The 43 Group is a riveting account of militant anti-fascist resistance in the UK in the years following the second world war. In existence for only 5 years, the group were mainly active in London where Mosley’s British Union of Fascists were busiest in their attempts to win favour amongst the white working class. Initially comprised of ex-servicemen, the Group were appalled at the xenophobic and anti-Semitic ranting of the Mosleyites, who would meet on London’s street corners and berate passers-by.
Many Jewish soldiers, recently returned from fighting the fascists abroad, were shocked by the level of protection given to the fascists at home by the police – all in the name of freedom of speech of course. Many of those who went on to join the 43 Group first encountered BUF rallies on their way home from cinemas showing footage of the recently liberated concentration camps.
The Groups philosophy of the “3 D’s” – Discuss, Decide and Do it – were quickly manifested on the streets of London, with literally thousands of fascist meetings and rallies sent packing. Quickly gaining a reputation, The Groups ranks swelled to hundreds, organised in ‘wedges’ of a dozen or so. These wedges would attend a BUF rally and at a given signal would storm the speakers platform, attacking BUF stewards and speaker. The Groups military background ensured tight discipline and brutally effective actions. This, combined with a number of spies within the fascist ranks. Ensured the 43 Group almost always came out on top, closing down two-thirds of all fascist activity in the UK until it’s simultaneous demise with organised fascism in Britain.
Despite the Groups ferocity when fighting the fascists, they offered no resistance if arrested by the police. This policy was in keeping with their goal of convincing the State to ban fascist organisations. The Group could not then be seen to be attacking the State. Beckmans’ generation were not revolutionary. Their motivations being a desire to see off annoying idiots with megaphones and jackboots on their streets . With the BUF in utter demise by 1949 the Group disbanded, job done.
The 43 Group is a thrilling testament to the positive role militancy can play in social movements. It’s also the only book I’ve ever read with a foreword by none other than Vidal Sassoon.