Monday, 21 July 2014

Of Pillars and Fifth Columns

What do you expect now, a war with Russia? Even if the thing could be pinned with certainly on Vladimir Putin, there would be absolutely nothing that anyone could realistically do.

What a far less hysterical time the Cold War was. Everyone with any sense knew that it was all lies, that the Soviet Union had neither the will nor the means to invade Western Europe (never mind the United States), that it had no desire whatever for alternative centres of Communist power, and that it would in any case collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, exactly as and when it did.

People who fret about Russian and other influence, or sympathisers, or broadcasting networks, or what have you, need to consider quite what Britain was like in those decades without the world's coming to an end, or the United Kingdom's constitutional order collapsing, or either party of government's adopting Marxism-Leninism, or anything like that.

The intelligence services were so riddled with Soviet agents from top to bottom that it was a standing joke even among the general public.

Such penetration extended to the Royal Households. As the exposure of two dead Ministers as Czechoslovak agents has demonstrated, it also extended to the very right-wing elements both of the Labour Party (John Stonehouse) and of the Conservative Party (Ray Mawby).

Professing oneself a Communist was always perfectly respectable at the very highest levels of British society, where it was treated as just another aristocratic eccentricity.

Wogan Phillips, second Baron Milford, sat as a Communist in the House of Lords for 31 years until his death in 1993: throughout most of the 1960s, and throughout all of the 1970s and the 1980s. He still called himself a Communist even after the party had dissolved itself in 1991.

It is notable that, unlike the second Viscount Stansgate, the second Baron Milford never disclaimed his peerage. In point of fact, the latter's party was a moderating force, especially over and against sections of the Labour Left, which contained people whose views, Trotskyist and otherwise, were far more extreme.

Throughout its history, the Communist Party of Great Britain was avowedly and actively opposed to a violent revolution in this country, holding, as Lenin had done, that its objectives could and should be attained wholly within and through the British constitutional and parliamentary process.

By the 1970s, especially, by no means everyone on the Labour Left took that view. Most still did. But by no means all. And Labour had had a problem with Trotskyist infiltration for as long as there had been Trotskyists at all.

The CPGB was full of intelligence agents, but the intelligence agencies were full of Eastern Bloc agents, and so on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

We shall never know the extent to which the turning of those wheels within wheels prevented or resolved industrial disputes, precluded those disputes' escalation, and so on.

Certainly, the CPGB was capable of highly fruitful co-operation with the trade union and Labour Right, much of which was very Right indeed and had all the British and American connections to match.

Compare and contrast the successful partnership between Mick McGahey and Joe Gormley in 1972 and 1974 (against a Conservative Prime Minister loathed by the overlapping worlds of MI5, MI6 and his party's own right wing) with the failure of McGahey and Arthur Scargill in 1984 and 1985.

The Communist had wanted to hold a national ballot, and had always remained open to compromise. He had wanted to reintegrate the UDM without rancour once, as he correctly predicted, its patrons had discarded it.

He always called Scargill "that young man", and he declined ever to write his memoirs or to authorise a biography, since "differences must remain within the family," which said it all.

McGahey used to appear on things like Any Questions.

His union, with the closest ties of any to his party at home, and with an unmatched internationalist tradition stretching deep into the Soviet Bloc, effectively controlled around 85 per cent of the nation's energy supply for many decades.

It did not strike at all between 1926 and 1972, or between 1974 and 1984, an extremely unusual approach during those periods even for trade unionists with vastly less, quite literal, power.

The NUM was also a huge voting bloc at Labour Party Conferences, joined by the numerous Constituency Labour Parties that it effectively controlled.

It sponsored enough MPs to make a significant difference, considering the normal size of Labour Governments' majorities, if any, historically.

For almost the whole of that period, only MPs had a vote in Leadership Elections. Look at the Leaders elected.

Like those on the mainstream Labour Left Tribune, certain staffers on the Morning Star were and are members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, as their Daily Worker predecessors also were.

Such membership required and requires full security clearance to go about the Palace of Westminster on terms denied even to members of MPs' own staffs, and gives access to twice-daily briefings by the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman.

The Daily Worker and then the Morning Star participated in all of that throughout the Cold War, as did Tribune. Did the Realm fall? Well, there you are, then.

Joan Maynard managed to sit not only as a Labour MP but as a member of that party's National Executive Committee while also, with several other MPs, on the Editorial Advisory Panel of Straight Left, which had been set up because of the feeling that the Communist Party was going soft. In 1979.

She served with distinction on the Agriculture Select Committee. Her Straight Left colleague James Lamond was on nothing less than the Public Accounts Committee, and for many years, all of them under a Conservative Government and most of them under Margaret Thatcher, he was on the Speaker's Panel, chairing Standing Committees of the House. Parliament survived.

Pat Wall sat as an MP while probably the single most important Trotskyist thinker in the world at the time. His fellow-Militant Dave Nellist won Spectator Backbencher of the Year. Mildred Gordon was an MP while the widow of a leading American Trotskyist and the wife of Trotsky's bodyguard, who as her husband presumably held a House of Commons pass.

None of this is to condone any of these positions or factions, or others besides.

But all of it does provide some context for considering the present hysteria about the power of Russian oligarchs (about which I am not very happy myself, as I should not have been very happy about much of the above), or about RT, the critics of which need to explain what they are doing to cover certain events, views and concerns in this country and beyond.

If you buy the City and London high society, then the Conservative Party comes as part of the package, whether or not you ever wanted it, and whether or not you ever even thought about it. It is just part of the deal.

By having bought the City and London high society, the princes of the Gulf and the oligarchs of the former Soviet Union, not all of whom are pro-Putin, have acquired the Conservative Party, and heaven help them with it.

That is far more pernicious than any influence that anyone associated with the USSR might ever have had in Britain. With one exception.

The friend and confidant of Margaret Thatcher who was a lifelong member of the Labour Party despite attempts by the unions representing his sacked employees to expel him, who gave pots of his ill-gotten gains to maintain the Labour Leadership of the same period, and whose newspapers printed lies against the NUM as the Soviet leadership made nice with Thatcher.

Robert Maxwell was openly and flagrantly on the payrolls of intelligence agencies from the United Kingdom, to the Soviet Union, to the Israel that eventually gave him what amounted to a state funeral. He acted as their go-between.

He published English translations of absurd Eastern Bloc scientific works. He wrote and published fawning biographies of obscene Eastern Bloc political figures. Maggie loved him, and he loved her. Neil Kinnock depended very heavily on his press.

When he died, the unanimous view was that we should never see the like again.

Oh, yes, we shall.

And sooner rather than later.


  1. No wars are necessary. Putin is shaking now his gangster cronies are having their assets threatened.

    The rat is on the ropes.

    Perhaps Sergei Magnitsky didn't die for nothing after all.

    The EU balked at placing sanctions on his murderers but the times, they are a changing...

    1. And bankrupt the Conservative Party? Hardly!

      He is too tied in to New London. There is nothing that it would ever allow to be done to him. That's capitalism for you.

  2. If you are not a pro-Putin oligarch, or you try to expose Putin's mafia gang, you end up like Mikhail Khodorkovsky.