As the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street approaches, the usually excellent History Today marks the event with a terrible article by one Daniel Tilles, a PhD student at Royal Holloway, University of London. Here’s the conclusion to give you a taste of how appalling it is:
“The demonstrators at Cable Street, and their successors in the
anti-fascist movement, have understandably taken pride in their
achievements that day. Yet far from signalling the beginning of the end
for fascism in Britain, or even in the East End, the demonstration
yielded a significant short-term boost for the BUF, and did nothing to
hinder it in the longer term. True, it succeeded in demonstrating the
strength of hostility to Mosley, confirming that his political ambitions
would never be realised. But this had long been clear. By 1936 the BUF
was a local irritant but a national irrelevance and destined to remain
that way. Instead, Cable Street drew unnecessary attention and new
adherents to the party. However laudable the motivation of the Jewish
participants that day, the primary consequence of their actions was to
make life significantly worse for their fellow Jews in the East End,
with their involvement used to justify the commencement of the most
intensive phase of anti-semitic activity in modern British history.”
The full article is here.
Now, there’s nothing wrong in principle, with ‘revisionist’ history that challenges accepted truisms and asks us to look afresh at orthodoxy. And it’s true that Stalinists like Phil Piratin have, over the years, promoted a very simplistic view of “Cable Street,” attributing the decline of Mosely and the Blackshirts more or less entirely to what happened on that day. But Tilles’ piece is simply bad history. A few points:
* Not one mention of the ILP (Independent Labour Party) which had more members and mobilised more people on the day, than the CP (Communist Party).
* He argues that Cable Street led to more BUF (British Union of Fascists) attacks on Jews but gives no information on the level of attacks on Jews before Cable Street.
* Most of his sources are anecdotal or from the BUF’s Blackshirt paper.
* Little discussion of the effect of Cable Street on the Jewish anti-fascist movement and none on its effect on the CP. The ILP not even mentioned. It gave all of these added confidence and prestige.
* No analysis of who the 100,00 anti-fascists on the streets actually were.
* Serious histories of fascism in Britian are pretty much unanimous in concluding that the BUF was in steep decline by 1937. They revived somewhat after Munich with their “peace” campaign. Maybe the cause wasn’t Cable Street, but overwhelmingly, the evidence is against Tilles’ contention that the BUF was on the rise at this time.
A much better and more balanced account here.
‘Cable Street 75’ blog here.
H/t: Dave and Cath