Die Texte sind im englischen Original gelassen, da es auch zeitgeschichtliche Dokumente sind. Eventuell werden noch Übersetzungen hinzugefügt. Die Texte stammen von der Internetseite der Kommunistischen Partei Englands. Da wir aber nicht auf Parteien verlinken, haben wir uns entschlossen, die Texte zu übernehmen. Die Interviews wurden zwischen 1986 und 1996 mit Beteiligten an der Schlacht geführt.
Alf Salisbury was 27 when the Battle of Cable Street took place. Unemployed and living in Stepney at the time, he told Searchlight how anti-fascists organised the callout on the day to stop the fascists. He also recounted how Cable Street inspired him to go and fight with the International Brigades in Spain.
I was involved in the Stepney Branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. We had a lot of unemployed, in fact the highest unemployment figures in the country. Part of our policy was to secure benefits and call for full employment at trade union rates, but we were also an anti-fascist organisation because of the area in which we lived.
We became involved in fighting against fascism because we saw Hitler come to power in 1933 and we saw what was happening in Germany. We decided we had to do something because of the nature of our area, which had so many Jewish people. There were many attacks on Jewish people by the fascists. They came in from outside, held their meetings in Bethnal Green and used to plan their next attack against the Jewish people.
I was the acting secretary at the time of the Stepney branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement. We met as a committee when we heard that Mosley was going to try to come through Cable Street. We decided we’d got to do something. It was about 50-50 on our committee of Jewish and non-Jewish people. We decided to follow the call of the local Communist Party and other organisations who were appealing to everybody to stop Mosley in his tracks from coming through Stepney. By that time people had got to know something about the atrocities in Germany so it wasn’t that difficult in my opinion to get people to come to Gardiners Corner and Leman Street, the area through which he was going to come into Cable Street.
So we went around with a platform on the Sunday morning, 4 October, and went into street after street for at least three hours calling on the people to come out. We started at eight in the morning, when very few people are around. We woke people up, on the whole most people were supportive. We urged them to come out to Gardiners Corner and Leman Street. In the meantime other organisations were appealing to the Catholics as well to come out. That was a very important thing because of the docks. There were thousands working down the docks, many who were Catholics. Because of their strong tradition of trade unionism they didn’t like fascism. Our job was to appeal to all and sundry. We succeeded in getting a lot of people out that perhaps were hesitating.
It ended up where we figured that over 300,000 people had gathered at Leman Street, Gardiners Corner and Aldgate generally. When Mosley got to Royal Mint Street they stopped. There were hundreds of fascists, mainly youngsters who were quite ignorant and who were unemployed. It was easy for them when they offered them sandwiches and places to sleep and that kind of thing.
Nonetheless, we stood our ground and the police at the finish had to tell them „you can’t go through“. In the meantime some of our people got arrested, more than a hundred to my memory were arrested and taken to Leman Street Police Station. People were mainly fined.
Cable Street meant that there was a better awareness of what fascism meant in terms of a future war. Quite a number of people became politicised. The Jewish Board of Deputies took the line that we shouldn’t do anything, „stay off the streets“, but we didn’t accept that. Hence you had 300,000 people on the day.
The anti-fascist movement became the focus after Cable Street. We linked the question of unemployment with anti-fascism. The link was that if you are not careful and become complacent, then fascism takes advantage. We had to tell the unemployed that they were the target of fascism.
Before Cable Street the fascists were very busy in Bethnal Green. Members of the Communist Party in the main started taking up cases of rents. Everybody was grumbling, especially in the tenements. They said „our rents keep going up“ „we can’t get any repairs“ and so on and they were threatened with being thrown out. So we took up their cases. There was a Stepney Tenants Defence League but different tenements had different organisations. A lot of the cases were with non-Jewish people and as a result of the work we kept them away from fascism. Many of the people whose cases we took up became active afterwards.
One of the heroes of that period was the Chairman of Stepney Communist Party, Phil Piratin. I think he was a marvellous person. He became a councillor and he was able to exert a lot of influence amongst the non-Jewish councillors as well. There was one or two that were moving in the direction of fascism at that time. After the war, of course, Piratin became an MP.
I was just one of a number of people who, as a result of what happened at Cable Street, felt that we had to do something to defeat fascism, to take up arms against it. Otherwise there would not only be many dead, but they would also throw us back a thousand years. I went to Spain, the Communist Party were the prime organisers of this. I went to Spain in February 1937. I was an unemployed seaman. I was with the British Battalion, the Major Attlee Company.
The lesson of Cable Street is that young people have got to be aware of not only what happened in the past, but also of what may happen again if we are not vigilant. That is the most important message that I could give to anybody.
Harold Smith was an active anti-fascist in the 1930s. An 18-year-old office worker at the time, he told Searchlight what he remembers of 4 October 1936.
In the summer of 1936 there was a whole building up of fascist activity in London. I was 18. There was this tension because Mosley was doing relatively well, not popular, but he had a certain amount of support from people who were not only fascists. There was a feeling that he had to be stopped. There were skirmishes building up to Cable Street and earlier, in 1934, there had been the famous Olympia meeting where anti-fascists had been severely beaten. In September the fascists had a big rally in Hyde Park. That summer was one of those hot summers where things were just going to happen. The Labour Party had taken the view that people should not come out, the Board of Deputies of British Jews had taken the same stand: „Stay away, don’t make a fuss“. The Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party and other factions said: „No we’ve got to stop them“
I lived in Highbury in North London, and on the day we all gathered at Highbury Corner and trundled off to Cable Street. We never got there of course. The point that I’d like to make now, and I always make it, is that Mosley was not beaten in Cable Street itself. It was a side issue, a skirmish really. What he was beaten by was the fact that, who knows the real figure, hundreds of thousands of people just stood there. People like to romanticise things, but what stopped Mosley was that when you got to Gardiners Corner you just couldn’t move.
I happened to be there fairly early. We got right to the centre and it was hopeless. We just stood there. There was no shouting, no violence, no sectarianism, no holding up of this party banner or that party banner. We all just stood there. There was no singing, it was really quite incredible. It must have been one of the biggest civil disobedience actions in British labour history. There were no paper sellers, you couldn’t have sold the Daily Worker because you couldn’t get in between the crowds. It was like a festive occasion. I think that when the police saw that they would have to get Mosley through that crowd they called it off. The hostility locally was so deep seated.
The significance of Cable Street is that it was one of the great turning points in a sense. Although Mosley wasn’t defeated he did quite well in elections the following year in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch. In a sense you could say that he saw what could be done against him and it marked the beginning of the decline. It’s always held as a great moment in history, and I think it is in that sense. Nothing has happened since like that.
It was a welling up of feeling. People saw Mosley as symbolising Hitler. Jewish people in the East End certainly did anyway. I think the fear of Hitler meant that people said: „We’re not going to have it here“. The anti-semitism in Britain produced the followers of Mosley, but the other side of that was that it produced people that opposed the followers of Mosley. It was a sort of continuing battlefield. Cable Street was only the high point.
There was Long Lane in Bermondsey in 1937. There were skirmishes and fighting in the street for hours. I remember taking part in that. I never saw the fascists and we ended up fighting with the police. We were looking for the fascists and trying to see what was going on and we saw five policemen battering this anti-fascist on the pavement. The police always tended to defend the fascists on the grounds that we were causing the disturbance.
When we saw the police knocking this guy about we got some bricks and paving and picked them up and threw them at the police. They promptly ran, and frankly I can’t blame them. Long Lane was a series of guerrilla warfares for hours all over Bermondsey.
There was a rumour that someone had been killed that was quite untrue. We didn’t know what was going on except that we had to be there and they had to be stopped.
There were other things. I heard William Joyce speak in Finsbury Park once. A good speaker, abusive in his rasping voice. He just came to annoy and taunt the crowd. I heard Mosley speak at the Alexander Hall when he was a Labour MP and the next time I heard him speak he was a fascist at the Albert Hall. The platform was empty, very dramatic and stage-managed with flags and lights. The meetings he held were fierce and violent. There were pitched battles at some meetings. In the end the war came and he never really came back.
I would say to young people today, never give up, the power is in your hands. To paraphrase a famous dictum: „All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing“.
The Battle of Cable Street in 1936 saw 250,000 people block an attempt by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists to march through the East End, a defeat from which the BUF never recovered. Solley Kaye, a veteran of that decisive battle talked to Beat Review.
CSB: What was working – class life like in Londan’s East End in the 1930’s?
Solley Kaye: You had massive unemployment, immense poverty, social services nowhere near what they are today, terrible slums. When the London plan was made in 1965, the plan was that the whole of Tower Hamlets shouldn’t have more than 190,000 people, but in Stepney alone – 1/3 of Tower Hamlets – (in the 1930’s) there were 213,000 people piled into tiny little streets. I lived in a street where 17 people lived in one little block of three flats with one outside toilet, and the street was so narrow that at 10 years of age I could hop across the road in two hops. It was a terrible warren of bad housing. There was a lot of poverty and there were a large number of Jewish people who were first generation immigrants. l am the child of an immigrant but I was born here in 1913.
Among the Jewish people there were a number of ethnic cultural clubs – The Workers Circle – you got lectures and discussions. It was really a „Friendly Society“, if you belonged you paid sixpence a week and if you were ill you got 8 shillings, because you had to safeguard yourself against ill-health because there was no National Health Service.
For amusement you had dance halls, you had rambling, many thousands of youngsters met at London Bridge on a Sunday.
After the terrible 1880/1890’s a lot of Universities decided that it was important that the conditions of life in the East End should be improved and they set up University Settlements – like the „Cambridge and Bethnal Green Club“ – and they used to send people who were interested in social welfare to work in these clubs and learn about working class life. Quite a lot of young people gravitated towards these clubs but in no way did it reach the majority of youngsters who had nothing. Maybe a game of football if they were prepared to go all the way down to Victoria Park or hang around the street corners or wander up and down Whitechapel Road , fish and chips in Valiance Road for a penny, Iisten to a meeting on a street corner where the unemployed would be speaking. A million miles away from where we are today in terms of young people and culture, no music scene, no T.V., no radio.
Picture palaces were always full. If you were working you might go down to Oxford St. to the Academy to see a class film. I’m talking about the Jewish kids that I knew, among non-Jewish kids it was very similar, more sport orientated, although there was quite a bit of it amongst Jewish Kids, particularly boxing.
CSB: What anti-fascist organisations were there in the 30’s?
Solley Kaye: In the East End the Jewish people set up the Jewish People’s Council which was made up of organisations who came together to fight fascism. But there’s no doubt at all that the Communist Party was overwhelmingly the body that was conducting anti-fascist propaganda and activity. We tried to teach people that tascism was a political movement, a weapon being used by capitalism when democracy no longer served them.
The fascists had their strongholds in places like Bethnal Green, Shoreditch, South Hackney, parts of Poplar, all of which were on the edge of Stepney where the large Jewish population lived. So that they could involve people on the basis of envy fear, or whatever, by saying „OVER THERE the Jews, they’ve got your houses, OVER THERE the Jews, they’ve got your jobs.“ Even though we were living in bloody poverty with bugs crawling all over us in the night.
At the time the Communist Party together with some very courageous Church people, organised the Stepney Tenants Defence League, and all the tenants living in bad houses were being involved in a fight to get the repairs done and the rents reduced. There were some people being evicted from a block of flats called Paragon Mansions, Phil Piratin (later to become a Communist M.P.) heard about it. He went there and got the rest of the tenants to organise barricades to stop the bailiffs coming in. Among them were members of the British Union of Fascists who were living in that block, but they didn’t want anything to do with the fascists after that allies were.
The fascists have got to be opposed if they’re marching down the street beating people up. But that is not the sole answer. We’ve got to win over the people who are providing them with their base.
CSB: Was there any „culturally“ based anti -fascist organisation.
Solley Kaye: There wasn’t. In the 30’s about the best thing was Unity Theatre. They used to put on anti-fascist plays and some of them had anti-fascist songs in them, and there was the Workers Music Association, they used to sing at meetings, rallies, cultural events socialists songs but not specifically anti-fascist.
CSB: How strong were the fascists and where did their support come from.
Solley Kaye: In South Hackney they stood in one election and got 3,000 votes and in Shoreditch they got nearly 3,000 votes – very high votes for a local election.
Their support came from the ‚lumpen‘ working class – non-skilled unemployed, drifting types, unorganised, no loyalty to anything. And Mosely had a lot of money. He was supported by multi millionaires.
He had what he called barracks. He took over disused pubs and churches and turned them into his headquarters. They would have social activities for their member to come to. The would put a uniform on a bloke used to drifting around street corners and there he is in a uniform, big boots, badges, swashbuckling belts and he goes out in a van with wire cages around it to go to meetings. And every time he came back there was plenty of booze. This was the way they worked so they got quite a lot of youngsters going.
Among the leadership there was all sorts of middle class people with illusions of grandeur. They could order men about, be oflicers. Remember, at the time Hitler was in power and everything he set his hand to he was winning. There was this impression that this was a relentless steamroller that nothing can stop. They had a tremendous amount of confidence.
The impressive thing about Spain (the Civil War) was that that was the first time someone said „so far and no further. They shall not pass.“ And even though the anti-fascists lost they showed that with all the help they should have had they could have won. That was a tremendous impetus. The same slogan was adopted for Aldgate (Cable Street) as was adopted at at Madrid – „They Shall Not Pass!“
CSB: In the 1930’s fascism seemed like a real possibility, whereas nowadays in Britain they only appear on the fringes of political life. Has this led to complacency?
Solley Kaye: There is complacency. We don’t want to overestimate but there is a danger that people will underestimate.
At the Cable Street anniversary gig in October, Solly Kaye kindly agreed to come along to make a speech to show his continued opposition to fascism. He knows full well that fasism is something that you cannot afford to ignore. His speech was for many people the highlight of the evening. Here’s an extract:
„…In spite of Cable Street, in spite of the war, in spite of the suffering caused to millions by fascism, racism exists and is widespread in our society today… Public pressure forced a law against racial discdmination – yet it exists and grows. In the 30’s it was against the Jews. Today it’s against the blacks, it’s against the Pakistanis – it’s against anyone who’s got at different colour skin or a different language or a different appearance. And that’s the weapon fascism uses in every country, wherever they get the opportunity. I experienced it in the 30’s and I tell you it’s worse today than it was then. Daily insults, attacks, arson, murders and violence against people with a different coloured skin. Now it’s not marches or street meetings – it’s songs and it’s slogans and it’s poison put into the minds of young people.“
„We were caught three ways In the East End if the nazis took over – we were communists, trade unionists and Jews. We had no choice but to help mobilise the working class to resist fascism.
I was a keen sportsman and had visited Germany in 1932 to play football with workers in Cologne on a trade union organised trip. There I saw the SA, the brownshirts, actually firing at the crowds of spectators. A year later I went back again in the week Hitler came to power. I saw them marching through the streets, the flaming torches, the hate; I saw something of what was to engulf the world.
My union was a craft tailors‘ union which was Yiddish speaking. I had been brought up reading the works of Jewish trade unionists and labour movement activists in Yiddish. I am glad the language is now enjoying a revival, as much of the Yiddish material produced in the early years of this century is very relevant to what happens to immigrant workers today.
I strove to unite my union and the larger Garment Workers‘ Union, so that we could conduct one struggle. Being a craft union, my members were worried about protecting their skills and also there was real resistance to women playing a proper role In the union. But women leaders like Sarah Wesker set an example and at the time of the Cable Street battle she was a real Inspiration to all of us.
I was also very active in the Jewish Workers‘ Circle, which united several generations of Jewish socialists and anti-fascists and had its roots among the relugees In Czarist Russia. This organisatlon remained a strong anti-fascist force as late as the 1960s.
The victory on 4 October 1936 was very sweet. Of course the fascists did not stop their attacks In the East End but It made many young Jews recognise the need to stand up and fight and realise that together with non-Jews we could defeat the racists and fascists. Our experience was like that of many young Asians today who learn the lessons of struggle through direct experience: they see their families attacked and some decide to stand up and be counted.
More than anything in those years of struggle, I Saw that people, no matter how poor, could by working together determine their own futures. As workers we were sure of ourselves and knew clearly what the choices were. Despite the mass unemployment and the hardship, these were exhilarating times to live through.“
Charlie Goodman’s arrest on 4 October 1936 was notable for two things – the sheer brutality of the police and the guts of this 16 year-old kid who faced up to them.
At one point in the battle at Gardiner’s Corner, when after literally hours of police charges the crowd retreated a bit, Charlie climbed up a lamp post and shouted at the top of his voice: „Don’t be yellow bellies, forward, we are winning“. The police eventually caught up with him in Commercial Road and he was clubbed, punched and kicked all the way to Leman Street police station. (Things have not changed much. How many Asians have suffered similarly at that police station in the last 15 years?)
Charlie’s wife, Joy, remembers his act of defiance. Though only 12 years old, she too was in the front line that day. Four years later she met Charlie and later they married. She recalls that when she met him, she asked whether he was the nutcase up the lamp post. When he Said he was, she knew he was just her type.
As Charlie staggered home after a second beating inside the police station, his head wrapped in bandages, he was stopped by an elderly Jewish women who asked whether he had been in the fighting. He thought she might disapprove if he said yes, and he also felt that his was but a small part in the day’s events, so he said he had not been involved. To his surprise and joy, she said: „A curse on you that you did not fight this day“. It sounds a bit like something out of Henry V, but that’s how the community felt by the end of the battle. In the morning before the battle even started, any man not heading towards Aldgate was abused by old people on the street.
Charlie was sentenced to a few months‘ hard labour and found himself in the same prison as Arnold Leese, leader of the Imperial Fascist League. Leese got into some difficulties when he was given light duties In the prison tailoring ship. Apparently, most days he ‚fell‘ down the stairs.
The Jewish authorities took a harsher view of those who were arrested in the fight than they did of a Jew in prison for committing a crime. The influential Henriques family, who were great philanthropists in the East End, were much hated for their attitude towards the anti-fascist movement. Joy Goodman was expelled from her youth club for selling the Young Communist League newspaper Chailenge. When she pointed out that pro-Mosley papers like the Mail and the London Evening News could be had at the club, but not one that stood up for the Jewish minority’s rights, Lady Henriques told her she was incorrigible.
Charlie went off to Spain to fight for the Republic. Later he joined the British Army and was wounded at Dunkirk. His injury kept him in hospital for more than a year.
He recalls that in 1940 his Commanding Officer asked for men with fighting experience to come forward. When Charlie Said he had been in the International Brigade, the CO said he did not mean that kind of experience, he meant men who had served in India and the like. After the Soviet Union entered the war, ex-International Brigaders got rapid promotion because of their experience in modern wariare.
Since the war the Goodmans have earned the love and respect of East Enders through their work as tenants‘ leaders. Charlie and Joy did not give up the struggle agailnst fascism. In 1962 when Mosley tried to speak at Victoria Park Square, Charlie, who was then a member of the local police watch committee, and his two sons were arrested. Joy was also taken Into custody but released because she was pregnant.
Charlie told Searchlight: „The struggle of the people agalnst fascism and racism must go on today. Jews must be made aware that the plight of the Asians is no different from the sufferings of their own parents and grand-parents. The religious divisions within the Asian community, the generation gap, even the exploitation by sweat shop owners of their communities, all have their parallels in the 1930s In the Jewish community of the East End.
„The names change, the streets are the Same, and so are the problems. The glorious struggle of 1936 must be remembered today.“
Jack Shaw (formerly Shuckman) was not a member of any political party when he went onto the streets in 1936. But he knew that fascism was a danger for the Jews, and also that it posed a very real threat to democracy. It took several large policemen to bring Jack down in the battle that day and by the time they dragged him into Leman Street police station, the floor and walls were covered with the blood of those who had been beaten by the police. He was thrown down and left in a comer of the charge room.
While he was there, he saw a huge policeman drag in a young woman, rip off her blouse and hold his truncheon as if to strike her in the face. She stared straight at him and, with defiance in her voice, said: „I am not afraid of you“. As the room went quiet, the policeman called her a Jewish bitch and put her in a cell. Jack says she typified the courage and spirit of the women in the anti-fascist struggle.
Jack was sentenced to three months‘ hard labour and sent to Bristol, which made it hard for his parents to visit him. He did not get a single visit from any Jewish community official until the week of his release and then it was only to condemn him for fighting back.
The experience of the struggle in East London had made him see that fascism was a danger that had to be fought throughout the world. So after his release he headed straight for the docks and signed on as a hand on a ship bound for Spain. This was quite easy for him as young Jews in the garment trade often became seamen in times of seasonal unemployment. When the ship arrived in Spain, be jumped ship to join the International Brigade. After six months in the front line, they discovered he was only 17 and sent him home.
As soon as he could, he joined the British army and was soon a sergeant gunnery Instructor in the Royal Welsh Fusillers, a mainly Welsh speaking regiment whose Commanding Officer had a high regard for his ‚Jewish boyos‘. Later he served in the front line in India and Burma.
Back In Britain, within 18 months of the end of the war he was once again arrested for knocking a fascist off a platform. Little or nothing had changed except that the truth about fascism had become clearer when the gates of the death camps were opened.
Today jack is still driving a cab and still responds vigorously to anyone who spouts racist remarks in his presence. His son, a doctor, Is trying to put together a history of the Jews who went to fight for the Spanish Republic.
This month Jack will join a few hundred other Jewish former members of the international Brigade to march through Tel Aviv with around 200 survivors who live in Israel. Chaim Herzog, Israel’s president, will take the salute.
Many of Jack’s young Jewish contemporaries were not at all religious. They could have walked away from the struggle and blended in with non-jews, but they chose to stand and fight. Jack explains: „Our parents used to light the candles on the Sabbath. We knew what fascism would mean for mankind. We had to stop them blowing the candles out.“