Daniel Penny in The New Yorker:
On October 4, 1936, tens of thousands of Zionists, Socialists, Irish dockworkers, Communists, anarchists, and various outraged residents of London’s East End gathered to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists from marching through their neighborhood. This clash would eventually be known as the Battle of Cable Street: protesters formed a blockade and beat back some three thousand Fascist Black Shirts and six thousand police officers. To stop the march, the protesters exploded homemade bombs, threw marbles at the feet of police horses, and turned over a burning lorry. They rained down a fusillade of projectiles on the marchers and the police attempting to protect them: rocks, brickbats, shaken-up lemonade bottles, and the contents of chamber pots. Mosley and his men were forced to retreat.
In “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” published last week by Melville House, the historian Mark Bray presents the Battle of Cable Street as a potent symbol of how to stop Fascism: a strong, unified coalition outnumbered and humiliated Fascists to such an extent that their movement fizzled. For many members of contemporary anti-Fascist groups, the incident remains central to their mythology, a kind of North Star in the fight against Fascism and white supremacy across Europe and, increasingly, the United States. According to Bray, antifa (pronounced an-tee-fah) “can variously be described as a kind of ideology, an identity, a tendency or milieu, or an activity of self-defense.” It’s a leaderless, horizontal movement whose roots lie in various leftist causes—Communism, anarchism, Socialism, anti-racism. The movement’s profile has surged since antifa activists engaged in a wave of property destruction during Donald Trump’s Inauguration—when one masked figure famously punched the white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face—and ahead of a planned appearance, in February, by Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley, which was cancelled. At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a number of antifa activists, carrying sticks, blocked entrances to Emancipation Park, where white supremacists planned to gather. Fights broke out; some antifa activists reportedly sprayed chemicals and threw paint-filled balloons. Multiple clergy members credited activists with saving their lives. Fox News reported that a White House petition urging that antifa be labelled a terrorist organization had received more than a hundred thousand signatures.