Solidarity Journal #28/29 Autumn 1991

Double issue of the London Solidarity Journal from the 1980s-90s. Topics include Noam Chomsky on the middle east, the New World Order and the role of trotskyists sects in the UK Stop The War movement.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive.

Author
Submitted by Fozzie on November 29, 2021

Contents

  • Prospects For Gulf Peace: Breathing Light on the Middle East - Noam Chomsky
  • New World Chaos - Milan Rai
  • The War We Should Have Stopped: Ruthless Cuckoos In The Dovecot - Henry Worthington
  • Book Review: Randle & Pottle's "The Blake Escape: How We Freed George Blake and Why" + George Blake's "No Other Choice" - Andrew Weir
  • Book Review: "Assessing Radical Education" + Nigel Wright's "Free School: The White Lion Experience" - Michael Duane
  • Letter: Ben Webb, Peter Cadogan and Martyn Everett on Ken Weller's editorial on the Gulf War in the last issue.

Files

Ruthless cuckoos in the dovecot - Henry Worthington

What really went wrong with the national alliance against the Gulf war? Henry Worthington reports a classic case of those opposing the war on principle being manipulated by those who were not. Anti-authoritarians should look out, it could happen again.

Submitted by Fozzie on January 11, 2022

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2 last year, the British Left was as surprised as everyone else. Kuwait was a faraway country of which the Left knew little, the invasion a spectacular interruption to the holiday season. To be sure, the crisis in the Gulf provoked a vague unease, but after the first few days, when it seemed that Saddam might sweep south into Saudi Arabia, the prospects of all-out war seemed to recede. Once the American forces were in place in Saudi Arabia and the United Nations had imposed sanctions on Iraq, the most likely scenario seemed a lengthy process of economic attrition which Saddam could not win. It did not seem too much of a priority to set up an anti-war organisation.

Not everyone was quite so complacent. For Socialist Action, a small Trotskyist group, the time was ripe for seizing. By acting fast it could set the agenda for an anti-war movement. In mid-August, taking advantage of the inactivity of the rest of the Left, it took the lead in setting up an anti-war coalition, the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf, doing its best to ensure that it was effectively under its control but did not appear so. Socialist Action is a remnant of one of the pro-Cuba factions in the erstwhile International Marxist Group and is no more than fifty strong. It is nevertheless well entrenched in the Labour hard-Left, with significant influence in the part of it that is sceptical about the idea of eventually setting up a 'pure' socialist party to Labour's Left. Indeed, among trot groups it is notable for the depth of its commitment to the Labour Party and its horror of appearing 'ultra-Left': it works more with non-trots than with other trots, whom it despises for raising 'maximalist' demands.

The group is influential in the Labour Left Liaison umbrella group, which includes the Labour Women's Action Committee, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Labour CND, and it has a major input into Campaign Group News, the organ of the Campaign Group of hard-Left Labour MPs. Unsurprisingly, the platform on which the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf was set up was a 'minimalist' one - "Stop war!" -and hard-Left MPs and the groups in Labour Left Liaison were among the first affiliates.

National CND, for the most part innocent of Socialist Action's existence, let alone its methods, was bounced into joining the Committee by Labour CND, whose secretary, Carol Turner, a Socialist Action veteran, was also secretary of the Committee; the Green Party, whose international committee at the time was under the influence of another trot faction, the tiny Pabloite group Socialists for Self-Management, was brought in at the same time. The Euro-communist Communist Party of Great Britain and the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain, both desperate for credibility, saw a bandwagon and jumped on board, and by early September the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf looked like an impressive coalition of anti-war groups.

The reality was rather different. Socialist Action made sure that it controlled the key positions on the Committee (Turner remained secretary of the Committee throughout its existence), and it blocked attempts by CND and the Greens to get the Committee to endorse sanctions against Iraq, on the grounds that such a move would be divisive - even though the only groups that would have been excluded by such a move were 'revolutionary defeatists' committed to backing Saddam if fighting broke out. (The idea behind this position, first formulated by Lenin during World War One, is that in an imperialist war revolutionaries should work for the defeat of their own side, with the intention of turning it into revolutionary civil war). For a few weeks, such people didn't bother with the Committee, seeing it as far too reformist: the Socialist Workers' Party and other trot groups put their efforts into setting up a rival to the Committee, the Campaign Against War in the Gulf, on a 'Troops out!' position. But the Campaign soon floundered, and the SWP and the rest of the revolutionary defeatists drifted into the Committee. The result was predictable. The Committee's meetings turned into interminable political wrangling. Not surprisingly, as the Gulf crisis dragged on through the autumn, the Committee proved incapable of exercising any purchase on public opinion or on the political mainstream. Just about the only thing it seemed to know how to do was call a demonstration in London - and even then it didn't have the resources to provide stewards or the wit to present interesting speakers.

The Committee's efforts at the Labour Party Conference in early October were particularly disastrous. Faced with a conference opposed to war but not prepared to undermine the leadership (which was anyway rather less than blood-thirsty at this point), the Committee made the extraordinary decision to put up a conference-floor fight on an anti-war resolution it knew would be badly defeated. In result, opposition to the war became identified in the Labour Party with the hard-Left, a kiss of death for any cause these days. With a few days hard work, the Committee managed to throw away any possibility of ever having influence over the mainstream of the Labour Party.

Its attempts to woo Liberal Democrats and Tories were virtually non-existent. To the media the Committee, despite constant damage-limitation by CND, came across as a bunch of unfriendly, paranoid, hectoring and above all incompetent extremists. Whereas elsewhere in Europe large swathes of Centre and even Right opinion opposed war before it started, in Britain the anti-war movement got stuck at an early stage in the Left ghetto. By mid-November, it was quite apparent to the British government that it would face only token domestic opposition if it backed George Bush's plans to evict Saddam from Kuwait by force. By the end of the year, it was clear even to its own supporters that the anti-war movement had failed, and that the only thing that could stop war was a climbdown by Saddam. The Committee stepped up its activity when the air war began in January (and in February at last threw out the revolutionary defeatists, who had by now become a serious embarrassment), but the number of demonstrators on marches dwindled rapidly as a sense of total impotence set in. By the time the land war started, the anti-war movement was on the slide. Perhaps, as the Committee leaders tastelessly put it, support would have grown again if the body-bags had started coming home; luckily we shall never know.

The point of all this is not that the war should not have been opposed. Despite the small number of 'Allied' casualties, the war was a human and environmental disaster. But the peace movement, such as it is, should not now be sitting back and saying that it was right all along: there are lessons it has to learn from the Gulf war.

In particular, it should be absolutely clear to everyone who had anything to do with the national movement against war in the Gulf that not wanting a particular crisis to turn into war is no basis on which to organise a credible opposition: it is essential that the movement from the start excludes those who, in the event of war, will support either side. In the run-up to the Gulf War Leninist advocates of revolutionary defeatism did immense harm to the cause of those opposed to slaughter on humanitarian grounds, and the peace movement should have had no truck with them.

It should also be extremely wary of allowing itself to be manipulated by small groups with their own hidden political priorities. Without CND, with its 65,000 members, the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf would have been a mere husk; outside the Committee, CND could have used its resources and skills to promote its clear position of using sanctions to get Saddam out of Kuwait rather than wasting its time and energy on a coalition that could not even agree to condemn Saddam's invasion. If there is a next time, it would be unfortunate to make the same mistakes.

R Totale

1 year ago

In reply to by libcom.org

God knows that SA seem like an unlikeable group, but bit surprising to see Solidarity taking up what seems to be a pro-sanctions position?

Fozzie

1 year ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah it's an odd one that. Last ever issue, so anything goes I guess...

Blake Escape: book reviews

Peace activists Pat Pottle and Michael Randle outside the Old Bailey
Peace activists Pat Pottle and Michael Randle outside the Old Bailey, where they were both acquitted on 26 June 1991

Reviews of books by Geroge Blake and the two libertarian activists who helped him to escape from prison in 1966.

Submitted by Fozzie on January 11, 2022

The Great Escape, starring Hackman, Costner and Cruise

Michael Randle & Pat Pottle - The Blake Escape: How We Freed George Blake and Why Harrap, £12.95
George Blake – No Other Choice Jonathan Cape, £12.99

In late June twelve good folk and true weighed the case of Regina vs. Michael Randle and Pat Pottle in the scales of justice and acquitted them of helping George Blake, super-spy, escape from Brixton jail in 1966. Because they had the sense to ignore the judge and the prosecution, justice was served. Had they weighed the case according to case-law and rules of evidence as they had been instructed to by the judge, the only victors would have been a gaggle of die-hard Tory MPs, and their mentors on the top floors of the Daily Mail and Daily Express buildings. The jury proved that you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to spot a political trial when you see one.

Unusual as that sort of common-sense is these days, such a verdict would have been obvious to anyone reading The Blake Escape, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle's own justification of why they delivered, unbidden, to Moscow one of its most stunning Cold War propaganda coups while steadfastly maintaining their own independence. In No Other Choice the long silent George Blake justifies his betrayal of the West in favour of the East. All three authors are making their peace with a world that looks upon them as outcasts. Like so many outcasts in their own time, their stature is likely to grow as years pass and new generations whose imaginations are unbowed by the Cold War will recognise their courage and sacrifices in the name of their respective political convictions.

Sufficient time has already passed, one might think, for such a re-assessment to occur. Randle and Pottle are off the hook, but Blake will never see England again, and he cannot even bequeath his book royalties to his children. Perhaps the establishment realised that the Randle and Pottle prosecution was slipping away from them. With the Treasury Solicitor's injunction on Blake's royalties at least some action was taken that could not be challenged and would pacify the Tory back benches.

Difficult as it is to separate ideology from anything that goes on in Britain, let's imagine this case without it. We would have a completely different story. For months after the books were published Hollywood agents would have been putting up their last Porsches for the film rights. After that, Gene Hackman as Blake, with Kevin Costner as Randle and Tom Cruise as Pottle, would have immortalised this ripping yarn (with only slight inaccuracies) for the silver screen, and their real life counterparts would be living the life of Riley on the back of their percent-ages of gross box-office take. It is not too surprising that things did not happen this way. Initially, nobody in government, East or West, could have really believed that the Blake escape was not the devious work of the other side. Indeed, Randle and Pottle did well to leave Blake with the East Berlin police and go home. Otherwise they might have faced the same sort of hostile interrogation from a bemused KGB as they might have had from MI5.

Moscow cannot have been overjoyed to see its super-spy back home, since they had a little explaining to do. One can easily imagine Blake angrily thumping a table in the Lubyanka demanding to know why they hadn't swapped him for an American tourist with one too many cameras. Blake had even met KGB man Konol Malady (convicted in Britain as Gordon Lansdale) while in jail, and he said it would be a breeze. But Blake did time for four years before it dawned on him that he was not being saved a place at the Bolshoi. Unfortunately, Blake does not tell us why this was, although of course, he may not know. He is sure, however, that he was not offered the immunity tendered to Blunt and Philby because he was not only from humble origins, but a bloody foreigner to boot. Some puzzlement on Randle and Pottle's part would have been in order too. Why hadn't they been given a roasting by MI5?

When Sean Bourke, the flamboyant IRA man who was also part of the escape, published his book on the affair in 1969, leaving Michael Randle and Pat Pottle's identities glaringly obvious, the government chose not to prosecute. One can only surmise that it feared undermining the ideological pillars of the anti-Communist crusade by giving an airing to Randle and Pottle's real motives in the course of a trial. Publicity would also have revived official embarrassment at the escape of Blake in the first place, and accentuated it by revealing that the perpetrators were not specially selected warriors from the massed ranks of Communist 'sleepers' and Cambridge KGB colonels, but a couple of peaceniks. Last but not least, MI6, which was only slowly recovering from a string of scandals revealing lunatic incompetence, would have been sent to Coventry by an irate CIA, aghast that yet another farrago of English muddling had taken place.

Trying Randle and Pottle then would have cast new light on the State's vindictiveness in handing down the heaviest-ever prison sentence in modern legal history on Blake. In the peace movement of the early 1960's Randle and Pottle had proved themselves as highly competent operators in the service of no foreign power, with skills in putting the anti-bomb case and in embarrassing the British government that many foreign powers might dearly have loved to emulate. Characteristically for pacifists of that era they had no fear of the authorities in pursuing peaceful direct action. They did not find their freedom of action circumscribed by the paranoia typical of later left-wingers, who often found greater comfort in inaction born of ‘certainty’ that MI5 was bugging their phones, or by other imaginative magnifications of the power of the state. And they have carried on in this vein, among other anti-war and anti-nuclear activities helping American deserters find sanctuary from the obscenity of the Vietnam war.

The sheer audacity of the Blake escape deserves unqualified admiration. The KGB, steeped in Stalinist bureaucratic traditions, would never have dared to plan such an operation, no more than any Western intelligence service. Indeed, neither the KGB, MI6 nor the CIA have ever sprung one of their own from the dungeons of the other. The truth of this escapade is far stranger than realistic spy fiction.

But Randle and Pottle's book is also a serious consideration of the issues involved in the Blake case. They trash the idea that Blake was shown at his trial to have betrayed agents to their deaths, citing Blake's defence counsel on the point. They even managed a little interview with the petulant Chapman Pincher - 'Our Curzon Street Correspondent' - who was used by the then Home Secretary, George Brown, to circulate the notion on the day of Blake's appeal against sentence that Blake had the blood of others on his hands. Pincher and Brown's smear was allowed to stand because the trial was closed and no one could challenge it.

George Blake's forty-two-year sentence enraged Randle and Pottle and the knowledge that it was out of all proportion, especially because it was unprecedented, provided the motivation for their act. They probably saw Blake as just as much a political prisoner as they were (they were serving sentences for their involvement in a sit-in as Wethersfield US Airbase, Essex), even though their distaste for Communism would have been almost as great as the State's. The inability of the British media to accept this has clouded their view of what really happened and meant that every media encounter with Randle and Pottle, even after acquittal, has been characterised by large helpings of 'moral outrage'. Michael Randle and Pat Pottle deserve our congratulations for standing their ground so eloquently in court and out.

George Blake's own story is not quite so inspiring, and not half as exciting, as Randle and Pottle's, despite the fact that this was real-life espionage. As the spooks never tire of telling us, real-life espionage is not how it is in the novels, and poor Blake gets tired of repeating the truism. Grilled by Tom Bower in the BBC TV documentary about him, his boredom with the endless harping on betrayal and patriotism is almost palpable. You can see he views his acts in themselves as totally undeserving of such attention, and he labours against the assumption of the media that grand philosophising and thorough ideological theorising proceeded his every act. The myth-makers of espionage would have us believe every spy tussles with their conscience the way Flaubert would tussle with a sentence. Blake is no genius, maybe not even particularly thoughtful. He fought extremely bravely in the Second World War (as a youngster with the Dutch Resistance, and later in the Royal Navy), and after that "ended up" in intelligence in the late 1940s the way other people end up in teaching. His 'good war' set him up as a spy without his having to think about it much.

However, the war over, his life of daily danger eased up, and he slowed down. He entered academic life to learn Russian; now he had time to think about his work and his future, and now he decided he was a Communist. Reverting to his good soldier type, he did the only thing he thought he could do, switch sides and work for the great socialist motherland. "My aim", he told a Guardian writer last year, "was simply to prevent Western intelligence services - the opposition - from undermining what I believe to be a valuable experiment, namely building a new society". This is the point at which we, as honest bourgeois citizens, are supposed to fall over in shock and dismay. But his action was in all the best traditions of espionage.

Betrayal lies at the heart of intelligence work, and only the slightest change in direction makes it treason. That is why intelligence services are so obsessed by moles. Professional intelligence officers know that even when they are being 'loyal' every good spy plays informer, makes friends on false pretences, betrays their confidences to other people, lies about their motives, and then uses ideology, bribes or blackmail to lock the unfortunate agent into cooperation. This is what the CIA chillingly calls a "controlled environment" - you or I would say "having them by the short and curlies". If this is the daily toil of being a spy, then the surprising thing is that more of them do not decide to play on their masters the game they play with their agents.

Perhaps the wisest comment on George Blake was a throwaway remark by Robert Cecil, who was once an assistant to the director of MI6 and spoke for the record on the 'This Week' programme. "One talks about loyalties", the aged spook said, "but what were his loyalties?". Cecil was puzzled. He knew that Blake was loyal to his friends. After all, he had helped organise fellow prisoners when he and other British diplomats were captured by the North Koreans during the Korean war and suffered appalling hardships. He had risked a gruesome death at the hands of the Gestapo. And yet he was capable of recruiting somebody and cheerfully despatching them to the wolves of the steppes. He was in other words, a perfect spy.