Postgraduate Profile: Oliver Brown

This post comes from MA by Research student and undergraduate alumni, Oliver Brown.

My research is investigating the prevalence of anti-Semitism in the British right-wing between 1918 and 1930. It aims to redress the studies conducted on British interwar right-wing anti-Semitism that are skewed towards the ‘devils decade’ of the 1930s, Oswald Mosely (1896-1980) and the British Union of Fascists (BUF) created in 1932.

While there is now a healthy amount of historical writing demonstrating the existence of British anti-Semitism (which was downplayed until the 1970s) in the interwar period, there are very few studies covering the 1920s. This era usually only receives a glancing look. Furthermore, until the 1980s historians who did study British anti-Semitism solely focused on extreme organisations, such as the British Union of Fascists, who were unrepresentative of the British right-wing as a whole.

‘A Cover of the Monthly Journal of the “Britons,” an anti-Semitic propagandist group that formed in July 1919.

In an attempt to counteract this gap, my research is divided into three sections. This first section will focus on “Mainstream right-wing anti-Semitism”. By “mainstream” I intend Conservative Party Parliamentarians, Lords and national right-wing newspapers, such as the Spectator, and the Times. The second part will focus on “Anti-Bolshevist” and “Anti-Alien” right of mainstream Conservative thinking. The final section will focus on the “Jewish Obsessive” groups, who cropped up periodically between 1918-1930. A focus on these different sections of right-wing thinking will create a balanced and fuller picture of how widespread anti-Semitism was in the British right-wing. It will also have the advantage of seeing what levels of anti-Semitism were deemed “acceptable” in mainstream discourse and what was consigned to a lunatic fringe.

‘An anti-Semitic cartoon published by the Globe newspaper on the 22nd November 1920″

One thing that has struck me is just how widespread Conspiracy based anti-Semitism was in Britain during and the immediate years after World War One. It was widely believed that international Jews may have orchestrated the Russian Revolution of 1917. Even the most balanced and mainstream newspapers and political figures were seen to be engaging in an openly conspiratorial and aggressive line about Jews (especially poor, immigrant ones). For example, future Primeminister Neville Chamberlain stated in 1920 that it was necessary to make the people understand who pulls ‘the strings behind the scenes with Russian Bolsheviks and German Jews’. The image below shows an infamous Times article that called for an inquiry into the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which remains today the most infamous libelling of Jews.  The fact that the Times willingly pontificated on the possible authenticity of an obviously fraudulent and wholly anti-semitic document demonstrates how widespread anti-Semitism was in Britain, during and in the immediate years after World War One.

‘An infamous article published by the Times on the 8th May 1920 that called for an enquriy into the most infamous anti-Semitic conspiracy based libelling of the Jews of the Twentieth Century

My research has had a local flavour too. I have discovered that the first ever Labour Candidate for the Gloucester was Jewish and faced anti-Semitic discrimination during the build-up to the Coupon Election of 1918. He was accused of “shirking” his responsibilities during World War One. This was a common accusation levied at Jews during the Great War. He was also accused of not being sufficiently English because of his religious beliefs.

The reason I chose the University of Gloucestershire to complete my Masters is because I loved my time as an undergraduate student on the History Course between 2014-2017. I felt sufficiently supported by all my lecturers even when I turned up for class in conditions less conducive to study (you can draw your own conclusions there). The backing I received by all of the lecturers was invaluable. I was fortunate enough to receive an award from the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (BGAS) for my undergraduate dissertation. As a Masters student who is now supervised by Dr Vicky Randall and Dr Christian O’Connell, I again feel like I always have support. They are both readily available to answer my queries (no matter how irrelevant) and to meet up to check that I am making sufficient progress. The skills and confidence I have gained both as an undergraduate student and Masters by Research student have helped me greatly in my newly acquired role as a Democratic and Electoral Services Officer for the Gloucester City Council, which I am doing part-time while I complete my studies.


Neil Wynn says:

Great subject! given present debates you might want to see if there was anti-semitism on the left in the 1920s!!

Hilary Weeks says:

Oliver, this is a great post, and it’s good to hear that you are getting so much from your MA course. Good luck with your research.

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