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"They Shall Not Pass - No Pasaran!"
October 4, 2011 8:49 AM   Subscribe

"As the sun rose on that fateful day, thousands of blackshirts gathered in the cool morning air, trading jokes and cigarettes. Their boots and belts were well-polished. Those with peaked caps wore them at no angle but the true. The Union’s flags hung limply on their poles, waiting to be unfurled and waved in the faces of the fearful public. Hundreds of policemen – also, in a technical sense, in black shirts, boots and belts – formed up alongside the Fascist column, determined to escort them on an errand that none thought wise or good but which no one had said was illegal.
The signal was given. The march began. It was October 4th, 1936"

It has been 75 years since the battle of Cable Street, when "people in the East End of London stopped Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists marching through Cable Street, in Stepney, then a mainly Jewish area. A slogan from the Spanish Civil War, a popular anti-fascist cause of the time, was widely used: They Shall Not Pass - No Pasaran!"

To the left, the confrontation has often become a source of inspiration. A march and concert took place on Sunday to honor the 75th anniversary, attended by thousands of people, including veterans of the incident. For many, the story still has resonance today.


Cable Street memories: The day that every horse went down
The Battle Of Cable Street - The day the Fascists were stopped in their tracks

A high resolution image of the mural,
which survived its own neo-fascist attack in the 80s.

Archival news footage of the clash.



An interview with Ubby Cowan, one of the men at the clash 75 years ago.


"It showed us that if you are in the right, you've got to ignore the objections to what you're doing, and you've got to stick to your guns. You stand up for what you believe in, then you can make history."

posted by Stagger Lee (44 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think I got the dates and details right on this one.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:54 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is... averyinteresting post! Had never heard of it. How well known is it in England?
posted by curious nu at 8:57 AM on October 4, 2011




Oswald Mosley. Was there ever a more punchable face?
posted by Iridic at 8:58 AM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Ah, the good old days, when not all white people were racist.

I appreciate this post. Maybe another one about the Anti-Nazi League battling with the NF back in the seventies might just about get me fully over that other bloody nonsense.

How well known is it in England?
posted by curious nu at 4:57 PM on October 4


Very well known indeed. At least it is amongst my generation and older. I hope it is amongst younger people too.
posted by Decani at 9:00 AM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


¡No pasarán!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:00 AM on October 4, 2011


Oswald Mosley. Was there ever a more punchable face?

Yes.
posted by metaxa at 9:00 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oswald Mosley. Was there ever a more punchable face?
And here's a tale him getting just that from Jewish boxer Ted Lewis.

Old anarchist reprobate Albert Meltzer (a veteran of punch-ups with the Blackshirts at his then early age) has a bit of a cynical take on the day in his autobiography:
I was a few streets away at an open-air meeting, the first one I ever spoke at, and my first time in the East End proper. Inspired by the incident at Ridley Road, I hadn't known about the march. When I looked back at the three boxing club supporters I brought with me, I found they had all gone off to watch the fun at Cable Street, and I had to make up my mind what to do. I carried on until all the crowd vanished, whether attracted by the noise or bored by me. Abandoning the attempt at enlightenment, I walked up to Gardiner's Corner where I saw Fenner Brockway looking very excited. Later I learned he telephoned the Home Secretary to warn him of possible bloodshed, and the Home Secretary contacted the police and they called the Mosley march off and they went back. No way would the Mosleyites have proceeded without their police guard. The CP version has passed into myth, but that was how Fenner Brockway stopped the police marching through the East End.
posted by Abiezer at 9:02 AM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oswald Mosley. Was there ever a more punchable face?

Getting there.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:04 AM on October 4, 2011


I quite like young Joey, especially this new philosophical turn on Twitter. Plus I wouldn't fancy me chances.
posted by Abiezer at 9:08 AM on October 4, 2011


British Union of Flascists
posted by DU at 9:09 AM on October 4, 2011




Maybe another one about the Anti-Nazi League battling with the NF back in the seventies might just about get me fully over that other bloody nonsense.
Here you go.
posted by Abiezer at 9:25 AM on October 4, 2011


The 70th Anniversary post has a lot of good links too.

And while the book is a hodge-podge of many influences, most notably Les Miserables, pTerry's Night Watch has Ankh-Morpork's Cable Street as a focal point of action as well.
posted by kmz at 9:27 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]



The 70th Anniversary post has a lot of good links too.


Thanks I would have credited that, but it somehow evaded my searching.
Not enough coffee.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:28 AM on October 4, 2011


Abandoning the attempt at enlightenment, I walked up to Gardiner's Corner where I saw Fenner Brockway looking very excited. Later I learned he telephoned the Home Secretary to warn him of possible bloodshed, and the Home Secretary contacted the police and they called the Mosley march off and they went back. No way would the Mosleyites have proceeded without their police guard. The CP version has passed into myth, but that was how Fenner Brockway stopped the police marching through the East End.

The thing is, this is a willful misreading - without the popular resistance, the Mosleyites would have had a police escort and held their march. The goal of stopping a march is to stop the march, not to have a punch-up, as much as some folks enjoy one.

There's this thing with anarchists - and I say it as an anarchist - that we tend to hold out for single etiologies rather than develop a complicated understanding of causes. So of course, the CP version has nothing to do with it, popular resistance is useless unless it's led by anarchists on anarchist terms, popular movements led by non-anarchists never change or evolve and everything that isn't done by anarchists is merely a catspaw for the state.
posted by Frowner at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


I actually found it by accident while Googling for Night Watch/Cable Street connections.
posted by kmz at 9:33 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Given this historical context, I've always wondered why 50+ years on, the Jeeves and Wooster television series featured the humorous fascist character, Roderick Spode. There's really nothing very funny at all about this stuff.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:38 AM on October 4, 2011


Laughing at fascists is the cornerstone of almost all British humour.
posted by dng at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2011 [8 favorites]


Don't disagree entirely Frowner; I think Albert was being cheeky and iconoclastic as was his wont - which is 'willful' - and it's in the context of his debates with the orthodox left over many years. From his own words you can tell that the popular resistance was necessary - otherwise why would Brockway have feared a bloodbath?
But on the other hand, pointing out that the CP did have a tendency to mythologise and reconstruct was entirely valid, though perhaps more so within internecine left debate than as regards the significance of the day. I thought the OP had covered that well, hence chucked this spanner into the works.
posted by Abiezer at 9:44 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Laughing at fascists is the cornerstone of almost all British humour.

That and bare bottoms.
posted by Hoopo at 9:45 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wodehouse of course was sometimes rather naive about fascists.
posted by kmz at 9:46 AM on October 4, 2011


the Jeeves and Wooster television series featured the humorous fascist character, Roderick Spode.

Because he's in the books?
posted by DU at 9:47 AM on October 4, 2011


Not the Nine O'Clock News commenting on the glorification in the newspapers of this man after his death.
posted by Harry at 9:54 AM on October 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I just read the biography of the Mitford sisters, including Mosley's (2nd) wife Diana. A really amazing book although I was struck by how apologetic/sympathetic the author was towards the fascist sisters (including the one who, whoops, got an apartment from Hitler that a nice Jewish couple was conveniently leaving) and how unsympathetic she was towards the left-wing sister (whose broke husband was apparently an awful person for selling some top hats he stole from a club rather than throwing them in the Thames).

Regardless, I highly recommend the book.
posted by hydrobatidae at 10:03 AM on October 4, 2011


Billy Bragg, who played at the concert on Sunday, references the Battle of Cable Street in his song the Battle of Barking.
We defeated these people, but they never go away. So once you've joined our tradition, you'll be called on not only again to come forward and to stand up against the racists and the fascists, but also to pass that message on to your community and to your children and to your grandchildren. That's what this fight is about.
posted by swishypants at 10:08 AM on October 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wodehouse was not rather naive about fascists, like many of the British upper classes, he thought fascism was a better system than the alternatives. Can we not underplay this? (I mean at least with Pound we got the Pisan Cantos.)
posted by PinkMoose at 10:12 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]



This kind of nonsense:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:15 AM on October 4, 2011


Actually I should clarify that, lest I be accused of needlessly stomping on literature.

Into, and following WW1 a certain sort of person in Europe was having some disillusionment with democracy, and the repercussions of handing the reigns over to the masses. There was definitely an elitist sentiment that longed for an imagined past of prosperity and stability, and believed that maybe, just maybe, a good strong leader would bring them there.

There's plenty of fertile ground there for apologists of a certain kind of fascism.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:18 AM on October 4, 2011


My point was, 50+ years on, I wonder why ITV chose to include Roderick Spode as a humorous fascist - there was so much other material they could have used.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 AM on October 4, 2011


Because Spode is pretty funny and makes an excellent foil to Bertie. Second to his sometime ally Sir Roderick Glossop he's Bertie's best antagonist. While you can criticize Wodehouse for his WWII broadcasts (though they don't bother me) he was never particularly friendly to British fascism.

He continually held Spode up for mockery.

"The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting ‘Heil, Spode!’ and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: ‘Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?"

He has Spode designing women's undergarments in his spare time: "You can't be a successful Dictator and design women's underclothing."

(Also, I'd take Code of the Woosters over the Pisan Canto's any day of the week and twice on Sundays)

(Also^2, it will be the 130th anniversary of Wodehouse's birth on the 15th)

He gave communism a more positive image than fascism got in Spode in Psmith, Comrade Waller, and in a few characters in J&W short stories. Though Bertie is sensibly a little concerned about what might become of him when the revolution comes in those short stories. Wodehouse's attitude towards fascism is about as unfriendly as it could be and still be silly Wodehouse fun and not a polemic.
posted by pseudonick at 10:58 AM on October 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


The point several of us are trying to make, pseudonick, is that Wodehouse is politically suspect because he never calls for a Joint Proletarian Dictatorship of the Oppressed Nations.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 11:11 AM on October 4, 2011


I've always wondered why 50+ years on, the Jeeves and Wooster television series featured the humorous fascist character, Roderick Spode

Fidelity to source, just as a stab in the back dark?
posted by dhartung at 11:18 AM on October 4, 2011


Wodehouse was not rather naive about fascists, like many of the British upper classes, he thought fascism was a better system than the alternatives. Can we not underplay this?

Cite, please?

Chesterton, anyway, would have flipped his lid over the Battle of Cable Street. It would have thrilled him to his core.

His cousin A.K.Chesterton, no doubt, but G.K. was seriously down on Hitler from the get go and had no use for Mosley.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:45 AM on October 4, 2011


Chesterton, anyway, would have flipped his lid over the Battle of Cable Street. It would have thrilled him to his core.

His cousin A.K.Chesterton, no doubt, but G.K. was seriously down on Hitler from the get go and had no use for Mosley.


Huh? The original statement obviously was talking about how thrilled G.K. Chesterton would have been at the Fascists getting put down.
posted by kmz at 11:49 AM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


A few weeks ago the English Defence League - a modern, boorish, less polished version of the blackshirts - were stopped by the police and anti-fascist protesters at the border of Whitechapel, just up the road from Cable St.

Most of the anti-fascist protesters were white (that I saw anyway). The area is 30% bangladeshi and 50% non-white.
posted by Summer at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Huh? The original statement obviously

So it does. My bad. I blame the tiny type and tired eyes.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:24 PM on October 4, 2011


No talk of battling fascists is complete without pointing out Vidal Sassoon was a street fighting man against Mosley's bunch AFTER World War II as a member of the 43 Group.
posted by jadepearl at 2:27 PM on October 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I was struck by how apologetic/sympathetic the author was towards the fascist sisters (including the one who, whoops, got an apartment from Hitler that a nice Jewish couple was conveniently leaving)..." I am guessing that would be the amazingly-named Unity Valkyrie Mitford, who also deserves historical recollection for having performed the rather remarkable feat of shooting herself in the head in 1939 when her friend, Adolf Hitler, alienated a great many Britons by invading Poland. She somehow managed to defer dying for nine years, and then because of an infection caused by the bullet in her brain.
posted by Mike D at 2:55 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just read the biography of the Mitford sisters....

It's been a while since I read the book, but I think the annoyance re: stealing the hats from Eton (that is to say, from schoolboys, not club members) was the utter juvenility of the act. He put himself out as a share the wealth communist who was going to stick it to the man by tossing them in the river when all he really was was a thief who did it for money.

My take on the sympathy for Unity was in part that she was clearly nuts. Her unsuccessful suicide attempt when Germany and Hitler went to war was at the very least tragic. Mrs Mosley, wrong headed as she was, paid for hanging with Moseley with jail time and a tarnished reputation.

What are we to make of lefty Jessica, wife of the hat thief? The author notes that she essentially cut herself off from the rest of her family (even the unextreme ones) and repaid their kindnesses badly. When her husband died in the war, Winston Churchill himself got some money together to help Jessica take care of her baby daughter. Jessica, for whatever reason, rather publicly and ungraciously passed it on to others. Later, when she wrote her memoirs (largely a re-tread of elder sister Nancy Mitford's bestselling novels) she wrote unkindly (and inaccurately) about various extended relatives who had back in the day gone out of their way to be nice to her. No good deed.

Rather grasping about inheritance I seem to recall, more perhaps than is becoming a radical lefty. And when the widowed mother who had had to put up with the weird sisters was to retire to an island in Scotland, was it? An island distributed to all the surviving family, Jessica thought it would be jolly good wheeze to give her portion to the British communist party so they could have singalongs and such and wouldn't that annoy mumsy? (Again, it's a while since I've read it, but I seem to recall that even the British communists thought that was going it a bit.)

A little bit off kilter, was Jessica. Didn't know when to stop a tease.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:01 PM on October 4, 2011


A little bit off kilter were all the Mitfords.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:05 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just read the biography of the Mitford sisters, including Mosley's (2nd) wife Diana.

His first wife, Cynthia "Cimmie" Curzon, came of a background and family that makes for some interesting reading as well. Cimmie's father was George Curzon, who was in turn Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, then Viceroy of India, then Leader of the House of Lords, then member of the War Cabinet during the First World War, then Foreign Secretary, and finally Lord President of the Council. Cimmie herself was an Member of Parliament. Tom treated Cimmie none too well, and was constantly unfaithful. One of his many affairs was with Cimmie's younger sister, Alexandra "Baba" Curzon Metcalfe. Cimmie died at the age of 34 after an appendectomy. This was not uncomon in a pre-antibiotic era, but it's also been said that she put up no fight for her life at all. She had loved her husband passionately, and Tom's treatment of her broke her spirit.
posted by orange swan at 7:02 PM on October 4, 2011


They stood up to hatred
Mark Gould meets veterans of the 43 Group, an organisation of Jewish ex-servicemen who waged a five-year war against Oswald Mosley's fascists
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:28 PM on October 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep Mike D, it was Unity Valkyrie, conceived in Swastika, Ontario.

"the annoyance re:stealing the hats from Eton...was the utter juvenility of the act"

Well the biographer was certainly annoyed. But I find that surprising - they (Jessica, her boyfriend/distant cousin, and their friend Toynbee) had all been cut off from their parents for their political beliefs so they really didn't have a lot of money. I guess it would have been a more 'self-less' act to throw them away (actually that was a suggestion of the biographer) but Toynbee's girlfriend who dumped him was mad about the theft, not what ended up happening to the hats. There's just something very upper class about the thought that you can protest but you're never supposed to benefit from the protest.

I don't think Unity was nuts, any more than I think that a super Justin Beiber fan is nuts. The suicide attempt was because she couldn't bare that her two favourite countries would be going to war, and I think she knew she would never be welcomed back into England and that Germany was going to be a battleground (plus Hitler would be too busy to hang around with her). I actually think she was willingly ignorant of the horrors of Hitler and she wasn't a good person however much her sister (the Communist) loved her.

As for Jessica, my sympathies are with her. Her family never seemed to take her seriously, perhaps because she was one of the youngest. (...and for everyone reading, Winston Churchill was her cousin so it wasn't like the PM was rounding up money for her, it was her cousin rounding up money for her). I think her relatives got away with a lot (like Diana never really apologizing for supporting Hitler) just by smiling and going on like nothing was wrong. And I think it really grated on Jessica to see that. Or maybe that was me projecting. That family was way off normal - and for no real reason, they seemed to be typical upper class, not really rich, people until they found politics.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:54 AM on October 5, 2011


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