In October 1932, during a period of great economic stress, rising unemployment, poverty and hunger Oswald Mosley launched his new party, the British Union of Fascists. They tried to present themselves as the saviours of the nation, but what they really offered was a mixture of hyper-nationalism, antisemitic scapegoating and violence, and an attack on democracy. Unlike other political parties and organisations they had a paramilitary style uniform and called themselves “Blackshirts”.
Backed by wealthy donors and receiving funds channelled from Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy, by 1936, their strongest area of support was among the struggling working class population of East London, that lived on the edges of the district populated by impoverished working class Jews. He tried especially to win the support of Irish Catholics against the Jews. Mosley built four large branches in this area. He planned a major show of strength for the beginning of October. Posters advertised a planned invasion of the area by “Four marching columns” heading towards “Four great meetings”. But an anti-fascist movement that was uniting Jewish and non-Jewish workers locally was also growing.
On 4th October, 1936, the people of the East End inflicted a massive defeat on Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists.
Attempts by the Blackshirts to march through Whitechapel were routed by more than 100,000 ant-fascist, ant-racist protestors from the local area, supported by those who came from across London and beyond to stand shoulder to shoulder against Mosley’s troops.
As the fascists assembled in Royal Mint Street, near the tower, they were attacked by large groups of workers. When the Metropolitan Police tried to clear a path through Gardiner’s Corner, a blockade of tens of thousands of people stood firm.
Finally the police tried to escort Mosley and his Blackshirt thugs down Cable Street. They were stopped by local residents – Jewish, Irish, English – who built barricades and hurled back the invaders by force.
Local communists, socialists, trade unionists and Jewish organisations united to mobilise and coordinate the anti-fascist resistance. They built local campaigns among workers, tenants and the unemployed to fight for real solutions to people’s real problems.
Together they won a famous victory and put the skids under Britain’s first fascist mass movement.