The Battle of Cable Street
What eventually became known as The Battle of Cable Street was a turning point in British politics. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, formed after contact with Mussolini and Hitler, was gaining in strength. The Daily Mail, with its famous political objectivity, published an article headlined Hurrah for the Blackshirts. In a Britain devastated by the prolonged economic slump the deceptively simple message of the Fascists – blame everything on the Jews – had some attraction for those of limited intellectual capacity.
The vain and pompous Mosley – wonderfully caricatured by PG Wodehouse with his character Spode – enjoyed rallies for his ‘troops’ where he could survey them showing his most self-important face, and he was intent on creating an atmosphere of fear in London, especially the Jewish East End. Just such a gathering was arranged for Sunday October 4 1936 along the Mile End Road.
The Tory government refused to ban the provocative event in spite of enormous discontent in the area, a large petition against it – about 100,000 signatures obtained by the Jewish People’s Council, and the entreaties of local MPs and councillors. The Communist Party as ever vacillated, split, argued and directed invective against its own factions. The Labour Party supported the JPC’s campaign against the march, but backed away from organising a major counter demonstration that would inevitably they felt (correctly as it turned out) end in violent unrest.
Almost spontaneously more than a quarter of a million anti-fascists gathered to ‘greet’ the blackshirts on the Sunday of their march. Violence quickly spread. The police tried to protect the fascists, but it was obvious that no march could go ahead without a riot breaking out. The Home Secretary was suddenly persuaded to force the march to be called off. Mosley and his bullying thugs were walked away from the area, their message shouted down by the mass of counter demonstrators. The weakness of Mosley’s repugnant movement had been shown, and it lost its attraction to all but the most fanatical.
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