Sunday, 26 May 2013

How King Street Kept an Eye on the Left 2

right: CND's PEGGY DUFF.  CP department was informed on
her daughter's wedding.
left: HARRY CONSTABLE addressing dockers during 1950 strike.
After he left CP because of its failure to support the strike, 
Party snoops  kept tabs on him and other dockers.

On the National Status Cornrnittee in the Manchester area were Trevor Park, Ted
Morris from Wythenshawe, and Frank Hallas from Salford. Leeson claimed Park
"obligingly gave me all the details of Morris's and Hallas disruptive activity in
the Chemical Workers Union and TGWU.

Hallas admitted (or rather boasted) that during an election in the Chemical Workers
Union the Trotskyists "forged 2000 votes in order to stop the Communist candidates
being elected..'26

On 7 October 1954, Monty ]ohnstone produced another report, based on
conversations with his informer: so-and-so was 'back with the Trotskyists ; CLR
James was back in Britain;there was "quite a nest of Trotskyists in Richmond and
Barnes . . . C.van Gelderen who spoke on the colonies at the LP conference -reported
in the DW - is one of them; .Phil Sheridan, Lawrence group member in Clapton LLOY,
has recently married Kath - . . daughter of Peggy Duff, business manager of Tribune.
Michael Foot gnd others attended the wedding and gave presents, ."27

}ohnstone also noted: "Harry Constable, London docker, former Oehlerite, is one of
the most out-and-out Trotskyists in Healey's (sic) group.

"Birkenhead Unofficial Port Workers Committee apparently affiliated en bloc to the Fourth InternationaI and were represented (their representative differed from meeting to meeting) on the national conunittee of the British section when it was united."28

Hoping to get into the good books of the Transport and General Workers Union (which had a ban on Communists holding office), the Communist Party leadership viewed with anxiety the growing unofficial movement, and talk among dockers of switching to the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers(NASD) or "Blue . Union" (from the colour of its membership card, mt its politics!)

A report dated 15 September 1954 listed as "Active among Hull dockers for the
Transfer to NASD":

"MURPHY. Known Trotskyite. Runs a small business, believed to be a poultry

SHAW. A member of USDAW from London. Expelled from the Party in
Yorkshire for Trotskyism.Spent his holiday in Hull.

JOHNSON. Engaged in Trotskyist activity among the dockers in Birkenhead.

PENNINGTON. A Trotskyite from Leeds.

BRANDON. from Birkenhead. A docker dismissed from the industry some time ago, known to be in contact with the Trotskyists."29

It was not only Trotskyists who were watched. A report  at this time from"Dennis G." (Goodwin?)named a Blue union officer called Newman "said to h ave T connections". and several London dockworkers, including:

"Daniels - Party member, clerk, Transport and General. Disrupter in Poplar Party3 or 4 years ago. Probably up tor expulsion. Should be watched.

Dennis O'Hearn - Party member. Close to Daniels. Stepney. Was Party councillor in Stepney.

Timothy - Who tore up his Party card.   Only joined Party6 months ago. Very anti..Party.
Probably quite genuine."31

A report on the docks from Phil Stevens in December 1954 gave brief notes on over a
dozen workers, e.g.:

"Sandy Powell MRA Chairman Peace Committee, exec.dockers section NASDU,
Reads DW (Most MRA boys do), gets some Party support . . .Possible source of leakage
to the Press.

Fred Martel,ILP .Sec. port workers cornmittee, very anfi-Party, sells Socialist Leader.

Bert Aylward, Trot. ex-CP, Surrey Docks, exec NASTU Ships Clerks Liaison Committee, speaks at meetings . . .Charlie his brother.

Bill Johnson from Birkenfiead, . . .lead men into Blue Union . . . .John Cavener, suspect Trot, . . .PortWorkers Commfttee . . Harold Bartholomew, suspect Trot., NASTU, . . ex-
CP. ."31

During the 1955 "Blue Union" strike the Communist Party opposed recognition of the NAS&D in the northern ports, but ordinary TGWU members, including Communist Party dockers,would not cross picket lines. However, the "Blue Union" was forced to retreat by TUC pressure, invoking the Bridlington agreement .32

It seems no tit-bit was too small for the net. From Surrey, Syd French (later to be a founder of the "tankie" New Communist Party) wrote in a note about the Labour Party agent in Merton being a former Trotskyist.33

When a local newspaper in Enfield reported in September l954 that a Labour councillor,
a railway clerk,was moving to Lincolnshire, the clipping found its way to Betty Reid's
desk, and she alerted the secretary of the CP East Midlands District Committee:.

"Dear Mick,

You may be interested to know that a man called Edmund Mardell who has been a
Labour councillor in Enfield has been transferred to become the station master at
Appleby.You might watch out for his name in the Labour movement because he is one
of the Trotskyists who has been active there"34

The attitude of Communist Party members asked to report on fellow-workers varied.
The terse replies given by some seasoned militants suggest they had better things to
do. Others were more dedicated, or found it a lark. On 26 August, 1954, Michael Foot
spoke at a London meeting protesting the Labour Party's ban on Socialist Outlook,
Taking notes for the Communist Party ("Loudest applause of allfor Foot, basically
because he was the best turn")was someone who signed him or herself "JT",35 and was
at it again later that year.


During the course of a very short visit to Liverpool on Od.27 /28 l learnt in course of
conversation with Les Partington, bookshop manager, that REVOLT is being pushed
by two ex-p.m., Eric Heffer, a "Welwyn" character, and LP.Hughes (? left or expelled in the 1930s.) They are connected with McShane. The "progressive" opposition to Bessie Braddock in the Exchange Division is made up of Trots.

Syd A. had the shock of his Life when he innocently entered the shop to buy lit. and
found agent J.T. sitting there gazing at him reproachfully. He said he had sworn to let
Betty have ALL by Thursday morning (4th Nov,) "36

"Agent"at"large" JT reported what he had learnt hom a contact on the fringe of the
Socialist Outlook split, concerning share buying and proxy votes rather than the
political issues. His report the following month was headed:


On the occasion of the 37th.anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, 1
engaged personally in light conversation MR.JACK STANLEY. I elicited from him
the following .

Stanley was battling with Labour Party secretary Morgan Philipps to establish that
the proscription against Socialist Outlook did not cover membership of the Labouf
Publishing Society,as it was not mentioned by name. "Anyway there is no money to
pay out, so the members can't get rid of their shares."

There was trouble over the libel action brought by Godfrey Philipps, the tobacco firm, over an article in Socialist Outlook. The paper had been due to print an apology but had ceased publication. The only people who could be pursued for money were the printers, J..Stafford Thomas. Mrs,Stanley had lent them money for machinery.

"We are making plans to bring out something to replace SO," Stanley had told him. He was less forthcoming, or knowledgeable, about the reasons for the split in the editorial board.

JT concluded his report: "I hope HP passing by noticed that I was ON THE }OB". We
might guess this referred to HarryPolitt.37

Unlike the agents of MIS, or the KGB, the people who gathered information for the
Communist Party were amateurs. They did their intelligence work as communists defending the working class, and the cause of peace and socialism, from agents of  The Great Conspiracy-38

Not only did their vigilance fail to protect the Party from real agents (one of whom, Betty Gordon, was befriended by Betty Reid, according to Rupert Allason),39 but intelligence concerning Tmtskyists etc.,was passed to Labour Party officialdom, and used by right-wingers who really were in touch with the intelligence services and the CIA.40.

Stalinism, as a bureaucratic apparatus symbolised by the Wall, has collapsed, its heirs as fragmented as their left-wing opponents. Hopefully this article, besides offering a sidelight on the British labour
movement during the Cold War 1950s, may prompt former Communist Party members who have been examinfng their past (including some to whom we have referred) to tell us more. In the same spirit of glasnost, others may come forward with a tale to tell. for we needn't suppose the contagion of snoopery remained confined to Labour and the CP- If the left is to put its house in order. we must clear out the dirt from under all our carpets.


1- letter 19.' 1.51.

2. Quatcd Stewart Steven Operation Splinter Factor". see also Robin Black -Stalinism in Britain          (1970), David Caute. "-"The FellowTravellers- (1973). Zilliacus' books included -I Choose Peace- (1951), Tito of Yugoslavia.. (1952).

3, Challenge, 30 January 1953. quoted Black,p 250

4. Letter to Central Organisation Dept.,7 }uly 1953

5. Special Bulletin for meeting, 30 January 1953 

6. Letter, 24 March 1953

7. Hand-written report with covering letter from Bill Alexander, 26 February 1954, with reply from Betty Reid, thanking district, 1.March 1954.

8. Letter, 24 March 1954

9.  "Information Statement", dated 6 May 1954- Dick Beech and Bob Edwards were leaders in the
Chemical Workers Union. Beech, a former "Wobbly , and member of the CP".-led Minority
Movement, had quit the CP for the ILP in 1943. Edwards had fought in Spain with tfie ILP
contingent, became ILP national chair 1948, but was elected Labour MP for Bilston in 1955,

10.Socialist Outlook was not purely Trotskyist. The report mentions Reg Birch of the AEU taking part in the meeting. Birch left the CP in the early 1960s to form a Maoist group.

11.Drawn from "A Lifelong Apprenticeship", by Bill Hunter, due out this Autumn (1996) from Index/Porcupine. Hunter was expelled from Islington Labour Party in 1954. The Bevanite Left opposed expulsions, but some union delegates under CP influence stayed away from the meeting so the right-wing narrowly got its way.

12."Report on Trots to 1/5154", handwritten, signed "ED". dated 1/5/54. Jock Haston had obtained
1,782 votes for the Revolutionary Communist Party in the Neath byelection. 1945.
13. Letter, undated, probably June 1954.

14. Memo from Reid to Peter Kerrigan

15. Memofrom Reid,4 June 1954. Note from J.Evans.

16  Dennis Goodwin, letter 18 June 1954. Harry Constable, arrested by the Atdee government
under wartime Order 1305, for leading London dockstrike, expelled by the Transport and General
Workers Union in 1949, but remained a respected figure among dockers. See Bill Hunter, 'They
Knew Why They Fought" (1994),

17,  Bert Pearce, Birmingham, letter to Mick Bonnet 16 June 1954,with report attaefied.

18. Betty Reid,.letter of thanks to Bert Pearce, Midlands District Committee, 25, June 1954.

19. lnternal Bulletin,BritishSection,20 February l954

20."Report of meeting called by John Lawrence, of about 50 London supporters, October 2nd 1954'
Lawrence achieved fame as a Labour councillor hoisting the Red Flag on St. Pancras town hall.
On 23 November 1958 the DailyWorker reported that he had joined the Communist Party. Later he
became more of an anarchist, and was active in the London May Day Committee.

21. Report on Trotskyist activity,typewritten 7 pages, Monty Johnstone 31 August 1954.

22. Report of Discussions with John Gaffe.

23.Ras Makonnen, b. George Thomas Nathaniel Griffith, in Guyana, adopted his name and Pan
African views after Italian invasion of Ethiopia. During World War II he opened club in Manchester,
catered for black GIs. Africans and West Indians Financed political and legal defence work, helped
1945 Pan African Congress, close to Nkrumah and Kenyatta. Wrote .'Pan Africanism from the Inside"
(1973). (See Peter Fryer, .Staying Power.., 19ff'f).

.24.Frank Allaun,then a Daily Herald journafist, wrote an introduction to Bill Tyler's"Letters from Korea".,published by `Socialist Oudook, Lnce.Cp. Tyler, a Salford man, had been killed in a war he opposed. Allsun became a well-liked left-wing Labour MP, for Salford East. I worked in his 1959 election campaign during my school holidays. Frank Allaun had helped organise first Aldermaston march, and remained active in CND.

25. Some information on Trotskyist activities, 1949-1953,  typewritte four pages by Bob Leeson.

26.On Chemical Workers Union, see Shirley Lerner, "Breakaway Unions and the Small Trades Union" (1961), The ballot-rigging story, ironically three years before the ETU case, seems to have been just gossip.

27. Peggy Duff, whose journalist husband had been killed reporting a wartime bombing raid, brought
up three children, served as aSt.Pancras councillor.and became secretary of CND. A J Davies, "To Build a New Jerusalem", (1992), Duff, "Left, Left, Left.' (1971).

28.Trotskyists.Monty Johnstone 7 Oct. 1954. See also notes 16 and 36.

29.Notes on Docks situation personalities, Dennis G. Sept. 1954.

30. Dated 15 September 1954, no name. Hull dockers had come out in August over antiquated and
dangerous working conditions. On 22 August, dissatisfied over lack of TGWU support,they voted
at a mass meeting to apply for membership of the NASD.

31. Report from Phil Stevens on Docks, handwritten, 4 sheets. Bert Aylward,a Blue Union rnilitant since the 1920s, with Constable in 1305 battle and after. Left the CP because it opposed 1945 dock strke.See Hunter(ibid), Keith Sinclair, .How the Blue Union came to Hull Docks.. (Hull 1995), John
Mcllroy, `The First Great Battle.., in Revolutionary History, Vol 6, no. 213. (Summer 1996],

32. Hunter (ibid).

33. Report from Sid French, September 1954.

34. Note (23 September) from Enfield with news clipping, letter from Central Organisa6on Dept to
E. Midlands District Committee, marked "by hand", 5 October 1954.

35. "Withdraw the Ban on Socialist Outlook!", Protest Meeting Holborn Hall.WCI, Thurs. 26 Aug 1954, signed "JT". Mfchael Foot was editor of Tribune.

36. Report from JT, 31 October 1954. A conference in Liverpool on 17-18 July had established a
Federatfon of Marxist Groups, and adopted .Revolt" as its organ. Labour's Merseyside Voice
("Marxists meet in Liverpool"), August 1954, mentions  FA Ridley,EricHeffer,HanyMcShane,
and Joe Thomas (London Workers Group) as speakers. Heffer,expelled from Communist Party
in Welwyn Garden City. had taken up the ideas of Hugo Oehler, a pre-war heretic opposed to
Trotsky's tactic of entry into reformist parties. Oehlerites came to believe Russia's bureaucratic
degenera6on began with Trotsky, rather than Stalin.
Harry McShane,veteran of pee-war unemployed struggles, and Daily Worker Scottish
correspondent. During the Korean war the CP leadership condemned his Gorbals branch as
'adventurisf".After a row with the leadership,McShane resigned,saying the Party had become reformist.(London meeting 1955, reported by AEH for the
Communist Parfy)-

37. The Better the Day. the Better the Deed; report from IT dated November 1954.

38. The Great Conspiracy Against Russia.`,byMichael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn (New York 1946), a classic of Stalinist conspiracy theory,stillcirculates among Old Believers - a Bengali edition was
published in 1986

39. Nigel West,..Mf5 1945 72.`,p.62,

40. Dorril and Ramsay, .Smear!" (1991),pp. 13 16.

This article first appeared in Stephen Dorril's Lobster magazine, issue 31, 1996.

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