'How we defeated the blackshirts in The Battle of Cable Street'

It is 75 years since Londoners banded together to block a march by Sir Oswald Mosley's fascists

For a long time, a tiny red plaque on the wall of a building was the only clue in the otherwise nondescript street. Bounded by council estates, a stone's throw from Tower Bridge in London, the anonymity of Cable Street stands in marked contrast to the events commemorated by the plaque – the "battle" fought there in October 1936.

In truth, it was more a riot, as an estimated 300,000 people, mostly inhabitants of the adjoining east London neighbourhoods, successfully sought to prevent several thousand black-shirted followers of Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) marching provocatively through the predominantly Jewish and Irish area.

The disorder that erupted when the march with its 10,000-strong police escort was blocked and turned back is a milestone in the histories of popular resistance and the left. For many, it marks the turning point in the fortunes of fascism in Britain which many feared was on the brink of success enjoyed by parallel movements elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany and Italy.

Few can claim to have seen the events of that day with their own eyes. Max Levitas is one of the handful who remain. He will be among the guests of honour at next month's rally and exhibition to mark the 75th anniversary. Still a local resident, he remembers that day as if it were yesterday. "It was a great sight to see: a victory against both the state and the fascists, stopped in their tracks from marching through the East End of London," he said. "If they had marched through, there would have been deaths."

A former secretary of the Mile End Young Communists, Mr Levitas, a sprightly 96, was already a veteran Mosley opponent, having been convicted and fined for daubing Nelson's column in Trafalgar Square with paint exhorting people to fight fascism.

News of the proposed march through the East End neighbourhood was opposed by local people. Despite warnings of violence, the government refused to ban the march, and a large police escort was provided to ensure that the blackshirts passed through.

"There wasn't a house or flat in Stepney which didn't have a leaflet calling for opposition put through the door. That's how we got to the people of Tower Hamlets. That's how we got them on to the streets," he said. "The police tried to come through Cable Street to make way [for the Blackshirts] and take some of the side streets. But they couldn't do it," said Mr Levitas. "There were so many people out in force. The people in Cable Street were throwing rubbish out the windows – manure, rotten vegetables. Women were emptying their chamber pots!"

Mr Levitas witnessed police horses fall as locals, including women and children, threw marbles down the streets and under their hooves. Shopkeepers used their fruit and vegetable carts as barricades, while a tram car was tipped over in Commercial Street.

Eventually, after dozens of pitched battles, Mosley admitted defeat and his supporters turned back. "We were told at 3pm that the march wouldn't happen through the East End. There was much cheering. People put children on their shoulders. Everyone was happy. They were shouting 'Come again and you'll get the same'," he remembers.

Mosley continued to try to organise marches, policed by his own blackshirts. But the government, unhappy at the trouble that followed them, responded by passing the 1936 Public Order Act, which forced the BUF to abandon its uniforms and paramilitary tactics.

Mr Levitas has no plans to give up what he calls "the struggle". "I want to see everybody living to 96! I feel great! Great, insofar that I am alongside the majority of people who want a better life. You have to understand that we don't get things without struggle. There is always a struggle."

The lessons of Cable Street, he insists, remain relevant today. "Through Cable Street, people learn of the struggles that happened in the Thirties. That has got to be applied today. People have got to be brought together in the struggle against racism."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

    £300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

    KS1 Teacher

    £95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

    HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

    £32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?