I just love everything about this 1934 letter – although I know very little about it, and can barely identify the sender’s signature (I think perhaps it is W. Alan Nield, who was Librarian for the Oxford University Labour Club in 1934 – see below for Trinity Term membership card and information). Presumably Elizabeth had asked a Labour friend from Oxford to recommend some reading to a Surrey-based acquaintance with “fascist” tendencies. I can just imagine my grandmother trying to persuade Home Counties Oxford Fascists to join the Labour Party and telling them that she would send them some books over the summer! It seems that this particular Fascist friend was acting as Secretary for the University of Oxford Fascist Club; unsurprisingly, it is hard to find information about membership of this club – although from the address given (The Old Court, Cranleigh – “it may be a Workers Sanatorium one of these days, if Russia is anything to go by!!!”), I think it might have been a man with the surname Marshall.
I wonder if he ever did read John Strachey‘s The Menace of Fascism (1933) or The Coming Struggle for Power (1932). It’s an interesting reminder that there was a point before the Second World War (and before the Spanish Civil War), when Fascism was debated – and countered – intellectually, at least to some extent, and that Elizabeth and her friend, Alan, both seemed to have some hope that reading and counter-argument could persuade the “Fascist friend” of the error of his ways… (although Alan does acknowledge that “Fascists when successful are always so swollen with national pride that they lose the use of reason”).
275 Stockport Road
September 26th 1934
Dear Miss Aytoun,
I have attended to your Fascist friend’s requirements, I couldn’t do it sooner as I have had rather a lot of Club correspondence to deal with. I have recommended him to read Strachey’s Menace of Fascism and Coming Struggle for Power, by far the best two books on this, and warned him that they are written explaining the point of view of the classes which work for their living on the success of Fascism; that there are unfortunately no impartial books on this interesting subject and that as I am unaware of any publications by the Fascist movement on this topic so vital to them I find myself regrettably one sided in my list. The trouble is that the Fascists when successful are always so swollen with national pride that they lose the use of reason; and who would recommend any serious reader, even a Fascist to read the English version of Mein Kampf?
From every point of view except work, my vac has been excellent; there only remains the chance of a real row with the Fascists at Belle Vue – Manchester’s Hyde Park, to make it perfect.
I hope you are coming up very enthusiastic and militant; though I doubt if the Southport Conference will give much cause for enthusiasm!
H. Alan Nield
P.S. It does seem rather appropriate that one should address a communication to the Fascist secretary at such a marvellously ruling class sort of house name as The Old Court, doesn’t it? – Another example of how this awful system so eats into one that one is unable at first to even appreciate the beauty of a name like the “Old Court”, Cranleigh! – still it may be a Workers Sanatorium one of these days, if Russia is anything to go by!!!