Forty years ago, on 13 August 1977, 500 members of the fascist National Front (NF) — protected by 5,000 police — attempted to march in Lewisham, south east London. The NF was looking for publicity in an area where they had some considerable pockets of support.
The fascists were met by thousands of anti-fascist protesters — trade unionists, the far left, anarchists and large numbers of black youth — who fought running battles to stop them. Chanting “The workers, united, will never be defeated!” the anti-fascists confronted the NF as they assembled off Clifton Rise, New Cross. Local people threw rubbish bins and furniture, and hundreds of bricks at the Nazis. 214 people were arrested and over 100 injured (half were police).
A second anti-Nazi demonstration, led by the Church, the Mayor and the Communist Party assembled two miles away in Ladywell Fields, Catford. When the police asked them to disperse, so that the Nazis could proceed undisturbed, the Mayor did as he was told.
Later that afternoon, the police lost control of Lewisham centre and — for the first time outside Northern Ireland — used riot shields as they attacked the anti-fascists. The NF suffered a very serious defeat that day, 40 years ago. The comrades who chose to stand in the NF’s path, and defend themselves and their community, were right. That’s the lesson from the Battle of Lewisham.