Diary extracts, and letters, show that the fear of Russian influence is nothing newby Ian Irvine / March 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
After the election of 1923, Labour formed its first ever government under Ramsay MacDonald, though with no majority in the Commons. In February 1924 it had recognised the USSR and was attempting to normalise relations between the two countries.
Four days before the election in October 1924—which Labour went on to lose—the Daily Mail published what became known as the Zinoviev Letter.
Apparently sent by Grigory Zinoviev, the head of the Communist International to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain, it read:
“A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionising of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc. will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies.”
There was a outcry at this apparent Labour collusion with Moscow. A memo from the Foreign Office mandarin sent on 15th October to MacDonald said:
“We get nothing out of the Soviet government by any remonstrances simply because these quite shameless liars merely deny everything however clearly established. On the other hand, there is much force in the view that our best and only defence against these treacherous proceedings is publicity. It does not seem fair to our own people that our knowledge of these Russian machinations should forever remain concealed… I think therefore that we should… give full information to our press.”
MacDonald took no action until the Mail article appeared. He doubted the letter’s authenticity; MI5 and the Foreign Office seemed to believe the letter was genuine. The Kremlin denounced it as a forgery.
The origin of the letter has never been conclusively established, but it seems likely to have been the work of White Russians in Berlin. How it came into the hands of the Daily Mail is also still unclear.
In his memoirs John Cole, political correspondent of the Guardian, comments on Harold Wilson as prime minister in 1966:
“What interested me was his tendency to be over-impressed by reports he received from MI5. The willingness overcame his normally cautious political instincts. On one occasion he described a significant union figure…