Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 46 Number 23, October 15, 2016 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Fighting For the Rights Of All

80th Anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street

October 4 marked the eightieth anniversary of the famous Battle of Cable Street where, in 1936, thousands of people organised themselves to prevent Oswald Mosley's so-called British Union of Fascists from provocatively marching through East London, an area in which it was attempting to carry out racist attacks against the local Jewish population. The Battle of Cable Street was an example of the people of East London organising to defend the rights of all against the onslaught of racism and fascism. In so doing, they also had to take on the forces of the state that were deployed, as they have been on many occasions since, to attack the anti-fascists and allow the fascists to march. Those who took a stand at Cable Street in 1936 were working people from various backgrounds and differing political allegiances, women and men who, led by the Communists, united in action to oppose racism and fascism and rallied behind the barricades and the militant slogan of the day "they shall not pass"! It is this stand, as well as the famous victory it achieved on the day, which has been rightly celebrated and commemorated ever since, just as it was this year.

Many of those who took a stand against the promotion of racism and fascism in East London, and other parts of Britain at that time, also took a stand against the spread of fascism in Europe in Spain, Italy and Germany. It was in this period that many workers and democratic people volunteered to join the International Brigades in order to fight against the fascist coup against the Spanish Republican government. Those who organised against Mosley, who was financed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as well as the rich and powerful in Britain, clearly recognised that a wider international threat existed and called on people to oppose that threat at home and abroad. There had also been widespread protests the previous year when the fascist government of Italy had embarked on its criminal invasion of Ethiopia with the connivance of the British government. Such was the opposition to the appeasement of fascism by the Conservative government that Sir Samuel Hoare, the Foreign Secretary of the day, was forced to resign from office. The Battle of Cable Street occurred at a time when a life and death struggle was facing humanity, a time when all democratic people had to take a stand, "to elect to fight for freedom or slavery" as the notable anti-fascist Paul Robeson famously expressed it the following year.

The struggles against fascism in East London, in Spain and Ethiopia, as well as elsewhere in the 1930s, culminated in the great victory over fascism during the Second World War, which created the conditions for the advancement of the people's movement all over the world, contributed to the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, led to the emergence of people's democratic states in Europe and China and the consolidation of the building of a socialist system in the Soviet Union. It was a war in which states such as Britain, the US and others that had nurtured and financed fascism were compelled to find common cause with the Soviet Union and all those countries that eventually referred to themselves as the United Nations, that is those who united in action to rid the world of fascism and to create new international machinery to maintain peace. When the United Nations Organisation was created at the termination of the war it enshrined in its Charter the aspirations of many to build a world in which the rights of men and women of all nations were recognised as equal, where freedom and social progress were promoted and machinery was put in place to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". As is well known, the unity of the war-time allies did not last long and only a few months after its conclusion Britain, alongside the US and others, took up the fascist mantle and again adopted a hostile approach to the Soviet Union which soon culminated in the so-called Cold War.

Since that time there have been attempts to falsify the history of the struggle against fascism, to create confusion about the significance of the Battle of Cable Street or to attempt to remove it from its historical context. What history has shown, time after time, is that it was the rich and their state, both in Britain and elsewhere, that nurtured and financed fascism in the 1930s and ever since have attempted to resurrect, succour and protect the organised fascists as it suits their purpose. At the same time, it has been the role of successive governments and the state in Britain to create the conditions for racism and chauvinism with the demonisation of migrants, refugees, Muslims and other minorities, but also with the promotion of so-called "British values" and the most backward views about other parts of the world which accompany attempts to realise the reactionary programme to "make Britain great again". A cursory glance through modern British history shows that racism is the preferred policy of the ruling class and their state and is promoted and implemented to serve their interests. Racism is employed to create divisions amongst the working people, to act as diversion but also to attack one section of the people in order to attack the rights of all. It has also always been in their interests to promote the view that it is not the rich and their state but the workers who are the source of racism and that what is required is more action by the rulers, their state apparatus and governments.

What the Battle of Cable Street and history in general shows is that it is the working people of all nationalities that stand opposed to racism and fascism, which the working class has always seen as being inimical to its interests. The celebration and commemoration of the stand taking by working and democratic people in East London in the 1930s not only recall the victories of the past but also expresses the determination of progressive people that today too racism and fascism shall not pass. It is an important reminder that it is the struggle of the masses of the people that can be the determining factor in history, that can usher in a new world in which the people will empower themselves and the scourge of racism and fascism will be finally eliminated.


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