
Liddell: If he had ever achieved power, how do you think he would have used it? Would he have been the monster that leftists and liberals assume? What about his anti-Semitism? Was it only opportunistic or did it run deeper?
Bean: Leftists and liberals are notoriously victims of their own propaganda. Mosley in power would not have been a monster, although as a man of decision he would appear to the liberal-left as being somewhat dictatorial. If you read his “Greater Britain”, for his pre-war BUF policies, or “The Alternative” for his post-war Europe a Nation, it is corporatism in general that he was advocating and not ‘Fascism’ in its pejorative sense – certainly not in his post-war writings and speeches. Writing in his autobiography, “My Life,” page 287, this is his post-war reflection on fascism:
“Fascism was in essence a national creed, and therefore by definition took an entirely different form in different countries. In origin, it was an explosion against intolerable conditions, against remedial wrongs which the old world had failed to remedy. It was a movement to secure national renaissance by people who felt themselves threatened with decline into decadence and death and were determined to live and live greatly. Without understanding these three basic facts it is possible to abuse fascism, but not to make a serious reply to its case and its spirit.”
There is no escaping his anti-Semitism in his BUF days, although it could be understood why he became so. When Mosley left the Labour Party in 1931 to form the New Party he had the support of a number of Jewish members – much as Mussolini did in the early days of power in Fascist Italy. As the BUF progressed it came under vicious attacks at its meetings by Communists. In London, Leeds and Manchester in particular, many of these Communist militants were Jewish. This was not unusual but reflected the same political situation on the Continent. With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 his actions meant that he had virtually declared war on the Jewish people. It is therefore understandable that Jewish money and its reflected power in the media should be harnessed with the militancy of the communists to not only bring down Hitler and his National Socialism, which Fascism had morphed into, but also any party that expressed sympathy towards any aspect of his policies. This included the BUF. Hitler’s intransigence meant that there was no turning back, that war was inevitable, and that Mosley’s BUF could not survive.
Liddell: I also got the impression from your account that he was rather disconnected from the day-to-day realities, although you don’t specifically say this. I believe you also mention that he was spending much of his time out of the UK, in Ireland and France, at that time. And, of course, by background, he was from an upper class family. One of the failings of British nationalism, as I see it, was that at its core it lacked the plebeian touch and tended to rely for leadership on rather aloof scions of the old ruling class, or people from the lower classes who copied the attitudes of the old ruling class. I am thinking here of Enoch Powell and John Tyndall, who whatever their merits, also came across as pompous and distant. An interesting contrast can be drawn with the success of the SNP. Although a civic nationalist party, it has enjoyed great success because its leadership has always been rooted in the common Scottish people. Alex Salmond typifies this. Whatever negatives, he is indisputably one of ‘The People.’ Do you think that British nationalism was to a certain extent hamstrung by the influence of the class system and undue deference to those who had or who affected the manners of the old ruling class? How does Griffin fit into this picture? In my opinion, he’s more of an NCO type than an officer type, which should have been an asset in some ways.
Bean: In my opinion the only one of the people you referred to who was rather ‘pompous’ was John Tyndall. The stiff upper lip appearance of the Leader was everything to him. Perhaps it was his middle class origins, with strong connections to the Protestant church that made him so. He and I always had respect for each other, but he could never understand why I readily turned to humour in political campaigns and kept social contact with many of our activists. Thus, among some compliments, he more than once said that my failing was that I lacked gravitas. He was probably right, although I may have had the plebeian touch, which I did not regret. Like Tyndall and myself, Enoch Powell was a grammar school boy. Of middle class background – mine was the impoverished former nouveau riche – I do not think that his scholarly distinctions, including his love of Greek and Latin meant that he was copying the attitudes of the old ruling class. He certainly was not ‘plebeian’ but he had great appeal with his stand on immigration and withdrawal from the EU from working class people, as manifested in the marches against immigration by such ‘plebs’ as the dockers and the Smithfield meat porters.
Certainly the charge of being ‘distant’ is valid. I noticed this when I had a short conversation with him when he and I were in the hospitality suite prior to appearing on the BBC Timewatch program on the history of immigration in Britain broadcast in April 1995.
Oswald Mosley’s upper class origins seemed only to work to his advantage with the overwhelming support he gained – certainly in BUF days – from the so-called working class. This was due more to his character, his First World War service with the Flying Corps and the high office he obtained in the Labour Party, than his class origins. Pre-war he was closely connected with the party and spoke regularly at indoor and outdoor rallies all round Britain, being injured from missiles on several occasions. As I have stated, post-war he spent much of his time out of the country, first in Ireland and finally in Paris. Overall, I think the class system had little effect in holding back the fortunes of British nationalism.
You are right that the left-wing Alex Salmond who poses as a Scottish nationalist has made great progress because his actions are rooted in the Scottish people. But I would still only rate him as a sergeant, rather than an officer. As for Griffin, only a lance-corporal – but a quick-witted one, particularly where personal gain was possible!
Continue to part two of the interview here.