The first half of the 1950s was a quiet time for anti-fascists in the UK. The postwar threat of fascist revival, in the form of Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement, had been battered off the streets largely by the Jewish 43 Group, which had physically broken up Mosleyite meetings, attacking and dispersed fascists wherever they found them.
Britain’s prewar fascist leader Mosley had not only failed to make his comeback but had slunk off abroad, humiliated. With little to oppose, the antifascist movement faded away. The most militant of the anti-fascist organisations, the 43 Group, was dissolved in 1950 and the set piece street battles between fascists and anti-fascists soon seemed to belong to a bygone era.
Throughout the 50s, Mosley remained in exile abroad while a small group of die-hard loyalists, led by Raven Thompson, Alf Flockhart and Jeffrey Hamm, kept his Union Movement alive.
But in the mid-1950s the fascists began to rebuild their organisations, gaining support around the 1958 race riots, and by the early 1960s Britain was in the midst of a fascist revival.
From the late Fifties, the far right, while still harping on about Jews, began to target the emerging Black and Asian migrant communities. Local anti-immigration sentiment in areas like Notting Hill led to xenophobic attacks, rioting and racist murders, which the fascists encouraged and attempted to cash in on.
A splintered scene of minuscule fascist groups began to coalesce into more active movements. Fascist activities were most notable in London.
But London also saw the most effective anti-fascist resistance. London was also the place where most of Britain’s Jews lived and the anti-fascist opposition came in its most militant form from a section of the Jewish community who formed the 1962 Committee, (usually known as the 62 Group). During the 1950s there had been very little open fascist activity and correspondingly there had been very little anti-fascist activity, but when the Nazis began reviving, so too did opposition to them.
The 62 Group was largely made up of various left-wingers including people from the Communist Party, Jews and some Black migrants. For around 5 years from the early 1960s, the 62 Group set out to physically confront the fascists whenever they showed their faces. The success of the anti-fascists in disrupting the campaigns of the various fascist groups in the early and mid-60s prevented the Far Right from exploiting the growing racism and forced them to rethink their strategy.
The re-animated nazi corpse attempted to revive their favoured tactic, used before and after WW2, of trying to hold street meetings, often in areas where they had previously attempted to gain an audience or provoke local communities. One of these areas was in Ridley Road Market, Dalston, long at the heart of one of Hackney’s largest Jewish communities.
Oswald Mosley’s Union Movement had been battered in Ridley Road by the 43 Group a number of times in the late 1940s.
Mosley’s reception was not to improve over a decade later…
The Union Movement announced a street meeting in Ridley Road for 31 July 1962: it ended in fighting, after it was attacked by anti-fascists and 54 arrests.
The recently formed 62 Group and other opponents gathered to prevent the fascists from making themselves heard, and the attempted meeting ended with Mosley’s men getting a well-deserved pasting, as reported by the BBC:
“Former fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley has been assaulted at a rally in London’s east end.
He and members of his anti-Semitic Blackshirt group were punched to the ground as soon as his meeting opened at Ridley Road, Dalston.
Police were forced to close the meeting within three minutes and made 54 arrests – including Sir Oswald’s son Max.
A crowd of several thousand had gathered in the area, where Sir Oswald, leader of the Union Movement formerly known as the British Union of Fascists, planned to speak from the back of a lorry.
As soon as he appeared from between two police buses the crowd surged forward and knocked Sir Oswald to the ground.
He tried to fight back from the cobbles, before police helped him to climb on the lorry prepared for his address.
He was met by a hail of missiles including rotten fruit, pennies and stones and people tried to storm the platform.
His speech was drowned out by continuous boos and a chorus of “down with the fascists”.
Scuffles continued as Sir Oswald was shepherded to his car and his vehicle was punched and kicked as it drove off though a gangway cleared by mounted police.
Trouble started long before the meeting began as over 200 police – including 10 on horseback – attempted to clear an area around the lorry-platform.
It took the authorities another hour after Sir Oswald left to clear people from nearby Kingsland High Road.
Those arrested will appear in court tomorrow charged with public order offences.
Amongst the injured were last year’s Mayor of Hackney, Alderman Sherman, and his wife.
They both received medical treatment after being struck with an iron bar.”
Local paper the Hackney Gazette reported: “Despite a TV appeal by the Mayor for Hackney residents to keep away from Ridley Road, by 7.30 about 1500 people had gathered at the corner of Ridley Road. Immediately he appeared, the crowd pressed in on Sir Oswald. He was pulled to the ground, punched and kicked. Fierce fighting then broke out, combined with shouts of “Down with Mosley, down with Germany.” Mosley disappeared under a group of struggling, punching men and women, only to reappear and start hitting, fighting his way to a loudspeaker lorry. His words were drowned by the shouts of the crowd and the sudden cry of “Sieg Heil”- the victory cry of Hitler. Coins and tomatoes were thrown at the lorry, and Sir Oswald fought his way to a green car, just as the police stopped the meeting. Abuse was hurled at Mosley, but he forced his way into the back seat with a bodyguard on each side. The lorry of his supporters, surrounded by mounted police, made its way into Kingsland High Street. People on board were shouting “Two-Four-Six-Eight, who do we appreciate?” The ensuing cry of “MOSLEY” incensed the crowd, which chased the lorry. Shop windows in the High Street were broken as men and youths, chasing the lorry, clashed with police.” (Hackney Gazette, 3/8/62)
Several times winner of the ‘Worst Fascist Leader Ever’ Award, Mosley also managed to whinge out his own account to the Gazette: “I was approaching a meeting at Ridley Road, Dalston, where I had spoken previously on June 24 to a large audience in conditions of complete order. On this occasion, as I approached the platform, a crowd of men rushed me from my left rear. Several jumped on me and threw me to the ground. There were several of us, it appeared to me, on the ground together.” Sir Oswald went on, “While I wrestled with these assailants on the floor, others kicked me on the head and leg.” After referring to marks which he said he had on the right side of his chin and by his eye – he also had a swollen shinbone – and someone had stepped on his finger – Sir Oswald declared, “I heard others in the group using terms such as ‘Kill him!’ and ‘Put the boot in!’ .” (Hackney Gazette, 3/8/62
That’s the master race, there, whining…
A few weeks later, on September 2nd, Mosley and his acolytes, and other far right groups, tried to hold another rally in Ridley Road and Bethnal Green – with similar results…