‘They still shall not pass!’

Two weeks ago, saw the anniversary of one of the defining moments of anti-fascist history. Let us go back to the 4th October 1936, to understand how this event influenced and continues to play a pivotal role in the work and activism of today’s anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigners.

Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists, organised a march to take place on Sunday 4th October, through the heart of the Jewish community in the East End of London. A heavy police presence was sent in to stop anti-fascists disrupting the march. The Communist Party of Great Britain organised an anti-fascist group to oppose Mosley and his black shirted followers. The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) denounced the march and told British Jews to stay away from this anti-Semitic spectacle.

Anti-fascist campaigners, from many different backgrounds, made up a 20,000 strong force, including many Jews who did not heed the call from BoD, attacking both the police and the BUF. The 2-3,000 fascists abandoned the march, whilst anti-fascists continued to battle against the police. The anti-fascists had successfully beaten back the fascists, and this event cemented its place within anti-fascist history. The iconic anti-fascist slogan, “they shall not pass” become the war cry of anti-fascism to this day. For the BUF, however, in the short term, the publicity surrounding Cable Street gave them up to 2,000 new members. However, longer term Mosley lost his financial backing from Benito Mussolini, fascist dictator of Italy. Mosley was imprisoned during the Second World War, along with other well-known fascists due to their allegiances to Adolf Hitler.

The Battle of Cable Street demonstrates how an active group of campaigners can achieve their aims by working together. Throughout the decades since the 1930s, anti-fascism has grown as a movement to include many types of resistance against fascism, including, awareness campaigns of Nazi and fascist groups, leafleting, infiltration and demonstrations to counteract the ever-pervasive fascist narrative. Throughout the decades, anti-fascists continued to oppose fascist attacks, from the White Defence League of the 1950s, the National Front of the 1970s, the British National Party of the 1990s and beyond. However, most anti-fascist activists would point back to the Battle of Cable Street as an inspiration for their activism.

A large mural was commissioned in 1976 in Cable Street which still stands today, even with fascist attempts to vandalise it, it has simply been varnished so their graffiti can be cleaned off. This part of our social and political history gives us much to think about in the current political climate, and how, as a team, we can work together for a better society.

Further information on the Battle of Cable Street can be found here: http://www.cablestreet.uk/

Blog contribution by:

Siobhan Hyland

PhD researcher at the University of Northampton and NREC Board Member .

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