On 22 April 2022 the Searchlight Archive Research Group hosted a free online conference for Early Career Researchers (ECR) and Postgraduate Researchers (PGR). Entitled ‘Post-war Anti-Fascism, the Radical Right and the Far Right: Emotion, Culture and Identity’ it brought together MA students, PhD students and ECRs from the UK and Europe to share their research with an audience from across the world, with over 50 registered guests. This was the second PGR conference run by the Searchlight Archive, the last being run back in June 2017.
These conferences give a space reserved for PGRs and ECRs, allowing them to present their research and get feedback, questions and build up experience. More importantly, it showcases the state of the latest generation to the field of far right and anti-fascist studies. These are interdisciplinary affairs, though many involved were more traditional historians, we also had art historians, politician scientists, those affiliated to institutions and independent scholars.
Beginning the conference day we had a keynote from historian and lawyer David Renton, looking at how antifascism had been represented through the years in novel form and in their adaptations. As his presentation said, this is especially timely with the recent BBC series based on the novel Ridley Road which tells the story of a fictionalised version of 62 Group, the Jewish antifascist organisation. In examining this novel, as well as Brodie, Remains of the Day and others, Renton showed the different ways antifascism was understood in literary form and the emotional way it was framed.
Our first panel of the day focused on these wider questions of fascism in a global and temporal space, with Jack Traynor examining the National Front’s campaigns and activity in relation to Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Here we heard how the NF had tried to exploit the ongoing tensions in Northern Ireland and make links with Loyalist forces, and the disconnects with how both understood their struggles. Adrian Leibowitz then took us to explore the book Rise of the South African Reich and question the premise of whether apartheid should be viewed as fascism, and how we can understand the struggle against it.
The second panel shifted focus and explored the different ways in which antifascism had organised to confront the far right. Siobhan Hyland shared her research, much of it drawn from the Searchlight Archive, on the campaigning that occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s to expose Nazi war criminals still living in Britain. Cautioning us that we should remember antifascism doesn’t occur within a vacuum, Hyland nevertheless showed how Searchlight fed into this important campaign to reveal a number of former Nazi genocidaires living in Britain. Rick Blackman gave us a great examination of the Stars campaign and the role played by diverse groups and popular cultures, from music and film, in opposing fascism from the 1950s onwards. Finally, Jack Archive Stewart explored how antifascism can be seen in the work of sections of the clergy who opposed the rise of the National Front in the 1960s and 1970s.
After lunch we focused on Italy for our third panel, with Andrea Martini exploring how fascism came to return in post-war Italy despite the discrediting effects of the war. This was followed by Lindsay Maldari who presented part of her MA thesis, exploring the ways in which memory has been used in the commemoration of the anti-fascist memorialisation at Fosse Ardeatine. This session finished by Valerio Alfonso Bruno providing an examination of more modern expressions of far right ideals, and thinking about the boundaries between mainstream and extremist ideologies within Italy.
The penultimate panel focused on festivals and fandoms within the far right, in particular Michael Zeller examined the Ulrichsbergfeier – a far right festival held in Austria. Using political science methods, Zeller examined the impacts of anti-fascist campaigning on these social events, and their importance to the far right. This was followed by Christopher Little who explored a fandom close to home, with his examination of how the Tommy Robinson façade was created and used by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – and also how he is represented within the media.
The final panel of the day began with my paper, which shared some research for an upcoming book chapter on the use of environmental imagery within the American National Socialist Movement. This theme of an emotional and imagined natural environment was picked up by Clive Henry in the second paper, exploring how neo-Nazis used nature as an emotional refuge in which to develop their ideas. Finally, Billy Mann explored the ways in which conspiracy theories had been developed in American fascism in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
It was a really fantastic and varied day – and something we are hoping to build on within the research group. As well as giving lots of ECRs and PGRs a chance to present, it also gave our own PGRs a chance to work on organising a conference. I was really pleased to be joined in organising this conference by Adrian Leibowitz, Siobhan Hyland and Clive Henry – and I can’t write this without expressing my huge thanks for all their hard work.
Perhaps you have an interest in research in the far right and antifascism? Maybe you are a student thinking about dissertations, a researcher thinking of visiting, or someone exploring doing a PhD in this area? Do please get in touch with me at Daniel.Jones@Northampton.ac.uk.