By Rabbil Sikdar (reblogged from Medium, here)
I wear my socialism on my sleeves and will never shy away from that. Every Political Compass test has me basically nailed down as a ‘hard left’ person. The things I believe in, radical to some, sensible to others define my sense of socialism: fair wages, fair taxes, strong public sector, social housing and a compassionate welfare system. My socialism comes from my experiences and values, in growing up in east London and seeing a community fall victim to poverty and gentrification.
In an age where compromise is needed to move forward, I won’t apologise for that. But I will for being so slow to realise how Morning Star was positioning itself across a wide variety of issues.
I’m not a factional socialist; I’d happily write for the Morning Star and at the same time agree with people from Progress. Mostly though, when I initially began writing for the Star I did so as someone so happy to be writing for a newspaper. I did not know Star’s history but I would come to learn of it later; I waved it away thinking these were different times. Besides, at the start we had more in common. We both wanted a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.
That was then. I no longer write for the Star and for a while had been winding down my contribution. By the end it was just sport content because of my respect for the sports editor. For the other part, I have a lot of things to be angry about with the Star.
For a newspaper that subscribes to left wing values, that should include free speech and right to criticise politicians. Unfortunately this never extended to criticism of Corbyn’s failing leadership, or Diane Abbott; it didn’t include the ‘Lexit’ vote — and where it mattered most crucially, it did not include Russia and Assad.
The paper has never criticised the Assad regime or Putin. Lines that go along with “we’re no fans of the Assad regime but…” are poor condemnations. In fact, they’re not condemnations at all. Someone recently described it quite well as imagining defenders of the British Empire dismissing the Amritsar Massacre. Likewise, saying “we condemn all bombings” gravely misunderstands who is doing the bombing and draws a false equivalence between aggressive actors and those responding to the violence. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in 2015 that the Assad regime was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths. ISIS, for all their barbarism, had killed just over a thousand. Since then, those statistics have continued in underlining the basic fact that Assad — backed up by Russia — has been responsible for the brutal carnage.
This is the humanitarian war crime of our time, a genocide that we watched live on television Facebook for years — and we did nothing. We have witnessed ethnic cleansing, repeated breaking of ceasefires and remorseless ruthlessness towards civilian population. The Syrian resistance against a fascist dictator desperately needed solidarity from the international community, and especially the left.
Some gave it; I’ve seen some fantastic leftist activists bravely holding everyone to account; Oz Katerji, Idrees Ahmad and James Bloodworth being some of them. The late Jo Cox was a strong supporter of the inspirational White Helmets. Read the rest of this entry »
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined with supporters of Syria Solidarity to intervene at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday. The reason was obvious: Corbyn and the Labour front bench have remained silent while Assad and Putin have bombed hospitals, aid convoys and civilians in Syria. This has been the biggest massacre of a civilian population since World War Two.
East Aleppo has been besieged for months, with Assad using his favourite tactic against civilians (after barrel bombs, that is): starvation and the denial of water, shelter and medical treatment. The UN has predicted that Aleppo will become “a giant graveyard” if Assad and Putin continue to refuse a cease fire.
Yet the so-called Stop The War Coalition, which Corbyn continues to support, says nothing. Perhaps because its current Chair supports the Russian bombing.
The politically bankrupt and morally depraved Morning Star (reflecting the policy of its political master, the Communist Party of Britain) openly supports Assad’s attacks and cheer-leads for Putin’s intervention, parroting his propaganda.
Now, the Morning Star (a paper, remember, funded by the subs of Unite members and other rank and file trade unionists, without their knowledge or consent) attacks Tatchell for disrupting Corbyn’s speech and, supposedly, “diver(ing) attention away from the crucial issue of women’s rights and domestic violence”. The M Star goes on to quote the repugnant pro-Assad convenor of the so-called “Stop The War Coalition” and professional liar, Ms Lindsey German, spreading her typically dishonest poison about Tatchell: “He claims to be on the left and a supporter of Stop the War initially but the reality is that he has supported every war since we were established”.
In the face of these Stalinist lies, and pro-Putin/Assad apologetics, we republish below, Peter Tatchell’s statement about this incident:
Syria Solidarity UK activists were joined by Peter Tatchell when they protested during a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 10 December. They urged the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day. Syria human rights campaigners walked to the front and stood in front of him with placards saying: “Action not words: Back UK aid drops now. Protect civilians.”
Protest participant, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said:
“The protest was organised by Syria Solidarity UK. It was not against Jeremy Corbyn or Labour. It was an appeal for them to act, to defend the human rights of Syrian civilians, by actively campaigning for a parliamentary vote on humanitarian aid drops, sanctions and war crimes charges against the Assad and Putin regimes, UN-supervised evacuation of civilians and White Helmet rescue teams to safe havens, and for Syria to be suspended from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire and stops blocking aid deliveries. Neither Labour nor Jeremy are actively campaigning for any of these initiatives.
“We urged Jeremy Corbyn to press for a parliamentary debate and vote to mandate UK aid drops of food and medicine to besieged civilians in Aleppo and other cities. He declined to give that commitment when I asked him. Why isn’t he holding the government to account for its inaction, and publicly demanding that it agree to a vote in parliament on air drops of humanitarian aid?
“Labour has never organised even one event in solidarity with Syrian democrats, socialists and civil society activists. It never promoted or campaigned for the passage of Canada’s UN Syria resolution under 377A – Uniting for Peace – which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid access and an end to all sieges.
“The protest was polite and lasted five minutes. Jeremy was briefly delayed but not stopped from speaking. He addressed all the issues he originally planned to speak on.
“It was initially a silent protest until Labour officials indicated they wanted to know what it was about, which is when I spoke.
“Jeremy thanked us for raising the issue of Syria and we will now be pressing him for dialogue and action to help save lives in Syria. I will continue to support much of what Jeremy is striving for. Both of us remain friends.
“Jeremy’s speech rightly condemned Saudi war crimes in Yemen but made only a passing reference to Syria and offered no proposals to remedy the humanitarian crisis there. This has a whiff of double standards.
“What action has Labour taken to protect civilians in Syria? Nothing, so far. Aleppo is the Guernica of our age. Labour’s fine words need to be backed up with deeds. It is not listening to the appeals for action from democratic civil society activists inside Syria. We heard their cry for help and acted at their request. Our protest gave effect to their appeal for action.
“On Human Rights Day, Labour gathered to celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian military are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals and civil rescue teams from the White Helmets. Hundreds of boys and men have allegedly gone missing from the areas seized last week by Assad regime forces. At least 100,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and a million others elsewhere in Free Syria.
“Labour must act, not just speak. So too must the Conservatives – and all parties. We call on Theresa May and Boris Johnson to also heed our call. We will protest against them in due course. There must surely be a cross-party consensus on humanitarian air drops. Why aren’t they happening? Labour should give a lead by initiating a House of Commons vote to make them happen,” said Mr Tatchell.
Clara Connolly from Syria Solidarity UK added:
“Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres.”
Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party MPs and members to publicly and vocally:
• Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
• Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
• Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
• Request UN-supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.
From Avaaz (6 Dec):
The UN just announced Aleppo is fast becoming ‘one giant graveyard’ and residents risk ‘extermination’. Not one of our governments is in there saving lives, but an extraordinary group of Syrians are: The White Helmets.
73,530 lives in fact. That’s how many people they have saved, rushing to the scene of bombings to pull people from the rubble and carry them to safety.
What’s amazing is these heroes are just ordinary people — bakers, teachers, tailors — who felt they couldn’t stand by, and threw themselves right into the line of fire. For their bravery, they were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and the $1 million of critical funding it comes with — but they lost!
Forget the Nobel Prize — together we have the power to give the White Helmets the recognition they deserve and the funding they desperately need.
Avaaz will send them 100% of funds raised — let’s give hope to these heroes, and a country in need:
For their heroic efforts, White Helmets volunteers are often targeted — Russian and Syrian regime planes bomb civilians, then circle back to bomb the rescue workers who scramble to help.
It’s just a part of the picture of horror that’s rocked Syria for almost six years and killed as many as 470,000 people. It’s become harder and harder to stop — and has turned into the greatest shame of our generation.
As the conflict continues to spiral, the White Helmets are doing work that no one else can, or will. They’re standing up as heroes while the world watches and fails to stop the conflict. But they’re constantly struggling to keep their work going.
If enough of us pitch in a few pounds or dollars, we can replace equipment they’ve lost in the bombings, buy tools to pull concrete slabs off people buried in the rubble, and provide medical care for the wounded. Let’s help them get their people’s million — join in now:
The White Helmets aren’t from an international aid organization, and they need every dollar they can get. They’re succeeding where the rest of the world is failing — in giving hope to millions of Syrians. Our community can join them, and keep up the fight for a safe, peaceful future in Syria.
Danny, Ricken, Mais, Alice, Spyro, Nataliya, Nick, and the rest of the Avaaz team
Who are the White Helmets? (The Atlantic)
Syria’s White Helmets Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (Al Jazeera)
How the White Helmets of Syria Are Being Hunted in a Devastated Aleppo (Al Jazeera)
Syria’s White Helmets (The Daily Beast)
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Above: what sort of accent would he have had?
Guest post by Robin Carmody:
In October 1984, early in the season that ended with Bradford and Heysel, there was a major fire at Norwich City football ground. You’ve almost certainly never heard of it, because it didn’t happen during a match and so nobody was killed. But it very easily could have done; football grounds had been allowed to decay, partially out of a Tory belief that the conditions in which working class people had to live didn’t matter, so badly that Bradford, like Hillsborough, could have happened to multiple other sets of fans at multiple other times. It is, in fact, a wonder that they didn’t.
But imagine if that fire had actually killed as many Norwich fans as Bradford or Liverpool fans were killed in the disasters that did happen. How would the Left’s response have differed? Could it – would it – have responded with as much empathy and fellow feeling for the dead and the bereaved? Might elements of it, even, have felt that those who died were en masse class traitors, unworthy of equal levels of support?
The unfortunate situation that continues to prevail on much of the English Left is that when many Leftists say that they support working class people who do not speak RP, and the right of those accents to be heard and not discriminated against and perceived as a badge of stupidity, they only mean working class people in areas, and the accents of those areas, which were largely made by the industrial revolution and have experienced heavy non-white settlement since 1945. When it comes to working-class people in areas, and especially the accents of those areas, which were largely unaffected by the industrial revolution and have not had such levels of immigration (other than, in a much more concentrated period the reaction to which has now had disastrous political consequences, from Eastern Europe), they are often capable of the most obscene levels of prejudice, discrimination and the treatment of entire forms of working class speech as badges of stupidity.
It hurts much more to hear this sort of thing from the left in the same way that, even after Maxwell had withered away the paper’s soul and got rid of everyone from Pilger to Waterhouse, it hurt much more to see the Daily Mirror run covertly racist and anti-Semitic lies about the Beastie Boys in 1987, or to equate modern Germans with Nazis in 1996, than if it had been The Sun; you simply expect better, and expect more, from those who portray themselves as against prejudice and discrimination. Portrayal of people with, say, Scouse accents as thick – a partial factor in the Hillsborough disaster (and over-compensated for by the constant tabloid references to “Jamie” Bulger, a name never used by his family, as if they could only counterbalance the years of dehumanisation with an equally insulting faux-chumminess) – comes pretty much entirely from people who do not deny their prejudice, but flaunt it, boast about it, wallow in it. You don’t expect anything else from them. Portrayal of people with West Country or East Anglian accents as thick, on the other hand, comes disproportionately from people who make a great point of how immune they are from prejudice, how even-handed and equal their treatment of others is (eg leftie comedians on Radio 4). But in this field they completely abandon those rules and are, quite often, guilty of some of the most obscene, incontinent and just plain unpleasant abuse and mockery of other people I have ever come across. It is, by those criteria, far more actively disappointing.
And what makes it worse is that the prophecy is self-fulfilling. While accents with left cred, such as that of Liverpool, have strengthened and enhanced, those without are in the process of withering and dying. Worse, leftists from regions such as south-west England have, in many cases, internalised such rhetoric and believe it applies accurately to themselves; in my direct personal experience, they frequently do not speak up against negative stereotyping of their regions and actively join in with it themselves. Read the rest of this entry »
Bland, but on the whole, not bad:
Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, speech to National Policy Forum 19 November 2016:
Thank you for that introduction.
We meet at the most important moment in politics for a generation. Political upheaval is becoming the norm. The old certainties are dramatically falling away and we are coming to expect the unexpected. People know there can be no more business as usual. But the question is what will replace it.
Since the financial crash of 2008 it has been clear that the economic and political system is unable to meet people’s needs and deliver the prosperity and security it promised – not just here in Britain, but across much of the world.
So let us be very clear: It was not levels of public spending, it was the crisis of a deregulated financial system that crashed the economy across the western world and delivered falling living standards and led to swingeing cuts to public services.
Lehman Brothers did not collapse because we kept too many libraries open, had employed too many teaching assistants, or failed to cut disabled people’s benefits.
Not since the late 1970s have we seen such a dramatic collapse in confidence in the political and economic order.
People are feeling insecure and the ‘me-too’ managerial politics of the pre-crash era quite obviously no longer has the answers.
Voting for the status quo is not attractive to people, because they know the status quo is failing them.
Many feel their prospects – and those of their children – are getting worse.
We saw that reflected in this summer’s referendum vote.
Telling people that their continued prosperity depends on remaining in simply didn’t resonate widely enough when so many people didn’t feel they were sharing in that prosperity in the first place.
Did the nearly one million people on zero hours contracts, or the six million paid less than the living wage, feel they needed to vote in to be better off?
Or did they just simply not trust politicians and business people who have let them down?
The young people told they will have fewer opportunities in life than their parents’ generation; people who see their NHS being run down; or their library close or their social care package being taken away.
For a time our party became too complacent about runaway levels of inequality, about an economic system that delivered handsomely for the rich but ripped up security for millions of people at work – and for many has ditched the security of a home to call your own. Read the rest of this entry »
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Via Howies Corner we have been informed of the split in Socialist Unity. John Wight has been ousted and the forces of the trade union left have taken over in the person of Comrade Andy Newman.
To follow the lead up to these events check out the comments section at the site. Nationalism vs socialist trade unionism was the root cause.
Note one disgraceful comment:-
John Wight has had his ‘jumping the shark’ moment and has increasingly descended into delusions of grandeur and with it all the hallmarks of a sociopath. Heaping abuse and smearing those who dare disagree with his increasingly bizarre statements as cowards or racists is beyond the pale.
He does have a home at Shiraz Socialist and they are welcome to him.
We totally deny this calumny. We at Shiraz join in the denunciations of John Wight. The personnel at Shiraz Socialist have been on Wight’s banning list for years. Indeed I can date my Kronstadt moment with Wight. It was 30th March 2012, the day after George Galloway won the Blackburn/West Bradford by-election. While Wight was exulting and gloating I said Gallows had run a terrible sectarian campaign, calling his opponent “a bad Muslim”.
That got me deleted, then exiled to Siberia.
Others writers and commenters at this blog would have had similar experiences. Please share if you do .
And your spell in the Gulag of being made an unperson by Wight is now at an end. Comrade Newman has lifted the banning order.
Remember Shahrokh: build a movement!
Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign officially launches!
The Campaign to build solidarity with the workers’ movement in Iran was officially launched last week on 20 October in London. The meeting, held at the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers heard contributions from a number of speakers from the labour and trade union movement and included veteran Human Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.
Opening the meeting, PCS activist and Iranian Workers’ Solidarity Network (IWSN) supporter, Matt Wells outlined the aims of the campaign and the reason for launching it now, at the same time bidding farewell to IWSN, whose work the new Campaign will build on. The Iran regime’s opening up to ‘Western’ Capitalism had not paid off for the workers and youth of Iran and repression of the labour and trade union movement continued. The death of Shahrokh Zamani last year underlined this. His imprisonment and then, what we believed to be murder, for forming an independent trade union and refusing to be silenced even when behind bars, was meant as a warning to workers and youth from the regime. However, we refuse to be silenced inside and outside Iran.
Daniel Randall, activist in the RMT trade union and worker on the London Underground, then spoke. Daniel outlined the importance of solidarity for the workers’ movement; that the solidarity was based on class and not national borders. Daniel recounted how the petition to free Shahrokh and Reza (Shahabi) had been important not just in the aim to secure their release but also in raising the consciousness of his workmates about the importance of working class unity.
Omar Raii, executive committee member, National Union of Students, and NCAFC activist then spoke. Campaigning around the statements issued by the Campaign so far had helped to re-politicise the students’ movement in Britain and also raise awareness of the workers’ movement in Iran.
The meeting then heard from Aram Nobakht, a Workers’ Action Committee activist in Iran, who told the meeting about his shock and disbelief when he heard about Shahrokh’s death. Initially he thought it was rumour. When they were talking to Shahrokh exactly on the night prior to his untimely death “he was, as always, full of energy” But then it became clear that it was true. Shahrokh’s body showed signs of poisoning. But the activists had no time for sorrow. Aram went on to say: “It’s no coincidence that Shahrokh was killed at exactly the moment when the labour movement and its militancy and the radicals have been on the rise again, including daily strikes, including street clashes with the cops, even factory occupations and so on.”
“Shahrokh was tirelessly organising day and night from his prison cell. What made Shahrokh different from other typical labour activists was his obsession with building a revolutionary party. In the past we repeatedly asked him to tone down the language of his articles and his statements. He said ‘I have been sentenced to 11 years in prison, I have nothing to lose, there is no way out of here. … Can you assure me that I’ll be released alive from this prison? If … [so] then I will keep silent. … I don’t want to lose the chance to fight this regime.’
“The legacy of Shahrokh is still alive. … In his last days Shahrokh was emphasising the importance and significance of publishing a bulletin as an organising tool, as an organising organ for our committee. Over the past year we’ve been systematically involved in publishing and distributing bulletins in the labour areas, in areas around factories … along with distributing and handing out leaflets … in defence of other political activists …”
“We do believe that we are [following] on the same way as Shahrokh suggested and this is the only trustful and reliable way for founding a party, a revolutionary party from below … by finding the most militant workers, educating them, recruiting them, that’s the only basis for our future party. And this is the legacy of Shahrokh Zamani.”
Kelly Rogers, BECTU activist and leader of the strike movement amongst cinema workers then outlined how her own experience in the workplace had taught her the importance of solidarity in the face of attacks from the employers on the pay and conditions of workers. This had inspired her to organise with her workmates. Kelly said that while there was no comparison in Britain with the harshness of the conditions faced by Iran’s workers struggling against their employers and the regime, she understood that the attacks on workers come from the same place – the ruling class.
Peter Tatchell then gave a powerful and inspiring speech which concluded with a promise that the Iranian regime’s tyranny would fall.
The meeting agreed to launch a statement which will be published in the next few days and publish a model motion for trade union, labour movement and student movement organisations which is published below.
NB: all spoke in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated.
Affiliate to the campaign!
A model motion for trade union branches, student and labour movement organisations:
SOLIDARITY WITH WORKERS IN IRAN
This branch notes
1. That the July 2015 nuclear deal between the Iranian, US and European governments has opened up trade and diplomatic relations. However there has been no “peace dividend” for Iranian workers, as shown by the shocking flogging of 17 gold miners for protesting against layoffs in late May.
2. The continuing plight of working people in Iran: unemployment is still 12.2%, with youth unemployment at 27.8%; high inflation and unpaid wages pushing many employed workers into poverty; around 18% of children suffering from malnutrition etc.
3. The continuing imprisonment and repression of workers, teachers and other political activists for exercising basic democratic rights such as forming independent trade unions, expressing dissent and calling for equality for women, national minorities, disabled people, LGBTQ people, etc.
4. That despite continuing repression there has been a resurgence in Iranian workers’ protests in many sectors – car workers, rail workers, miners, nurses, gas workers, steel workers, sugar cane workers, teachers …
This branch believes
1. That Western governments and organisations like the ILO agency cannot be trusted to push for genuine workers’ and human rights in Iran. Iranian workers and others fighting for their rights need international solidarity from labour movements around the world.
2. That above all, like workers everywhere, Iranian workers need the right to strike and independent trade unions freed from state control.
We resolve to
1. Publicise the struggles of workers in Iran as well as other battles for human rights against the dictatorship.
2. Invite a speaker from the newly formed Shahrokh Zamani Action Campaign, named for the Iranian trade unionist and socialist jailed for campaigning to form independent unions and found dead in prison last year (September 2016).
3. Support and publicise the SZAC’s activities and protests.
4. Affiliate to the SZAC (which is free) and make a donation of £…
(Bank account: ‘WSN’ – Sort code: 60-83-01 -Account Number: 20018467)
Statement introduced by Alex Rowell, October 12, 2016
A statement signed by over 120 Palestinians condemns “whitewashing” of Syrian regime by “activists whom we once respected”
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Above: Ghosts of Cable Street (music by The Men They Couldn’t Hang)
Ruah Carlyle looks at the 4 October 1936 Battle of Cable Street, where anti-fascists stopped the police clearing a route for Oswald Mosley’s fascist march in East London.
In 1936 Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists turned its attention to East London, and there built the only truly mass base fascism ever built in Britain.
The East End branches of the BUF became, by spring 1936, the centre of BUF activity. Why? What was it about East London that focused BUF attention? The Jews of the East End provided the fascists with a unique target. East End Jews were concentrated in small areas: in 1929, 43 per cent of the national Jewish population were concentrated in Stepney alone.
East London had been an immigrant gateway for centuries. In the 17th century, French Protestants, Huguenots, sought refuge there from Catholic persecution. The mid 19th century saw a big influx of Irish immigrants. After 1881, when systematic pogroms set Russian and Polish Jews to begin their exodus to the west, large numbers of them settled in the East End, first in Whitechapel then fanning out towards Stepney and Mile End.
Anti-Jewish agitation, loud or muted, active or latent, had existed in the East End since the time of the first large Jewish settlements.
It was against this background that, in September 1936, Mosley announced that the BUF would march through the East End on 4 October. It was to be the biggest show of fascist strength ever, in this their strongest area. It could have developed into a pogrom.
On 4 October, the thousands strong Blackshirt march was to begin in Royal Mint Street, pass along through Gardiners Corner (now the top of Whitechapel Road) and on to four separate street meetings in Shoreditch, Limehouse, Bow and Bethnal Green. It never even got going! The march was stopped dead. As many as a quarter of a million people, East Londoners and outsiders, jammed Gardiners Corner. Only an army would have cleared the way for the Blackshirted thugs. An army of police tried and failed.
Tram drivers abandoned their vehicles in the middle of the road. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Phillip Game, had drafted in a third of the London police force, 6,000 policemen, the whole of the mounted division, and had a primitive helicopter, a gyroscope, flying overhead.
Despite these forces, which made numerous charges at the anti-fascist crowd, breaking many heads, no throughway for the fascists could be cut.
The Police Commissioner then proposed a diversion through the dock area around Wapping, and along Cable Street. There a virtual war was fought between the police and the defenders of the anti-fascist barricades. British, Irish and some Somali dockers fought the police. The anti-fascist barricade was constructed of furniture, paving stones and a lorry.
Pretending to retreat, the anti-fascists lured the police forwards, and took up positions behind secondary barricades while from the upstairs tenements on either side of the street other anti-fascists threw bricks, stones, bottles, marbles for horses’ hooves, and boiling water down on the bewildered police.
While the outnumbered and powerless fascist heroes waited in vain for a path to be cleared for them, the police faced chaos. Rare in British street battles, stray policemen were taken prisoner by the barricaders. For those moments the rule of the British state in East London was suspended.
At about 5 p.m., after a three hour battle, the Commissioner said to Sir Oswald Mosley that he would not longer be held responsible for the safety of the fascists. Speaking as one knight to another, he said: “If you go ahead sir, it will be a shambles!” The beaten police cancelled the fascist march, and sent them off to the Embankment. They did not pass!
Cable Street coincided with the siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. The anti-fascists, overwhelmingly working-class, painted the slogan “No Pasaran” (“They Shall Not Pass”) all over East London, linking Mosley’s march with Franco’s rebellion in Spain. They took the workers of Madrid as their model and inspiration.
A Stalinist myth surrounds the Communist Party’s role in the Battle of Cable Street. The CP had a grand anti-fascist reputation, but an increasingly spurious one.
Up to 1934, the CP had been in the throes of the Stalinist policy known as the “Third Period”, when, so they said, revolutions were just about to happen everywhere. This was nonsense, and in Germany led the CP to play into Hitler’s hands, but it had meant that the British CP was willing to throw itself physically into fighting fascism, perceived as the last-ditch defenders of a dying capitalism.
By 1936, this view had changed dramatically. Stalin was pursuing a policy of creating a “democratic anti-fascist front” of the USSR with the capitalist powers France and Britain against the German Nazis; the British CP, like CPs everywhere, was now advocating a Popular Front. This meant allying with non-working-class organisations opposed to German fascism, and in Britain by the late 1930s this would include “progressive Tories”.
The British CP was trying to gain respectability, aping mainstream politicians in the hope of allying with them. As a result, the CP did not always oppose Mosley militantly, because they feared that continued militancy would make it impossible to ally with “respectable” politicians.
By 1936, they were shying away from physical confrontations. Abandoning class politics, they more and more attempted to compete with the fascists as British nationalists, and even as protectors of religious freedom against “compulsory idolatry” in Germany. They were loudest in demanding blanket police bans on the fascists, and counterposed campaigning for bans to organising on the streets. That was their initial approach to what became the Battle of Cable Street.
The CP only threw their considerable weight behind the East End anti-fascist mobilisation when it was clear three days before that they had lost control of their own local members and sympathisers, who would follow the Independent Labour Party’s call on workers to block the route of the fascist march.
At first they told workers not to oppose the fascists in the East End, and instructed CP members to go to the Embankment and then Trafalgar Square instead.
Joe Jacobs, a local CP branch secretary who later broke with the party, was instructed by his superiors four days before the fascist march not to get involved and instead to build for a demonstration, miles away in Trafalgar Square, in support of the Spanish Republic against the Spanish fascists.
His instructions were clear: “Keep order, no excuse for the Government to say we, like the BUF, are hooligans. If Mosley decides to march, let him. Our biggest trouble tonight will be to keep order and discipline.”
In his posthumously published autobiography, Jacobs explains the reason for the eventual change of line very clearly: “The pressure from the people of Stepney, who went ahead with their own efforts to oppose Mosley, left no doubt in our minds that the CP would be finished in Stepney if this was allowed to go through as planned by our London leaders.”
The Labour Party and the trade union movement were against the fascists, but they also opposed direct action — physical force — to stop their activities. Like the Liberals, they instructed people to rely on the police to prevent disorder.
But unlike the establishment the labour movement feared destruction at the hands of the Nazis, not just discomfort. Even those who opposed direct action helped arouse the working class. The Labour Party and TUC research department published many pamphlets and leaflets which compared the BUF to Italian and German Fascism. In this climate, the militant “actionist” opponents of fascism gained support for physical opposition, even from normally non-militant Labour Party and trade union members.
The Independent Labour Party, not the CP, was the most consistently confrontational anti-fascist force in the East End and beyond.
The ILP had been one of the early constituent organisations of the Labour Party. It had split from the Labour Party in 1932, moving to the left. By 1936, the ILP, though it was still a hybrid political formation, in which bits of reformism, pacifism, and revolutionary socialism were confusingly mixed, was much nearer to being a communist party in the old sense of the word than the official “Communist Party” was. Some of its members were Trotskyists.
The ILP broke up fascist meetings by way of massing opposition, heckling and fighting. They barred fascist processions, organised petitions, and defended Jewish areas — particularly in the East End — from attack.
The Jewish Board of Deputies vehemently opposed the fascists, but it told the East End Jews to rely on the police. On no account should they oppose the fascists physically; that, the Jewish leadership insisted, would only add fuel to the fires of anti-semitism.
To many young Jews, political or not — and large numbers of Jews were members of the Communist Party, the Independent Labour Party, the Labour Party, and of Jewish left-wing groups like Hashomer Hatzair and the Workman’s Circles — the proper response to fascists marching through Jewish areas was simple: don’t let them!
The Jewish community had its own ex-servicemen’s anti-fascist militia, the Blue and White Shirts. British Jews, branching out from their orthodox background, were often attracted to revolutionary politics, many joining the CP. There were also many smaller, local anti-fascist bodies.
Cable Street entered working-class legend. It is rightly remembered as something the working class and its allies won against the combined might of the state and the fascists.
The Battle of Cable Street led directly to the Public Order Act. Rushed through the House of Commons, it became law on 1 January 1937. The Public Order Act is often and falsely seen by reformists as a significant hindrance to the fascists, and by some as the thing that finally killed off Mosleyism.
That is an illusion. The Act banned political uniforms, gave the police added powers to ban marches at will, and strengthened laws against racist abuse. Though it was an annoyance to the fascists, the Act did not cripple them and did not ”finish them off” as some too legalistic interpretations of its effect seem to suggest.
Even after the defeat at Cable Street, the BUF achieved and sustained a mass base of support in East London which, if repeated elsewhere, would have given them major political weight and at least the possibility of power. Not until the Second World War was the BUF really finished off, when fascism abroad became the universal enemy, and the BUF was increasingly viewed publicly as merely a satellite of the Nazis.
The POA was a broad blanket measure, designed more to help the police control left-wing opposition movements, for example the hunger marchers, than to suppress the BUF. For decades after Mosleyism had vanished down the great sewer of history, the POA was being used against the labour movement.
The POA did nothing to stop anti-Jewish harassment (despite a few prosecutions). It did not even stop the large-scale violence. On 3 October 1937 there was great violence when the Mosleyites, no longer Blackshirted, tried to march through Bermondsey, South London. Despite appeals by Doctor Salter, the much respected local Labour MP, to let the fascists pass and “protect their free speech”, local people erected barricades and there was serious fighting, not far from the scale of Cable Street.
The Public Order Act did not quell the BUF any more than the banning of nazi uniforms at one point quelled Hitler. If it appears so in retrospect, that is only because the BUF went into decline soon afterwards. The POA played at best a secondary and conditional role in that decline.
The fundamental determining factors in the BUF’s eventual failure were that economic conditions and the political relations built on them did not favour a radical counter-revolution in Britain.
Yet it was not “objective conditions” that stopped the police forcing a way for the British Hitlerites into Jewish East London: it was a quarter of a million workers massing on the streets to tell them that they would not pass, and making good the pledge by erecting barricades and fighting th BUF-shepherding police. A year after Cable Street, it was the working-class and the socialist movement which again put up barricades in Bermondsey to stop the fascists marching.
The great lesson for today is that the determination of the labour movement and Jewish community limited the effects of BUF terror and opened the prospects of defeating the BUF, irrespective of what the establishment did, including the labour movement establishment.
• This is an abridged version of an article in Workers’ Liberty 35
* Cable Street 80 official site (events, etc)
*March and rally: Sunday, 9th October
Assemble 12 noon @ Altab Ali Park, Whitechapel Road, London E1.
March to a rally @ St George’s Gardens, Cable Street. Speakers before and after the march include: Max Levitas (Cable Street veteran), Jeremy Corbyn MP, Rushanara Ali MP, Frances O’Grady (General Secretary, TUC), Unmesh Desai (GLA member, City and East London)
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