Whilst investigations into the British far right have continued to boom over recent years, one aspect which has been underexamined – in contrast to the numerous studies of Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists – is neo-Nazism. Through his study of Colin Jordan, easily Britain’s most influential and longest-serving neo-Nazi, Paul Jackson has made an important contribution by producing an impeccably researched monograph which stands in an increasingly crowded field. As Jackson notes, it is both a biography of one of Britain’s most notorious neo-Nazis as well as an examination of the postwar far right within which he operated. Whilst it is undoubtedly more comprehensive in achieving the former, its implications for the study of the far right more generally are plain to see.
Jordan’s political career, from his early activism at Cambridge University’s Nationalist Club during the 1940s to his role as independent neo-Nazi elder statesman during Tony Blair’s premiership, is shown to be one of repeated failure and marginality. Yet, his influence on the far right’s most extreme fringes – both in Britain and abroad – is significant. Jordan’s career reflects the tension that exist today on the extreme right over the best course of action to sell a Hitlerian vision of society to a public utterly repulsed by the prospect. Jordan initially appears to recognise the futility of engaging in democratic politics in the 1960s when leader of the National Socialist Movement. Buoyed by palpable public dissatisfaction with Commonwealth immigration following Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, he then flirted with democratic politics and winning support at the ballot box whilst leader of the British Movement from 1968 to 1975. This was to prove fruitless. His only impact on British politics was fleeting notoriety in the media. Jordan, refusing to compromise one inch on his violent utopian vision concluded that fighting elections was a losing strategy for the far right. Following this, until his death in 2009, Jordan acted largely alone, spreading his anti-Jewish conspiratorial ideas and seeking to create a revolutionary Nazi vanguard. Jordan came to believe that the only way national socialism could attain power once again was by cultivating a small elite of true believers who will seize power by force.
One of the book’s biggest strengths is the highly sophisticated analysis of the fascist and neo-Nazi movements which Jordan was part of which should be a starting point for any future scholar of the postwar far right. For Jackson, fascism has always been a futural ideology which also draws on a mythical past for inspiration. It is predominantly a utopian cultural project which aims to foster an ‘alternative modernity’ rather than reactionary return to the past. This is not a new concept and draws heavily on the work of George Mosse and Roger Griffin. However, through his analysis of Jordan, who envisioned a racially pure society ridded of cultural decadence, Jackson has found a fitting case study to examine fascist ideology within this framework. Furthermore, he is able to add nuance to the nature of fascist movements after the Second World War. Rather than simply competing political movements, the far right is shown to be an ecosystem of ‘groupuscules’ – often tiny groups of devoted followers – which loosely work together to create a diverse movement as a whole.
One of Jackson’s triumphs is to present a means of understanding postwar fascism without using the awkward interwar interpretation of fascism used by many studies which aim to comprehend a markedly different post-WW2 period. Discredited and toxified by the legacy totalitarianism and genocidal conquest, fascism could never hope to appeal to the masses as it had done before the war and naturally was of limited appeal, existing on the extreme margins of society. In a highly sophisticated methodological first chapter, a number of different concepts are explored through which to analysepostwar fascism. Particularly interesting is the notion of ‘cultic milieus’ – ‘marginalised spaces that appeal to bands of followers as they claim to offer adherents access to some form of esoteric, hidden knowledge’ (p.29). Such a means of understanding postwar neo-Nazism, which often appears more of a wacky, incestuous cult than a serious political movement, is certainly borne out by the case of Colin Jordan.
Jackson perhaps does not do enough to directly answer the obvious question that readers will be confronted with whilst reading the book: why is someone so fringe, extreme and unsuccessful worthy of our attention and an academic biography? It is the final chapter on Jordan’s twilight years which suggests an answer. Whilst violence permeates every corner of Jordan’s thinking throughout his career, towards the end, it is evident, particularly from his fictional writings such as The Uprising, that he sought a bloody revolution which would have a large body count if ever realised. It is demonstrative of the inherent brutality of far right politics. As the murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016 by neo-Nazi Thomas Mair demonstrates (it is highly probably Mair took inspiration from the writings of Jordan) – extremists are often prepared to translate their ideas into direct, gruesome action. Likewise, the recent banning of the national socialist National Action under anti-terror legislation demonstrates that in order to prevent political violence motivated by right-wing extremism, we need to first understand the ideas behind such action.
Jackson’s book can therefore be seen as groundbreaking within the British context in that regard, and therefore deserves to be read not just by historians of the far right, but policy makers tasked with preventing extreme right terrorism.
Dr Paul Stocker is a Senior Fellow at CARR and a Teacher of History at Chelsea Independent College. See his profile here.
©️ Paul Stocker. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives). This blog has been kindly sanctioned for publication by OUP’s English Historical Review. A link to the original review article can be found here.