Back in 2006 as people gathered by the imposing Cable Street mural in London’s East End, to mark the 70th anniversary of an iconic moment in the battle against the fascists in 1930s Britain, there was a lot of media interest in the few surviving fighters who were there to recall their famous triumph. The veterans told the crowd how the fascists had come to the area to divide Jews and non-Jews and set them against each other but instead the community united against this threat and built barricades that prevented thousands of police from forcing a pathway through for Oswald Mosley’s uniformed fascists.
Many who attended on that day were convinced that this was probably the final commemoration. But, if anything, the plans to mark the 75th anniversary in October 2011 are even more expansive. The centrepieces this year’s are a march (unaffected by the government’s recent restrictions) on the morning of Sunday October 2nd from Aldgate to a rally by the Cable Street mural, and a day long festival hosted in Wilton’s Music Hall, a stone’s throw from where the fiercest fighting took place on October 4th 1936. Wilton’s had played its own part on that day, providing refreshments for those engaged in the anti-fascist protest.
The 2011 march is organised by Cable Street 75 – a coalition bringing together trade unions, anti-fascist organisations, political groups, Jewish organisations and several local Bangladeshi organisations. The Bengali activists in this coalition regard the struggles they have led – mobilising against the National Front in Brick lane in the late 1970s and against the BNP on the Isle of Dogs in 1993 – as later chapters in a narrative that goes back to the battle of Cable Street in 1936. Local Bengali speakers will join Jewish Cable Street veteran Max Levitas and trade union leaders such as Bob Crow of the RMT on the platform at the rally on October 2nd.
People rallying by the mural will be encouraged to continue their celebration at Wilton’s where there will be music, stalls, exhibitions, a book launch of five Cable Street related publications, a panel discussion about working class writers of the 1930s, and a variety show in the evening called “They Shall Not Pass” which features singer and activist Billy Bragg, comedian Shappi Khorsandi, poet Michael Rosen and several other performers.
On Tuesday October 4th – the actual anniversary – Wilton’s hosts the preview of “From Cable Street to Brick Lane” made by local film-makers Phil Maxwell and Hazuan Hashim, which uses personal testimony to emphasise both the continuity of racist and fascist activity in the East End and the determined struggle across communities to defend the area as an anti-racist space. Meanwhile, in North London the Jewish Museum has an exciting programme of eight events – films, discussions, historical walks and a musical – which it has called “Radical Roots 1936”, and which focus on memories of Cable Street and the creation of the international Brigades of volunteers who went to fight fascism in Spain.
The common thread running through these, and other 75th anniversary commemorations, is a pride in the way ordinary people defended their community from the fascists and from the attempts of state forces to assist the fascists that October day. By bringing people together across different communities today, to mark the victory in 1936, the organisers are also determined to challenge the specious claim parroted by right wing politicians across Europe that “multiculturalism has failed”.
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