80 years ago, London's immigrant communities fought back to halt a fascist march

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The Battle of Cable Street: London immigrants fight fascist march
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The Battle of Cable Street: London immigrants fight fascist march
4th October 1936: British politician Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896 - 1980) inspects members of his British Union of Fascists in Royal Mint Street, London. The photograper Len Puttnam is seen left. The BUF's presence sparked a riot which became known as the Battle of Cable Street. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
4th October 1936: British politician Sir Oswald Ernald Mosley (1896 - 1980) inspects members of his British Union of Fascists in Royal Mint Street, London. Their presence sparked a riot which became known as the Battle of Cable Street. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) when Mosley's supporters were gathering in Great Mint Street for a march through the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street; anti-Fascists are pushed back by police on October 4, 1936 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) in London: anti-Fascists were setting up barricades against a march of Mosley's supporters in Cable Street in the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street; police removing the barricades on October 4, 1936 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
4th October 1936: Policemen arresting a demonstrator when fascists and communists clashed during a march know as the Battle of Cable Street led by British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley in London's East End. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
'Battle of Cable Street', Aldgate, London, 5th October 1936. An anti-Fascist crowd, some of them carrying missiles, run from a barricade they have erected near Aldgate. The police are charging on the far side of the barricade, which has been reinforced with paving stones. (Photo by Jewish Chronicle/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) in London: anti-Fascists were setting up barricades against a march of Mosley's supporters in Cable Street in the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street; an anti-Fascist is taken away by police on October 4, 1936 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) in London: anti-Fascists were setting up barricades against a march of Mosley's supporters in Cable Street in the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street; an anti-Fascist is taken away by police on October 4, 1936 (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
5th October 1936: Repairing a pavement in Cable Street, Mark Lane, London which was ripped up to prevent a Fascist march. (Photo by Maeers/Fox Photos/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) when Mosley's supporters were gathering in Great Mint Street for a march through the East End of London culminating in the Battle of Cable Street; an activist who lost her shoe is taken away by police (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
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In 1936, a tide of fascism was sweeping across Europe. Adolf Hitler had seized and consolidated power as führer of Nazi Germany, and was throwing his support behind Francisco Franco's Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War.

The British Union of Fascists, founded in 1932 by far-right MP Oswald Mosley, had developed a sizable following among the working and middle classes thanks to isolationist and protectionist policies. This following shrank dramatically as the BUF — known as "blackshirts," after their uniforms — adopted a xenophobic, antisemitic platform and clashed violently and repeatedly with anti-fascist protesters.

In October, Mosley and his blackshirts announced a plan to march through London's East End, a neighborhood populated mainly by Irish and Jewish refugees and immigrants. The government allowed it against the strenuous objections of local groups.

Some anti-fascist groups, including the Labour party and Jewish Board of deputies, decided to ignore the march to starve it of attention.

Most, however, were not about to allow such a thing in their community. A broad coalition of Jews, Irish, Communists, Socialists, unionists, dockworkers and other East Londoners were determined to halt the fascist march by any means necessary.

On the day of the march, Mosley marshaled about 3,000 blackshirts on Royal Mint Street. The fascists were protected by approximately 6,000 police, many of them on horseback.

They were met by tens of thousands of demonstrators who blocked the streets with improvised barricades, tearing up paving stones and tossing furniture out of windows to make the marchers' route impassable.

When the police charged the barricades and attempted to clear the route, they were pelted with garbage, rotten vegetables, stones, and the contents of a few chamber pots.

As the police swung truncheons and pushed into the seething crowds, the demonstrators chanted the Spanish Civil War slogan "No pasarán!" or "they shall not pass!"

The battle raged for hours through the narrow streets, resulting in hundreds of injuries to police officers and demonstrators, including women and children, and around 150 arrests.

Finally, Mosley called off the march, and the anti-fascists declared triumph.

The battle initially appeared to be a pyrrhic victory for the protesters, as it led to a spike in fascist support and antisemitic violence — exactly what Mosley wanted. However, laws were quickly passed which banned marching in uniform and required police permission for marches.

The British Union of Fascists declined in membership as it became increasingly associated with Nazi Germany. In 1940, the party was banned altogether, and Mosley was interned for the much of the war.

Today, the East End — now home to communities of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere — bears numerous plaques and memorials to the Battle of Cable Street, a moment of solidarity against racism and fascism before the bloodshed of World War II.

Related: This meme was just classified as a hate symbol:

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