During the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936, a group of people including Jewish families, Irish dockers, Communists and trade unionists united to stop Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists from marching through London’s East End. The BUF’s plan was clearly provocative given the area’s high Jewish population. The BUF were widely seen as un-British; their black uniforms looked sinister, particularly as Mussolini’s paramilitary organisations wore the same attire. And they also used the fascist salute on marches and at rallies.
The resistance to their presence in the East End was a remarkable instance of a community rallying in defence of tolerance. Tomorrow is the event’s 75th anniversary.
Here is a selection of some of the best walks, talks, film and theatre events held to commemorate this significant in British history. Also, check out some books which deal with the battle on the streets of Whitechapel.
East End Walks, London, Anti-Fascist footprints Check website for dates
An East End walk from Gardiners Corner to Cable Street organised by teacher, educationalist and writer David Rosenberg. Born in London, Rosenberg’s parents were Jewish immigrants from the Tsarist Russian Empire. Rosenberg will take you to the site where East Enders blocked Mosley’s BUF and important sites on the route of the BUF’s march on 4 October 1936. Rosenberg evokes the unfolding of events, including the role of individuals such as Phil Piratin and Joe Jacobs, who helped to mobilise the anti-fascist response. See below for the publication of Rosenberg’s upcoming book on Cable Street.
Jewish Museum London, London NW1, Fighting Together for a Better Past: The Story of Cable Street 10 October
Cable Street has been interpreted as both a victory for the Jews or as a working class triumph. Professor Tony Kushner, Dr Nadia Valman and David Rosenberg will debate the significance of Cable Street in the contemporary mindset, and how it has a mythical status in public memory. Kushner and Valman are the co-editors of the book Remembering Cable Street. Professor David Feldman will chair the event.
Kops grew up in the East End and witnessed the Battle of Cable Street aged ten. He will talk about his experience of the fascinating battle with publisher Ross Bardshaw from Five Leaves Publications. Kops will read extracts of his short play, his memoir and other work on Cable Street.
Wilton’s Music Hall, London E1, From Cable Street to Brick Lane 4 October
Catch the preview of a new independent feature-length documentary about Cable Street by Phil Maxwell and Hazuan Hashim. Ken Loach and Ken Livingstone, among others, support the project. The film focuses mainly on the way that different communities united against racism and intolerance in the 1930s, 1970s and 1990s. The film uses interviews with veterans of the Battle of Cable Street, as well as with people involved with more recent struggles around Brick Lane.
Jewish Museum London, London NW1, Goodbye Barcelona – A Musical 27 October
Directed by Karen Rabinowitz, this musical is set during the Spanish Civil War. Inspired by the true stories of the Brigaders, Goodbye Barcelona is about Sam, a young Jewish man, who leaves London to join the men fighting against General Franco’s Fascists. Sam’s mother follows her son to Spain to try to find him. Alongside this, the show is about Sam’s war experience and his love for Pilar, a young Catalan woman whose life has been severely disrupted by the conflict.
Well-worth a read is the novelist Alexander Baron, who was a a bohemian communist living in the East End. Many of his novels have recently come back into print, and give fascinating insights into postwar Jewish and working-class life in Britain. Find out more about Baron’s works in Ken Worpole’s piece, here.
October Day by Frank Griffin
October Day is a lively eye-witness account of the Battle of Cable Street. Although it has been out of print for seventy years, the novel became very popular after being published in 1939. Frank Griffin was a participant in the events, and later became a journalist and author. This highly readable book tells the story of 4 October 1936 through the eyes of seven people, including a young woman just of prison, a policeman and two young Communists.
Everything Happens in Cable Street by Roger Mills
Roger Mills has written extensively about London history, and has participated in activities around Cable Street since the 1970s. This book sheds light on a range of other things Cable Street is known for, such as when Maltese gangsters tried to run the streets and the filming of To Sir, With Love. Mills is an engaging excavator of the area’s neglected stories.
Battle for the East End by David Rosenberg
The organiser of guided walks around the East End (see above), teacher and educationalist David Rosenberg records the changes in the BUF’s attitude towards Jews. He also looks at the rifts which opened up in the Jewish community about how active resistance to the BUF should have been.