'MOSCOW GOLD' AND THE CPGB
[These articles, though not involving Julian directly, are included because of their historic relevance to the anti-nuclear campaign.]
'THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION'
Tribune – 2 February 2001
Jimmy Reid uncovers a trail which reveals how the Democratic Left was funded by “Moscow Gold”
I know that politics has its stygian, murky depths. But it still throws up, as in vomiting, things that can still nauseate me. I learned recently of a former member of the European Parliament who point-blank refuses to sit round the table with a little-known organisation called the Democratic Left, still run by its former general secretary Nina Temple.
I am not in the ranks of its admirers. It is now known as the New Politics Network and provides backing for Unions 21 and Make Votes Count the pro-PR campaign.
Yet, the attitude of this former MEP still seemed excessive. Come on, I cajoled, you are taking this too far. He then told me his reasons with which I could sympathise, though not enough to justify total ostracism. Then the name Ken Coates came up. I've known him since my teens. A miner in his youth, who then went to university, became a prominent academic who never forgot his roots. He is honest, utterly principled and, though we have had our differences over the years, my respect for his integrity has never waned.
Coates became a Labour MEP. He was hostile, from the start, to “New” Labour. So were most Labour MEPs at the time. How these dissidents were purged is a matter of record and included such things as the signing of loyalty pledges. A kind of Catch-22 meets Beria, Stalin's purge master in the thirties and forties. The dissidents were wiped out, including Ken Coates. The purge was helped by a stitch-up of Ken, set up by the Democratic Left.
Two people came to Brussels from that organisation to interview him. They asked for a preliminary conversation that would be followed by an interview. They placed a tape recorder on the desk and kept pressing him on his attitude to Tony Blair. He told them he thought Blair was a shit, a comment I would find difficult to challenge on the grounds of objective accuracy, but parliamentary language it ain't. The point is, he wasn't in Parliament or speaking on the record; he was in a "conversation" with people who had assured him it was a conversation.
Then they proceeded to do the interview. The private conversation but not the interview then appeared in the Guardian and later in the New Times, a publication of the Democratic Left. This was gutter journalism in the service of gutter politics.
The Democratic Left represents the rump of the old Communist Party. It inherited £4m from that party. With only a few thousand members, this must have made it just about the richest, per capita, political organisation in the Western world.
The big parties are always skint and exist on the millionaires they serve throwing some more millions into the kitty. The Democratic Left is not really a political party but a political ginger group with money.
It has funded Blairite think-tanks and other ploys. The money it used actually came from the Soviet Union. This is beyond dispute. I once thought talk of Moscow gold was a lie peddled by the Right-wing press in Britain. Alas, it was true in every sordid detail.
It persisted well into the latter half of the twentieth century. The delivery was always on Hampstead Heath. At an appointed place, the deputy general secretary of the British Communist Party, a man called Reuben Falber, would wait. A car would draw up to the kerb. A window facing the kerb would be lowered, the KGB man inside would hand out a parcel containing cash in British currency. Only three people knew of this: these were Falber, the general secretary of the CP, John Gollan, and someone from the Morning Star newspaper.
I was then in the leadership of the British Communist Party and knew nothing of this, neither did all the others except the three mentioned above. During the period of Gorbachev's glasnost (openness), the archives in Moscow were opened to scrutiny. By that time I had left the CP but wanted to get the full truth about this matter. I phoned Channel 4 and suggested I do a documentary for it on this subject. It agreed and Scottish Television provided the production facility.
I went to Moscow with the crew. We got access to the files of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. We interviewed the official at the Central Committee who arranged payments to the British Communist Party. I saw the receipts and the ledgers. We were told of the KGB's role. I saw no point in pursuing this any further while steering clear of the Democratic Left.
In the last few days I heard the full story of what happened to Ken Coates. The Democratic Left inherited money through the old Communist Party, brought to Britain by the KGB. If the treatment of Ken Coates is anything to go by, it inherited the KGB's tactics. So, too, has New Labour in terms of the support it receives from the Democratic Left.
There are also ominous similarities with Stalinism in the character of “New” Labour. There is the cult of the personality built around Blair. The attitude to dissidents and dissidence. The way the Labour Party conference has been made into a secular Songs of Praise for the leader and his anointed lieutenants.
The National Executive of the Party is now an adjunct of the leader's office, like the Central Committee. Then there is the proliferation of ex-members of the Communist Party that are now Blairite zealots. Many were communist hard-liners and are now born-again Blairite hard-liners. In the periphery is the Democratic Left. Its Left credentials are not only flawed but risible. Those who are on the Left and democratic should look behind the title to the reality. And that is not a pretty sight.
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'UP FOR GRABS: £3.5m OF STALIN’S GOLD'
New Statesman – 23 October 2000
You may think the Communist Party and its heirs of no importance. But their wealth could still have a profound political influence. Nick Cohen reports.
I doubt if one person in 100,000 has heard of the New Politics Network. The all but unrecognisable remnant of the once militant Communist Party of Great Britain has been rebranded and repackaged like a flagging line of groceries, until every distinctive principle its members once held has been liquidised into a consensual mush. Its active membership could fit into the snug bar of a country pub. Its propaganda is banal and unread. Outside London, it scarcely exists. And yet in Labour circles the network is eyed with envy and fascination. New Labour movers and shakers take breaks from their busy lives to write position papers for a minute readership. Old Labour mutters that a huddle of middle–class activists might yet give the loathed cause of proportional representation a fighting fund worth having.
The network matters because it has money – £3.5m, to be precise – the residue of the Moscow gold smuggled from the Kremlin to the British Communist Party. To socialists, £3.5m is a fantastic sum. Outside the trade union movement, no organisation on the left can match the network's wealth.
"We're different from just about every other leftie I meet,"
said one disillusioned insider.
"We're friendless and visionless, but we have a bulging wallet, so we have to be taken seriously."
The disappointed ghost of Karl Marx can at last relax and relish a pleasing irony: his materialist conception of history has been vindicated.
The contradictions, as Marxists used to say, are built in to the network's very office. It is the heir of the victors of the ferocious fight between "tankie" communist traditionalists and "trendy" reformers in the dying years of the Communist Party. The trendies weren't too upset by the mass unemployment of the 1980s and came close to celebrating Thatcherism in the pages of Marxism Today (which enjoyed a brief period of praise from the "bourgeois press", for understandable reasons). Their chief concern during the worst decade for the British working class since the 1930s was to take control of the party from the old guard.
In 1991 they found a useful weapon. The Sunday Times revealed that the Communist Party had survived for decades on secret Soviet subsidies worth up to £100,000 a year. To Nina Temple, the "reforming" general secretary, and her allies, the story symbolised everything that was rotten with British communism. As Francis Beckett writes in Enemy Within, his history of the CP, it was proof that they had to "throw out most of what the party stood for". Temple won and turned the communists who backed her into a new party, Democratic Left. She and those supporters who have stayed with her through the manic convulsions that followed have a headquarters and working capital only because they secured control of assets paid for with the Moscow gold she so loudly deplored.
The portfolio is considerable. The New Politics Network owns an attractive four–storey office block in one of the better side streets of Islington, north London, a property company called Rodell, and – a reminder that communism was once a national force – a party office in the Midlands, which has been converted into a sandwich bar.
"Every now and again, we agonise about living on the interest of Stalinism,"
said one networker
"Should we wind ourselves up or use the money to fight for what we believe in?"
As anyone who has watched the perverse trajectories of faith among new Labour leaders will agree, the simple task of stating your beliefs can become hellishly difficult once the ideological moorings have slipped. The common insult that new Labour is Stalinist should not be deployed because the party is a masterful controller of events – Blairites make pretty hopeless control freaks, as the recent histories of Labour London and of Wales show – but because so many of its ideologues are Temple's comrades, refugees from the wreckage of Marxism. Read Geoff Mulgan, the former Militant Tendency member and former adviser in the Downing Street Policy Unit (now the head of a Cabinet Office specialist unit) or Charles Leadbeater, once a communist and now an independent adviser, and you hear a familiar, hectoring tone.
"We know the future,"
a brash voice shouts.
"Resistance is futile and moral argument an infantile diversion."
The vanguard of historical inevitability may be global capitalism or the internet or whatever was puffed on the front page of that morning's Financial Times, rather than the proletariat. The lyrics have changed, but the hammering rhythm remains the same.
At least Leadbeater, Mulgan and the rest have an ideology. What is striking about the tone adopted by their fellow asylum–seekers is that it betrays a fear of believing in anything at all and opposition to anyone who does. I can understand their timidity. It was perhaps excusable to remain in the Communist Party after the first reports of Stalin's purges, but to hang around through the Nazi–Soviet pact, the invasion of Hungary, the suppression of the Prague Spring and then carry on until the bitter end required a level of credulity that could, when disillusion and self–knowledge finally hit, render all conviction suspect.
For a while, the retreat to vacuity wasn't obvious. Democratic Left rejected communism but believed, admirably enough, in a pluralist and socialist society "incompatible with the structures and values of capitalism". Many took the ex–communists at their word. Last year, a group of Midlands lefties who marched with a group called Socialist Alliance tried to join in bulk. All talk of tolerance disappeared, as Temple and her associates hired expensive lawyers to block them. The inheritors of the Communist Party could not be contaminated with socialist notions. Democratic Left would stop being a party "stuck in the swamp of sectarian politics", Temple ruled when the struggle was over. It would become the New Times Network – an umbrella group that no longer "endorsed socialism".
The network published a magazine, New Times, which wasn't half bad, by the standards of such journals. It was wound up in the summer and the group's mercurial name changed yet again – this time to the New Politics Network.
explained a disgruntled contributor,
"don't want to take positions. They are infected by the battles of the Eighties and see commitment as a sign of a hard–left mentality."
Conformity to the prevailing political culture has not pulled the punters through the doors. Insiders put the network's membership at between 200 and 250.
"In the past year we've spent about £70,000 and gone to all the party conferences,"
"If we signed up more than a dozen recruits I would be amazed."
The network refused to return my calls. But a few weeks ago, I got a taste of its style when I shared a train journey with Hannah Lynes, one of its executives. Her comrades aimed to provide a space where people could connect and promote best practice, she explained.
"Connect to do what?"
I asked. She looked at me blankly.
"what I mean is, where's your line in the sand? Your last ditch? The position you will defend to the death?"
There wasn't one. My travelling companion was charming. The train rocked, the language of inclusivity, connectivity, participation and non–judgemental interventions flowed, and I fell into a welcome snooze. The constitutional conservatives of the Labour movement are more alert. They note that such few meetings as the network organises promote inclusivity by endorsing proportional representation and constitutional reform. They fear that it may soon deliver more substantial help to their enemies.
Temple and her associates have inserted a peculiar clause into the network's constitution. It can dissolve itself at any time and pass Stalin's expense account to good causes of the membership's choosing.
"Say we've got 200 members,"
explained a networker.
"Only a 100 or so will bother to vote on which causes should get our money. The list will be drawn up by the tiny group at the top, which is pretty certain to get its way. The system is easy to manipulate, a child could do it."
No one has any doubt that the bulk of the money will go to promote PR in the event of dissolution, probably to the Make Votes Count campaign, which has already received funds from the network's kitty; and Charter 88, whose leaders have discussed merging with the network.
Ironies will then multiply as the campaigners for a more representative democracy happily take receipt of the secret donations of the Soviet ancien regime to the fighters for a British proletarian dictatorship. If good manners prevailed, conferences on the relative attractions of STV and AV–plus would have to open with a toast to Lenin for giving British communists the money to form a party in 1920, and for establishing the secret bank accounts that were meant to support a revolutionary underground. For some, the irony is not even remotely diverting. The loot that the network is sitting on did not come solely from the USSR. The Communist Party militants were expected to abandon their careers and give what spare money they had to the cause. They will not be consulted on the final destination of their contributions.
Lefties who support proportional representation may bark that no one gives a damn for dinosaurs of that sort these days. But insouciance could well be misplaced. The tale of the degeneration of the Communist Party into comfortable isolation is a cautionary one for constitutional reformers. It raises a question which is asked too rarely: what is constitutional reform for?
You could reply, as I would reply, that the only way to get a vaguely red or green party anywhere near influence in Britain is to change an electoral system that forces a choice between the lesser of two establishment evils. But, alas, such thoughts lead you back into "the swamp of sectarian politics", which Temple has ruled to be out of bounds. Charter 88 and Make Votes Count are not keen on sectarianism and partisanship either. All want reform for reform's sake. The party faithful believe they can win support for radical change without telling the public who will benefit and who will lose. We are meant to support elaborate voting systems which can be exercised in local, mayoral, regional, national and Euro elections, on citizens' juries, in supermarket polling booths, and by clicking away in internet polls without ever knowing what we are voting for or against.
If communists could be excoriated for believing that the ends justified the means, many in the constitution reform movement are transfixed by the appeal of means without an end, elections without a result. The futile history of the heir to the Communist Party of Great Britain suggests that such a programme can inspire a maximum of 250 people.
* * *
'OBITUARY: REUBEN FALBER'
British communist who collected secret Soviet cash
The Times – 22 July 2006
As Assistant General Secretary to the Communist Party of Great Britain from 1968 to 1979, Reuben Falber was responsible for the procurement of funds from the Soviet Union, money that ensured the party remained a functioning entity until the 1990s. The arrangement was kept secret from the vast majority of the party, which had officially broken with Moscow in the wake of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – a break that Falber had himself helped to orchestrate. For Falber it was a matter of expediency, vital in helping to fund industrial disputes and the Morning Star newspaper.
Falber liaised with KGB officials from the Soviet Embassy in Kensington, who would rendezvous with him at Hampstead Heath or Barons Court Tube station, where they would hand him bundles of used sterling notes in shopping bags. The cash, sums ranging from £10,000 to £50,000, would be stashed in the loft of Falber’s bungalow in Golders Green.
The son of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Reuben Falber was myopic from an early age, and lost nearly all his sight in later life. He left school at 14 to become a hairdresser and after serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps, joined the Communist Party and worked for it full time. He was appointed to the party’s executive committee in 1965, becoming Assistant General Secretary three years later.
Payments from Moscow to the Communist Party began in 1958 after the invasion of Hungary caused domestic support for the Moscow-aligned body to melt away. By the mid-1960s they amounted to as much as £100,000 a year.
Claims that the party was taking ‘Moscow gold’ were routinely dismissed by members as a slur by the right-wing press, but when Moscow files were opened in the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, the charges were shown to have been well founded. A former Soviet agent testified that Falber had made his last approach in 1978, saying he needed money for pensioners. The revelations were met with anger by many party activists and by the Morning Star. Falber, however, had no regrets.
A man of retiring disposition, Falber was the author of The Rates Explosion – How to Defuse It (1975) and Britain Needs Socialism (1976). He was married without children.
Reuben Falber, communist, was born on 14 October 1914. He died on 29 April 2006, aged 91.
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'OBITUARY: REUBEN FALBER'
By Chris Myant
Independent – 31 May 2006
Reuben Falber was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain from the 1930s until the day the party's final congress decided to wind up the organisation at the beginning of the 1990s. He was the official responsible for most of the secret funding from the Soviet authorities' but it was also he who supervised the British party's decisive break with Moscow in 1968.
Outwardly modest, quiet, happier perhaps when behind the scenes, Falber was a key figure within the Communist Party's leadership for some three decades. If there were secrets the leadership did not want shared, he knew them better than anyone and protected them with a stubborn, sometimes ruthless, determination. As Assistant General Secretary from 1968 to 1979, he made sure that the party machine worked, that its businesses kept the budget on some sort of even keel, and that those outside the smallest of inner circles never knew the reality of where much of the money came from.
Not least of the secrets he guarded was that some of the oil greasing the party machinery lay in the loft of his Golders Green bungalow. Bags of used sterling notes had been transferred from the Soviet party coffers courtesy of KGB officers in the embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens. The fact of the funding and Falber's role in it only became public after Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika opened the books on the way the Soviet Union had been secretly funding Communist parties across Western Europe. In November 1991 The Sunday Times was able to find a Soviet Central Committee ledger entry detailing how a "Mr Falber" had received two payments of £14,000 and £15,000 in 1978.
The irony of this relationship was that, a decade before that entry, it had fallen to Falber to chair the meeting that unanimously voted to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 following the Prague Spring. Before that meeting, the party had only expressed "disagreement" with single actions by the Soviet leadership (the sacking of Khrushchev in 1964; the imprisonment of two prominent dissidents):
"We were criticising the consequences of the system of rule, not the system itself,"
he said many years later.
Reuben Falber was born in 1914, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who worked as market traders. He left school at 14 and was apprenticed as a hairdresser as a result of family pressure to "learn a trade". In 1941 he was called up to the Royal Army Medical Corps but discharged after six weeks because of defective eyesight. He immediately became a full-time Communist Party official (having joined the organisation in 1937), first at Hendon in north London, and then running the party's work in the key industrial area of Yorkshire.
Falber remained a middle-level official until 1965 when he was elected to the party's executive committee with a brief to run its electoral work. In a rapid rise to the top, he became the Assistant Secretary in January 1968 at the same time as Alexander Dubcek took over the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and started dismantling the authoritarian regime sustained there since Stalin's time.
With John Gollan, the General Secretary, on holiday when the Soviet invasion took place late on 20 August, Falber organised the remaining members of the political committee the following morning. He recalled later:
"We had no doubt what we should do. It was our responsibility to declare publicly our total opposition to the Soviet-led intervention."
So the official who collected the Soviet money found himself on the steps of the party offices personally handing out the statement to the waiting reporters condemning the actions of his paymasters.
The secret funding had been started by the Soviet party in 1958, in the wake of Khrushchev's "secret speech" in 1956 denouncing Stalin's crimes and the huge haemorrhage of party memberships in Western Europe that followed. For the British party, the money mostly came in cash in shopping bags – for at least a decade handed to Falber at Barons Court tube station in west London.
During the 1960s, the annual totals reached £100,000. They fell off in the 1970s and ended, Falber stated, in 1979, at the request of the British side. As well as the danger of any withdrawal of the money, the Soviets were able to threaten the future of the daily paper, the Morning Star, by reducing the huge order for copies that were flown out each day from Heathrow.
The paper was not the only element in the network of party-related businesses that ranged from a book publisher, a travel company, a print works, a magazine distributor, and a special pension fund to a property company. It became Falber's job to manage the relationship between them, their finances, those of the party itself and the "fighting fund" of the Morning Star which raised large sums for the paper through small cash donations and provided a good route for laundering some of the Soviet money.
Using the money was not easy and long after the funding arrangement ended, Reuben still had cash available. In the 1980s, he funnelled some of the money left into new party ventures like the magazine Marxism Today and was able to offer a starting subsidy of £30,000 for a proposed weekly, 7 Days, after the party and the Morning Star had separated.
This parallel financial arrangement to the published accounts of the party created considerable tension with the Treasurer, Denis Ellwand, who at the 1979 party congress made a determined but fruitless effort to get elected to the leading executive committee. Ten years later a group of younger members of the leadership pushed to have the financial arrangements of the party brought into the open but were as unsuccessful as Ellwand. Only at the very end of the 1980s was Falber's control of the network ended just before the vital foundation for it was exposed.
His comment when the exposure came was blunt:
"For myself I can only say, like that great singer Edith Piaf, 'Non, je ne regrette rien ' ".
That attitude made for a complex personality. When the party political committee met in the old headquarters in King Street, London, just beside Covent Garden fruit and veg market, Falber always took up position at the same corner of the square of tables, at the left of the General Secretary. For six years, as one of the editors of the Morning Star, I had the seat next to his. The persistent consistency with which he managed the secret of the Soviet money was displayed in the way he picked holes in our boxing reports, the daily starting point for his reading of the paper. Written at that time by Bobby Campbell, a Scot who went on to become deputy editor of The Scotsman, they were sometimes crafted in haste. Falber was a stickler for accuracy.
Perhaps the desire to free himself and the politics he was committed to from the constraint of secret Soviet patronage lay behind his determined attempt to persuade the editors of the Morning Star in the mid-1970s to drop the practice of having a correspondent in Moscow paid for out of the accounts of the Soviet party daily Pravda.
Once, I reported the fact that the paper was looking for a new correspondent to a meeting of the political committee, thinking this was only a matter of record so far as the rest of the members were concerned. But, this was a millstone around our neck, Reuben argued: it did the Communist movement in Britain nothing but harm, and left us in hock to the old guard in the Kremlin, unable to fully express the real sentiments of commitment to proper democracy that the party proclaimed in its programme.
Reuben Falber, political activist: born 14 October 1914, Assistant General Secretary, Communist Party of Great Britain 1968–79, married, died 29 April 2006.
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'OBITUARY: REUBEN FALBER'
By Leonard Goldman
Guardian – 6 June 2006
Reuben Falber, who has died aged 92, was a former assistant general secretary of the British Communist Party, whose life was dedicated to "the liberation of mankind" – as he would have put it. As a full-time party worker, he was also a wartime Yorkshire organiser, national election agent and industrial organiser. He largely overcame being disadvantaged at birth with severely defective eyesight – he eventually became almost completely blind – and, beyond politics, read the literary classics. He was, in the best sense, a cultured man.
In the early 1940s, he married my sister, Helen Goldman, and their more than 60 years of married life was a pleasure to behold. She was politically active and sustained her husband in all the varied trials of his career. He stoically weathered the attacks, engendered by the Cold War, which reached into every aspect of their life.
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of the British Communist Party – after Reuben had given up his leading positions – was followed by the revelation that he had been the fall-guy when the Soviet Communist Party contributed to British party funds. He answered criticism in his usual robust manner; did not the wealthy, regardless of the country they lived in, contribute to the Tory Party? He concluded: "Je ne regrette rien".
Reuben had no children, but will be greatly missed by his large circle of relatives, friends and comrades.