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Raymond Challinor


The Hidden Hand

(December 1986)

From Socialist Worker Review, No.104, December 1987, p.24.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The recent court case concerning the Spycatcher book has caused great embarrassment to the Tory government. But, as Raymond Challinor explains, the intelligence services have always been involved with Labour too.

FOR THE British ruling class, the year 1917 was the most traumatic. It lost all its investments in Russia. Discontent both at home and within the Empire grew. Most important, the October Revolution showed the existing social order could be overthrown: what happened in Petrograd could, unless prudent precautionary steps were taken, equally easily take place in London.

From that time onwards, the intelligence services, spearheaded by Sir Basil Thomson, concentrated their efforts on thwarting the threat of revolution. In this struggle, it was vital to have the Labour Party aligned with reaction.

In 1917 Morgan Phillips-Price was the Manchester Guardian reporter in Russia. A politically conventional person when he went there – indeed, a prospective parliamentary Liberal candidate – what he witnessed radicalised him. He caused a sensation when he revealed the existence of secret treaties, the dirty deals mutually entered into by the British and Tsarist governments behind the backs of their respective peoples.

On his return to England, Phillips-Price joined the Labour Party. Immediately he became one of the foremost advocates of Britain adopting a friendly, conciliatory approach to the new Soviet system.

Inside the Labour Party, the main arena for debating this issue was the NEC’s international sub-committee. There, naturally, the doves were led by Phillips-Price while the hawks’ chief spokesman was Rex Leaper.

What was not known at the time was that Rex Leaper was a government undercover agent.

Of course, for the next 20 years, the intelligence services played their part in fostering an anti-Soviet stance.

Suddenly, however, at exactly 6 p.m. on 22 June 1941, the situation dramatically altered. With the Nazi invasion of Russia, all those hitherto suppressed stories were pulled out of the cupboard, dusted and used by the media.

For anyone who did not experience the transformation, it is impossible to imagine how, virtually overnight, the criminals of the Kremlin became, to use Churchill’s phrase, “our gallant Russian allies”. Ordinary people went about whistling the Cossack marching song. Top of the pops was the song My Lovely Russian Rose. Workers volunteered to do overtime, making guns and tanks for the Red Army.

Obviously anything that could be construed as being remotely anti-Soviet, even fairy stories, had to be suppressed. That is why George Orwell, who finished Animal Farm in February 1944, found it impossible to secure a publisher.

A nauseating hypocrisy that pervaded literary circles disturbed Orwell. On 1 December 1944, he referred in Tribune to the tercentenary celebrations for Milton’s pamphlet, Areopagitica, extolling freedom of the printed word. But, wrote Orwell, they supported the principle in theory, not in practice.

Many writers attending the celebrations knew Leon Trotsky had almost finished his biography of Stalin at the time of his assassination. Yet nobody raised a word of protest about its suppression.

Behind the suppression of Orwell and Trotsky lay the hidden hand of Sir Roger Hollis and MI5, wishing to keep Anglo-Russian relations as cordial as possible. Once the Cold War had broken out, however, the publication of both Orwell and Trotsky needed to be encouraged.

Orwell’s Animal Farm became a Cold War warrior. It may, at first glance, seem surprising that a Ukrainian edition appeared. It is far from being Orwell’s best or most characteristic work. Nor is there any indication of a great enthusiasm for Orwell’s writing in the Ukraine. So why was it published?

Well, the explanation almost certainly is to be found in the Ukrainian emigré group, funded by CIA and MI5, which produced it. During the Second World War Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was enthusiastically welcomed by many in the Ukraine.

So Orwell was being used by the intelligence services as a pawn in its efforts to destabilise the Russian government. And this happened under Attlee’s Labour administration, just as did the attempt to overthrow communist rule in Albania, where the plan was to reinstate that medieval monstrosity, King Zog.

This reveals the fatal flaw of Labour reformism.

If, like Harold Wilson, you propose to lead a government that preserves the status quo, then you require these intelligence services to resist those clamouring for change.

As Chapman Pincher pointed out in his book, Inside Story, the Special Branch supplied Harold Wilson with the ammunition with which a Labour government smashed the last seamen’s strike.

Wilson smeared Jim Slater (now NUS president) and the other rank and file strike leaders as “a small, tightly-knit group of politically motivated individuals” out for their own sinister ends, not to better the lot of the average seaman.

Under capitalism the present type of intelligence services are essential. As a far-sighted political observer said over 150 years ago, it is necessary to have close surveillance and control of the East End of London if Buckingham Palace is to be properly protected.

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Last updated: 10 April 2010