The Battle of Cable Street & its Manic Street Preacher

None shall pass! […] I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. ” –Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975).

chesterton with child
“The humorous look of children is perhaps the most endearing of all the bonds that hold the Cosmos together.”-G.K. Chesterton

The next 4th. of October will commemorate 77 years of the Battle of Cable Street in East-End London. Such event contains valuable lessons for today.

A lot of battles in our history were fought by anonymous men and women of great number who went to the streets to protest in public over matters of unmatchable importance; in repayment for opprobrium, against rapaciousness political leaders, or in anger, sheer, desperation, or in defense of liberty, equality or just to obtain a better living!

Fascism emerged for the first time as a serious force in Britain in the shadow of the 1929-1933 world slump, and with 3 million people unemployed. At the same time, Mussolini had cemented his fascist rule over Italy and Hitler took power in 1933 without so much as a whimper from the German labour movement.

Then, in 1932, an ambitious politician named Oswald Mosley (in future the British government will be so kind to him that he will be granted the title of “Sir“) –fresh from a trip to see Mussolini’s regime in Italy– founded the BUF (British Union of Fascists); its ideology was anti-communist and anti-Semitic, and grew to some fifty thousand members at its height.

This is Sir Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), the most prominent and successful Fascist Great Britain ever produced.
This is “Sir” Oswald Mosley (1896-1980), the most prominent and successful Fascist Great Britain ever produced. The gesture was formalized with the straight arm (usually at a 45 degree angle), stiffened palm and fingers together, so as each individual would be engaging in a uniform action presented to a leader. Though this represents submission to the supreme leader, it is fundamentally different from a dog who shows his belly to a rival of superior strength, as the supreme leader himself also presents his palm to the people in the same fashion.  The highly emotional and meaningful content here is that “we are yours, as you are ours, you are us and we are you.”
Fascism’s many guises; Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, Hitler’s Germany or Oswald Mosley in Britain have the common used of the extension of the arm; the Roman salute, among other common things like legitimacy of political violence, invoking the primacy of the state, claiming indisputable power, held the same social Darwinist views of nations, races, and societies. But also they wanted their “force” to be externalized, preferably with an emphasis put on uniforms, parades and public marches to maintain their hegemonic aspirations and, on the side, enlist the populace into the display of fervent patriotic support, without which the total formation might stagnate, fall backward, or actually crumble.
Like Robespierre, many fascist and communist leaders have the power to change the views of almost any audience. Speaking techniques included invocation of virtue and morals, and quite often the use of rhetorical questions in order to identify with the audience. They would gesticulate and use ideas and personal experiences in life to keep listeners’ attentions. “Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie.” Robespierre argued as he considered “terror” as a tool to accomplish his overarching goals.

The British government recognized in the BUF -known as the Blackshirts due to the political uniform worn by its members-, a useful tool that could be used to cow and intimidate the working class in times of crisis. That is why this fascist organization was able to operate under the protection of the state, receiving support and lot of finance; aided in its growth by the funds of prominent British capitalists and aristocrats, and the backing of papers such as the Daily Mail and Evening News. Mosley, himself from a wealthy aristocratic background, boasted that: “A number of industrialists in the north who hitherto had given the movement secret support, fearing commercial boycott, are now stating openly that they are on the fascist side“. (Quoted in News Chronicle, 19 October, 1936)

What was the main cause of the famous street battle? Mosley had planned to celebrate the fourth “happy” birthday of his fascist party by sending thousands uniformed blackshirts divided in four marching columns through London’s East-End streets where a beleaguered community of 60,000 Jews eked out a living. Previously, for many weeks the Jews were physically terrorizing and assaulted verbally even spit in public; their shops were smashed up and even firebombs were thrown inside.The blackshirts operated a reign of terror in the area prior to the march, with thugs roaming the streets beating people up: A clear tactic they learned from Mussolini’s Squadristi.

Leading fascist ideologues, they started to elaborate speeches promising a “Greater Britain” at the expense of their Jewish neighbors whom they blamed for all society’s ills. Doing this, they began to gain some pockets of working class support. They achieved this not just through the anti-Semitic prejudices of some workers but by offering a demagogic program that appealed to workers living in the squalid conditions of slum housing in the East End.

With fascism spreading across Europe, the BUF and its anti-Semitic campaign sparked very real Jewish fears; but they also sparked defiance; in their meetings throughout East London there was huge solidarity for the Spanish Republican cause, mainly also by the British communists, and indeed, later on, many Jewish men who were involved in Cable Street battle went on to fight in Spain.

Come the morning of 4th. October, an estimated 300,000 demonstrators turned out to block the path of the fascists. Why so many anti-fascist if Jews were only 60,000?

A wider population made a human wall blocking every entrance to the East-End; diversity of those present was testament to an interracial solidarity that ran deeper than social tensions. What really made such mass mobilization possible were the bonds of solidarity between the Irish people and the Jewish East-Enders.The blackshirts saw how the impoverished Irish community that Mosley tried to turn against the Jews, sick of their filthy insults and jibes, came out to stop the fascists too.  These bonds were cemented with the help of the trade unions, East Asians, Catholics, hospital-workers, and housewives, and even off-duty policemen, the CPGB, Independent Labour Party, Young Communist League members, Trotskyists and many other people. Reflecting the international character of the struggle against fascism and in solidarity with the Spanish fighting with their lives to prevent the fascists from taking Madrid, the slogan “They shall not pass” was adopted but also waving banners worded with slogans such as “No Nazis Here” and “East End Unite“.

A red plaque in Dock Street also commemorates the incident.
A red plaque commemorates the incident.
The phrase “They shall not pass”, in Spanish: “¡No pasaran!”, and in French: “Ils ne passeront pas / On ne passe pas”; has been stolen and “bastardized” by political leaders no matter their ideology. The term it was often change by the Spanish word “Pasaremos” (We will pass) to indicate that communists, rather than fascists, will be the ones to seize state power… Where it come from? Originally it was famously used during the Battle of Verdun in World War I by French General Robert Nivelle. Then, the communist and Spanish Republican leader Dolores Ibarruri, famously used it during her speeches at time of siege in Madrid. Then, the leader of the fascist forces, Francisco Franco, “prostituted” again the term proclaiming upon gaining Madrid: “Hemos pasado” (“We have passed”) Even much more recently, while fighting zombies, in the apocalyptic horror novel by Max Brooks (son of comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks and actress Anne Bancroft; Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, and an unusually fertile woman in The Pumpkin Eater in which was nominated for the Best Actress at the 37th Academy Awards, but losing to Julie Andrews, who won for her role in Mary Poppins) “World War Z” a character uttered the last words over his radio “On ne passe pas!” Well… in matters of nomenclatures, cannot be described the word “Politics” better as “Poli” meaning many, and “tics” blood sucking creatures!

Desperate to avoid the inevitable violent confrontation that such a march would produce, five east London Mayors went to see the Home Secretary to beg him to ban the march. He refused. Even the Jewish People’s Council against Fascism and anti-Semitism launched a petition to ban the march which received over a hundred thousand signatures in a few days, yet still the Home Secretary refused.

Over 10,000 police, including 4,000 horseback officers, were brought in to clear the counter-demonstration and to ensure the fascists could march “freely”.  7,000 fascists bussed in from all over the country were surrounded by a police escort for their protection with the whole of London’s mounted police regiment, but…, they could not clear a pathway through for the fascists.

The battle was in fact against the police who were in the front line trying to force the way through for the fascists, but the anti-fascists blocked the route by barricading the streets with rows of domestic furniture. Eggs, rotten vegetables and fruits, and all kind of rubbish including the contents of people’s chamber-pots were thrown at the police by women in houses along Cable Street. Some anti-fascist rolled marbles under the horse’s hooves and threw darts against them, which made them rear up. Most of the blackshirts had knives as well as knuckle-dusters and coshes, and a lot of people were getting hurt. But, eventually, due to the overwhelming numbers of anti-fascists, the blackshirts realized that they were losing the fight and began to run in any direction that they could, pursued by the crowd until they were out of sight.

My bull
Cultures should not blur together more than colors in a painter’s palette mixed into one heap. They must each keep their own integrity, sure, but yet they must learn to respect and live in harmony with one and other in order to avoid violence, hatred, fragmentation and despair. The Oswald Mosley’s type of fascist thinking about the various cultures of society was: “If you look like a cow, walk like a cow and you talk like a cow, you must be a cow…, so let me cow you.” Photo: “My bull” 72 x 42 inches, oil on canvas (2013) Courtesy by Gayatri Gamuz.

Lot of bleeding people ended lying on the road and sitting on the sidewalks treating each others injuries, while others were organizing getting the badly hurt people to hospital. Mosley’s movement suffered a great blow at Cable Street, but soldiered on until 1940. Nowadays, the spirit of Mosley’s blackshirts lives on in Northern Ireland with its Orange Marches through Catholic areas amongst other things.

1960, Kurdi mother nursing, Israel
Why is Israel confronted daily with a generation of Palestinian children which exhibits the behavior of politically radicalized adults? Children, from the earliest age, are being taught by their families, communities and political establishment to hate; by those who put their political goals and ideological imperatives above the well-being of children.
History is littered with the indoctrination of children by totalitarian regimes. Nazi Germany had the Hitler Youth. The Soviet Union, North Korea, China, Muslims extremist and others all moved to control their societies by indoctrinating children at an early age, with heavy emphasis on the state’s view of history, it’s enemies and physical training.
As in North Korea, the indoctrination is personality-cult oriented, in other places it is based more on hatred of an external enemy. Sometimes its started by those who believe so deeply in a cause, like global warming or sex education or a political party, they blend their beliefs into teaching children what to think rather than teaching them how to think. An example of today are terrorist acts carried out by Islamic fundamentalism; as we can read nowadays in the news what happened in Nigeria the radical group “Bonko Haram”, which means “non-Islamic education is a sin” and who want Sharia law implemented throughout the country, last Saturday 28th., they killed 50 students while sleeping in their University hostel.
The indoctrination of children and youngsters is the continuation of extremist intolerance, and it takes from them the very thing most of us thought we were fighting to protect: The right to live our individual lives and to think for ourselves. Photo: Kurdi mother nursing her baby. Israel, 1960.

The BUF continued, with limited success, until the advent of the Second World War when Mosley and many other members were arrested for fear of their co-operation with Germany and Italy. But as a result of this event, the Government introduced the Public Order Act of 1936, which forbade the wearing of political uniforms. But, what people don’t remember was other events around that time in other parts of the world like the fascist Francist Movement and the Far-Right (Ligues d’extrême droite) riots in France that nearly brought the government down using violence to promote its activities, the Brazilian Integralists led by Plinio Salgado, or even the Seguro Obrero massacre of 1938 in Chile.

G.K. Chesterton spent so much of his career defending the rights of the common man, and opposing the foreign “-isms”, and ideologies that so often threatened English liberty. If ever there were a man for whom a battle has been, as it were tailor-made, it would have been Chesterton and the battle would have been this one. But it was not to be because he died four months before it took place; died, that is, with Mosley still a snarling fixture of public life in the country Chesterton loved so well; but shameless rewarding him by the government with the title of “Sir” ; for greater shame of those British soldiers and civilians, who died during the WWII for the cause of liberty, defending their homeland or during the London bombings.

The battle of Cable Street in the East-End of London, stopped the would be British Fuhrer: Oswald Mosley’s attempt to cow the people of Britain into obedience through fear and intimidation failed miserably. Cable Street has always been remembered as the place where fascism was beaten, but also has become mythologized, rightly, as an iconic example of non-sectarian solidarity, and has helped inspire successful campaigns by East London’s Indian-Bengali and Bangladeshi community whom have been targets for fascist violence and intimidation.

Like father, like son; under his progenitor’s shadow, Max Mosley, the youngest son of Oswald Mosley, former Formula One racing chief and close friend of Bernie Ecclestone, was involved in a huge scandal after “News of the World” exposed his involvement in what it called a Nazi-themed sadomasochistic sex act. Mosley claimed that the portrayal of sadomasochistic activities was inherently private in nature and that was a preexisting relationship of confidentiality between the participants. He won the case being awarded with approx. US$92,000 in damages. <<The son of the fascist Oswald Mosley played a concentration camp commandant in a torture-chamber setting, rasping orders and whipping the girls with a leather strap, counting each stroke out loud in German. Two of the prostitutes were dressed in striped uniforms reminiscent of death camp inmates, while others in Nazi garb looked on. At other times, he was himself tied in chains, strapped naked to a torture bench, interrogated by a dominatrix and whipped so hard that he whimpered for mercy and his wounds had to be dressed. And in a grotesque parody of what happened to millions of Jews and others arriving in concentration camps, he also at one stage played the part of a cowering inmate having his private parts inspected and his hair searched for lice.>>
He is a very wealthy man and a number of websites have since removed links of his scandal, and till today he still fights with the internet giant Google to set up a filter to stop images of his sex party from appearing on its search results. Certainly the “Manic Street Preacher” of British fascism would be a proud father.

The Welsh rock band, Manic Street Preachers, committed to leftist politics -in 2001, became the first Western rock band to play in Castro‘s Cuba- got their first No.1 single from their fifth album with the song “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” which it was written about the Spanish Civil War and was inspired in parts by George Orwell‘s Homage to Catalonia, Miners Against Fascism by Hywel Francis and The Clash’s Spanish Bombs. Its really a great song, despite its political communist liner.  However, maybe we should thanks them to remind us how lucky we are and how much worse things could be if we had to live under the heel of Stalin, Castro or Mao. Furthermore, to chose to idolize the main-characters that preached the barbarity of communist totalitarianism that has caused millions of death with its repressive regimes (the Red Holocaust=94 million victims, and counting…), they are too hypocrites and demagogues, because instead of the hammer and sickle or the monochrome profile of Marx and Che Guevara printed in millions of stickers and t-shirts (most youngsters don’t even know who were really those men), what about to merchandise the swastika, or the corpulent features of Herman Goering or his rather more gaunt counterpart in the Wehrmacht, “SirJoseph Goebbels? Certainly, if you tolerate this your children will be next

About the Author
Alfredo de Braganza is an award-winning independent filmmaker & chocolate-coated sufganiyah lover from Spain currently living in India. His documentary "Smoking Babas" was selected for the Madrid International Film Festival and his film "Maayan The Fisherman" for Best Narrative Film at the Florida International Film Festival. He is the first Spanish person to make a feature film in India, on celluloid and native language. His documentary "Boxing Babylon" won Best Documentary Awards at the 2013-Norway Film Festival and New Delhi International Sports Film Festival. He can be contacted at: