Cable Street 75 Countdown – Battle for the East End

On Wednesday evening we held the last organising meeting of Cable Street 75 before the march and rally on 2 October. It has been an interesting journey so far and a really great coalition has been formed in the process, one that will surely outlive the event itself.

For this Cable Street related post I want to publicise a new book by fellow Cable Street 75 Committee member, David Rosenberg. The book is called Battle for the East End: Jewish Responses to Fascism in the 1930s.

I’ll start by saying something about the author. A few months ago, when I started working on the Searchlight pamphlet on Cable Street, David was one of my first ports of call as I knew he was very knowledgeable on the subject. At that time there was no Cable Street 75 Committee; within a short time we were both part of it.

David leads walking tours through the East End and has a website here. I thoroughly recommend the walks. I took my extended family on one and David coped with them a lot better than I do!

In the mid 1980s David and I were active in Anti-Fascist Action before it went through a leadership change. In 1988 we both attended an international anti-fascist conference in West Berlin, of which Graeme Atkinson, Searchlight’s European editor, was one of the organisers. I was involved in Searchlight and David was, and is, involved with the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG).

The conference marked the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom of November 9-10, 1938. Memorably, we visited Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in the East, as guests of the East German government.

In 1985 David wrote an excellent pamphlet on antisemitism in the 1930s in the East End of London which was published by the JSG. It had a big influence on me. More than 25 years later David’s new book does not disappoint.

Battle for the East End charts the rise of Oswald Mosley’s fascists, showing the journey that its leader took through the Conservative, then Labour Party, to the New Party and then the British Union of Fascists (BUF).

The book explains how at the BUF’s inception antisemitism was not central to the ideology as it was initially influenced by Mussolini’s Italian brand of fascism. It shows how this changes under the influence of Germany’s Nazis, some of whose leaders Mosley was personally friendly with.

The Jewish East End formed the heart of British Jewry in the 1930s, yet the leadership were largely based in the more affluent West End of the city. Using a variety of sources, but particularly the Jewish Chronicle from the period, the book looks at how the defence debate unfolded as those at the sharp end of antisemitism clamoured for and supported initiatives independent of the official communal leadership.

The underlying issues that the book raises apply as much to communities combatting racism and fascism today as they did then. If you have an interest in the topic then this book is a must read.

Battle for the East End is available here

For details of the Cable Street 75 March and Rally on 2 October click here

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