On 13 August 1977 the National Front tried to march through Lewisham in south east London, where many black people live.
The All-Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism, a local umbrella group for the various anti-fascist and anti-racist campaigns, organised a counter-demonstration. As 3,00 anti-fascists occupied Lewisham High Street and the areas surrounding it, the police appeared on the streets in full riot gear for the first time in post-war Britain. Four thousand policemen equipped with horses, batons, motor vehicles and helicopters only just managed to keep the National Front from being lynched!
In the mid-1970s fascist marches and left-wing counter-demonstrations were frequent occurrences. What was different in Lewisham was that local black youth, in large numbers and without any prior organisation, fought back against both the fascists and the police. Their hatred of the latter had been enflamed by the recent arrest of local black activists, the decision to let the NF march go ahead and the way the march and counter-march had been handled.
The fascists got the roughest ride they had had for a long time. So did the police.
Hurling stones, bottles and smoke bombs, large numbers of black youth joined the left-wing forces trying to break the police lines behind which the fascists were marching. The NF was prevented from reaching Lewisham High Street; police vehicles advancing on the anti-fascists were immobilised and smashed; and Ladywell Police Station was besieged for almost half an hour. The police found themselves under attack from the same young people they had been harassing and bullying on the streets of Lewisham for years.
The Socialist Workers’ Party and the Anti-Nazi League, which was then in the process of being formed, claimed credit for “The Battle for Lewisham”, but that was nonsense. The Battle of Lewisham was won by local people coming out in solidarity with anti-fascist demonstrators, and above all by Lewisham’s black youth.