The Ghosts of Cable Street

Posted on October 4, 2011

It is unusual for me to do blogs in successive days, but my fascination with the Battle of Cable Street has got me writing again as today is the 75th anniversary of that pivotal day in East London, 1936. I have learnt about Cable Street by luck really, through a band I was introduced to named The Men They Couldn’t Hang who sang a song called the Ghosts of Cable Street. I was a keen follower of modern history at school and I was definitely not taught about this event, it was not and still is not on the modern GCSE Curriculum. I don’t get that, is it because it is a source of national embarrassment? It certainly is for The Daily Mail who publicly backed Oswald Mosley’s BUF (British Union of Fascists) party with the front page headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts.”

Oswald Moseley was an intriguing character switching from the Conservatives to Labour before forming the New Party which then became the BUF. The BUF had strong connections with Spanish and Italian fascist groups as well as the emerging force that was of course the German Nazi Party. The uniform of the BUF was modelled on the black clothing of post First World War fascist military groups in Italy, hence the nickname the “Blackshirts”. The BUF became moderately popular around areas such as Shoreditch and Bethnal Green and with the backing of the newspaper magnate Lord Rothermere (a 1930’s Murdoch) they briefly offered a very real threat to the future of Britain as a multi-cultural state.

However, various anti fascist demonstrations led to extreme violence from the BUF and critically, they lost the backing of the Mail and other middle class sympathisers, then, on October the 4th 1936 the Blackshirts suffered their most telling rejection from the British public. Protected by 10,000 police officers, 4,000 on horseback, 7,000 fascists marched towards the barricades erected by anti Fascists at the junction of Christian Street. Armed with chair legs, rotten vegetables, sticks and stones, up to 300,000 men of the East End fought a hard battle with the police and fascists, refusing to give up ground. Eventually, after much bloodshed the Blackshirts were forced to retreat and were dispersed to Hyde Park as Moseley called off the march. Now that’s a proper riot for a proper cause.

Eastenders fighting with police and fascists

The victory of the common man over the fascists and the police shaped major changes in our country and led to Public Order Act 1936 that banned the wearing of political military uniforms in public. It is widely believed that this was a major contribution to the demise of the Blackshirts in the build up to the Second World War. Moseley was effectively finished as a mainstream politician and though he re-emerged briefly after spending the war in internment, Fascism as a political ideal was totally discredited. To this day the occasional far right party evolves, but leaders such as Nick Griffin with the BNP are just seen as attention seeking buffoons.

So, just as we celebrate VE Day and D Day, the British people should really celebrate October the 4th day as well, as this was the day that shaped our future, the day when the common man rejected Fascism in this country forever.

Every October the 4th The Daily Mail should be forced to write the headline “Hurrah for Cable Street.”

Watch the Men They Couldn’t Hang video HERE

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