This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street; Left Foot Forward’s Cormac Holligsworth recalls the historic anti-fascist events.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, and today, a 96-year-old veteran of the fight against fascism, Max Levitas, will speak at a commemorative march and rally, on a platform next to the newly restored Cable Street mural.
Mr Levitas will recall how, in October 1936, every entrance to the East End was blockaded, while Irish dockers and Jewish tailors built three barricades across Cable Street to prevent an invasion by 3,000 uniformed fascists.
He will be joined today by representatives from Bengali and Jewish organisations, trade union leaders and local political figures. They will urge marchers to celebrate the spirit of Cable Street by campaigning together to send a powerful message of unity against all who sow division and hatred in Britain today.
Here, Left Foot Forward’s Cormac Hollingsworth pens an imagined letter from a Cable Street veteran to a newly elected politician:
Dear Newly Elected Representative,
I am a veteran of the Battle of Cable Street when I made a stand to protect our public streets against the extremist black-shirted British Union of Fascists.
It was 1936, before the full abominations of the totalitarian regimes were visible. At that time, the public authorities were not aware of the threat of totalitarian ideologies. While Hitler had written “if outvoting them takes longer than outshooting them, at least the results will be guaranteed by their own Constitution”, many thought he would protect them against Stalin, while both slaughtered tens of millions.
You now have no such excuse. You know the industrialised slaughter the modern state can inflict when controlled by a party of a totalitarian ideology.
You shouldn’t be naïve about extremists at our fringes. If you allow them access to the public streets, they will abuse the responsibilities that you instinctively follow. And by denying their responsibilities, they seek to take control of the public street.
Their strategies haven’t changed – they use “the big lie” to undermine the truthful and fact-based responsibility within our freedom of speech; they will pursue an insane partisanship that will be motivated by “the worse it gets the better”, undermining our social contract; and don’t be fooled by their offer of alliances against a different foe: it was a social democratic party who let in Lenin; it was a right wing that made Hitler Reich Chancellor.
Painful as it may seem, there are moments where you can save the public streets only through bipartisanship.
But don’t imagine the weight of this responsibility to be too great. Trust in the fact that your many allies in preserving the public streets are your fellow participants. If you look around you will see how many already recognise their responsibility to preserve the public streets: thousands of people who’d never done political activity volunteered for Hope Not Hate to stop the BNP last year.
And “no platform” is now strongly supported from the Charities Commission, to the Church of England, and even to Her Majesty’s summer tea party.
In 1936 the Metropolitan Police were enforcing the BUF’s claimed “right to free speech” – that’s why we crowded Cable Street; in 2011 the Met protected Cable Street from the EDL, just as their fellow forces had protected their local communities in Bradford, Leicester and elsewhere. These are all proof of how much we have learned the lessons of the 20th century.
I hope you never face an organised totalitarian mass movement. But if you do, remember the courage of the citizens of Cable Street, and know the British soul will never be lost to the extremes if the defenders of the public streets stand firm.
No platform. No Pasaran.
A veteran of Cable Street
Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
• NUJ: EDL thugs “violently attacked” journalists – Shamik Das, September 6th 2011
• Getting to the roots of far right xenophobia – Dr Matthew Goodwin, April 9th 2011
• If the EDL find a British Geert Wilders, the political scene could change – George Readings, March 7th 2011
• Searchlight’s ‘Fear and Hope’ paints a fascinating and concerning picture – George Readings, February 28th 2011
• BNP’s Oldham candidate shows the party’s as racist as ever – Chris Tarquini, January 5th 2011