Saturday, 24 March 2012

Marx, the Cold War and the "Spooks"

In December 1996, the "re-constituted" Socialist Party of Great Britain (better known as the Ashbourne Court or Socialist Studies Group) published a pamphlet entitled "War and Capitalism". Although much of this pamphlet contains statements and arguments which I, and most socialists, would not quarrel, there is a quotation which immediately caught my eye. Moreover, I was surprised to read the origin of the quotation. It read:
"...the characteristic of the censored press is that it is a flabby caricature without liberty, a civilised monster, a horror even though sprinkled with rose-water." (quoted from Marx and Soviet Reality by Daniel Norman, 1955,p54)

Quoted on Page 7 of War and Capitalism, it is indeed part of a longer quotation, from Karl Marx, on pages 53 and 54 of Marx and Soviet Reality by Daniel Norman, who was primarily concerned with the lack of freedom in the Soviet Union.


Who then was Daniel Norman? Who published Marx and Soviet Reality? What were the origins of the publication, and the publishers? Why should what at first appears to be a quotation from an obscure book written in 1955 be used in 1996?

Daniel Norman, the author of Marx and Soviet Reality, was of Romania origin, who had studied law at Bucharest University. He claimed to be a member of the "Romanian Socialist Movement", but was not in fact a socialist but a former Social Democrat. By 1955, he lived in London;and he worked, as a journalist, mainly for the Economist, the Observer, the Manchester Guardian and a French monthly, Preuves. Marx and Soviet Reality was published by The Batchworth Press; and was one of a series of "Background Books" and "Background Specials". Included in "Background Books" and "Background Specials" were works of Leonard Schapiro, Ralph Blumenau, Sir R. Bruce Lockhart, Walter Kolarz, John Plamenatz and Francis Noel-Baker. The editor of "Background Books and Background Specials was Stephen Watts (1)

The Batchworth Press Ltd, was a publishing company located at 54 Bloomsbury St. London, WC1.

And Stephen Watts?

Before World War 2, Watts was a journalist; he was later recruited by MI5. And in 1943, he was largely responsible for organising the "Monty's double" scam in Gibraltar. After the war, to former(?) spooks, Leslie Sheridan and Victor Cannon Brooks, set up a small publishing company, Aspersand; and in 1953, they were joined by another director, Stephen Watts, who would discuss the titles with the Information Research Department before commissioning them. He also advised the Observer newspaper that British Information Officers, attached to the Foreign Office, would encourage publishers to produce local editions in 3rd World countries, "by buying up obscure language rights on the cheap and passing them on for free in the countries concerned". Through Watts, the United States Information Service also obtained the language rights for Ampersand Books - in one case for 45 countries.

The Information Research Department sponsored, with Stephen Watts as editor, the "Background Books", first through the Batchworth Press, and then through Phoenix House, until 1960 when Bodley Head published them over the next ten years. The IRD's method was to use Ampersand to buy the "Background Books" from Bodley Head and, at the end of each year, reimburse Ampersand. Many of the "Background Books" and "Background Specials", particularly with a "Marxist" or anti-Soviet theme, were often "off-loaded" on the Trade Union members and members of non-communist political parties in Britain. (2)


The Information Research Department was formed in 1948. The junior minister at the Foreign Office in Attlee's Labour Government, Christopher Mayhew, claims the credit for its creation. He writes:

"Some lively meetings followed in the Foreign Office, establishing what came to be known as the Information Research Department (IRD). I summoned a conference of our ambassadors from communist countries. Everyone seemed to support the new project, but there were different degrees of enthusiasm and some disagreement about the priority we should give to different propaganda targets. How much emphasis should we place on the lack of freedom in the communist world? On communist expansion as a menace to peace? On the low living standards of Soviet workers?...I found myself in a minority in urging that living standards should have priority...This view was resisted by the majority of ambassadors and officials, who felt that the emphasis should be on freedom" (3)

The truth, however, was that the permanent officials in the Foreign Office, as well as British ambassadors in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, had previously decide that what they required was a clandestine propaganda organisation whose aim was to combat Soviet "imperialism" and "communism". (4) Concern for the poverty of Soviet workers was, for them, not a priority.

Abroad, the IRD's main activities were concerned with Western Europe, South-east Asia, India, Pakistan, and the Middle East. At home, "it used the anti-communist material created with government funds to aid right-wing Social Democrats in the Labour Party and the Trade Union Movement.(5) Relations with SIS/MI6 were close, particularly with Section IX which dealt with Soviet Russia. Indeed, the head of the IRD between 1953 and 1958, when "Marx and Soviet Reality" was published, was John Rennie, who was later the head of SIS/MI6. During this period, its salaried staff, first located in Carlton House Gardens and the in Millbank, Riverwalk House, until its demise in 1978, was around 400. The Information Research Department also used a number of "free-lance", "alongsider" writers such as Brian Crozier, ho were also involved with various CIA fronts such as the Congress For Cultural Freedom, which published, or financed such journals as Encounter and the French-language journal, Preuves to which the author of "Marx and Soviet Reality", Daniel Norman contributed (6)


The communists always claimed that socialism existed in the Soviet Union, and that the Soviet people were "building communism". In the main, this was echoed by the media and the propagandists of the West. Russia was Communist, they said. The "free world" - particularly America and Britain - was said to be in deadly combat with "communism" and "communist imperialism". This was the rhetoric of the Cold War. And many people believed it. But not everyone. And this included some of the more sophisticated propagandists employed, or used, by the Information Research Department in Britain, and the CIA in the US.

The communists, as well as Soviet propagandists, regularly used selected quotations from the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and , of course, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, to "prove" that the Soviet Union was a socialist society, and was "building communism". The IRD and, to some extent, the CIA used a number of writers who wrote works, using the writings of Marx and Engels, to prove the opposite - that the Soviet Union was not a socialist or communist society along the lines advocated by Marx and Engels. Daniel Norman was such a writer, and "Marx and Soviet Reality" was such a work. Thus, writes Norman::

"There is at least one point which Soviet propaganda and the opponents of Marxism - and of socialism in general - agree: both describe the USSR as the embodiment of the Marx-Engels conception of a socialist society. Both claim to see the masters of the Kremlin the heirs and faithful pupils of Marx, and in Soviet policy the extension of Marxian policy of our times"(7)

Nothing could be wider of the mark, says Norman. There is no indication in the Russian regime of a future development of the communism of which Marx and Engels dreamed, he continues.(8) Quoting from Marx's Capital, he argues that commodity production, the hallmark of a capitalist society, prevails in the Soviet Union(9) And, continues Norman, there is no private ownership of the means of production; it is the state which is the owner. But, this time quoting from Engels' Anti-Duhring, he points out that "neither the conversion into joint-stock companies, nor into state property deprives the productive forces of their character as capital...The workers remain wage-earners, proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not abolished; it is rather pushed to an extreme" (10) All the characteristics of the capitalist system of exploitation are, therefore, found in Soviet Russia; they are pushed to n extreme in this "most advanced form of state capitalism" (11) Daniel Norman, unlike most critics of the former Soviet Union argues in his "Marx and Soviet Reality" that not only did the regime lack (bourgeois) freedom, but was in fact a state capitalist, not socialist or communist society. This was quite sophisticated argument for the IRD propagandists. But it was not a new argument.

It had been the stock-in-trade of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its companion parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and a number of other countries, for at least 30 years before the publication of Norman's oeuvre by Stephen Watts in 1955. Maybe that is where he heard it. But the anonymous author of "War and Capitalism" should quote from "Marx and Soviet Reality" more than 40 years later is anyone's guess.


Another work which appears to bear all the hallmarks of "spook" involvement (the title is the give-away!!) is The Russian Menace to Europe by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Of course, neither Marx nor Engels ever wrote anything with such a title. The book is merely a collection of articles, speeches, letters and news dispatches written at various times by Marx and Engels and selectively edited by two "professional" Sovietologists, Paul W. Blackstock and Bert F. Hoselitz, in the United States. And the marks stamped all over this book are almost certainly those of the CIA. Indeed, the CIA published, or secretly financed, more than 1000 books including the "Penkovsky Papers" by the mid-1970s

Included in "The Russian Menace to Europe", are articles on the foreign policy of Russian Czarism, which Engels says is expansionist("...a cloak for its on plans for world domination"); the background to the dispute with Turkey, in 1853-54, in which Marx states that"the total acquisitions of Russia during the last sixty years are equal in extent and importance to the whole Empire she had in Europe before that time (13) and various articles on "traditional Russian policy"

In their introduction, Blackstock and Hoselitz say that it would be idle to speculate what attitude Marx and Engels would have taken towards Stalin's Russia; but, they continue, " we do know that of all the systems of tyranny and human exploitation which exist in our time the Soviet is the most vicious and the most oppressive" (14) Surely, Blackstock and Hoselitz must have led very sheltered lives!

Continuing their introduction, they argue that the most categorical opponent of Stalin, and all he stands for, is therefore none other than Karl Marx. And, like Daniel Norman, they also claim that Soviet Russia "does not resemble the class-less society which Marx and Engels envisaged as the end result of the revolution. The state has not withered away, and has not only not showed no signs of doing so, but on the contrary, has flourished and grown like topsy" (15) In their view, the Soviet Union resembles, "both in external as well as internal policies and socio-political trends", those of Czarist Russia(16) This is not quite the same conclusion as that of Daniel Norman, who argues that the Soviet Union was a state capitalist regime; but it is a different analysis to that of most critics and observers who claimed that the USSR was "communist", or that contradiction in terms, a "Marxist state".

But it is all history now.

Peter E Newell


1) Book list on back-cover of Marx and Soviet Reality

2) Block and Fitzgerald, pp96-97; Crozier,p51; West, MI5, p374, The Friends p2. Molehunt p95 and p100

3) Mayhew, p108

4) for an overview on the origins of the IRD, see Ramsay,p6

5) Block and Fitzgerald, p90

6) Crozier, pp51-52; Marx and Reality, p1; Block and Fitzgerald pp91-92

7) Norman, p7

8) ibid, p14

9) ibid, p19

10) ibid, p22

11) ibid p23

12) The Russian Menace to Europe, Karl Marx and Fredreich Engels, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, 1953

13) ibid, p142

14) ibid, p12

Works Cited

Anonymous War and Capitalism Socialist Studies London 1996

Block, Jonathan and Fitzgerald, Patrick, British Intelligence and Covert Action, Brandon, Dingle, Co. Kerry, 1984

Crozier, Brian, Free Agent, Harper/Collins, London 1993

Marx, Karl and Engels, Friedrich The Russian Menace to Europe, edited by Paul W. Blackstock and Bert F. Hoselitz

Mayhew, Christopher, Time to Explain, Hutchison, London 1987

Norman, Daniel, Marx and Soviet Reality, The Batchworth Press ( A Background Special), London, 1955

West, Nigel (Rupert Allason), MI5, Triad Grafton Book(paperback edition) , London, 1984

West, Nigel, Molehunt, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1987

West, Nigel, The Friends, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1988

Also cited Ramsay, Robin, The Clandestine Caucus, Lobster, Hull, 1996

For a detailed account of the Information Research Department see "Britains Secret Propaganda War" by Paul Lashmor and James Oliver, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 1998

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