Max Levitas, a battler to the end, dies at 103
Activist first hit the headlines in 1934 when he was arrested for daubing ‘All Out Against Fascism’ on three sides of Nelson’s Column
03 December, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary
Max Levitas was one of a group of activists who, during the Blitz, forced the government to open up the tube stations as air-raid shelters
HE was a hero for many, a man whose strongly-held values echo down the decades and have added resonance today.
Max Levitas, who has died aged 103, was one of the last British Communists who cut their political teeth fighting fascists in the 1930s, and whose action in the West End has become the stuff of legend.
He was one of a group of activists who, during the Blitz, forced the government to open up the tube stations as air raid shelters.
And his work campaigning for the things he believed in – fighting poverty, inequality, bigotry, racism and fascism – has long been celebrated.
Max had hit the headlines in 1934, aged 19, when he was arrested and subsequently fined £5 for daubing on three sides of the base of Nelson’s Column “All Out Against Fascism”.
He was only caught for his handiwork when he and friends returned to the square to admire what they had done after finishing the slogans and heading off to a Soho all-night café for a restorative cup of tea.
Max was born in Dublin, in the area known as Little Jerusalem where James Joyce had given Leopold Bloom his home in Ulysses. Aged 12, the family moved to Glasgow and then settled in Stepney.
He had been at the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, raised funds for his friends including fellow Stepney worker Nat Cohen who was fighting in Spain, and welcomed the hunger marchers to London.
During the Blitz he had worked as a fire warden and seen the tragedy of a bomb smashing into a school in Canning Town, killing scores of displaced people who had already been bombed out.
It was this experience, among others, that led him to march to the Savoy Hotel on the Strand in September 1940 as part of the protests over the lack of accessible deep shelters.
“It was easy to ignore the vulnerable working-class people if you were sitting in the basement of a very nice hotel,” he recalled, “so we decided to march on one.”
Waiters helped them get in and then block the doors of the hotel’s air raid shelter.
Max helped draw up a statement saying that if the room was “good enough for the rich, it was good enough for families from Stepney”.
It kick-started a spate of other occupations – and of people breaking into Underground stations, crowbarring open locked gates and getting through police lines until the government backed down.
Max never gave up his beliefs. Speaking in 2013 when a crowd of thugs from the English Defence League tried to march through his beloved East End, he told counter protesters that the sight of thousands of young Bengali men standing their ground against fascists reminded him of his youth.
His last public speech was at the 80th anniversary of the battle of Cable Street… an inspiring man whose values hold dear today.