Review of 'The CIA, the British Left and the Cold War', Hugh Wilford, Frank Cass, £18.50
Whenever the left meets to discuss the current political situation, the conversation inevitably centres on postwar Iraq and the strategy of US imperialism. There seem to be three key questions that most exercise comrades' minds: is US power invincible? How did the US gain such power? And why does Tony Blair stick like dogshit on George Dubya's cowboy boot? While reading Hugh Wilford's excellent and well researched book, these three questions kept flooding into my consciousness. Wilford focuses his attention on the cultural war between the US and what he mistakenly refers to as Communism, ie state capitalism.
He begins with the end of the Second World War in 1945. When Labour was elected there was a fantastic feeling of optimism among socialists and social democrats, who Wilford refers to as the non-Communist left (NCL), on both sides of the Atlantic. They saw it as a chance to create a third force between capitalism and Communism.
Vehement anti-Communists, including many ex-Communists, both in Britain and in the US began to take a great interest in the British Labour Party. Thus began a dialogue between ex-Communists and New Dealers in the US and social democrats and ex-Communists here in Britain. Their hatred of Stalinism led them to throw their lot in with the US state and its allies. According to Wilford it was the NCL that first initiated this Faustian pact. Their collaborative effort was directed at the penetration of all areas of cultural life in response to Communist cultural activity.
Russia had begun to organise front organisations around the theme of peace between the peoples of the world. Together with its Communist party connections around the globe, it began to organise peace rallies and cultural exchanges involving workers, artists and scientists.
In the first exhilarating days after the end of the Second World War, internationalism became a major theme - never again should the world be plagued with fascism and war. This was particularly true among the working class. Responding to this mood of internationalism, trade unions around the world came together to form the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). With the onset of the Cold War the US and its friends began to target the WFTU through its contacts in the US trade union movement and in the TUC. There were two trade union centres in the US, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrialised Organisations (CIO). These, together with virulent anti-Communist like Arthur Reakin, general secretary of the TGWU, and Ernie Bevin, the previous general secretary, who was now the British foreign secretary, organised a breakaway from the WFTU and formed a rival trade union centre, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).
Another target for US funds was the Labour Party itself, to which money was provided to set up literary and political magazines staffed by anti-Communist literary intellectual figures. This wasn't difficult because many of the revisionists who wanted to 'modernise' the Labour Party had themselves served in intelligence during the war. Now the joint editors of Encounter began to commission articles by selected people to direct a subtle form of psychological warfare against the views of the rank and file of the labour and trade union movement, which still supported CND, public ownership and was against entry into the Common Market, the forerunner of the EU.
Whatever happened politically to those virulent anti-Communists? Wilford's book unequivocally demonstrates that when you shake hands with the devil, you don't change the world for the benefit of humankind, you change the world for the benefit of you. The proof of this lies in the book's pages, for many of those ex-Communists turned into today's neo-conservatives. Perhaps if they had concentrated their efforts on the working class, they might still be socialists.
Today's socialists should read this book not just to satisfy their own curiosity. For if knowledge is power then this book provides some extremely explosive ammunition in the class struggle. If we are to wipe the ever-present smile from the face of Richard Perle, then we are in great need of the powerful weapons which the information contained in this book provides.