The foregrounding of militant anti-Semitism from 1935 onwards marked a turning point in the fortunes of British fascism and correspondingly heralded a second wave of popular anti-fascist activity, which peaked at the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ on 4 October 1936. This legendary episode should be situated in a chronology of antifascism which recognises that events at Cable Street proceeded from a relative decline in anti-fascist activity during 1935. The perception that Cable Street was the dramatic climax of an uninterrupted sequence of ascending conflicts between fascists and anti-fascists starting in 1932 and culminating in October 1936 may be widely shared but it has little foundation in fact. It should be additionally noted that any satisfactory chronology must recognise that anti-fascist responses from early 1936 became increasingly defined in terms of opposition to anti-Semitism. The greater prominence afforded to anti-Semitism by the BUF led to more substantive involvement by the Jewish community in anti-fascist activity and thereby widened the popular base of anti-fascist opposition. It is common knowledge that the BUF’s campaign against Jewry was focused on

the East End of London where the Jewish community was estimated to number over 100,000 in a national Jewish population of some 330,000. Around 43 per cent of London’s Jews resided in Stepney, 15 per cent in Bethnal Green, and 6 per cent in Shoreditch. Combining a generous supply of street-corner meetings with increasing levels of anti-Semitic abuse, intimidation, harassment and violence, the BUF’s campaign began in Bethnal Green in late 1935 before widening out to other East End districts during 1936. In addition to Jew-baiting from the soapbox, Blackshirts would parade through East End markets on Sundays, shout insults and implore locals not to buy produce from Jewish traders. Jews would be followed into back streets and physically assaulted. Many Jews feared going out at night.

Green Street, Bethnal Green, was particularly notorious as the place to avoid for it housed the local BUF headquarters. In July 1936 George Lansbury, Labour MP for Bow and Bromley, spoke of the ‘real terror of the Jewish population’ in London’s East End.1