MI5 spied on Jack Jones; Jack Jones spied for the KGB


2:17 pm - October 6th 2009

by Dave Osler    


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Such is the harmless good guy reputation that the passage of time has granted the once widely hated Jack Jones that even Gordon Brown felt safe in hailing him as ‘a giant of the labour movement’ in a speech to the TUC conference in Liverpool last month.

In terms of leftie street cred, Jones really did have it all. Born into a socialist family of Liverpool dockers, he was even christened by the middle name of Larkin, in honour of the great Irish union leader.

Even after retirement, Jones continued to campaign for pensioners’ rights. Although I only met him once, I found his company agreeable enough, and it was clear from the conversation that he was no particular fan of New Labour, privately at least.

Yet we must now presume that in his concern to get on the right side of today’s union leadership, the prime minister choose to overlook that a previous Labour government once branded Jones as an enemy of the state.

The revelation comes in Christopher Andrew’s new book The Defence of the Realm, an authorised history of MI5, which is currently being serialised in The Times. According to the author, the Soviet Union’s intelligence service KGB regarded Jones as an agent from 1964 to 1968.

Whether or not Jones – who was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain between 1932 and 1941 – saw himself as such, and whether or not he was rewarded, the article does not say. In any event, contact was broken after the Prague Spring.

But Andrews further alleges that Jones continued to pass on confidential information to the CPGB, and that Labour home secretary James Callaghan authorised the tapping of his telephone. This practice continued under the Heath administration.

Andrews also confirms something that most of us on the left have believed for some time, namely that MI5 kept Thatcher closely briefed on the activities of Communists, Trotskyists and non-affiliated militants inside the unions. I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

One interesting snippet is the state’s assessment of the far left’s work in the miners’ strike of 1984-85. Many groups to this day boast of their role in that struggle. Yet their activities apparently did not especially bother MI5. Far from it:

<em>MI5 was less alarmed than the Prime Minister, reporting on April 4 that “subversive organisations were not making a significant impact on events”. Though the Service continued to monitor contacts between the Communist Party of Great Britain and the miners’ leader, Arthur Scargill, Director F believed that the party was seeking — unsuccessfully — to exert “a moderating influence” on him, rather than to inflame the dispute further …

It has been claimed that during the miners’ strike that “every single NUM branch and lodge secretary had his phone monitored along with the entire national and area union leaderships”. These claims are fanciful. Most phone tapping, authorised in every case by HOWs</em> [Home Office Warrants]<em>, was limited to leading Communist and Trotskyist militants and those judged to have close links with them.</em>

How close is this account to the truth? Let’s note that the book is an authorised history, and will therefore reflect MI5’s self-interest in presenting itself as essentially a law abiding outfit. It will thus discount in advance former operative Peter Wright’s famous contention that ‘we [MI5] bugged and burgled our way across London at the state’s behest’.

On the other hand, it may just be that the far left was never as important as it once fondly imagined itself to be. Maybe I should simply suspend judgment until I have had the chance to read what sounds like an important book. But I think we can take it as read that tabs are being kept on us to this day, even if there isn’t all that much worth keeping tabs on.

Finally, how should we judge the morality of passing on information to the USSR, if that is indeed what Jack Jones did? I think I can just about understand how the matter looked to leftists of Jones’ generation, including among many others the man who was my favourite uncle in my boyhood. If the Soviet Union wasn’t quite a workers’ paradise, they believed, it was at the very least the power that defeated fascism.

For socialists, the problem with spying for the KGB flows not from patriotism or any enthusiasm for the British state, but from what Russian Stalinism objectively represented; the USSR was an ugly and authoritarian dictatorship over the proletariat, and the left of decades past were wrong to regard it as any part of its projects to sustain the repression.

To his credit, Jones appears finally to have worked this one out after the tanks rolled over Czechoslovakia. Better late than never.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments


Forme Labour minister John Stonehouse too. The Left has always been littered with fifth columnists.

As an ex CPGB member I can confirm that Jack Jones kept in close contact with the CPGB leadership, and that the CPGB tried to exercise a moderating influence on Scargill. However, these things were not secrets at the time, and were well known.

I find the idea that Jones passed information onto the USSR less credible, mainly because it is difficult to imagine what information he might have had that could possibly have been useful to them. Did Wilson’s government give trade-union leaders nuclear missile codes?

“Vote Jack Jones, cut out the middle man” – Grafitti slogan frequently found in the 1970s.

“Vote Barclays, cut out the middle man” – Grafitti slogan that ought to be found in spring 2010.

I find the idea that Jones passed information onto the USSR less credible

Well, the USSR evidently believed that he was.

Incidentally, I await Sunny’s fierce denunciations of the Prime Minister for his links to such a homophobic, anti-semetic regime. What implications for the modern Labour Party do these atavistic links to such bigots have?

Jones tried to get the CPGB leadership to support the Social Contract. I was on a CP district committee at the time and remember Jones’ discussions with the central leadership being reported back to us. Jones was not successful, but his communication with the CPGB made perfect sense: the CPGB punched above its weight in the trade-unions and Jones was more likely to get the Social Contract accepted if he could get the Party onside.

Jack Jones failed, and one consequence was the Winter of Discontent and Thatcher’s victory in ’79. Some CPGB leaders subsequently felt the CPGB had been wrong and should have supported Jones.

8. Chris Baldwin

Who gives a shit, frankly?

Is it probable, is it likely that 6years later, this man of integrity with a huge reputation would have accepted tacky hand-outs from some cold-war clown ?

There were many misguided (I am being kind here) people, even after the Prague Spring.
Though obviously Hungary 1956 didn’t seem to worry this “man of integrity” quite as much.

Incidentally, I await Sunny’s fierce denunciations of the Prime Minister for his links to such a homophobic, anti-semetic regime. What implications for the modern Labour Party do these atavistic links to such bigots have?

Shit, you’re right!

Gordon Brown commemorating a dead trade unionist, whilst leader of a party which has accepted the Thatcher settlement which smashed the unions, when that dead trade unionst 40 years ago, as an individual, worked for an evil and repressive regime is exactly the same as the leadership of the present day Tory Party leaving a mainstream conservative grouping to establish an entirely new grouping by inviting the worst sorts of bigots, anti-semites, nazi-apologists and homophobes to join them.

Wow, with your powers of analysis and pattern-spotting, shouldn’t you be working for MI5?

Fuck, maybe you already are…

9.cjcjc. Of course most Marxists ignored Malcom Muggeridge who reported on the famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s which was responsible for millions dying. MM travelled across the Ukraine by train and reported what he saw but was ignored.

12. Shatterface

‘…the USSR was an ugly and authoritarian dictatorship over the proletariat, and the left of decades past were wrong to regard it as any part of its projects to sustain the repression.’

The ‘Soviet’ Union was as oppressive as the Nazis. Fuck their collaborators, and their apologists.

13. the a&e charge nurse

[12] yes, I have never understood why anybody would wish to associate themselves with such a sinister, and corrupt regime.

Perhaps JJs idealised view of communism was only sustained in later life because he was comfortably ensconced in a liberal and democratic society and hence far removed (physically) from the gulags and sham trials?

14. Alisdair Cameron

Or maybe it’s speculative,(Andrew’s certainly getting plenty out of Gordievsky again : either Oleg knew everything about bloody everything, or some assertions are less substantial than others…) designed to sell a book, a book with the official imprimatur of MI5?

#12: “The ‘Soviet’ Union was as oppressive as the Nazis. Fuck their collaborators, and their apologists.”

Credible estimates here of the leading countries in the democide league table for the 20th century:
http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM

It seems that the scale of democide achieved by the Third Reich 1933-45 was relatively modest compared with PR China and the Soviet Union.

Btw it’s not just Soviet agents that need concern us. Try this:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1999/09/99/britain_betrayed/451366.stm

12 – “The ‘Soviet’ Union was as oppressive as the Nazis. Fuck their collaborators, and their apologists.”

13 – “… yes, I have never understood why anybody would wish to associate themselves with such a sinister, and corrupt regime.”

Whilst nobody can seriously deny that the Soviet Union was “oppressive” (at times), “sinister” and “corrupt”, it is worth considering what has replaced it.

Inequality and poverty has dramatically increased since the oligarchs took over, wages and benefits for industrial and agricultural workers have decreased in real terms and despite a hostile media environment that makes Berlusconi’s Italy look positively enlightened, the Communist candidate polled nearly 20.0% of the popular vote in the last presidential election.

Corruption in the oligarchy?
Sinister murders of ‘dissident’ journalists?

Meanwhile, the increasing popularity of the BNP in Britain and the haemorrhaging of the popular vote (in terms of turnout) has been well documented. I don’t think it’s particularly useful to hurl abuse at ‘alternative’ systems.

Does anyone consider that Russians are even remotely ‘free’ in 2009, or that we in Britain (apologies to the lucky souls from elsewhere) live in a free, democratic state?

#11: “Of course most Marxists ignored Malcom Muggeridge who reported on the famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s which was responsible for millions dying.”

Yes. There was nothing especially secret about it, indeed that was the point in order to demonstrate what fate was in store for those peasant farmers misguided enough to resist collectivization. Curiously, it is largely forgotten about or overlooked nowadays, not least by the media despite the horrific scale which was broadly on par with the numbers killed by the Nazis in the course of the Holocaust.

“The dreadful famine that engulfed Ukraine, the northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River area in 1932-1933 was the result of Joseph Stalin’s policy of forced collectivization. The heaviest losses occurred in Ukraine, which had been the most productive agricultural area of the Soviet Union. Stalin was determined to crush all vestiges of Ukrainian nationalism. . . The death toll from the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine has been estimated between six million and seven million.”
http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/soviet.exhibit/famine.html

The official policy leading to that terrible outcome was clearly set out by Stalin in a speech he made on 27 December 1929 with the daunting title of: “Concerning Questions of Agrarian Policy in the USSR”, the text of which was published in Pravda and subsequently in his collected works:
http://www.marx2mao.com/Stalin/QAP29.html

This was the speech which included that chilling quoted passage: “To launch an offensive against the kulaks means that we must smash the kulaks, eliminate them as a class.” The university educated Soviet agents recruited to the Soviet cause in the 1930s could hardly claim not to know about Stalin’s policy of killing by category, which was up and running before the Nazis had settled in and created the Third Reich, let alone set up the infrastructure for the Holocaust.

18. diogenes1960

Jack Jones..hypocritical badly educated twat. (maybe the heart on his sleeve defence might work…if only he had been awake in 1956)..

Gordon Brown,,,hypocritical expensively educated twat

Old Labour/New Labour

Try some historical context; the dates tell all.

JJ joined the CP in 1932. Why, Charlie 2, should a 21 year old docker from Liverpool have believed Muggeridge in 1933, when Muggeridge was disbelieved by the editor of The Guardian newspaper (not just marxists)? JJ went to Spain with the International Brigade and left the CP in 1941, so it looks as if his Communist sympathies were primarily in response to the rise of fascism in Europe, and he left the CP at the time of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

Having been severely wounded in Spain, JJ, as a TU official in Coventry, kept the munitions industry going through the blitz. So “A&E Charge Nurse”, JJ was one of the people responsible for defeating fascism and preserving our liberal democratic society, so you should be grateful to him.

I’m not in the UK, so I don’t have access to The Times to read the allegations, but I understand that JJ is actually alleged to have passed confidential Labour Party documents to the Soviets. I’m not sure that is even a criminal offence. It is certainly not spying against the State. I can just about imagine JJ doing this, as an internationalist, if he thought it would promote a cause he believed in, such as detente. However, what makes it unbelievable is the allegation he took money — so out of character as to make the allegation laughable.

#19: “However, what makes it unbelievable is the allegation he took money — so out of character as to make the allegation laughable.”

Try this:

“The book says the head of MI5 told the cabinet secretary in 1985 that he [meaning JJ] last received money from his [Soviet] case officer the year before.

“That [Soviet] case officer was Oleg Gordievsky, who was working for British intelligence.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8289962.stm

More detail about Oleg Gordievsky, can be found here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oleg_Gordievsky

and here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/september/14/newsid_4230000/4230310.stm

21. the a&e charge nurse

[19] “However, what makes it unbelievable is the allegation he took money — so out of character as to make the allegation laughable” – I strongly agree with this, JL.

JJ was born into a communist household (can you ever imagine a Liverpool docker voting tory) – such political influences must have been all the more powerful for being weaved into the very fabric of Jones’s childhood?

JJ fought for and sustained serious injuries because of his political convictions.
In fact, he dedicated his entire adult life to the improvement of conditions for the working man (and woman).

Whatever his motives (if indeed he did pass info onto Agent Boris) avarice was not one of them.

Bob B, I am aware of the allegations, but that is all they are. I regard them as unproven. Again the historical context is significant. The allegation was made in the mid-eighties, when Thatcher’s government was intent on smashing the power of the unions. The allegation might be true. On the other hand Gordievsky might have wanted to please his masters by giving them some ammunition. He might have made the whole thing up, or he might have made up the part about money being paid. Both Jack Jones and Gordievsky had motives for lying about the matter. Without some better evidence to back up Gordievsky’s story, I think that JJ should be given the benefit of the doubt.

And since I’ve been banging on about historical context — as a point of information JJ could not have been “born into a Communist household”, since he was born in 1913. The Communist Party was founded in 1920.

Russia’s civil society had basically been eaten inside out by the soviet regime. There were no bonds of trust between communities and state institutions, making it especially difficult to develop a functional democratic culture. Add in the botched attempt at economic reforms without first dealing with more important stuff like independent judges and strengthening parliament against the executive and you get what you have now. For all that, they are still better off. At least now they are allowed to leave. And think of all Eastern bloc countries that have managed to reform more successfully and have been saved from that evil regime. After all, it was partly through expropriating its neighbours that Russia managed to retain ANY standard of living during the communist era.

25. the a&e charge nurse

[23] – a pedantic point JL – all I was trying to suggest was that influences are all the more pervasive when instilled during childhood – I am not suggesting JJ was given a copy of ‘Das Kapital’ after his head popped out from between his mother’s legs but lets not forget Marx’s ideas had already been around for 50 years by the time JJ was being pushed through the streets of Garston.

Does anyone here know if JJ ever read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, published in 1945, and, if so, what he thought about it?
http://www.msxnet.org/orwell/print/animal_farm.pdf

Famously, Victor Gollancz, who had commissioned and published Orwell’s book: The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), about poverty in the north of England, refused to publish Animal Farm least it be construed as insulting to our Soviet allies. But then Gollancz had also declined to publish: Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s account of his experience fighting with the International Brigade in the Spanish civil war.

Orwell and his wife just managed to escape across the frontier into France ahead of an arrest warrant issued by the Republican government. Many years later, a researcher in Spain’s national archives came across documentation showing that a report about the issue of the arrest warrant had been copied through to Moscow. Why would the Republican government of Spain, in the midst of a civil war, have felt the need to inform Moscow about issuing an arrest warrant for Orwell?

Btw after Gollancz turned down Animal Farm, Jonthan Cape offered to publish the book but then withdrew on pressure from the Ministry of Information. It was eventually published by Secker and Warburg.


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