Having written about the so-called Cambridge Spies, it seemed logical to delve into the world of Oxford University and uncover its contribution to the world of espionage. There was a tantalising reference to a lecturer who seemed to be someone who pointed students on the communist path and even Polly Toynbee’s grandfather, Arnold Toynbee, who seemed to be at worst a fellow traveller.
There was no dramatic defection like Burgess and McLean to pin onto the Oxford graduates so they never really took off in the public consciousness. Plenty were enablers and sympathisers and they helped the Cambridge Spies to get into place and stay there. There are undoubtedly a few who were spies, the Venona Transcripts have more than a few undiscovered traitors listed.
The next obvious question is how did all this start, how did these communists get their foot in the door and be in a position to infect the minds of students. We need to go back to the late 1800s and early 1900s to find the answer and it turns out it was immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe. Many were Jewish, they were fleeing the pogroms that were unleashed in Tsarist Russia every few years. Others were members of the German Communist Party; at the end of World War One its members staged an attempted revolt in Berlin and many had to flee for their lives.
There was also a Communist Party of Great Britain, founded in 1920, at first it tried to be part of the Labour Party but then went out on its own. These days it seems to have reverted to taking over the Labour Party.
The information in this first part of a series of articles is mainly taken from “The Spy who came in from the Co-Op” by David Burke with a lot of help from Professor Christopher Andrew, the Official Historian of the Security Service. Some may remember the Spy of this book, Melita Norwood who was portrayed as a little old harmless lady. This is far from the truth, she worked at Tube Alloys for years and betrayed as much as she could and even in her eighties she was unrepentant.
As those of you who have read the Cambridge Spies article may have noticed that my disgust with these spies and their feeble justifications for their actions is never ending. It seems to be like the taqiyya of the muslims. They always pretend just a sort of intellectual dalliance with communism but they never did anything really bad. In reality they were giving industrial quantities of secret documents to their beloved Soviet Union. Cairncross’s output is estimated at over 6,000 documents, George Blake’s was over 4,000 and so on.
As far as the atom bomb goes, Allan Nunn May was betraying as much as he could, Klaus Fuchs was giving away the secrets of designing and detonating the bombs and the little old lady Melita was giving away the secrets of how to encase uranium rods in aluminium without that metal being affected by the radioactivity, otherwise the Russians would not have had their reactors up and running until they had figured it out themselves.
The first Russians to flee to the UK were the nihilists who managed to assassinate Tsar Alexander II. After that almost all of those involved were rounded up or ran away to various places. We accumulated a bunch of murderous madmen that way. This was the time of the man with a cloak, dodgy beard and one of those bombs that looked like a black football with a fuse poking out of it. They were a bunch of nihilists, anarchists, communists, socialists and probably most other -ists you can think of. In 1881 there was even an Anarchists Congress in London, heaven knows how they managed to organise it. Suffice to say that by the turn of the century we had a fair assortment of persecuted crackpots in this country.
Those Jews who fled the pogroms because of political persecution rather than religious or racial reasons, were in general socialists, communists and trade unionists. As such they were anti-capitalist and were not keen on the West (i.e. us). In fact there were some strange bedfellows who were not keen on the West. On one side you had the traditional Tsarists who did not want any modernisation and on the other the lefties who wanted nothing to do with capitalism. As the Tsar tried to drag Russia into the 19th century it had to move towards capitalism and thereby antagonised both left and right.
Strangely enough the story in the UK really starts with Count Vladimir Chertkof, Tolstoy’s literary executor. The Tsar did not like Tolstoy and his books were either banned or redacted. To get the full version published, they were printed in England and shipped clandestinely to Russia. They were also translated into English and produced for the UK market.
The Count was based at Tuckton House near Bournemouth. He had up to 30 people living there, mostly Russians of every shade of political opinion. Mealtimes must have been tasty. One of the people was Theodore Rothstein who ended up as Lenin’s first secret agent in England. His son Andrew was the recruiter of Melita Norwood among others. The man the Count chose to translate Tolstoy’s diaries into English was Alexander Sirnis, the father of Melita Norwood, née Sirnis. Her husband’s original name was Nussbaum, he changed it to Norwood before he married her.
Theodore Rothstein, born Fyodor Aaranovitch Rotshtein in Lithuania, had fled Russia in 1891, he had been associating with people who were not approved by the authorities, lefties one and all. He started working on a history of Rome but, surprise surprise, never managed to finish it and so spent his time supported by his family. In 1898 he started visiting Tuckton House where he was soon invited to do some translations. In 1902 he met Lenin in London at the reading room of the British Museum and they became friends. Theodore’s son Andrew apparently sat on Lenin’s knee during this time, in the pantheon of lefty heroes there cannot be a much higher recommendation.
Rothstein had a deep knowledge of the European socialist structures and as such was much in demand. In 1915 he was recruited by MO7, an early version of the MIx agencies whose job was to keep tabs on the foreign press around Europe. In fact Theodore was working for the British, Lenin and even Turkish Intelligence via the assistance of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt’s British-Egypt Association. Yes, Anthony Blunt was his grand-nephew. Theodore kept his job at, by then, MI7 because they were afraid some other would snap up his services. After the Russian revolution, when the allies had military forces in Russia, Theodore was used extensively to keep tabs on what was going on over there.
In 1918 Theodore was working closely with Litvinov, Lenin’s unofficial Ambassador to the UK. When Litvinov was deported Theodore took over in his place. As part of the birth of the CPGB, Theodore eventually went to Moscow to argue his case with Lenin, the Foreign Office rubbed its hands with glee and declared him persona no grata so he was not allowed back but his son Andrew was still here. The point here is that they asked Lenin about setting up the CPGB and he seemed to guide them! So much for coming to a country of refuge and refraining from political actions.
Alexander Sirnis had also left Russia, Latvia to be precise and strangely enough, that really was his name. These Russian revolutionaries were always finding another name to use. He was the father of Melita ‘Letty’ Sirnis who later married Hilary Nussbaum who by the time of the marriage had changed his name to Norwood. Alexander was also a translator at Tucson House and also wrote lots of left wing articles for all sorts of publications. He had bad health and ended up in Davos in Switzerland for the cure though he returned to England at the start of the first world war when he was turned down for military service on health grounds.
These then are the people who were laying the groundwork for all kinds of left wing agitators and revolutionaries to set up shop and subvert our nation.
© well_chuffed 2018