THE BATTLE OF
Perhaps more obscured by communist myth-making than the events of Olympia in 1934 was the so-called “Battle of Cable Street” in 1936, another attempt by the alliance of the Communist Party and some Jewish organisations to confront British Union and create disorder.
It should be noted that police reports at the time of the Olympia meeting implied that Jewish militants composed a high proportion of interrupters and protesters. Anti-fascist organisations had been growing in East London ever since British Union took a foothold and made some significant progress under “Mick” Clarke. Most of these Jewish organisations were communist fronts with respectable bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews standing aloof, if not condemning this militancy outright.
Mosley had already made his presence felt in East London by speaking at massively attended rallies in Finsbury Park and other venues. He could draw audiences in their thousands, thrilling the people of East London with displays of marching with flags accompanied by music and song. These were heady days with street corner meetings becoming part of East London culture.
On Sunday, October 4, 1936, British Union had arranged to begin a great march through ten miles of East London ending up with four mass rallies at venues it had been using regularly for the past year. 3,000 Blackshirts had assembled at Royal Mint Street near Tower Bridge, many wearing the “Action Press” uniform of cap, armband and high boots. Mosley himself arrived in such a uniform. The alliance of communists and Jews organised opposition with barricades at nearby Cable Street and this was where the stuff of myth and legend was first created.
The police (6,000 of them on foot and on horse) attempted to clear this obstruction so that British Union could go about its lawful and rightful business.
The “battle of Cable Street” was not a pitched battle between Blackshirts and a “spontaneous uprising of the angry working class”.
It was, in fact, a pitched battle between the communists and the police who were trying to clear a way through for Mosley.
There were isolated incidents such as the waylaying of the Blackshirt, Tommy Moran, a man of tremendous courage, who can still be seen on newsreels of the event standing alone amidst the communist mob picking them off one by one until he finally fell in a pool of blood.
One communist group attempted to breach the police lines in order to get at Mosley, standing in his car, but his Blackshirt bodyguard fought them back, sustaining several injuries into the bargain.
The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Philip Game, confessed that his men were incapable of preventing the communist mob from pursuing its aim of violence and instructed Mosley that he should call off his march . This he did and the Blackshirts dispersed.
By Wednesday, the coaches bringing the thugs from outside had returned to Leeds and Glasgow (eye-witnesses later accounted for this on television in 1969) and Mosley then led a triumphant march through East London, culminating at the four meetings planned for the previous Sunday.
The communist cry of “they shall not pass” had a hollow ring to it.
A Special Branch report dated March 1937 and released by the Public Records Office gives the true story: “While attempts by the Communist Party to raise enthusiasm over the “fascist defeat” were comparative failures, the British Union of Fascists, during the week following the banning of their march, conducted the most successful series of meetings since the beginning of the movement. In Stepney, Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, Stoke Newington and Limehouse, crowds estimated at several thousands of people (the highest being 12,000) assembled and accorded the speakers an enthusiastic reception.
On October 11, Sir Oswald Mosley addressed a meeting of 12,000 at Victoria Park Square and was enthusiastically received, later marching at the head of the procession to Salmon Lane, Limehouse, without opposition or disorder … meetings of anti-fascist bodies have been abandoned owing to lack of support.
Briefly, a definite pro-fascist feeling has manifested itself throughout the districts mentioned since the events of October 4 … it is reliably reported that the London membership has increased by 2,000”.
On November 10, 1936, a Public Order Bill was introduced in Parliament. In a few weeks it became law. The government’s choice was to prosecute those who interfered with British Union’s right to free assembly and free speech or to make the organisation of British Union illegal.
The government decided to take away the liberty to wear political uniforms, the black shirt, and to proscribe quasi-military organisations. Processions and marches could be banned for up to three months with the Home Secretary’s consent
One MP, Lovat Fraser, stated in the House of Commons, “I hope that the action that we take tonight [debate on the Public Order Bill] may crush Sir Oswald Mosley’s movement”.
Why had the government given in to communist violence and failed to uphold the law as it stood?
The answer may rest on the fact that a Conservative government passed the bill with a big majority, the party that could never tackle the communists on the streets whereas British Union had succeeded where they failed.
The banning of the uniform actually increased the violence as Mosley’s men were denied that means of mutual recognition that the black shirt gave them.
It was said that many Tories nursed resentment for Mosley’s defection to the Labour Party, implying class treachery on Mosley’s part.
©2002 'Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists by Robert Edwards'
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