Weapon of class war

George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan are, in their different ways, the latest victims of ruling class attempts to set up, undermine and destroy leading leftwing or progressive politicians. Ever since the working class got organised and started to pose a real threat to the current order, the 'dark forces' of the bourgeoisie have hit back - with forged 'evidence', sex scandals, accusations of espionage and worse. Tina Becker looks back over the history of scandal used as a weapon

Zinoviev letter

“Generations of Labour Party supporters and historians believed it was a forgery. They were right. We have no conclusive proof who sent it, but we are confident it was not Zinoviev” - Robin Cook (then foreign minister) in The Guardian, February 4 1999

To deter British workers from following the lead of their comrades in Russia and Germany, the Liberal government of Lloyd George took out what was called “an insurance against Bolshevism”: a reconstruction programme that would enable Britain to avoid the danger of revolution. In 1919 and 1920 the cabinet was preoccupied with ways of buying off the working class.

But by 1921 British capitalism was in no position to keep on giving. Indeed it had to take back what had been paid out in anti-Bolshevik “insurance” and more. The carrot was put away and out came the stick. The first battle was with the miners, then the army was deployed against the railworkers. After that it was the dockers’ turn.

Because Labour was seen as the best bulwark against violent upheaval and class war, the Liberals were in January 1924 prepared to forgo the chance of another coalition with the Tories and instead placed in office a minority Labour Party administration. It was the Zinoviev letter that led to the end of the short-lived government of Ramsay MacDonald only a few months later.

Initially, the issue was the decision not to proceed with the prosecution of JR Campbell, editor of the CPGB’s Workers’ Weekly: he was charged with inciting mutiny for his ‘Open letter to the fighting forces’ - in which he exhorted soldiers and sailors to “turn your weapons on your oppressors”. There was a storm of protest from all sections of the workers’ movement (quoted in T Bell British Communist Party)
The case was finally dropped and the Liberals and Conservatives tabled a censure motion against the government. In the attempt to unite the official labour movement around him and use the communists as a scapegoat, MacDonald treated the matter as one of confidence in the government. He was defeated and resigned. Thus ended the first Labour government.

On October 24 1924, in the closing straight of the subsequent election campaign (polling was only five days away), the foreign office published the so-called ‘Zinoviev letter’. It purported to show the existence of a Moscow plot to subvert British civilisation. Addressing the central committee of the CPGB, Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, was said to have urged the greatest pressure to ensure ratification of trade treaties with the Soviet Union. There were also bloodcurdling references to communist cells in the army and preparations for the revolutionary seizure of power. No matter how transparent a forgery it was, it did the trick. Though the Labour vote increased, the Liberal vote collapsed in a middle class rush to the Conservatives.

In 1998, after a parliamentary question, the Labour government launched a year-long enquiry into the letter and found what many socialists and communists had always known: it was a forgery and a rather bad one at that. But when it came to pinning down those responsible, the government thought better of naming the state officials who were presumably involved. No doubt, because similar exercises are all too current.

“The foreign office thought it was genuine” was Robin Cook’s justification in The Guardian (February 4 1999). “The main reason for this is because they got it through MI6 channels - a fact that has not been made public until today. They were also given corroborative proof by MI6, which has now been shown to be suspect. But there is no evidence that MI6 forged the letter. There is no evidence of an organised conspiracy against Labour by the intelligence agencies. There is, however, evidence that two of their officers were among those involved in leaking the letter to the press and to Conservative central office.”

One of them has been named as Arthur Maundy Gregory. Not unreasonably, it has been claimed that he also produced the forgery, no doubt following orders from on high.


A German spy named Lenin

“They transported Lenin in a sealed train like a plague bacillus from Switzerland to Russia” - Winston Churchill in World Crisis

While in exile in Zurich in March 1917, news of the revolution in Petrograd reached Lenin and his wife, Krupskaya. With a handful of other Bolshevik exiles, Lenin worked on a plan to return to Russia. He was concerned about reports that in his absence the Bolsheviks were adopting a compromising attitude towards the new provisional government.

Kamenev and Stalin were at the head of the party in Russia and responsible for editing Pravda. Kamenev had set out a policy that tacitly supported the war: “It would be the most stupid policy,” he wrote, “when an army faces the enemy, to urge it to lay down arms and go home. That would be a policy, not of peace but of serfdom, a policy to be contemptuously rejected by the free nation.” No wonder Lenin was eager to get back as soon as possible.

The allies were naturally not interested in assisting the return of hardened revolutionaries to Russia, where they would presumably damage their interests. Lenin in particular had been opposed to the imperialist war since it began. If transit by way of France, Italy or Britain was impossible, how was he to get back to Russia? Initially, he hoped that official support from the new provisional government in Russia would allow his passage through allied territory.

But days passed and no approval was forthcoming. Lenin expected as much: Paul Milyukov, the new foreign minister, was a bourgeois liberal patriot. Without question, he would not want Lenin or any of the other anti-war socialists in Russia making trouble and attacking the policy of the provisional government. The government had developed an artful patriotic line, exhorting the people “to defend the republic” that their revolution had just created. This was “swindling the workers,” Lenin wrote.

Lenin considered various other possibilities, amongst them travelling as a mute Swede (so that he would not be expected to answer any questions) and dressed as a woman. Then both Lenin and Zinoviev (in exile in Berne) came up with another plan to get to Russia via the most direct route: they would ask the German government to let them travel through the country by train.

Lenin was confident that the Germans would accept the plan - naturally, they were interested in doing their enemy, Russia, as much harm as possible. A group of leading revolutionaries could surely help to destabilise things. But Lenin and Zinoviev were quite aware of the risks involved. The provisional government had proven its hostility already - what was to stop them from branding the returning exiles as traitors, in the pay of Germany? By accepting help from an enemy that could only benefit from his declared policy of immediate peace, Lenin was leaving himself open to the charge that he was in the pay of the kaiser.

So Lenin drew up a list of conditions: the train would have the extraterritorial status of a foreign embassy and the returning exiles would travel through Germany without contact with Germans. From the moment they boarded the rail coach they would not leave it until the end of the journey. The doors would be sealed. Fritz Platten, the Swiss social democrat, had agreed to travel in the train in charge of the party and would act as the go-between. If any talking to the German authorities were necessary on the journey, Platten would do it. Lenin insisted that the party would pay for their journey. He also gathered written support from eminent socialist politicians from across Europe.

Lenin also tried his utmost to convince other Russians to travel with them, aware that the journey would be less open to political attack if it were not only Bolsheviks on board. But Martov and the Mensheviks did not want to travel without permission from the Russian government (which formally refused only a few days later). The exiled Social Revolutionaries too could not be convinced to travel with the 30 or so Bolsheviks. Only a couple of Jewish Bundists came on board.

The Bolsheviks managed to organise a welcoming party for Lenin of tens of thousands of workers. Still, the provisional government did its utmost to exploit the situation and stop Lenin’s and the Bolsheviks’ rising influence in Russia. With the help of the Cadets’ newspaper, Rech (Speech), foreign minister Milyukov started a vicious campaign to brand Lenin a traitor and German spy. Big demonstrations were organised, in which people demanded the arrest of the “German agent”. Many local soviets voted through hostile motions. The soldiers’ executive commission of the Moscow soldiers’ soviet passed a resolution calling for protection from Lenin and his propaganda.

“Not a single Bolshevik,” recorded Podvoisky, “was able to enter the barracks without risking arrest or even death.” Soldiers who were members of the party were beaten up by their comrades, “who had been poisoned against the Bolsheviks”, and were singled out for sending to the front. Special orders banned Pravda from military buildings.

At the end of April the mood swung back. Izvestiya, the official journal of the Petrograd soviet, attacked the “dark forces” that were condemning Lenin, “who has given his whole life to the service of the working class”, as a way of discrediting socialists in general. This was a preliminary to an assault on the soviet itself, the newspaper declared, “after which they hope to revert to the old system” (most quotes from Michael Pearson’s The sealed train).


Victor Grayson

“Red flag waves over Colne Valley today” - Daily Express 1907

Victor Grayson’s election to parliament in the general election of 1907 caused a national storm: the victory of this talented orator was achieved against the wishes of the national executive of the Labour Party, which did not want to stand against the Liberals. But Grayson, who was selected by his constituency Labour Party, stood anyway - as an independent socialist.

In his election address wrote: “I do not believe that we are divinely destined to be drudges. We must break the rules of the rich and take our destinies into our own hands.” He was immensely popular among working class militants in and outside the Labour Party and campaigned tirelessly for the unemployed. He quickly established a reputation across Britain and was tipped by some as a possible Labour Party leader.

However, while Grayson could grip audiences of many thousands, he was less in control of alcohol, missed almost all parliamentary sessions and was not returned at the next election. Worse, like many of his Labourite contemporaries, he supported British imperialism’s war against Germany, even giving recruiting speeches and writing articles urging young men to join the army.

Nevertheless, despite these services to king and country, Grayson was still feared as a dangerous subversive and after World War I, special branch stepped up its surveillance of him. His speaking tours throughout the British Isles were closely followed - not least by a certain Arthur Maundy Gregory (who was incidentally involved in leaking the forged Zinoviev letter to the press: see above).

Surveillance was further intensified when Grayson found out that the prime minister David Lloyd George was up to his neck in corruption - selling of honours for between £10,000 and £40,000. Grayson used every opportunity to publicly expose Lloyd George.

At the beginning of September 1920, Grayson was beaten up in the Strand. This was probably an attempt to frighten him off, but he continued his campaign. On September 28 he was seen alive for the last time. His body was never found, but there is little doubt even among bourgeois historians that he had been murdered.


Martin Luther King

In 1963, John F Kennedy first authorised FBI surveillance over the charismatic preacher and campaigner for black civil rights. While King was by no means a communist, he had close links with current and former members of the Communist Party - amongst them Stanley Levison, a New York lawyer. Certainly, with the help of communists and socialists, the civil rights movement was gathering strength and was becoming a real problem for the government.

After just a few months on the case, the FBI got the result it wanted: agents set King up with a good-looking woman and taped them having sex. What better way to expose a religious man who in his speeches often referred to morality, justice and family values? The public outcry would be enough to ruin King’s reputation - and with it, they hoped, that of the civil rights movement.

The FBI leaked the transcripts to the press, but - incredibly by today’s standards - no paper ran with the story. At this point, the FBI director got directly involved. The despicable J Edgar Hoover invited a selected group of reporters to FBI headquarters so that they could actually listen to the tapes themselves. But again - not one reporter wrote a story. Evidence of the campaign against King and the direct use of the tapes did not emerge for nearly two decades.

Many believe that the FBI’s attempts to get rid of King did not stop there. Various theories have circulated which pin King’s assassination in 1968 on the secret service. King’s family, too, has insisted that James Earl Ray could not have committed the murder.


Roger Casement

I say that Roger Casement
Did what he had to do.
He died upon the gallows,
But that is nothing new.
- from WB Yates’s poem Roger Casement

In 1911, Roger Casement was knighted for his services to the British crown in Africa and South America. In 1916 he was hanged for high treason in the name of that same crown. Born in Ireland and raised as a protestant, Casement made his way to Africa as a young man. In 1902 he accepted a posting to the so-called ‘Congo Free State’, which was rapidly acquiring a reputation as the “heart of darkness” of Africa (this was also the name of the film about Casement’s life).

King Leopold of Belgium was running a gigantic slave empire there, dedicated to the production of rubber, and it was Casement’s responsibility to determine if this was true. His report, issued in 1903, caused a sensation, confirming that Leopold’s demands for rubber were forcing Congolese to abandon cultivation of food crops, resulting in widespread starvation. Failure to meet rubber quotas was anwered with reprisals against whole villages, including floggings, amputation of limbs, and executions.

Casement’s report made him a celebrity, and resulted in him receiving another posting, this time to South America, where a further report on conditions in the Upper Amazon and Putamayo disclosed conditions as bad as or worse than those in the Congo. He became friendly with Conan Doyle, Lord Cadbury, Joseph Conrad and won the accolades of the world press.

His reputation was soon tarnished. Not only was he a secret homosexual - more seriously, he was rapidly becoming an advocate of Irish republicanism, raising money and gathering support for its most militant wing. In 1914, he planned a fundraising lecture tour in aid of the Irish Volunteers, who were actively seeking to arm themselves as a counter to the unionist Ulster Volunteers, who threatened armed resistance to any Home Rule Act.

Naturally, this proved highly embarrassing for the British government - he was, after all, a ‘Sir’. The secret service MI1c (later MI6) put a number of agents on Casement’s case - among them John Quinn and Alistair Crowley. Both seemed to have used sexual advances in order to get close to Casement and Crowley was able to infiltrate Clan-na-Gael.

Casement’s efforts to raise a legion of volunteers from the ranks of Irish POWs in Germany proved to be a dismal failure. When he heard of the planned Easter Rebellion in 1916, and realised that Germany was unable to provide material support, he arranged to be transported to Ireland in a U-boat. Captured by the British and accused of fomenting the plot, he was tried and sentenced to hang.

The leaking of his so-called ‘black diaries’ to the press sealed Casement’s fate. Within their pages are the explicit details that exposed him as a promiscuous homosexual. When selected extracts were shown to public figures and known sympathisers, most shrank back from the calls for clemency that could have saved Casement. He was executed on August 3 1916.

To this day, many Irish nationalists suspect that the heavy hand of the secret service. After Casement’s death the diaries were retained by the home office and held in conditions of extraordinary secrecy. Irish politicians and artists, amongst them WB Yates, insisted that all five diaries were forged. They refused to accept the idea that a homosexual could champion Irish freedom - a moralism readily exploited by the British state. In March 2002 the results of the first independent forensic examination of the ‘black diaries’ announced that they were genuine.


Charles Stewart Parnell

“When a man takes a farm from which
another had been evicted, you must shun him”

Parnell was a protestant landlord whose family estate was at Avondale, county Wicklow. He was first elected to parliament in the Meath by-election of April 1875 and joined the Home Rule Party led by Isaac Butt. In 1879 he became president of the newly founded Irish National Land League.

The main objectives of the league were to provide tenants with a fair rent, fixed tenure and free sale. The long-term aim was that those who worked the land would own the land. The Land League became a hugely popular movement overnight and encouraged the Irish peasantry to assert themselves.
Gladstone became Liberal prime minister for the second time in April 1880 and hoped to pass an emergency Land Bill through parliament that summer. When he was defeated in the House of Lords, the Land League took things into its own hands.

Speaking at Ennis on September 19 1880, Parnell declared: “When a man takes a farm from which another had been evicted, you must shun him on the roadside when you meet him, you must shun him in the streets of the town, you must shun him in the shop, you must shun him in the fairgreen and in the marketplace, and even in the place of worship. By leaving him alone, by putting him in a moral Coventry, by isolating him from the rest of his country as if he were the leper of old, you must show your detestation of the crime he has committed.”

This type of protest was used in the case of Captain Boycott, a county Mayo land agent, who was isolated by the local people until his nerve broke. This led to a new word entering the English language.
In 1886 the Conservative Party won the British general elections with the pledge that they would fight against home rule. In 1887, The Times published a series of articles entitled ‘Parnellism and crime’, in which the home rule leaders were accused of being involved in murder and other outrages during the land war. The Times produced a number of facsimile letters, allegedly bearing Parnell’s signature. One of the letters had Parnell excusing and condoning the murder of TH Burke, which he had actually publicly condemned. Parnell immediately declared the letter a forgery and the government set up a special commission to investigate the charges made against Parnell and his party.

The commission sat for nearly two years. In February 1889, one of the witnesses admitted to having forged the letters; he then fled to Madrid, where he shot himself. Parnell’s name was finally cleared and The Times paid a large sum of money by way of compensation. But the damage had been done.