8. Brick Lane - fascism and anti-fascism, London

An account of running confrontations between fascists and anti-fascists on London's Brick Lane in the 1980s and 1990s.

This was a long-running sore for the anti-fascist movement. The fascists had been selling their newspapers at the corner of Brick Lane and Bethnal Green Road on-and-off since Mosely’s time in the 1930’s. Despite being in the middle of the East End Bangladeshi community and opposite a Jewish bakers, the fascists used that place as a focus to fraternise as well as sell their propaganda every Sunday morning. They seemed to receive a warm welcome afterwards in local pubs such as The Blade Bone, The Sun or The Weavers Arms, all under the benevolent gaze of Bethnal Green police force.

AFA and DAM had numerous attempts at knocking them off that pitch. Sometimes it would just be ambushing stragglers, or sometimes we fielded over 50 combatants to take over their pitch, and hold it against all comers. One such battle spilled right across the Bethnal Green Road for several minutes, then the police moved in and arrested more from our side than theirs, surprise, surprise.

Another occasion about six of us from the DAM got tooled up then went down there to sell our newspaper Direct Action in order to provoke a reaction. After about ten minutes standing opposite, one of them – Martin Cross – wandered over and asked how much to buy a paper. My comrade said 50p, the proper price. I was standing nearby in a bolshy mood and said “It’s a quid for fash”. He looked at me, then quick as a flash headbutted me. I was so surprised I just stood there for a few seconds. Martin Cross turned and walked away. He probably had a good laugh about that later. I didn’t. I was so ashamed at being so slow to react. Oh well, we live and learn.

Another time a couple of us had been checking out the fascists one Sunday morning and decided to head off home when who should be walking towards us? Ian Anderson, leader of the NF! A police van full of cops was cruising past at that moment so we whispered not to do anything. But the cop van passed and a few seconds later we were so close to Anderson that I couldn’t resist booting him. I kicked him in the bollocks as hard as I could, and my DAM comrade started battering him too as he slumped to the pavement. Then we legged it into a nearby housing estate before the police van could do a U-turn.

(In the 1970’s, when the skinhead scene was big, East London suffered a whole catalogue of racist abuse, attacks and even murder – e.g. Altab Ali. Fascist stickers and graffiti were everywhere including slogans daubed all along the outside wall of Bethnal Green Police Station, which they did nothing to remove. In an effort to get the police to do something about the violence community groups held a meeting with Chief Superintendent John Wallis of the Met. He said the only way to stop the National Front selling their papers at Brick Lane was “…to arrive there earlier”. When local Bengali youth groups and others did exactly that they were arrested for an Action Likely to Cause a Breach of the Peace. See Brick Lane 1978 by Kenneth Leech.)

Ironically the fascists were only finally knocked off their Brick Lane pitch after the BNP got a councillor, Derek Beackon, elected locally. The election was on a Thursday, and the following Sunday when the fascists were expected to be having a victory parade at Brick Lane a massive punch-up got rid of them. I was not there then, but my comrade said the anti-fascists walked up to them singing Rule Britannia, to confuse them. As usual the police thought nothing of wasting tax-payers money by using helicopters to follow certain anti-fascists afterwards. We mobilised for several Sundays afterwards in case the fash tried to come back mob-handed.