Cable Street 75 – HOPE not hate

Lots of Cable Street 75 anniversary related stuff just gone up on the HOPE not hate website

It is 75 years since the East End of London’s Jewish community and its allies blocked the streets in order to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through them. The Battle of Cable Street, as it became known, is the most popular anti-fascist victory to have taken place on… read more here

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They Did not Pass

Article in this weekend’s edition of the Morning Star

They did not pass

Friday 30 September 2011
by Steve Silver

When Sir Oswald Mosley’s plan to march his uniformed fascists through the East End of London on Sunday October 4 1936 was announced it sent shockwaves through the Jewish community that lived there.

Mosley planned to assemble his blackshirts at Tower Hill and have them march in four separate contingents to four points in the East End for meetings in celebration of the movement’s fourth birthday.

Exactly what routes they would take was unclear.

But it was clear that they would have to pass through the main junction of Aldgate – Gardiner’s Corner.

In the run up to October 4 there were numerous fascist incursions into Stepney.

Feelings ran high and the Jewish People’s Council (JPC), an initiative of the Workers’ Circle, led opposition to the proposed march by organising a 100,000 strong petition urging the home secretary to ban the march.

On Thursday October 1 five east London mayors met with Home Office officials and told them that there would be serious trouble in the East End if they allowed the march to go ahead. The following day a delegation delivered the petition.

But the government refused to ban the march and it was left to local people to defend their community from the fascists.

The JPC issued the call to “Bar the roads to fascism.”

Other slogans of the day were “Remember Olympia” – after a meeting in 1934 where anti-fascist protesters were severely beaten – and, borrowed from their republican comrades who were fighting the Falangist forces and their fascist allies in Spain, “They Shall Not Pass.”

Jewish and non-Jewish establishment organisations called for people to stay off the streets, but the JPC, the trade unions, the Independent Labour Party, the Labour League of Youth and others began to mobilise.

The most prominent and influential of the anti-fascist political parties – the Communist Party – initially found itself caught in a dilemma.

The Young Communist League had already planned an anti-fascist Aid Spain rally in Trafalgar Square that day.

But the defence of the East End was paramount and the national CP overprinted their thousands of Trafalgar Square leaflets with the words “Alteration: Rally to Aldgate 2pm.”

Prominent at the head of the organised resistance on October 4 was Phil Piratin, who was later to represent Stepney as a Communist Party MP.

As the fascists’ plans were unclear Piratin sent a number of “spotters” to their assembly point at Tower Hill to obtain the route.

The Young Communist League was given the task of occupying Victoria Park from early in the morning, where the fascists intended to hold a rally.

The same morning the Jewish Ex-Serviceman’s Association assembled near the London Hospital for a march to advertise the counter-demonstration.

When these first world war veterans marched along the Whitechapel Road, proudly displaying their medals, they found their route blocked by mounted police.

A senior police officer ordered them to disperse, but they refused.

The police then attacked them and beat them severely.

The British Legion Union Jack was torn down, ripped apart and thrown in the gutter and the banner poles smashed.

It set the tone for the rest of the day.

As news of this atrocity spread anti-fascists were assembling at Gardiner’s Corner at Aldgate, blocking the gateway to the East End.

The crowd, estimated to be at least 250,000, roared “They Shall Not Pass!” and “Down with fascism!”

Six thousand police including London’s entire mounted police division tried to clear the area.

Four anti-fascist trams drivers intentionally abandoned their vehicles to form barricades which were used by the crowd as they were attacked by police on horseback.

The police struck out with batons with extreme brutality causing many injuries.

Cafes were turned into first aid units by the Communist Party with members who had medical training treating the wounded.

While Mosley waited impatiently with a few thousand blackshirt troops the police decided that with Gardiner’s Corner in the hands of an immovable anti-fascist crowd they would clear an alternative route to the south – Cable Street.

The street had been ready since early morning.

The initial defence was three sets of barricades, one containing an overturned lorry, erected across the narrow road using material from a builders’ yard and from the mainly local Jewish people’s homes and shops that occupied the western end.

Dockers armed with pick axe handles came from the eastern end of the long street towards Wapping and helped by ripping up the paving stones.

The street was strewn with broken glass and marbles as a defence against mounted police charges.

Anti-fascists chanted slogans and gave clenched-fist salutes from behind the barricades in defiance.

There was fierce fighting as the police attempted to clear the barricades, only to face a further barricade and thousands of regrouped anti-fascists.

All manner of items rained down on the police from the small three-storey buildings that lined the street.

Piratin recalled: “They met with an opposition that was even a surprise to us.

“All we could attempt to do was organise people who were on the demonstration.

“Obviously, we made no attempt, and we didn’t expect to organise people from their homes. It was along Cable Street that from the roofs and the upper floors, people, ordinary housewives, and elderly women too, were throwing down milk bottles and other weapons and all kinds of refuse that they didn’t any longer want in the house onto the police.

“The Battle of Cable Street is known for this reason. It was there that the police really had to fight for themselves, not for the fascists.”

For some police officers it was all too much.

Several threw down their batons and “surrendered.”

Their helmets and batons were taken off them as souvenirs.

With no route left for the fascists police commissioner Sir Philip Game told Mosley to march his troops west from Tower Hill and out of the area.

Meanwhile anti-fascists marched to Victoria Park heralding a victory for the Jewish community, the people of the East End, and anti-fascists everywhere.

The historian Bill Fishman, who was at Gardiner’s Corner that day, recalled: “There were parties, there was dancing in the streets. The cafes were full, the pubs were full. And there was a feeling of elation, a feeling of relief, particularly amongst the immigrant Jews.

“I think from that day onward Mosley never again ventured into the ghetto streets of east London.”

A march and rally is taking place this Sunday October 2 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the battle. Speakers include Cable St veteran Max Levitas. Assemble: 11.30am Aldgate East. (junction of Braham Street and Leman Street). Nearest Tube: Aldgate East. 1pm St Georges in the East Park (Cable Street).

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Everything Happens in Cable Street

Everything Happens in Cable Street is the title of a new book by Roger Mills that has just been published by Five Leaves Publications. It is one of five new books that they have put out to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.

I received the text for this book for a review a few months ago, which is published in the pamphlet here. But the welcome arrival of the printed version the other day in the post has prompted me to say something about it now.

When I read the book the first time, I found it spellbinding as it covers so many aspects of local history that has just not been written about, or if they have, have not been connected in the way that they are here.

Dipping into the book again, I have to say it really is a wonderful publication.

Everything Happens is not a book about the Battle of Cable Street in particular, although it is covered in there. It is wide ranging and full of surprises.

There are interviews with Battle veterans that were carried out by the Cable Street Group after the 50th anniversary but have never seen the light of day until now. They make great reading and give some very personal perspectives of both the Battle and life in the street itself.

I have mentioned before on here that my grandfather lived in Cable Street. And in connection with the Battle I was totally and utterly gobsmacked to find an interview with my grandfather’s sister in there which had been conducted in the 1980s, but not previously published. It was a very strange – but wonderful – thing to read as both her and my grandfather passed away quite some years ago.

Roger is one of the original stalwarts of the Cable Street Group, who are organising the anniversary events at Wilton Hall this Sunday.

In many ways the book’s contents reflects the lives and connections of the people around the Cable Street Group and it gives some interesting insights into some of the thorny political issues that have surfaced in Tower Hamlets over recent years.

The story of how the Battle of Cable Street Mural was created is of particular interest.

There is a chapter on the Basement Writers, an eclectic group of authors who were based at the St George’s Town Hall in Cable Street. Mills catches up with one of them, Chris Searle, who gives a retrospective of the school pupils’ strike, that made national news in 1971, when he was sacked from his teacher’s job after defying the school governors and publishing his pupils’ poetry.

The book is a hybrid of oral history and “history from below”. I think it is a real challenge to the stuffy academics with their texts heavily encrypted with footnotes.

Roger is launching the book this Sunday at 3.00pm at Wilton Hall, just off of Cable Street along with the authors of the other Cable Street related books that have been published by Five Leaves.

Why not join us on the march and rally in the morning and then go to the book launch and get your signed copy in the afternoon? See you there!

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

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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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Cable Street, the East End and Bolshevism

I have been itching to post more stuff related to Cable Street, more than the posts that you can find here

What has been holding me back is that I don’t want to write things that I have already put in the Searchlight pamphlet that I have written on the Battle of Cable Street. But, it seems that I have spent so much time immersed in Cable Street related research over the last few months that there are of course plenty of things that never made it into the pamphlet. So I will try and share some of these things in blog posts over the next couple of weeks.

One of the things that has struck me, and this is particularly the case with Jewish people, is that as soon as the Battle of Cable Street is mentioned they will tell you that their grandfather, father, aunt, uncle etc., was there on that day. The thing is that this is quite likely to be true. There were at least 250,000 people there on October 4 1936 and 75 years on they will have one hell of a lot of descendants.

My grandparents were also there, but my maternal grandfather, Hymie Hertz, wasn’t only in Cable Street that day, but every day, because that was where he was born and grew up. He was born in 1914 above his father’s bakery at 111 Cable Street, by the corner of Christian Street. This was the western end of the street where the barricades were erected to stop Mosley’s fascists from marching. He lived there until 1938 when he married my grandmother – who he first met at a Young Communist League dance – and moved out.

He had some great stories about growing up in Cable Street, some of which are in the Searchlight pamphlet, which you can buy here

A large section of that western “Jewish” end of the street was consumed by fire at the beginning of the blitz. While much of it must have been rebuilt at some point, where my grandfather lived there now stands no properties at all.

Hymie’s best friend was a man called Victor Davis. Victor’s parents were Russian and his surname originally was something like “Tonkanog”, I was never really certain of the spelling. He was a a fairly loud-mouthed character who, like many Jews in the East End at the time, was also a communist. Victor’s father was one of quite a significant number of Jewish Bolsheviks who fled Russia after the failed 1905 revolution and made their home in the East End. Except Victor’s father went back when Victor was a very young boy shortly after the successful 1917 revolution. The story is that Victor never heard from his father and had no idea what happened to him. It is hard to say, but it could well be the case that he disappeared in the purges.

Victor’s story isn’t the only one I heard relating to the Russian Revolution. My grandmother used to tell me that one day she was playing in the street with her friends in Mile End when a sailor grabbed one of their playmates off the street and disappeared with him. The children ran to the kid’s mother to tell her and she seemed unconcerned. Apparently the father was a Russian communist who, post-revolution, had come to take his boy home. The kids never saw their playmate again.

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

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¡No Pasarán!

In October 1936, even before the International Brigades had been formed in Spain there were already anti-fascists from the East End of London fighting there. In fact, Nat Cohen and Sam Masters were the first to go from Britain and formed the Tom Mann Centuria.

It is hardly surprising then that the main slogan during the Battle of Cable Street, on 4 October 1936, was “They Shall Not Pass!” This was a translation of the Spanish Republican slogan ¡No Pasarán!

The YouTube video below is a reading of the Spanish Communist MP Dolores Ibarruri‘s – La Pasionaria – farewell speech to the International Brigaders.

Read in English by the actress Maxine Peake it is very moving.

Maxine was in the Young Communist League in the 1990s, when she moved down to London to attend the acting school RADA and I remember her well. It’s good to see that her success hasn’t led her to forget her political roots.

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“More than 300 Nazis fell by your gun”

I just found this tribute to female Red Army sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, by Woody Guthrie, hidden away on one of the Searchlight websites.

It is something I had completely forgotten we had done. Turn the sound up. Sound with some of the other links too.

A video tribute to the great woman can be found here

More info here

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New 75th Anniversary Battle of Cable Street Pamphlet Out Now

The new pamphlet I have written for Searchlight Educational Trust is out now. Link to purchase copies is at the bottom of the blurb.

On 4 October 1936 the East End of London’s Jewish community and its allies blocked the streets to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through them. What happened in one narrow street in Stepney – Cable Street – proved to be the turning point for the day and forced the fascists to abandon their march.

This 28-page full colour publication covers the events surrounding the greatest anti-fascist victory that has occurred on British soil and the legacy it has left. Alongside rare photographs and other material, it includes an interview with Battle of Cable Street veteran Max Levitas and others who have been involved with remembrance of the great day over the years.

You can purchase copies here

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Battle of Cable Street 75th Anniversary March and Rally Programme Download

The other day I put up a post with a link to a pamphlet listing all the various celebrations that are taking place next month to commemorate the Battle of Cable Street.

Today’s post contains details for the march and rally specifically for you to download. For those that come you can make a day of it with the march and rally in the morning until early afternoon and the Wilton Hall events just up the road (or street, Cable Street to be more precise) for the rest of the day. The events go on until the end of the evening (see previous post for more details).

In the meantime you can download the 6 page brochure with details of the march and rally here.

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Cable Street Programme for 75th Anniversary

In a recent post I said I would be putting up more details as they become available about this year’s Battle of Cable Street Commemoration. This excellent eight page listings’ pamphlet from the longstanding Cable Street Group is full of the various events that are taking place, including the march and rally. Even this isn’t exhaustive.

Please click here to download the whole programme and get an idea of the scale of the commemoration this year which without a doubt will be the biggest ever.

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