Socialist Worker

Eyewitnesses to the Battle of Cable Street: ‘Fascists did not pass’

In 1936 hundreds of thousands took to the streets to stop British fascists from marching down Cable Street in east London. Two veterans of the battle spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2193

Anti-fascists erect barricades to stop the fascists marching

Anti-fascists erect barricades to stop the fascists marching



Max Levitas

Max Levitas is 94. He was a message runner at the Battle of Cable Street.

His activities against the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and their leader Oswald Mosley had already got him fined £10 in court.

Two years before Cable Street, the fascists called a meeting in Hyde Park. Max was arrested for painting the base of Nelson’s Column with slogans calling on people to go to the park and drown out the fascists.

Then in 1936, Max was part of the mass mobilisation that stopped the BUF at Cable Street.

‘The Battle of Cable Street was a crucial moment when people stood up and stopped the fascists from marching. But the struggle started years before – we fought the fascists from 1930.

The London trade union movement and the Communist Party, of which I was a proud member, mobilised 100,000 people to confront Mosley when he was speaking in Hyde Park.

At that time it was Jews who were scapegoats. The fascists said that the Jews were responsible for unemployment, the shortage of housing and everything else.

It’s the same things they say about migrants today.

When we heard Mosley was planning to march through the East End of London, people were up in arms.

We organised in the local trade union movement against the march.

Synagogues

We had to argue against the Jewish Board of Deputies, which advised Jewish people to stay at home and not to participate.

We argued within the synagogues to get people on our side and we agitated inside the factories.

I was shop steward of a factory where over 300 people worked.

We built up a consensus inside the trade union and labour movement and in tenants’ associations that Mosley’s march had to be stopped.

The National Unemployed Workers Movement also played a vital part in getting people out onto the streets.

In the 1930s we didn’t have the internet! But we did have street meetings and loudspeaker tours. We leafleted thousands of houses every week.

On the day, hundreds of thousands of people met at Gardiners Corner. Dockers from the area turned out and helped barricade the streets. We turned over a tram and used it to block the road.

The fascists tried to go down Cable Street, but the police could not force a way through.

Residents pelted the police with stones and all manner of things. They rolled marbles so that the horses would fall.

The fascists couldn’t march. The commissioner of police said if they’d allowed them to march, there would have been deaths.

The fascists try to use economic crisis and mass unemployment to grow – as we’re starting to see again now. They use this as a basis for trying to set people against people of a different skin colour.

They blame immigrants for the crisis and for shortages in things like housing and basic services.

In the 1930s I lived in the Brady Street Mansions, where one of the biggest rent strikes took place. The two clothing manufacturers who owned the building wanted to increase rents.

We called a meeting and formed a tenants’ organisation. We organised the nearby Langdale Mansions against rent increases too.

We were on rent strike for 21 weeks, right until the beginning of the war in 1939. We forced the government to step in and establish that rents wouldn’t rise during the period of the war.

After the war I was elected as a Communist councillor and remained a councillor for 15 years. We campaigned on housing.

We said the docks shouldn’t be handed over to the big bankers. We fought for better education and schools. And we fought against racism.

We organised the tenants in another block of buildings, Blackwall Buildings. Their landlord wanted to increase their rents from eight shillings a week to 12 shillings a week – a 50 percent rise.

There is a major battle today over housing. Margaret Thatcher sold off so many council flats that ordinary people can’t get decent homes.

Housing

The sale of council housing should stop and more council housing should be built. That would stop the fascists using the issue.

Today I’m active in the GMB union pensioners. I campaign alongside Labour councillors.

I criticise Labour, of course, but having a Tory government would make the class struggle much harder. I’d sooner fight Labour than the bloody Tories.

The crisis now is in some ways worse than the one in the 1930s in the sense that it’s a world crisis.

For young people, there are the cuts that are directed at the working class. There’s also climate change.

We have to unite everyone against those who are really causing unemployment. The trade union movement has to fight for employment for all sections of people, with no divisions.

We’ve got to fight locally as well as nationally, and build local organisations.

The only way we can defeat the fascists is to take them on where we live and work – on the housing estates, in the factories and workplaces, in the trade union movement.

And we’ve got to combine the fight against racism with the fight against cuts in housing, education and other issues – through class struggle.’


Alice Hitchen

Alice Hitchen (nee Kissin) was 17 in 1936 when she took part in the Cable Street resistance. She is now 91.

‘By 1936 I was aware of what was going on in Germany and at resentment here to the Jews. I wanted to be part of the resistance to that.

Fascists used to organise on the fringes of Jewish areas. They held street meetings and sold their newspaper.

They met in Dalston, Aldgate, Limehouse, Bethnal Green and Poplar in London and got some support.

The left also organised in the streets. It was very costly to hold indoor meetings, so people would meet outside.

Left wing organisations attempted to form a united front against fascism. It wasn’t just the Communist Party but other groups too that produced the mass turnout in Cable Street.

As soon as we knew the fascists were marching, we organised to stop them.

We chalked the streets at night with slogans such as “No Pasaran!” “They shall not pass!” Everyone knew that from the Spanish Civil War which was then taking place.

When the day came I made my way to Gardiners Corner.

There were six big streets leading on to it and each street was wide, so it was important to have enough people to block it.

I was on my own, none of my family were with me. I wasn’t scared, I had been on demonstrations before.

But I didn’t know what to expect – I only became acquainted with police tactics later. I was fairly innocent and wasn’t expecting trouble.

There were so many of us that you couldn’t move. I can remember the elation in the crowd that so many people were there.

The dockers came from Limehouse and Poplar – to my amazement, because they had a reputation for being antisemitic. There were cabinet-makers from Bethnal Green and tailors from Whitechapel.

There were so many different accents. Miners came from Wales and Communists from all over Britain.

“They shall not pass,” was on everybody’s lips. The sheer scale of numbers meant the fascists couldn’t get through.

Eventually, after some hours, the word went round that the fascists had been turned back.

Everyone was cheering. Where I was people were dancing and singing and throwing their arms around one another.

I think it is essential to fight. You’ve got to stand up to them, you have to be prepared to stop them from marching.

If nobody had stood up to BNP leader Nick Griffin he would have got even further than he has.

He has had to constantly try and appear respectable because people continue to expose him and organise against him.’

Max Levitas and Alice Hitchen still say we have to stop the Nazis marching in the streets

Max Levitas and Alice Hitchen still say we have to stop the Nazis marching in the streets



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