Friday 26 December 2014

There Was Never A Scandal Called Stansgate

Although it can be necessary to take Oleg Gordievsky with a pinch of salt, of course the KGB never had any interest in recruiting Tony Benn.

What a far less hysterical time the Cold War was. Everyone with any sense knew that it was all lies. People who could not see that, including those who imagined that a threat of domestic revolution existed, were a joke even at the time. But we shall come back to them.

The Soviet Union had neither the will nor the means to invade Western Europe, never mind the United States. It had no desire whatever for alternative centres of Communist power. It would in any case collapse under the weight of its own contradictions, exactly as and when it did.

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 even 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.

Eric Hobsbawm ended up as a Companion of Honour, unlike either Tony Benn or even Michael Foot, despite the fact that that would have been the obvious gong for both of them. 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. He was as respectable as that.

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 and Lobby, as their Daily Worker predecessors also were.

Such membership required and requires full security clearance to go about the Palace of Westminster, and Lobby membership 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, a newspaper and a faction that 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.

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 those positions or factions. For example, the Communist Party could be violently anti-Catholic in the Scottish coalfields.

There was also more than a touch of that, motivated in no small part by the Catholic backgrounds of many of the participants, to the activities of the Militant Tendency on Merseyside, and perhaps also in certain parts of London in those days.

But all of it does provide some context.

Not least, it provides some context to the most uncritically spook-dependent British Government of all time, which came to power in 1997.

That Government was both laden with, and surrounded by, veterans of extreme left-wing organisations. Of course those veterans did whatever the intelligence services told them. They were the intelligence services.

Ah, what very different times.

The Marxism Today for which Tony Blair wrote is long gone. He was the only politician at the founding meeting of Demos. But Demos is now chaired by David Goodhart, a stalwart attendee and speaker at Blue Labour events.

Formally, the Communist Party became the proto-Blairite Democratic Left, which became the ultra-Blairite New Politics Network, which became Unlock Democracy, which is still there, in a building bought thanks to the largesse of Lenin. Still there, but directed by a Lib Dem.

Unfortunately, however, the spirit of Jimmy Anderson and Major Harry Truscott remains very much a feature of the present age.

There is a party for which hardly anyone else still votes, and which is led by the Prime Minister. There is another party, now complete with two members of the House of Commons, with absolutely no one else in it, or even so much as voting for it.

Some of them believe that both the Sino-Soviet Split and the fall of the Soviet Union were faked. Many of them believe that the KGB murdered Hugh Gaitskell in order to install Harold Wilson. All of them believe that Wilson was a Soviet agent. They really, truly, honestly believe these things.

They are convinced that Scargill was trying to stage a Red Revolution on the 1917 model, and that Gormley had more or less done so in 1974.

It never occurs to them that the Heath Government, which in any case they profess to despise, was “toppled” by nothing other than the votes of the electorate, four years after that same process had installed that Government.

The theory of the Great Red Peril, including The Enemy Within, continues to be propounded, but tellingly by people who for the most part are not employed by academic institutions.

The same was true of that theory at the time. As it also was, and very largely still is, of the economic theories to which Thatcher, who was as illiterate economically as she was historically and geopolitically, was so attached.

Across the full range of her agenda, the intellectual guiding lights hated the Conservative Party, not least when they were nominally members of it. They had no roots in it; nor had she. Not uncommonly, they had Marxist roots instead.

The Conservative Party hated them back, which led it to hate her, until eventually it became the only organisation ever to succeed in getting rid of her. She then spent 15 years a joke figure, and just under another decade as one of those extremely old people who are only waiting for the end.

But even during her Premiership, it was not as if there were no ties to the Soviet Bloc.

Peter Hitchens has spun out of the strange events of the 1980 TUC a perceived lack of British trade union and Labour support for Solidarity. Yet he must know full well that that was not true.

There was a whole Solidarity Group of Labour MPs, which was heavily backed by the union hierarchy, and one of the last of whom was a Founding Signatory to the One Nation Society.

By contrast, very soon after Polish miners had been gunned down, the Thatcher Government was importing coal from Poland to order to assist in breaking the Strike.

On the other side of the Sino-Soviet Split, Thatcher fully deserved her designation by Red Star as “The Peking Plotter”. She never saw a Maoist whom she did not like.

She installed Mugabe, having refused any other settlement, and she even arranged a knighthood for him. Then there was Ceaușescu. Then there was Pol Pot.

When Nelson Mandela died, her flame-keepers could be heard criticising him and his for their criticism, in turn, of Steve Biko.

We ought to be governed by people who understand all of this. As we ought to be governed by people who recognise voodoo economics for what it is, especially six years after it collapsed.

Instead, we have official Treasury publications with Laffer curves in them, matching and mirroring a Health Secretary who believes in homoeopathy.

Between now and May, we have to make do with a party for which only the Voodoos still vote, even if they often appear to have no clue for whom or for what they are voting.

Backed up by the Voodoos who pretend to be Lib Dems at election time, and by the Voodoos who pretend to be (extremely disloyal) Labour in the media. With the whole lot running scared of a full-blown Voodoo Party.

The exorcism cannot possibly come too soon.

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