The twenties were dominated by the Bolsheviks in Moscow trying to spread their revolution world wide. Marx had predicted Great Britain would be the first to succumb to his fantasies so those in Moscow made this their first target. They welded the usual arguing lefties into the Communist Party of Great Britain whence it turned into something like a debating society, the kind of thing Jeremy f Corbyn would be all in favour of. The leaders of it even went to Moscow and proudly paraded their credentials for all to see only, they were not at all impressed especially since they had been subsidising it.
When the Bolsheviks first tried to get diplomatic recognition from London, SIS, MI5 and Special Branch were all against it and told David Lloyd George so. The Welshman ignored their warnings that the Russians were up to no good and wanted to export their revolution to us and eventually gave the Soviet Trade Delegation full diplomatic status. As the events of the next decades were to prove, these warnings had not been made idly.
Having set up the CPGB, bunged it substantial amounts of money, tried the same in various parts of the Empire and eventually realising they had failed miserably, the Bolsheviks realised it was time for a new type of attack. It was obvious that the masses in Great Britain were not going to storm the palaces even with dreadful unemployment and poverty.
Although the Bolsheviks did not have the success they craved, they did pull the wool over British Intelligence’s eyes most of the time. MI5 and SIS seemed bewildered by it all, they found things out by chance rather than picking it up by their own efforts. From the seeming ease that Russians and others could get into Great Britain without being seen to their moving around with no sign that they were being followed. MI5 could intercept mail, telegrams and phone calls but only when they knew where to look. As the case of Clare Sheridan, Winston Churchill’s cousin, shows. Winston did let things slip in conversation with her and she repeated it in public. However, MI5 spent enormous resources following and tracking her to no avail, she wasn’t working for the Russians.
The staff at ARCOS were paid exceedingly well, £10 a week for admin staff! In the twenties that was real money. Some of this not so hard earned was spent in nightclubs. MI5 recorded that sometimes ARCOS staff would drink until 5am and then sleep it off in the nightclub. However much this sounds like a typical GP bash, the MI5 people were very disapproving.
The staff of MI5 and SIS were at a loss to know how to counter Bolshevik infiltration. They depended a lot on monitoring members of the CPGB but this was far from enough. Foreign “illegals” came here and worked against us and some of the home grown talent was advised to stay away from the CPGB and not to show themselves as communists.
From initially trying to stir up worker discontent, especially with the National Unemployed Movement, via recruiting openly communist agents to the subtle grooming of undergraduates who were to keep their heads down and aim for high positions in the security services and defence industries, MI5 was never able to create a way to identify all the areas they needed to keep an eye on. Often they followed their own prejudices, for example the left was notoriously liberal in their sexual mores and for most of MI5 this was a red rag to a bull. It is hard to say when, or if ever, MI5 finally got a handle on what the communists were up to but it must have been at least the 1960s before they even got close. The most difficult to counter must have been the enablers and fellow travellers, these were people who eased the way for the real spies to work their way into positions they should have never held. There were even MPs (Labour of course) who would pressurise the Home Secretary to allow in someone judged a risk by MI5 and they often got their way. The UK at this time was like a sitting duck for the Soviets, the successes of MI5 and SIS usually seem to be luck more than judgement.
© well_chuffed 2018