Morris Beckman, who has died aged 94, will be remembered by many as a courageous and principled anti-fascist.
He successfully opposed Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the years immediately after the end of the Second World War. And in his book The 43 Group he passed on to later generations of activists the history and knowledge of that struggle.
Morris was born in Hackney, east London, in 1921 and enlisted to fight when the war started in 1939. Turned down for the RAF, he instead became a radio officer in the Merchant Navy. This was a dangerous job in wartime. Ships he was on were torpedoed more than once.
Returning to Hackney in 1946 after the defeat of the Nazis, Morris was amazed to find British fascists under Mosley openly campaigning on the streets.
Attacks on Jewish shops by fascists were common, with slogans such as “they didn’t burn enough of them in Belsen”. And swastikas were to be found painted in areas such as Dalston and Stamford Hill.
Despite protests, the Labour home secretary James Chuter Ede refused to act and the leadership of Jewish organisations backed only peaceful protest.
Enraged, in April 1946 Morris and others formed the 43 Group in Hampstead, north west London, to directly confront the fascists. Most of these 38 men and five women were ex-service people who had fought in the war. Their aim was to disrupt and stop fascist meetings.
London black cab drivers provided intelligence on where the Mosleyites were gathering. By 1947 the 43 Group had grown to over 1,000 members around the country.
Hackney remained a focus, with gatherings of many hundreds of fascists at Ridley Road market. They went to hear Jeffrey Hamm, leader of the fascist British League of Ex-Serviceman, and others including Mosley himself rant against the “alien” Jewish menace.
The tactics of the 43 Group were to form flying wedges of anti-fascists through the crowd. They would attack the platform of a meeting and cause the police to shut it down.
Over time several thousand fascist gatherings were stopped in this way. The Group was disbanded in 1950, taking the view that the immediate task of disrupting fascist activity was complete.
However in 1962 a successor 62 Group was formed in its image to deal with the still active Mosleyites.
Morris went on to become a successful clothes manufacturer and author. In his retirement he wrote The 43 Group, and other books picking up on themes raised there. But he also recounted his post-1945 experiences and the successful tactics used to stop fascists in that period to audiences comprising a new generation of anti-fascists.
When I met Morris to discuss successor volumes to the 43 Group I was struck by someone determined to pass on his knowledge of fighting fascists and the wider movement.
He was still analysing what had happened and what was happening. This wasn’t in the sense of lecturing me but discussing as an activist still in the fight. He supported Unite Against Fascism and spoke at many meetings about tactics, strategies and ideas.
Morris Beckman’s life stands as an inspiration to those continuing the fight against fascism now.