C21 Manifesto

Politics and culture blog - edited by Nick Wright, which goes straight to the heart of the main issues

Country Standard

Published since 1935 - edited by Mike Walker - for rural and food workers and countryside communities.

Unity!

Unity! is the CP's regular bulletin published for Trade Union Conferences, events and disputes

On September 26, 1936, the British Union of Fascists announced their intention to march through the heart of London's East End.

  The BUF had been formed a few years earlier by former Labour and Tory MP, Sir Oswald Mosley. He blamed economic and social problems in Britain on Jewish people, accusing them controlling both big business and labour movement!
  His answer was fascist dictatorship, in which democratic and working class organisations would be crushed (as in Italy and Nazi Germany), Jews persecuted and the British Empire exploited even more intensively.
  Mosley enjoyed financial support from sections of the aristocracy and big business (including at one time Lord Rothermere and his Daily Mail newspaper). But the BUF recruited from the ranks of the unemployed and hard-pressed small traders for its foot-soldiers. These were then dressed in Blackshirts and jackboots and incited to attack Jews, communists and socialists.
  The large Jewish population of Stepney and Bethnal Green knew what they could expect at the hands of Mosley's thugs. 
  It did not matter that many Jewish immigrants were poor, low-paid and living in the same overcrowded conditions as the Irish and everyone else. They would be attacked for taking people's jobs and houses, for being slum landlords and loan sharks (many of whom were not Jewish at all).
  Trade unions, the Jewish Workers Circle and left-wing parties began to organise against the fascist invasion. The Jewish People's Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism – initiated by local communists – collected a petition of 100,000 names calling upon the Home Secretary to ban the march, scheduled for Sunday October 4. The mayors of five London boroughs supported the call.
  But the Tory government decided that the Metropolitan Police should clear a path for the Blackshirts through the East End. For Britain's ruling class, their political enemies were the on left, not the fascist right. 
  For many Tory and business leaders, the threat to their empire and investments came from the socialists, the communists and the Soviet Union. That's why they had welcomed the fascist rebellion against the democratically elected Popular Front government in Spain that summer.
  The British Union of Fascists assembled in Royal Mint Street and the area near Tower Hill on the Sunday morning.
  Labour Party leaders and the Jewish Board of Deputies had urged people to ignore the fascists rather than confront them.
  But local people, trade unionists and left-wingers had other ideas. From the defence of Madrid, they borrowed the slogan: 'No Pasaran!' – the fascists shall not pass. 
  The Communist Party had originally planned to support a Young Communist League rally in Trafalgar Square in solidarity with the Spanish Republic. But it switched plans in order to mobilise large contingents of workers at key points on Mosley's likely route.
  The communists also organised teams of observers, motorbike messengers and first-aiders, assisted by the Independent Labour Party and other socialists and trade unionists.
  When the police tried to baton down huge crowds blocking the top of Leman Street and Gardiner's Corner (near Aldgate East tube station), they stood firm, their resistance stiffened by a big contingent from Glasgow. A communist driver abandoned his tram in the middle of the road, where it was joined by several others to form a mighty barricade.
  It was soon afterwards, about mid-afternoon, that an anti-fascist infiltrator in the Blackshirt medical team heard Mosley and the police arrange to break through into Cable Street instead. 
  Medical student Hugh Faulkner phoned communist organiser Phil Piratin, who sent out loudspeaker vans to summon people to Cable Street. The street's barricades were reinforced. For more than an hour, the Metropolitan's finest tried to smash their way eastwards. But the residents of the Cable Street tenements rained down every kind of household refuse on the police below, who eventually had to withdraw.
  The unity of 250,000 English, Jewish and Irish Catholic working people proved too strong for the boys in Black and Blue.
  Mosley and his 2,000 thugs were escorted back to the Embankment and told to disperse, their tails between their legs.
  In Stepney, on the other hand, impromptu marches, meetings and celebrations went on into the evening and night.
  The fascists returned over the coming weeks and months, especially to some of their Bethnal Green strongholds. They contested elections, but without the success enjoyed by the Communist Party which soon had 12 members on Stepney Borough Council.
  The Battle of Cable Street inflicted a major psychological defeat on Hitler's British imitators. It raised people's political awareness, confidence and militancy. As Piratin wrote later: 'Their heads seemed to be held higher, and their shoulders were squarer – and the stories they told! Each one was a "hero" – many of them were'. 
  Some proved it by going to Spain to fight in the International Brigade ... and to die there.
  But the Blackshirts were also finished off as a serious force in the East End by the hard work done over the years to combat the slum landlords and defend the unemployed. 
  And nothing marked the victory of fascism, in London and Europe, more dramatically than the election of Phil Piratin as the Communist MP for Stepney Mile End in 1945.   
   
 
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