Robin Saikia's controversial new book exposes an influential group of pre-war anti-Semites, some of whom were the forefathers of extremist right wing groups still active today.
The Red Book - The Membership List of The Right Club, 1939 by Robin Saikia, published in June 2010 by Foxley Books ISBN 9781905742028. £UK 12.95. Complete facsimiles of pages from The Red Book, never published before, are reproduced by kind permission of The Wiener Library. A donation of £1 per copy sold will be donated to the Wiener Library's building fund.
For the first time in its history, Archibald Maule Ramsay’s notorious ‘Red Book’ is published in its entirety. The membership list reflects anti-Semitism and extreme right-wing views at the inner core of the inter-war British Establishment. Prominent members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords are listed alongside influential members of the armed forces and known pro-Nazi activists of the period. Robin Saikia provides a scholarly overview of the Red Book’s historical background and extensive biographical notes on the Right Club membership. Associated organisations such as the Imperial Fascist League, the British Union of Fascists and the Nordic League are listed and explained. The seizure of the Red Book by the British authorities during the Tyler Kent espionage affair is fully covered. There is an objective assessment of The Right Club’s lasting influence in right wing circles to this day, perpetuated by Archibald Maule Ramsay’s ideological successors. This book contains facsimilies of pages in the Red Book, reproductions of interleaved documents and a full transcript of the membership list. The following excerpt explores the background against which Ramsay and his circle set up The Right Club.
Britain in the Thirties was a fragmented and unhappy landscape where, according to Quentin Bell, it was “hell”, and “to be young and alive was bloody, thankless, a maelstrom of strife…” Whilst the Left saw hope for a welcome deliverance from social injustice in the changing post-war world, the Right saw little but a precipitate erosion of all it held dear. The working-class felt hard-done-by after the Depression and was beginning to lose faith in government and to express open resentment of its masters. The middle-class felt then, as it is beginning to feel again today, an uneasy sense that prosperity and upward mobility might be blighted by recession, war and immigration. The upper class felt a sense of responsibility, a duty to stop the rot. They, deeply mistrustful of the ballot box and the other paraphernalia of democracy, were deeply entrenched in a feudal system where ties of land, kin, school and regiment conferred a sense of absolute entitlement, a belief that only a small handful of the privileged and elect were fit to act for the greater good of a nation in crisis. And glowing examples of political and cultural reversal in the face of crisis were to be seen in Europe: if Hitler and Mussolini had unified and revitalised their countries with dramatic success after the wreckage of World War I, why couldn’t a leader of similar calibre be identified on the home front for the deliverance of Britain? In all events, there was a sinking feeling across the whole of society that much was now in jeopardy that had previously been taken for granted – traditional values, the Empire, England as the domain exclusively of Englishmen and, above all, peace. Across the board, discontent and uncertainty spawned innumerable pressure groups, movements, organizations, dining-clubs, debating societies, magazines, books, pamphlets, periodicals, publishing imprints, handbills, cadres, factions, cults, sects, open societies, secret societies, leagues, guilds, kinships. Scapegoats and public enemies were routinely identified and held up for chastisement, in particular Jews, Bolsheviks, Liberals and foreigners. It was against this turbulent background that Ramsay founded the Right Club.
The ‘patriotic societies’ he sought to unify differed greatly in size, agenda and efficiency. There were well-established outfits like the Anglo-German Fellowship, Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, The Link, the Imperial Fascist League, the Nordic League and the January Club. Then there were more eccentric fraternities such as the White Knights of Britain, the English Mistery, the Anti-Vivisection League and the group that had no official name but is known to historians simply as the Lady Alexandra Hardinge Group. Since Ramsay himself was connected to many of these societies, he was ideally placed to recruit members from their ranks for his new enterprise. Unsurprisingly, most of them hailed from the aristocracy or the middle classes. Quite a few were Members of Parliament, peers and officers in the armed forces. Others were active pro-Nazis and leading or founder members of established right-wing groups such as The Link, the Imperial Fascist League, the Nordic League and the British Union of Fascists. Others still were drawn from the ready ranks of socialites, dowagers, hangers-on, the lonely and the eccentric. Ramsay recorded their names in the ‘Red Book’. A majority of members received the Right Club’s silver badge which showed an image of an eagle killing a snake accompanied by the letters ‘PJ’, standing for a popular anti-Semitic motto of the time, ‘Perish Judah!’ A majority also made a financial contribution of some sort, either pledging annual subscriptions of between half-a-crown and a guinea, or making generous lump-sum donations of between £5 and £100. Despite its agenda, the Right Club remained up and running on a strictly ‘informal’ basis during the first months of war, Ramsay and his associates lobbying vigorously for what he called an ‘honourable negotiated peace’. Privately, they remained committed to the dissemination of their old anti-Semitic line, struggling to impart credibility to a new line they now had to take: that the true patriot was one who would fight for King and Country against Hitler but would nevertheless continue to do everything in his power to bring about the downfall of a still greater enemy, international Jewry.