Detail from Cable Street Mural
On the 9th October 2016 anti-fascists from across the UK will come together to mark the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Socialists, Trade Unionists and anti racism groups will march from Altab Ali Park to Cable Street where a rally will be held to commemorate the defeat of fascism in London's East End eighty years ago.
" No Pasaron"/ They Shall Not Pass!!"
On 4th October, 1936, the people of the East End inflicted a massive defeat on Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
During this time Britain was facing very serious economic problems. Throughout the mid 1930s, the BUF moved closer towards Hitler’s form of fascism with Mosley himself saying that “fascism can and will win in Britain”. The British fascists took on a more vehemently anti-Semitic stance, describing Jews as “rats and vermin from whitechapel” and tried to blame Jews for the cause of the country's problems. Mosley’s blackshirts had been harassing the sizeable Jewish population in the East End all through the 1930s. By 1936 anti-semitic assaults by fascists were growing and windows of Jewish-owned businesses were routinely smashed. Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ The notorious Daily Mail headline is just one chilling indication of the very real threat Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists posed in the mid 1930s.
On Sunday Oct. 4, 1936, Mosley planned to lead his Blackshirt supporters on a march through the East End, following months of BUF meetings and leafleting in the area designed to intimidate Jewish people and break up the East End’s community solidarity. Despite a petition signed by 100,000 people, the British government permitted the march to go ahead and designated 7,000 members of the police force to accompany it.
They were not to be welcomed, instead they were met by over 250,000 protestors, waving banners with slogans such as 'They shall not Pass'( no pasaron, famous republican slogan from the Spanish Civil War) , 'No Nazis here' and 'East End Unite.' A mighty force had assembled prepared to defend their streets and neighbourhoods and their right to live in them.
As the fascists assembled in Royal Mint Street, near the Tower, they were attacked by large groups of workers. When the Metropolitan Police tried to clear a path through Gardiner’s Corner, a blockade of tens of thousands of people stood firm. Anti-fascists blocked the route by barricading the street with rows of domestic furniture and the fascists and the police who were defending them were attacked with eggs, rotten fruit and the contents of chamber pots. Local kids rolled marbles under police horses hooves. A mighty battle ensued, leaving many injured and others arrested.
80 years later it is remembered because it saw thousands of people, from many walks of life, women, children, local jews, Irish groups, communists, socialists, anarchists standing firm as one in an incredible display of unity who worked together to prevent Mosley's fascists from marching through a Jewish area in London.Together, they won a famous victory and put the skids under Britain’s first fascist mass movement.The fascists did not get to march and they did not pass, and were left in humiliation so today we look back on this living history in celebration and pride.
Significantly, for some people that were involved in the protest, Cable Street was the road to Spain, and many would go on to volunteer as soldiers for the Republicans there, this year also marks the 80th anniversary founding of the International Brigades. The legend that was Cable Street became the lasting inspiration for the continuing British fight against the fascism that was spreading all across Europe and would eventually engulf the planet in a terrible world war.
We might like to think those days are behind us, but anti-semitism, racism and intolerance is on the rise. The far-right are growing throughout Europe. Following the divisive and anti-immigrant rhetoric surrounding Brexit to fuel a spike in reports of racist hate crimes. The winds that blew across Cable Street eighty years ago still exist today, we must remain vigilant to this. We should never forget the Battle of Cable Street. Teach your kids about it.
Today and tomorrow we must still rally around the cry of No Pasaran - They shall not pass.
Men they couldn't hang - Ghosts of Cable Street