Sunday, 26 May 2013

How King Street Kept An Eye on Left 1

 

 

 

In the 1950s, a network of dedicated informers secretly kept tabs on the Left in Britain. They weren't working for the Special Branch, MI5 or the CIA. Their instructions came from the Central Organisation Department of the British Communist Party. 




KONNI ZILLIACUS. Gateshead MP expelled by Labour as "fellow traveller", denounced in Prague as "British imperialist agent". Zilliacus, later MP for Manchester, Gorton, had upset Stalinists by siding with Tito in opposition to Moscow line.


In 1951 a young man called lan, from Wavertree in Liverpool,wrote to a comrade called Vic about the Labour League of Youth(LLY) on Merseyside: "I am now on a personal friendly basis with members of the LLY from at least five different branches on Merseyside . you know, to the extent that I am going round to the sec. of one of the branches next Tuesday for tea and we are then having (at his request) a long talk about the past and present policies of the CP, . .'

"Of these branches,Birkenhead and Walton are completely dominated by the Trotsky organisation together with unorganised Titoist elements.While Bootle,Princes Park are run by Catholic Action and the Trotskyite groupings are confined to only one or two members,Wavertree LLY is run by the very reactionary Labour constituency partyand it is very difficult to carry on discussions.'

Ian estimated that Birkenhead,Walton and Bootle had up to 28 members apiece, He described their"pseudo-Marxist education' and activities, and named names. On Bootle; 'The Trotskyite responsible for the Trotskyite fraction for work in this branch is Bill Fletcher,who is I believe incidentally a renegade from the YCL . 'TheTrotskyite group controls the "Rally' the organ of Birkenhiead LLY having at least four out the seven members of the editorial board - those members being .(gives names) ... The editor Alan Giles is however not I think a Trotskyist but is a Titoist who gets most of his line from Yugoslav Fortnightly and the Anglo- Yugoslav Friendship. 1

"Titoism" was a serious charge. Laszlo Rajk, Hungarian Communist Party leader and Spanish Civil War veteran, had been executed as a "Titoist' in 1949. The British Communist Party published ".Tito's Plot Against Europe' (1950), by Derek Kartun, and lames Klugman's "From Trotsky to Tito" (1951), Konni Zilliacus, MP, expelled by Labour as a "fellow-traveller", had written for  R.Palme-Dutt's Labour Monthly, and his book Dragon' s Teeth was recommended by it in July 1949. In the December 1949 issue Ivor Montagu attacked Zilliacus for siding with the Yugoslavs, and during the 1952 Prague trials the Gateshead MP was denounced as an "imperialist agent", "one of the most experienced agents in British intelligence".2



Czech CP general secretary Rudolf Slansky and his co defendants were "found guilty of spying and sabotage for the US and its satellites,' wrote Monty Johnstone in the Young Communist League's monthly, Challenge. "Many were shown to have  "acted as spies in the labour movement since the pre war days. . , Such activities can and must be rooted out in this as in other countries . . .'3

The Trotskyists and "Titoites" of Merseyside weren't the only cause for concern. In 1953 the Teeside district secretary reported coming across an organisation called Common Cause in West Hartlepool.4 He enclosed a duplicated bulletin it had produced for a meeting on "Stalin' s fascist imperialism", denouncing the Communist Party as "a treacherous conspiracy", Advertised speakers included Rupert Speir, the Tory MP for Hexham, and "C .A .Smith, MA, PhD, BSc (Econ.)",whom it mentioned had been 'Dux prizewinner at the local secondary school', rowed for King's College, Newcastle, graduated in philosophy, become national chairman of the ILP, and was now general secretary of Common Cause, "the new non-party anti- Communist organisation.'5

 "There is nothing very much for us to add. .', the Central Organisation Department (aka Betty Reid) replied,"C.A. Smith has a long record of Trotskyist activities and is a bitter anti.Soviet propagandist. . .'6

On 1 January 1954 the Holiday Friendship Service advertised in "Tribune offering trips in Bulgaria and the Russian zone of Austria.  Communist Party members were asked to look into this. One of them dutifully attended a meeting in Swansea, where "a young woman called Miss Smith,age about 25, a most unnatural manner," "come hither" " eyes' answered questions and discussed arrangements for holidays in Bulgaria. The report was forwarded to headquarters by Bill Alexander, of the Welsh district committee, which was thanked for being first to respond to the Party's request.7

Phil Piratin, former Communist MP for Mile End, wrote to Peter Kerrigan (CP industrial organiser) about a man called C.Ford who was working for the Amalgamated Engineering Union: "At a talk he gave to an organisation recently where he expressed quite reactionary views, he also mentioned that he had contacts in countries like Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. He said that he was arranging a holiday visit to Bulgaria this year. That is all the information I have,It maybe that he is connected with one of the friendship organisations, in which case the sooner they get to know about him the better.

On ll April l954 the Movement for Colonial Freedom was formed. A five page report for the Communist Party detailed its aims, officers, and sponsors, who included Tony Benn, Sir Richard Acland, Walter Padley MP, Reverend Donald Soper, Cannon Collins, Dame Sybil Thomdyke,and among union leaders, Bob Edwards, Jack Stanley and Jim Mortimer. Fenner Brockway was elected chairman. and the council included Jennie Lee, Leslie Plummer, Tony Benn and Canon Collins.

Claiming the support for the colonial peoples was "a tribute to the stimulating effect of the Daily Worker and the activity of the Communist Party, ' the report adds:
"However,this new movement has no clear policy on the nature of the common fight with the colonial peoples, and there are extremely dubious elements in the leadership,"9

This sour note may have been induced by the prominence of former ILP members like Brockway, Bob Edwards, Walter Padley and Dick Beech.JackStanley,leader of the Constructional Engineering Union, was working with the Trotskyists on the editorial board of "Socialist Outlook". A
"Socialist Outlook" meeting at Holborn Hall on Sunday19 October 1952, at which the main speakers were editor John Lawrence and Gerry Healy, was the subject of a detailed report..l0



In April 1954 the Communist Party's"World News and Views' ran two articles by someone called Barry McKaig on "Trotskyism in the Labour Party'. Basing himself on the Moscow Trials and the
thoughts of Comrade Stalin, the writer declared: "ContemporaryTrotskyism is not a political tendency in the working class, but an unprincipled band of wreckers.... in the hire of intelligence service organs of foreign States".

After this,he got down to his real business; naming names, of people associated with "Socialist Outlook" who were former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. " Mr Healy is, of course, one of the best known of post-war Trotskyists...Mr.C. Van Gelderen, a South African, has featured in Socialist Outlook ...was a member of the Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Socialist League and youth organiser, Another contributor to Socialist Outlook is Mr. W. Hunter. who was a contributor to Socialist Appeal and a London Divisional Organiser of the ILP in 1944. (He was ILP Industrial Organiser in London).

Labour's National Executive Committee took up the chase in a circular to Labour Party members; While prominent members of the Labour Party have contributed to this journal (Socialist
Outlook) a number of its regular contributors are known for their previous association with the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party. The Revolutionary Comrnunist Party dissolved
in 1949 and advised its members to join the Labour Party and fight for their policy within its ranks'.

In a Sunday newspaper article defending the refusal of political asylum to an American professor, Dr. Cort, Home Secretary Herbert Morrison remarked that Labour had refused to admit Leon Trotsky
in l930,out of consideration for its relations with the Soviet Government.Michael Foot, writing in Tribune, asked: What in heaven's name is the National Executive trying to achieve by this rigmarole? Are they attempting to appease the NKVD and the Un-American Activities Committee by the same single act? . 11

On May Day 1954 someone sat down to pen a "Report on Trots' quoting an interview with Ron Halverson, in Enfield, and information from "Doug M.' in south London,, and "Mac' in north-west London. Dealing with various AEU stewards and Labour councillors associated with "Socialist Outlook", it also noted in passing:"The congress delegate from Neath who was put up by a friend of Doug's alleged that Homer was losing influence among miners because of his drinking and private life. Should be noted that there are Trots in Neath."12 [Arthur Homer(1894-1968), a founder member of the CP, was elected South Wales miners' president in 1936, and became general secretary of the
National Union of Mineworkers in 1946. he was a likable character, with friends who had little sympathy with his communist views'(Chambers Biographical Dictionary). Some miners didn't like
Horner's suport for productivity drives.

In response to a note from Reid, Eddie Marsden, a Party member in the Constructional Engineering Union,said he and someone called Bobby had had a chat with Jack Stanley. "We are not properly
aware, other than the article in WN, as to what is thought of SO and its E. board, but JS did tell me they had made a number of changes . . .' Marsden thought Stanley was not politically sophisticated," he might be fooled' by the Trotskyites "and this is probably what is taking place."13

Betty Reid commented "I was a little disturbed by this note about Stanley. In the first place I should have thought the two articles were quite clear (if I may say so) and explicit on the character of the Editorial board. Moreover since they were written the shift of emphasis has been to a quite open and explicit and very unpleasant Trotskyist line which is not in any way concealed, and therefore now there is much less justification than before for being taken in."14

When a group called the Workers League advertised a meeting in the Socialist Leader, the names involved had to be checked out.

On 4 June 1954,Reid asked BettyMatthews of London District Committee: "Will you check for me what is known about a man called Fred Garnsey who was a bricklayer and a member in Battersea. Could the Battersea comrades be asked why he left the Party and anything they may know about him and his personal contacts."

J. Evans of Battersea responded tersely:
"Garnsey is over 70 years of age, secretary of AUBTW branch. All his contacts are r wing and Trotskyite sympathisers like ex- CP Alf  Loughton (Trot),JFLane jar,Trot or Trot sympathy, J.Wix Trot. Don't even know he was ever in Party."15

Dennis Goodwin reported on a worker called Brace:

"Dear Betty,

Regarding Brace, according to our comrades this man was associated for a considerable period with the Anarchists and was a member of the Central No.1 branch of the ETU.

He is now said to be working in the Docks having left the electrical industry and is working as a docker and is in touch with and probably working with Constable. He is said to have contact with our lads on the various contracting jobs when he was in the electrical work and was always prepared to have a go with us but always expressed a narking criticism of the Party."16

On 16 June Bert Pearce of the CP's Birmingham city committee wrote to Mick Bennett at King Street, forwarding a three-page report on the stormy "Socialist Outlook' shareholders" meeting which had taken place in London a few weeks previously. Someone had pulled a knife on John Lawrence before the meeting started, and speakers bad been barracked. Gerry Healy's supporters, described as "the Trotskyite elements", had battled John Lawrence s faction for control of the paper, The informant,a Birmingham Labour Party member, described background conflict in the labour movement in Birmingham.17

The "Central Organisation Department" (i.e. Betty Reid) thanked cde. Pearce for his report - "very helpful indeed and fuller than the other points we bad on the same affair" - and said any further material he could send would be welcome.

"I think there is just one point on the report which you should bear in rnind, she added. "The battle is not one between Trotskyists and non-Trotskyists, but between two separate sections equally suspect, one of whom bas a more subtle and "non-sectarian" line than the other. We should not have any illusions about the former Editor and his supporters . . ."18

Trotsky's Fourth International, deprived of its founder and many leading cadres,was unsure what to make of the post.war world, and the Cold War. Lawrence had become the leading British advocate for
Michael Raptis (Pablo)'s view; that confronted with imperialist war preparations, and under mass pressure, the Soviet bureaucracy could reform itself, and the Cominform become a revolutionary
leadership., The job of Trotskyists, it followed,was to get closer to their erstwhile Stalinist opponents, and provide an ideological shove.

The British Communist Party leadership had obtained Trotskyist internal documents, including resolutions from Latin America accusing Pablo opponents,particularly the veteran US Trotskyist James Cannon, of "Stalinophobia", desertion in the face of Yankee imperialism~, and acting as "left spokesman of the anti-communist campaign led by the State Department"19

The Brazilians concluded their resolution (January 1954} with a resounding "Long Live the Fourth International! Long Live Trotskyism!", But at a meeting on 2 October 1954, attended by a delegate from the American Socialist Union (formed by Pabloites expelled from Cannon s SWP), Lawrence declared (according to a report for the CP) that Trotskyism was "dead as a doornail".20

Proposals were made to break with the Fourth International, remain in the Labour Party,but work  with the Communist Party, with the perspective of  a united front between Labour's Bevanites and the CP; to support the peace movement and friendship with the Soviet Union" The Lawrence group would meet again in November to decide on these proposals, and dissolve itself .

The Communist Party's information came via several routes. At the end of August 1954, Monty ]ohnstone reported on discussions with Ron Shaw, a member of the Labour League of Youth in Clapton, east London . "He is anxious to join the Party and YCL and says that bis last differences with us have now been cleared up. From our discussion which included the Moscow Trials and Trotsky's links with the Fascists, on which he was previously not convinced) this seems in general to be true I promised him Stalin's 1937 report on Trotskyism,"

Shaw had just won his case against expulsion from the Labour Party, and another Communist Party member had urged him to stay in for the moment, and help build opposition to German re-
armament, with Labour's annual conference coming up. Johnstone agreed."I raised in this connection the question of his supplying us with information on Trotskyist activities." Although Shaw was
reluctant to engage in "spying", he agreed to pass on anything he heard.

Johnstone reported what he had gleaned about'.the Group' and its leaders, the split, and who was with whom. His report also dealt with the people publishing "Rally" in Liverpool, mentioning that Paddy Wall was a member according to Shaw, and that they were associated with Ted Grant (whom he mistakenly thought  was running New Park Publications, in fact run by Healy),. One recent development noted in the report: "About seven weeks ago the Lawrence Group was expelled from the
Fourth International, of which -up till then -they were the official British section. Shaw does not know the reasons."21

Shaw said Pablo had boasted on a visit to England that his supporters were gaining important positions in the Communist Parties in France and Italy, and in the West German Social Democrats. Lawrence had told Shaw there were no Trotskyists in the British Communist Party, but his group would not oppose individuals joining

Shaw estimated that of 150 delegates attending the Labour League of Youth Easter conference, nearly 17 were in one or other Trotskyite faction.When Transport House threatened to disband the LLOY if certain resolutions were passed, there had been an "emergency' meeting of groups, leading to a decision to withdraw the resolutions, but keep up some liaison in future.

"When I  see Shaw next l shall have extracted names of LLOY members from conference
reports etc. and will ask him which are in Trotskyist groups,'Johnstone promised.

Another Communist Party member reported that he had been discussing with John Goffe "for the last two years" . Goffe, a Trotsk yist since pre-war days, and supporter of Lawrence's tendency, had become a Labour councillor in Camberwell, and was active in the shopworkers' union, USDAW.
"We reached agreement on policy points for the annual gathering, dealing with wages, trade union organisation and the decline of membership, colonial questions and foreign policy in general, .
We also reached agreement on the panel of names to submit for the Labour Party conference and the TUC, as well as the women's sections .his willingness to hold discussions with us, the information he is prepared to give us and the fight that he puts up on policy questions inside the union are developments worth noting." 22

A report "On Trotskyism and Tmtskyists in Lancs. and Cheshire' by the CP District
Committeefor the region,marked "Private and Highly Confidential', dated October 1954, reviewed Trotskyist activity from 1944, mentioning strikes in Barrow and Salford,and noting "efforts to win influence amongst the Colonial people particularly in the Moss Side area of Manchester and the Exchange division of  Liverpool,"

It said the Trotskyists "were able to cause some confusion, especially amongst the
African workers, A Manchester Cale proprietor, a Nigerian with considerable
wealth, Mr. Mcconnan, was and still is the  leading light in this connection. The
difficulties created for us on the occasion of Robeson's last visit was without a doubt
due to the work of the RCP and this man Mcconnan."23

OPENING Working Class Movement Library in 1987, popular former Salford MP Frank Allaun.   CP report on "Trotskyists" in 1954 voiced "strong suspicions" about him. (Photo from Frank Allaun 1913-2002, a tribute by Hyman Davies, published by Working Class Movement Library). 

The report voiced "strong suspicions that Frank Allsun,an ex-member of the Party in
Manchester, at one time Secretary of the Openshaw branch was very closely
connected with the RCP and a strong advocate of the line of working in the
Labour Party. He was however very careful of direct public association."24

An appendix listed known or suspected Trotskyists, with their addresses,
occupations, and brief notes. Joe Pawsey, of Smedley Road, Cheetham "has contacts
with the Labour Party in Salford through a ward secretary with Trotskyist views, a
Mr.D.Carping , who we are at present checking up on' . The report said enquiries
were continuing into some people. "Bob Leeson may be able to throw some light' on
the Penfolds, a Longsight couple.

Bob Leeson, who had joined the CP in 1950, said Bert Penfold and his wife had been
active in Wandsworth before coming to Manchester, where they organised
Ardwick LLOY on a "purely social" basis with 150 members. "Penfold and his wife
seemed to want to give the impression that their 'Trotskyist days were past.'

Leeson had attended the l949 Labour youth rally at Filey as a delegate from Northwich,
in Cheshire. A campaign had been launched for LP youth sections to have national
status. He had told Trevor Park, a Bury delegate, that if this failed he intended
quitting Labour for the Communist Party. Several people tried to dissuade him.
"Banda's wife told me that after she left the Communist Party in 1947 on political
grounds she was "shadowed by the Party Security Department for six  months".25

This is first part of article published in Stephen Dorril's Lobster magazine, No.31, in 1996.
http://www.8bitmode.com/rogerdog/lobster/lobster31.pdf

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