Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, an (over-?) celebrated moment in British anti-fascism. This is when a march by the British Union of Fascists was stopped by a combination of Jews, communists, Irish dockers, and other antifascists.
I’m glad of anniversaries like this, because they force us all to ask “What have I done lately?”. My own head has been pretty firmly stuck in the sand for a good few years now. You could take your pick of causes I’ve ignored, from Xinjiang re-education camps to migrants drowning in the Mediterranean. For me, Rojava is the one which triggers the most guilt.
Cable Street’s big brother is the Spanish Civil War. At the same time as Oswald Mosley was failing to establish fascism in Britain, Franco was making a much more violent and ultimately successful attempt to do the same in Spain. The war, and in particular the International Brigades, are for me one of the most clear-cut examples of why I am not a pacifist.
And then…Rojava. David Graeber wrote of the parallels between it and Spain:
A would-be fascist coup had been temporarily halted by a worker’s uprising, spearheaded by anarchists and socialists, and in much of Spain a genuine social revolution ensued, leading to whole cities under directly democratic management, industries under worker control, and the radical empowerment of women.
Spanish revolutionaries hoped to create a vision of a free society that the entire world might follow.
I never thought I would, in my own lifetime, see the same thing happen again. Obviously, no historical event ever really happens twice. There are a thousand differences between what happened in Spain in 1936 and what is happening in Rojava, the three largely Kurdish provinces of northern Syria, today. But some of the similarities are so striking, and so distressing, that I feel it’s incumbent on me, as someone who grew up in a family whose politics were in many ways defined by the Spanish revolution, to say: we cannot let it end the same way again.
I saw articles like this, vaguely followed the news, but was a thousand miles away from providing any practical support to Rojava. So today, when I think of Cable Street, it is with rather more shame than pride.