ANTI-FASCISTS gathered outside the New Cross Inn, close to Clifton Rise, last Saturday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the historic battle between local communities and the National Front, who were supported by thousands of police, that saw the fascists forced to turn back and marked the beginning of the decline of the National Front (NF).
Last Saturday’s rally, followed by a march, was attended by dozens of veterans of the original battle and many gave an account of the battle.
The NF was founded in the late 1960s as a movement against immigration, especially from the West Indies, Asia and Africa, into Britain. It won ignorant white supporters by scapegoating immigrants for a shortage of decent housing, for unemployment, for high crime levels and for many other ills that were growing after the post-war economic boom had run out of steam.
But at its roots the NF was run by fascists and neo-Nazis, and was the enemy of all the working class.
The NF had been growing steadily for nearly a decade and was on the verge of becoming a mass party. In Deptford, a ward of the London Borough of Lewisham, in a local by election it had almost beaten Labour and polled votes more than the Tories.
In May 1977 police had arrested 21 young black people in Lewisham in dawn raids, claiming this “gang” was responsible for 90 per cent of street crime in London.
The local community rallied round and formed a committee to defend the “Lewisham 21”, and a protest march was held to demand justice for the “Lewisham 21”. It was attacked by a group of around 200 NF supporters, who threw rotten fruit and bags of caustic soda at the marchers.
The NF decided Lewisham was a good place to march to intimidate the local black population.
Before the NF march was due to start there was a mass rally in a local park addressed by local councillors, a bishop and other dignitaries whilst others went to block the route the NF were due to take.
Once the NF arrived and set off from their assembly point at Clifton Rise in New Cross, most of those at the rally in the park began to join those trying to block the route.
The NF were headed by their ‘honour guard’ carrying banners and flags with sharp pointed metal finials on the flag and banner poles.
The 500 NF were surrounded by three rows of police and mounted police were out in force. Most of the fighting was between the anti-fascists and the police as the police, using utmost brutality, tried to clear a path for the NF.
Members of the local community, black and white, came out of their homes and started picking up anything and everything they could lay their hands on to lob at the NF marchers.
Meanwhile another group of anti-fascists had occupied Lewisham town centre, around the clock tower.
The NF never made it to the clock tower. Police were forced to divert them into a side street to have their rally and then bundled them on to waiting trains.
But the anti-fascist protesters were unaware the fascists had gone and continued to fight with the police – who, in spite of their huge numbers, totally lost control of the town centre for a while as “the People’s Republic of Lewisham Clock Tower” was declared briefly.
Two hundred and fourteen people were arrested and at least 111 injured, including 56 police officers.
One black veteran told the crowd last Saturday: “Once we had seen the ‘master race’ running away in terror that was the end of their power to intimidate us.”
The Battle of Lewisham led to the foundation of the Anti-Nazi League and the decline of the NF.