How much do you know about or understand the politics, history and the beliefs of the extreme right in Britain? Is it important to know more and what social responsibilities would go hand in hand with this type of knowledge?
These were questions I asked myself as we welcome Dr Paul Jackson, the most recent speaker at the IHR Public History Seminar. Dr Jackson works on post-war neo-Nazi and other extreme right ideologies and cultures in Britain and his most recent book, Colin Jordan and Britain’s Neo-Nazi Movement, examines the life, work and networks of a notorious British post-war fascist. For the seminar Jackson was exploring what it meant to be a historian of the extreme right, asking if it was possible to be objective and how historians could engage with the nature of these ideologies.
Jackson has written for and worked with the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, but he did not feel this meant his work was overtly ‘anti-fascist’ in its objective. The magazine holds an extensive archive of fascist and far-right material and has been a fruitful source for research and collaboration without bringing a political agenda to Jackson’s work. (Our next seminar looks at this archive). In addition, his work has even received some favourable reviews in far-right circles, though not always kind about Jackson himself, they agreed with large parts of his research. Though this in itself presents different challenges, something that became even more apparent as the range of groups, divisions and networks amongst current supporters of the extreme right became clear.
There is no standard ideology, set of beliefs or culture and the work of historians like Dr Jackson is important to provide an informed understanding of the complexities of these groups. There is even a word, ‘groupuscule’, which is used to define the way factions and groups emerge and interact. Furthermore the size of the group did not necessarily reflect success, there could be a small collection of members which saw itself as an elite or select grouping though with, perhaps, some connections to larger groups. Jackson’s work on Colin Jordan and other areas has shown how small groups and individuals can have national and international ties to many groups, weaving a web of varying ring-wing elements and making it hard to pin down any tight definition of a group and its believes.
In terms of engaging with the public, Jackson’s work has featured in the press, notably his work on the myth of the lone wolf in far-right political violence and he has also done some consulting work related to the Prevent Agenda. When there is a threat of violence the need for greater understanding far-right politics and beliefs is clear, and those working with the Prevent Agenda would obviously benefit from learning about the historical context to the current far-right groups as well as demonstrate the cultural differences. Though, again, Jackson warned of the dangerous of the politics of others trying to creep into how his research is presented. His awareness of other agendas was important for keeping his presentation of the facts and historical contexts as objective as possible.
The evening came to an end with the closing questions posed in the above image. All history is political but there is a delicate balance that needs to be struck when handling a research area of such potency. Through Paul Jackson’s work we gained a fascinating insight into researching a controversial topic which brings with it the weight of political importance and contemporary relevance.
Our next seminar will be with Daniel Jones, the archivist of the Searchlight Archive, an anti-fascist magazine that also holds an extensive archive of fascist literature on 22 February at 5:30pm.