The world is a better place because of my friend Max Levitas

Jeremy Corbyn writes about the Cable Street veteran, who died at 103 last week

November 08, 2018 11:05

I have no doubt the world is a better place because of Max Levitas, my friend who died last week at the magnificent age of 103.

At the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 he, along with tens of thousands of others, stopped Britain’s fascists in their tracks. When Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, and 3,000 of his men attempted to march through a largely Jewish part of East London in a display of antisemitic intimidation, they were vastly outnumbered by a mass demonstration of resistance. 

Jewish groups, socialists, Communists, anarchists, trade unionists and others filled the streets. Many from the East End Irish community stood in solidarity with their Jewish neighbours, while others poured in from further afield, including my own mother, who remembered that day with pride for the rest of her life.

Max, then a tailor’s presser, ran messages for the organisers. As the police attempted to clear a path for Mosley to march, he saw Jewish tailors and Irish dockers building barricades to block the streets, while women in houses emptied chamber pots and scattered marbles on the ground to impede the police horses. 

The resistance was too much for the police and Mosley’s fascists, who were turned away and forced to disperse. Jubilant demonstrators chanted the Spanish Civil War slogan, “No pasarán”— they shall not pass — and on this occasion, they did not.

It was a crushing practical and symbolic defeat for the fascists inflicted not by the government, which had rejected a petition of 100,000 names calling for the march to be banned, but by “the ordinary people of Stepney,” as Max put it, defending their own communities and refusing to be divided.

Max’s family was only too familiar with the threat of antisemitism. His parents came to London, via Dublin and Glasgow, from Lithuania and Latvia, fleeing pogroms in the Tsarist Russian Empire. They were part of the largest ever migration of Jewish people to this country. Shamefully, the British government’s response to thousands of desperate people escaping persecution and death was to pass the Aliens Act of 1905, restricting Jewish immigration.

Max’s father was a tailor and a militant trade unionist, which got him blacklisted by all of the garment makers of Dublin, forcing the family’s move to Britain. In London, Max continued the tradition of working class activism. From the 1930s right through to the 2010s he was a tireless defender of the rights of tenants. A local legend, he earned the lasting respect of his community and served as a councillor in Tower Hamlets for many years.

Sadly, the struggle against fascism and racism that Max fought for his whole life is far from over, as the horrific antisemitic murder of 11 worshipers in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last month painfully underline. The far right is on the rise around the world, including in Britain and Europe as a whole.

Grassroots organising and solidarity of the kind Max devoted himself to is essential to face down this threat. It is only by coming together in all our diversity that we will defeat the politics of hatred and division. As Max said of Cable Street: “I knew the only way to stop [Mosley] was to have unity of the people.”

To his dying breath, Max opposed fascism and racism. In 2013, at the age of 98, he gave a speech of great passion and energy at a rally proclaiming: “EDL Not Welcome in Tower Hamlets.” I saw him at the commemoration of the 80th anniversary of Cable Street in 2016. Max’s family put it best, tweeting after his death: “No Pasarán, and with Max they never did.”

November 08, 2018 11:05

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