It’s exactly 81 years since the people of Britain held back the first incarnation of uniformed British fascists at the East London barricades of Cable Street. Responding to a Europe-wide trend of Fascism that stretched from the Eastern European Slavic states to Italy, Spain and Germany, the British Union of Fascists sought to make Britain a far-right dictatorship along the lines of Hitler’s Germany. Vehemently racist and anti-Semitic, the BUF was led by Oswald Mosley, an English aristocrat who saw international Jewry as the enemy of the world and who believed passionately in the ‘dog eat dog’ struggle of social Darwinism. For Mosley and his supporters, democracy was a weakness, Nothing short of violent revolution would be sufficient to realise the Blackshirts’ dream of one nation, one empire and one leader. Mosley seems to have learned that from his German friend and mentor, Adolf Hitler whose Nazi party slogan, Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer was a strong influence on the BUF and its upper echelons.
The British Union of Fascists was one of several far-right organisations in 1930s Britain. The Right Club and The Nordic League (also both with ties to Nazi Germany) were less well-known but equally fascist in their ideals. There was significant cross-over in membership and all were profoundly racist and anti-Semitic. All preferred dictatorship over democracy and all saw Hitler, Mussolini and Franco as role models.
The BUF was the one with most appeal to the working class though. The Blackshirts combined street violence and visceral prejudice with political policies that scapegoated the vulnerable and sought above all to maintain the privileged status quo that, despite oppressing most of their supporters, did at least allow them to feel superior to Johnny foreigner. In that respect the BUF was a cross between today’s UKIP and Britain First movements and its divisive policies clearly serve as inspiration for both.
Golding may not have the courage of Mosley, a genuine war hero and the Biffers may be only a pitiful parody of the genuinely disciplined Blackshirts but don’t let that fool you. Their objectives are the same, even if they have no chance of organising themselves sufficiently to achieve them.
On Sunday October 4th 1936 things came to a head. Mosley and his deputy William Joyce had planned to hold a march, a show of strength to further harass and intimidate the many Jews living in the district. They had amassed between four and six thousand BUF supporters, all smartly uniformed and well-disciplined like a tight-knit military unit to march through the area as part of the same time-honoured ‘march and grow’ strategy so favoured by modern fascist groups like Britain First and the English Defence League. Unfortunately for the fash things didn’t quite go according to plan.
They arrived in East London to be met by well over 100,000 opposers from all over Britain. The intended route anticipated the Blackshirts marching down Cable St, an important thoroughfare that stretched from Butcher Row all the way to Dock St. To march unopposed down Cable St would have meant a strong symbolic victory for Mosley’s fascists, allowing them to claim dominance over the most multi-cultural part of the city, arguably of the whole country. Cable St. was the prize and Cable St. was where they must be stopped.
Barricades were erected along the route from furniture, vans parked across the road, mattresses, sandbags, even suitcases. Every entrance to the street was blocked. Even the junction with ‘Golding St.’, named after the Jewish jewellers who worked there was secured. Although not in the least ironic at the time, this has certainly raised an eyebrow or two since, leading many to speculate about the true heritage of Der Englander Fuhrer, Paul Golding himself.
What followed was a three-way battle between Mosley’s fascists, the anti-fascist crowds who had come to block their path and the beleaguered and outnumbered police who tried vainly to secure a path for Mosley and his men. Many would later claim, indeed still do claim that far from remaining neutral the police actually fought alongside the BUF against the protesters. We at EBF make no claim to know the truth of this but given the political climate of the day it seems at least plausible to suppose that they might have.
What we do know is that the Blackshirts did not pass the Cable St. barricade. We know that many, including Mosley himself were injured in the violence that ensued that day and we know that the East End of London won a victory that resounded not only throughout the nation but across the decades as well.
Never again has any fascist organisation gained the sort of popularity that the BUF enjoyed all those years ago. Never again has the British population allowed any far-right group from the British National Party to the National Front and the English Defence League the space to grow unopposed. Never again will fascists get to intimidate our citizens in the sort of numbers our forefathers saw in the 1930s.
This is our legacy.
This is the legacy of Cable St.
This is why Britain First is doomed never again to muster more than a few dozen supporters to their real world events.
The spirit of Cable St lives on in the national mindset and through the memory of that epic stand the Great British people continue to echo the proud, strong slogan of East London’s finest pre-war hour…
They shall not pass!