Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://secure.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/918/23638

From The Socialist newspaper, 28 September 2016

1936: The Battle of Cable Street

When workers united and fought the fascist threat

Anti-fascist workers clash with police at Cable Street

Anti-fascist workers clash with police at Cable Street   (Click to enlarge)

Tony Aitman

This month marks the 80th anniversary of what has gone down in history as the Battle of Cable Street. On 4 October 1936 thousands of workers across the East End of London rose up to prevent a march through their areas by the uniformed thugs of Oswald Mosley's fascists.

The fascist threat in 1936 was much greater than the far right groups around today. Hitler was in power in Germany, Italy had been under Mussolini's fascist jackboot for 14 years and the opening struggles had just begun in Spain where, despite the heroism of the Spanish working class, three years of bloody conflict ended in the victory of Franco (see http://bit.ly/2d6d86v ).

In Britain, one of the earliest fascist organisations, the British Brothers League, claimed around 45,000 members at the turn of the century. Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) - the Blackshirts - which boasted a full time defence force, claimed 40,000 members and had the enthusiastic support of Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail.

Blackshirts

The Blackshirts held a notorious rally at Olympia in 1934. 12,000 people attended, with 2,000 uniformed Blackshirts there to beat up any opposition that dared rear its head. From that point on, anti-Semitism became a central point of Mosley's propaganda.

In 1936, it has been estimated that of the 350,000 Jews living in England, nearly half lived in the East End.

In the street where I lived, Yiddish was the lingua franca that enabled immigrants from Russia, Germany, Austria, Lithuania and a host of other countries to communicate.

This was the heart of Stepney, where over 60,000 Jews lived in cramped terraced housing, typical 'two up, two down'. Our house would later have the luxurious addition of a basement, built to afford shelter during the war.

The lead-up to the events of 4 October was a series of meetings throughout east London, as the fascists attempted to whip up working class opposition to Jews as the scapegoats for the economic crisis, saying "Jewish interests" were responsible for the looming war.

To consolidate his position, and to intimidate the population, Mosley proposed a march through the East End on 4 October, in full uniform. The fascists were to meet at Royal Mint Street, and, after a military style review of the troops, march in four separate groupings to meetings in east London.

There was an immediate response to this; the Jewish People's Council launched a petition calling for the march to be banned which gained 100,000 signatures within two days. There was massive opposition to the march. Yet, the anger and readiness to act of the youth and the rank and file of the movement was not matched by the leadership.

The Communist Party (CP) was at its strongest in the East End - CP member Phil Piratin was elected MP for Mile End in 1945. In the street where I lived as a child, virtually everyone was in the party. However, the Young Communist League had organised a rally in Trafalgar Square on the same day as the march, in solidarity with the Spanish Republic. East London CP organiser Frank Lefitte put out a statement: "If Mosley decides to march, let him. Don't attempt disorder."

As for the Labour Party, George Lansbury (the hero of Poplar council, jailed in 1921 for resisting cuts in poor relief - see http://bit.ly/2dlAyEa ) wrote: "What I want is to maintain peace and order, and I advise people who are opposed to fascism to keep away from the demonstration."

The Jewish hierarchy organised a sports day out, trying to get the youth away from the East End: "Jews who, however innocently, become involved in any possible disorders will be actively helping anti-Semitism and Jew baiting... keep away."

But opposition from below was growing. Joe Jacobs, secretary of Stepney CP, was demanding direct confrontation with the fascists. The Independent Labour Party, the CP rank and file, Jewish groups throughout the area, were demanding direct action.

The largest Jewish settlement in the East End then was in Fairclough (now Henriques) Street. Along with the synagogue, ante-natal clinics and youth clubs that it housed, it was an organising and recruiting point for the Communist Party among the Jewish youth - it was there that my mother met my father and recruited him to the party. They wanted to meet the fascists face to face in organised opposition.

Fascist leader Oswald Mosley inspects parading Blackshirts

Fascist leader Oswald Mosley inspects parading Blackshirts   (Click to enlarge)

On the day, the East End erupted. Over 300,000 packed east London's streets - 50,000 congregated around Gardners Corner, the site of a department store between Aldgate and Whitechapel. It was there that a police horse was pushed through the plate glass window of the store and there that my aunt was kicked in the head by another police horse.

At Cable Street, too, barricades were put up to stop the fascists marching and the police defending them. A shower of rubbish and the contents of chamber pots - few houses had indoor sanitation and these were a common feature of workers' homes - were thrown on the police, while children threw marbles under the horses' hooves to send them crashing to the ground.

If the fascists had marched through, there would have been an utter rout of the uniformed thugs of the BUF. To prevent this, the Police Commissioner decided the march could not go ahead and the Blackshirts were forced to retreat in complete humiliation.

A united campaign of Communists and Jews on Commercial Road and Cable Street, the Irish Catholic dockers who threw up the barricades, the youth and the women - my mother, 17 at the time, sneaked out of the house to join the battle - had dealt Mosley a major defeat, destroying any hope he may have had of building a mass fascist party in Britain.

The lessons of the Battle of Cable Street are many: the role of the labour and CP leaders, the fact that unity can be built in action. But it also has lessons for the building of a mass workers' party. The CP was widely seen as the leadership of the battle: party membership doubled between 1935 and 1937 and again in 1945.

CP influence on the local council continued for some time. Yet, the chasm between the CP leadership, tied to the politics of Stalin, the Comintern and "popular frontism", and the rank and file caused an irreparable breach in the party.

Joe Jacobs was expelled in 1937, and the rot continued. Phil Piratin, one of the leaders of the opposition to Mosley, was elected to parliament in 1945 with 47.6% of the vote, but he lost his seat in the 1950 election, albeit with changed boundaries, with only 12.5% of the vote.

History

In many ways, my family, nearly all CP members, reflected the whole history of the CP from Cable Street onwards. Our street joined Commercial Road to Cable Street, our lives played out to the sound of the railway rattling overhead.

The streets were joined by covered arches, where, in the days before legalisation, the bookies would wait to get the pennies of local housewives putting an each way bet on Lester Piggott. One of my uncles, a CP member, worked there as a bookies' runner, keeping an eye out for the police.

My father, a building site worker, left the party in 1956 in disgust at the Soviet invasion of Hungary; he later donated towards the publication of Joe Jacobs' book Out of the Ghetto.

My mother's sister and her husband, Sam, who had been involved in the Workers' Film movement, both lifelong party members, left in despair in the 1970s, eventually joining the Labour Party.

Shortly before their deaths, they found in supporters of Militant, the Socialist Party's predecessor, the same commitment and beliefs they had had in their youth.

The battle that they fought and won in 1936 should inspire us all in the battles we face today.

Police drag off an anti-fascist protester

Police drag off an anti-fascist protester   (Click to enlarge)

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 28 September 2016:


#CorbynWins

Consolidate the Corbyn victory

Labour Party conference: campaigning to reinstate socialist ideas


Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition

#CorbynWins: New tasks for TUSC


Socialist Party news and analysis

Theresa May attacks migrants and refugees

One million victims of 'rogue' landlords

46m spent on suspending public sector workers

Students late and hungry due to privatised trains

Socialist speaks at UN

What We Saw

Them & Us


Socialist Party youth and students

"Suspended adulthood" the norm for young people

Socialist Students launched in USA

Knowsley: No A-level education on offer

Setting out our stall... reports of campus campaigning


Battle of Cable Street

Cable Street: When workers united and fought the fascist threat at Cable Street


Black History Month

Black history month and its relevance today


Socialist Party workplace news

The guard stays on the train after the RMT defeats ScotRail bosses

Junior doctors' strikes off - coordinated action needed

Victory for firefighters facing dismissal in Manchester

The Ritzy strikes back

Napo conference 2016: Bloodied but unbowed!

Unison Broad Left meeting


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Newcastle: Socialist Party defies ban to counter the far-right

Socialism 2016: Get face to face with the socialists!

NHS heart centre campaign intensifies

Washdyke v Shoreline: the housing battle in Immingham

Pedal power pounds


 

Home   |   The Socialist 28 September 2016   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Fascism:

triangleNottingham Socialist Party: The new right - are they heading towards fascism?

triangleCardiff West Socialist Party: Fascism - what it is and how to fight it

triangleLewisham Socialist Students & Socialist Party: What is fascism - and how to fight it today

triangleNo to racism - Fight for socialism

triangleMemorial to working-class fighters who fought fascism

Workers:

triangleNHS workers: "We deserve a fair wage" - 15% now!

triangleNational Shop Stewards Network lobbying for a lead from the TUC

triangleBlame politicians, not workers and young people

triangleOur lives and livelihoods at stake

Fascist:

triangleNewcastle anti-fascist demo

triangleProtesters drive far right out of Liverpool

triangleItalian elections create huge political shake-up

Fascists:

triangle25 years since 50,000 marched against the far-right threat

triangleThe Socialist inbox

Police:

triangleNigerian police repress peaceful anti-government protest

Youth:

triangleJobs, training, pay, we want a future!

East London:

triangleEast London Socialist Party: TUC 2020 - The state of the unions

Solidarity:

triangleStrike wave marks new stage in revival of Iranian workers' movement

Spain:

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: How can we boot out the Tories

Stalin:

triangle80th anniversary of Leon Trotsky's assassination

Poplar:

triangleFight like Poplar's women councillors to change the lives of family carers

Far right:

triangleNottingham: Socialists and anti-racists oppose right-wing march

Hitler:

triangleHeroic martyrs of German Revolution

Mussolini:

triangleBarcelona 1936: the people's Olympics

Historic events

Historic events

19/8/20

Trotsky

80th anniversary of Leon Trotsky's assassination

22/7/20

Britain

100 years since the foundation of the Communist Party of Great Britain

15/7/20

Bosnia

How capitalist restoration led to war and 'ethnic cleansing' in the Balkans

1/7/20

Labour

75th anniversary of the Attlee Labour government

24/6/20

Civil rights

Lessons from the Black Panthers

17/6/20

Slave trade

Reform or revolt? How was the slave trade abolished?

10/6/20

US

Roosevelt's New Deal programme - reforms to save capitalism

27/5/20

Britain

1920s Britain: A "country nearer Bolshevism than at any time since"

27/5/20

Lucas Aerospace

The 'Lucas Plan'

13/5/20

War

A new world order - global reconstruction after World War Two

13/5/20

War

The Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it "fanned the flames of revolt"

13/5/20

Europe

'Victory in Europe' 75th anniversary: A resurgent workers' movement and the fight for socialism

6/5/20

Obituary

Peter Hadden remembered

6/5/20

Tyneside

The Tyneside apprentices' strike during WW2

29/4/20

May Day

130 Years of May Day in Britain: Fight for workers' rights more relevant than ever

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: info@socialistparty.org.uk

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


September 2020

August 2020

July 2020

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999