Today marks the 75th anniversary of the ‘Battle of Cable Street’, a violent street disturbance that occurred on Sunday 4 October 1936 in London’s East End. A march had been planned by the pro-Nazi British Union of Fascicts, led by Oswald Mosley. Hundreds of his supporters (dressed in German Nazi-aping blackshirt uniforms) were to parade through the East End in a deliberate attempt to rile the sizable Jewish population.
Against the backdrop of the bitter blow of fascism’s recent bloody triumph during the Spanish Civil War, this march was seen as a massive insult to democracy, and specifically working class unity. Opposing the march were a broad coalition of local community groups: Jewish, anarchist, Irish, socialist and communist.
300,000 turned out to oppose Mosley’s knuckle-draggers, although the fascists were amply protected by some 10,000 police, including 4,000 on horseback. With tensions running high the demonstrators fought running battles with the police, who repeatedly baton charged them clear of the tiny blackshirt presence. Around 150 anti-fascists were arrested. The BUF were cleared out of the East End.
Following the riot, the Public Order Act 1936 was passed. Paramilitary-style trappings were banned. Without the uniforms to strut around in, the blackshirts waned as a political ‘force’ of any description, vanishing as the war eventually turned against Hitler.
Read about Scotland's own experiences of anti-fascist streetfighting.