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East End battle with fascists 'a victory for the people' says Cable Street historian

PUBLISHED: 13:00 10 March 2014

The entrance to Cable Street in October 1936

The entrance to Cable Street in October 1936

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The battle of Cable Street in 1936 saw a march by Oswald Mosely's Blackshirts blocked in Britain's most iconic confrontation with fascism before World War Two.

Newspaper cuttings about Cable Street from 1936Newspaper cuttings about Cable Street from 1936

In a series of East End history walks, teacher David Rosenberg explores why this part of London became the scene of such a historic confrontation.

Mr Rosenberg, author of Battle for the East End, says fascism became a threat here partly thanks to the failure of Mosely’s British Union of Fascists - the Blackshirts - to attract middle class support in the West End.

He said: “When that strategy hit the buffers and the movement started to decline in London, Mosely opted for a populist working class movement in the East End.”

Mosely’s movement, which received funds from fascist dictators Mussolini and Hitler, started using anti-Semitism to target the area’s large Jewish population.

Author David Rosenberg in the East EndAuthor David Rosenberg in the East End

Mr Rosenberg said they told working class people that Jews were to blame for their social problems and that his party would make their lives better.

He said the BUF focused its appeal on the area’s Irish Catholic community - Mosely had been a supporter of Irish Home Rule - and anti-Semitism was preached from the pulpit of some local churches.

However, there were also strong working class ties between Jewish tailors and Irish dockers.

Mr Rosenberg said the ongoing Spanish Civil War, to which many East Enders flocked to defend the Spanish republic from General Franco’s fascist rebellion, made the stand-off over the Blackshirt march even more intense.

Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists, in 1936Oswald Mosely, leader of the British Union of Fascists, in 1936

“There was a strong identified with Spain in the East End,” he said. “Their slogan was ‘Madrid today, London tomorrow’.

“East London and Glasgow sent the biggest contingent to fight in the International Brigades in Spain.”

The opponents of the march even used the slogan from the war in Spain: No Parasan! (They shall not pass!)

Mr Rosenberg said: “The battle of Cable Street has become a legend. It was imagery of barricades, but it’s also because it’s an example of the people saying ‘no’.

“In some ways it was better the march went ahead, because the people had a victory.

“It showed the fascists they had failed.”

■ For more information on David Rosenberg’s East End walks email david@eastendwalks.com.

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