South of the River – Ghosts of Cable Street

Compass-SouthComment logo 2As you may have seen in the national media, this week sees the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. On 4 October 1936 Oswald Moseley and his Blackshirts were physically prevented from marching through the east end of London by a coalition of Jewish residents, Irish dockers and communists.

Last week (27 September) was the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Holbeck Moor, an event that is not so well remembered. Moseley’s British Union of Fascists wanted to march through the Leylands (North Street / Sheepscar) area of the city, home to most of its Jewish citizens, but the Leeds Watch Committee wouldn’t give permission. Instead they marched to Holbeck and held a rally on the moor.

Just like London, many local people opposed them. This was October 1936, Mussolini was in power in Italy, Hitler in Germany and Franco had invaded Spain and kicked off the civil war.

The march proceeded and the rally went ahead, but when Moseley addressed the crowd he discovered most of them didn’t want to hear him. His voice was drowned out by repeated singing of The Red Flag and other socialist songs. Then the stones started flying. As a South Leeds resident I am proud to say that at least one scored a direct hit on him and the Fascists retreated in disarray.

Why does this matter? Because history is important. As someone once said “Those that don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.” Unfortunately which stories we get to hear about are limited by the people who control the curriculum in school, the news agenda, or commission documentaries and dramas.

The history of ordinary working class people tends to get overlooked. We hear about how hard life was in the mills and slum housing – what was being done to workers. When it comes to being active participants in events – creating trade unions, clubs, educational associations and protesting to improve their conditions there is usually silence. So I thought I would do my bit to bring it to your attention.

What is the lesson to be learned from the Battle of Holbeck Moor? That when we stand together we can stop racism taking a hold.

I grew up in London in the 1970s. It was a scary time, the National Front was gaining support and ‘Paki bashing’ was a common occurrence. They tried to march through areas with high immigrant populations. They didn’t march there because they had support in those areas. Like Moseley in the 1936 they marched to intimidate the population and where they marched the number of racist attacks went up.

I joined the Anti Nazi League, a broad-based organisation that had learned the lesson of Cable Street and stopped the National Front, notably in Lewisham and Leicester. It also campaigned more widely against racism and with its sister organisation, Rock Against Racism, put on some of the most memorable gigs of the decade.

Luckily today we only have a few tiny splinter fascist groups in this country, but we do still have a problem with racism.

UKIP are one manifestation of this. I’m not saying UKIP is a racist party, but is has created a home for racists. The shenanigans this week must put into question UKIP’s ability to do anything much at all, but they contribute to the atmosphere.

The Conservative party always has been a home for racists and they are more dangerous because they are in power. Their proposal this week for business to keep records of ‘foreign’ employees gave me a cold shiver down the spine. Clearly they are not a fascist party, but compiling lists of names does rather smack of Nazi Germany.

It also begged a number of questions. Who will companies report this information to? Are we talking about foreign nationals or people born outside the UK (like me)? There was talk of naming and shaming – do they want us to boycott these firms? Do they plan to encourage thugs to paint graffiti on firms with ‘too many’ (whatever that is) foreign staff? This is a very slippery slope.

We need to stand together, as we did eighty years ago and say “No Pasaran!” – they shall not pass (such legislation).

I’ll be on back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.


10 Replies to “South of the River – Ghosts of Cable Street”

  1. Thanks Jeremy for this little history lesson and timely reminder. I too am proud to have played my part in anti-racism and anti-fascist work and I took a few punches for it too in the 1970s (by men btw). Those who fall for the “immigrants are taking your jobs and houses” line will be surprised to find that their own dna is probably multi-ethnic. Politicians who insist on counting people will be counting you next. Great piece!xxxxxx

  2. Interesting piece, however I must take exception to some parts of it.

    Primarily the implication that racism is confined to those on the right of the political spectrum.

    I’ve been a paid up member of both UKIP and the Conservatives and almost nobody I’ve met in either party would believe in and subscribe to the nonsense spouted by Amber Rudd this week regarding quotas.

    To me it just another example of a remainer in the referendum campaign being out of touch with the majority of leave voters. If she actually canvassed instead of being photographed with George Osborne all the time she’d realise that working class folk in large parts of England and Wales had a diverse set of reasons why they voted the way they did, rather than it all being about Johnny Foreigner.

    Theresa May isn’t the perfect Prime Minister but she’s a damn sight less dangerous than what we’d be confronted with if Labour somehow won the 2020 election.

    Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a bad bloke, but John McDonnell is an extremely nasty piece of work, who’d tax anyone remotely ambitious into a life of misery, Diane Abbott has some abhorrent views when it comes to race and ethnicity – frequently aired, and Emily Thornberry is a bourgeois metropolitan trendy who’ll say whatever she thinks is necessary to maintain favour with her party leader, and isn’t a patch on Hilary as a foreign affairs spokesperson.

    The last thing this or any other country needs is an ideologically driven, socialist government. Socialist countries aren’t just less wealthy than capitalist ones but less free, compare Venezuela, East Germany and Notth Korea to West Germany, South Korea and the USA.

  3. The trouble with Senior’s response here is that it bears no relation to what Jeremy actually wrote about. None of the countries listed are socialist. Venezuela’s current problems are the result of a right wing coup as they hate the fact that more people could eat and be housed and given employment during Chavez. I have met John McDonnell and he is a gentle and polite and humble politician. Senior is just repeating what Anna Soubry said of him on QT. He only wants the likes of Phillip Green and Mike Ashley to treat their staff with respect and pay their correct share of taxation. He has given support to disabled people who have been scapegoated these last six years by Tories and Ukippers. Diane Abbott has an excellent record in fighting racism and supporting human rights for oppressed and displaced people. She correctly points out that rich white people have for centuries played out divide and rule tactics. She, like the wonderful artist Akala knows only too well that racism and all its constructs grew out of pseudo science from the slave trade and slavery at large. I bet Senior cannot name a single time when “people of the right” have fought racism because it has never happened. That has always been the job of the left. May has been in Government for the last six years too and as Home Sec has demonised Muslims and immigrants and Eastern European workers – things that Abbott, McDonnell and Corbyn have never done. How disgusting of Corbyn wanting jobs, housing and a decent NHS and an end to racist scapegoating. And btw – it has been racists and fascists of the edl/bnp and others that have violently “protected” ukip rallies when anti-racists have peacefully protested them.

    1. If John McDonnell was a decent person he’d get those head bangers in groups like Momentum under control, rather than allowing them to continue with their activities, abusing MPs like Ruth Smeeth and many others, and the ludicrous threats of deselection. Do they ever want to get back in government again or be a permanent protest movement polling a couple of %?

      As for Anna Soubry, I can’t stand her for what it’s worth.

      Diane Abbott is painfully dim, anyone who tries to claim that ‘on balance, Mao did more good than harm’ needs their head reading, not praising for their political activities.

      If Corbyn was serious about wanting those things he’d implement sensible and coherent policies, you cannot have an open door immigration policy and be able to adequately plan your housing and health care provision, because you’ve no idea how many people are coming in each year, and leaving…. and also where the money is going to come from….

      Under the Tory chancellor, Nigel Lawson, the higher tax rates were slashed and the take from those at the top doubled – all Labour would succeed in doing would be driving those people with ‘portable’ jobs to countries with more competitive tax regimes.

      I know that this fact along with many others doesn’t fit in with the La La Land that is the utopia of the socialist, where people work hard, give the government all their money and get a pittance in return, where everyone is on strike every five minutes, but this is the real world and governments need to act accordingly.

      I’m quietly encouraged by the start Theresa May has made, but I’d have preferred a more radical appointment as Chancellor, one who’d get to grips with the complicated tax system we have and set about simplifying it, as well as reducing the burden on businesses to help them expand and also attract inward investment from abroad. Listening to Hammond is like listening to Ed Balls… their policies are barely distinguishable.

      As for the EDL and BNP ‘protecting’ UKIP at rallies, you’ve no idea. The BNP lot hate UKIP nearly as much as you hate Conservatives…. and the UAF crowds are often incapable of protesting peacefully. I remember reading reports of 58 ‘anti fascists’ being arrested in Bolton once at an EDL demo.

      Most people are smart enough to realise that the EDL have no place in society, they don’t need extreme left wing batallions to decide for them.

  4. Some on the left have always needed the spectre of fascism to give themselves a sense of purpose and radicalism – always looking for signs of history repeating itself, and imagining how brave they’d be in confronting it next time. But this obsession could mean they’d miss where the contemporary politics of reaction actually come from. Fascism itself represented, amongst other things, a rejection of democracy as a failed experiment. In the decades that preceded its rise, as the vote was extended to ever more sections of the population, there was a growing disillusionment with mass democracy, not just on the right but, more importantly, amongst sections of the liberal elites and commentariat. Essentially, they thought the population lacked the rationality and intelligence to make mass democracy work, and argued for limiting it, and even rule by technocratic elite or ‘enlightened experts’ over the will of the people. Ring any bells?

  5. Unpleasant and untruthful comments from Senior and again no relation at all to what Jeremy wrote about.

    1. The first comment took issue with the suggestion that left wingers are somehow more virtuous than those on the right, among other things, and the second was in response to you – I fail to see what within it is unpleasant, it is just me airing an opinion.

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