I am indebted to Richard Burgon, MP for East Leeds, one of the rising stars of the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, for highlighting an important moment in Britain’s anti-fascist history that took place in Leeds, which was overshadowed by the iconic clash a week later 200 miles south in London’s East End.
Yesterday he tweeted: “81 years ago today – Labour party, Communist party and others stood in solidarity with Leeds Jewish community and sent fascists packing.” This tweet linked to an article in the Yorkshire Post recalling the day in late September when 1,000 members of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts had planned to march right through the Leylands, a working class Jewish district of Leeds, later demolished in slum clearances . Leeds, of course was much smaller than London, but whereas Jews comprised around 3.5% of London’s population at the time, they comprised more than 6% of Leeds’ inhabitants.
The Yorkshire Post article recalls that the night before the march “swastikas and slogans were daubed on the area’s Jewish owned shops”. The article described how Mosley marched his supporters to Holbeck Moor for a rally but: “Waiting for them were 30,000 Leeds residents, many of them Communist Party members who had been mobilising in local pubs during the previous week.” It went on to describe how they sang the Red Flag as Mosley began his speech and pelted him and his bodyguards with stones. One apparently hit him, and in total 40 fascists were injured during the clashes. The report says “Only three people were arrested, and all were given light sentences.”
I can add some detail to this story. When I was researching my book Battle for the East End, published in 2011, I found other reports of this event. What interested me most was the story of one of those who ended up in court. His name was John Hodgeson, a 19 year old, non-Jewish warehouse worker. He was charged with throwing a stone at Mosley, which sadly missed. In my book I wrote:
When magistrate Horace Marshall asked Hodgeson which words of Mosley’s annoyed him, he said that Mosley “made a reference to the ‘Yids’ and referred to the crowd as ‘socialist scum’, to which Marshall replied: ‘I do not in the least understand why these remarks offend you if you are none of these things.’
Hodgeson was fined £2. Clearly the magistrate had no concept of empathy or solidarity. What was also interesting was that the police, with the support of the local authority, chose to redirect the fascists’ march away from the Jewish area. A week later 7,000 police, including every mounted policeman in London descended on the East End precisely to facilitate Mosley attempting to march right through the the most heavily Jewish-populated streets of the area.
Remembering John Hodgeson, and the lessons of solidarity.
If you want to know more about how Mosley fared on 4th October, come to my Anti-Fascist Footprints guided walk on 8th October. Further details and booking at http://www.eastendwalks.com