Elite British Spooks Had Sovereign Agency
“If in the years 1941-3, when the Russians were carrying almost the whole burden of the war against Germany, they were dying in substantial numbers because (Britain) denied (them) the war’s most important source of secret information (the “Ultra” intelligence), the actions of the (socialist) Cambridge (double-agents) at that time must appear in a better light. What justification could the British advance for withholding this information – the military radio traffic of the enemy – from their own ally? Only one: that Britain’s best interest was to stand aside and watch Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia slaughter each other to the last man. Nearly forty years later, we have drifted so far to the right that many young people of liberal mind can accept that as a good policy” (N. Ascherson’s 1980 LRB 2(2) review of A. Boyle).
“British Intelligence, in Boyle’s chronicle, remains as weird a community as ever, in spite of all the author’s new information and captures of confidence. Amateurism, class prejudice and what Boyle calls ‘the sad pleasures of sodomy’ composed its peculiar flavour. The circumstances of my own unhappy brush with the service only confirm it. My background was ‘right’, and I was duly recommended as a likely lad by a Cambridge don (Boyle rids us of the myth that Cambridge tutors recruited assiduously for Russia, but does not add that they recruit assiduously for the home side). There followed a lunch at the Reform Club, where this 23-year-old ass received the proposal that he should go to the new Communist state of Betelgeuse in order to write a biography of its ferocious leader. An argument about where Betelgeuse was had to be settled by a visit to the Times Atlas, dated 1910, in the Club library. My real assignment, they said, was to approach leading Betelgeusians and ‘get them round to our point of view’. Uneasy, I objected that I knew nothing of the place or its language. ‘Old D. will put you in the picture,’ they chortled, returning to their port. A few days later, I was summoned to meet D. in his home. After a silent but delicious dinner, D. asked me to sit next to him on the sofa. I supposed that I was at last to be put in the picture, but D. merely grasped me tightly and wordlessly by the penis. I extracted myself and ran away, and after some days of great confusion, wrote to say that perhaps I was not mature enough for this service.
An outfit like that – and these events took place years after the ‘flight of the diplomats’ – deserves everything it gets. I suppose there was a wild brilliance about the Betelgeuse project, which would almost certainly have cost me my head. But what most impresses me, in retrospect, is their sublime confidence that after that lunch and dinner I would still be their loyal man and true” (N. Ascherson 1980).
An analysis of the inegalitarian, totalitarian liberal conditions that create double agents out of elites: The British double agents “all leave one with the odd impression, even Philby in his early years, that they became Soviet agents faute de mieux. What they needed was something else: a British movement of total opposition to the régime which was both respectable and formidable. They needed a divided Establishment, an alternative régime-in-waiting which they could join. Continental republics know this dualism… In Britain, still an ancien régime in this respect, Labour did not offer such an alternative, while the price of CPGB activity would obviously be impotence and ostracism. The spies didn’t see why they should be impotent and ostracised.” (N Ascherson 1980).
The advantage of the US (v. 1930s UK) is that the spy agencies can rely on the dogmatic, even mysticist, sons and daughters of Chamber of Commerce ideologues, and don’t have to risk Cambridge free thinkers.
“The Thirties were a decade of rapid social change and improvement in popular living standards, as well as a time of poverty and misery for many. But Britain remained governed, financed, exploited and largely represented by the upper class…Labour was a party which, as far as the student leftist could see, would deferentially leave the old élite in place. The Cambridge spies wanted something else for Britain, something which now sounds absurd: a socialist revolution which would both smash the patrician hegemony to which the spies were such guilty heirs, and restore British greatness and independence…one could argue that the Cambridge spies betrayed their friends, in this instance, but not necessarily their country.”
As a political sociologist, I am intrigued about Ascherson’s analysis of what liberal totalitarianism and a grand tradition of inegalitarianism created within the elites at the heart of the beast. (Obviously, it wasn’t all that disruptive, though.) It strikes me as a little analogous to the more-consequential class betrayal of the pro-Enlightenment female Swedish nobility in the early 19th century. The ideas lying around…
The CIA, James Jesus & the Lovestone Empire
Jay Lovestone (nee Liebstein) built and ran the Lovestone Empire for the CIA, under the direction of James Jesus Angleton. The Lovestone Empire consisted of anticommunist unions. An anti-Stalinist, Lovestone was groomed by David Dubinsky to direct labour union organization and resources to anti-communist and pro-war causes. Lovestone had started out a socialist before his eventful hard-right move, like so many men of his social background in the 20th c. He insisted that the US could never become socialist; and he influenced the antistatist economic modernizer Bukharin.
James Jesus Angelton was a Latino-Anglo son of a Chamber of Commerce guy who invested in ATMs. Anticommunist who worked with the Israelis, and Jay Lovestone to kill off communist organization in unions. Angleton’s work ensured the electoral victory of Christian Democrats over communists in Western Europe. Angleton supervised the CIA’s comprehensive domestic covert surveillance project (called Operation CHAOS) to control US citizens. He targeted both Olaf Palme and PIerre Trudeau, amongst so many others. The LRB’s May issue 40(9) reviews a history of Angleton’s work. His is a story of how you get carte blanche, all possible credibility and credit in capitalism.
Angleton was educated in the Ivies, in literature–poetry–and New Criticism. That institutional base was an anticommunist hotbed. But that’s not all. I can’t recommend the “doth protest too much” Thomas Power LRB article, but it does show how the adoption of a literary analysis technique like New Criticism could buoy a career, in spookery. Like today’s Neo-materialism, New Criticism eschewed sociological craft and context as a triangulator for interpretation. The effect was to, for the moment, permit the critic greater authority…until he’d spent institutional credibility. If the same technique were imported by a spook king to the interpretation of the world, it would bestow, for a time, the same mystical institutional authority. At an institutional and social cost.
This is the way with the importation of all anti-scientific textual analysis to analysis of the world. Good career move while you can produce the performance to get away with it, and apres moi, le deluge.
Angleton was preparing the US-Israeli secret police relation. Shin Bet chief Amos Manor described Angleton, one of the US and global capitalism’s leading spooks, as “fanatic about everything”, with a “tendency towards mystification.”
Fanatic mystification: What passes for credible, what is given all credit in this system.