The Guardian

The Guardian March 14, 2001

Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Lies & spies

The following item needs no comment from me  it tends to speak for 
itself. Britain's New Worker reports that "a Financial Times 
journalist recently bought a second-hand copy of The Sociology of 
British Communism from London's Politico bookshop. Inside the flyleaf 
was a stamp which read: `Property of the Metropolitan Police Special 

A correspondent in the Far East Economic Review" has given the lie 
to one of the enduring myths of the Cold War, namely the seizure and 
retention of the north Japanese islands at the end of WW2.

It has always been represented by Western journalists and experts that 
Japan's position was a demand for the complete return of all the territory 
ceded to the USSR and that the USSR (and later Russia) obstinately and 
imperiously refused to countenance the return of so much as a grain of 

But an article in the magazine at the beginning of February recalled that 
as early as the 1950s, the USSR and Japan had been on the verge of an 
agreement over the issue of the disputed territory. The article indicated 
that the deal fell through "due to Cold War politics".

A letter in a following issue from Glenn Duffee in Bangkok pointed out that 
this was correct "so far as it goes", but then reminded everyone as to what 
really brought the deal undone.

"American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles put an end to the budding 
rapprochement [between Japan and the USSR] by letting Japan know in no 
uncertain terms that if it went through with the Kurile Islands agreement 
it could forget about ever seeing the return of Okinawa. Japan, of course, 
backed down."

* * *
Playing politics English playwright Alan Bennett is a very clever writer, witty, observant and acerbic. He has given freely of his talents to support Amnesty International and clearly dislikes cruel and unjust regimes. Among the latter he would include socialist governments. For Bennett, like that other writer and performer of comedy and Bennett's contemporary John Cleese, is a political conservative. He may be innately humane himself, but his "class" position remains reactionary. Bennett has written several anti-communist plays that reveal his intense hatred for those of his class, in particular, who have thrown in their lot with the workers. He is especially venomous regarding the group of brave young Englishmen who defied their class allegiances in the 1930s to join the Soviet intelligence service to fight against fascism and the coming war against the USSR. As far as Bennett is concerned, Kim Philby, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt are "traitors to their country", which tells you a lot about Bennett. He has written several plays about these "traitors", beginning with The Old Country, a deliberately dispiriting account of the life of an English "defector" living in the Soviet Union. The most vituperative, and the one that has been embraced most enthusiastically by the ruling class and the capitalist media, is An Englishman Abroad, based on a real-life chance meeting between the Australian-born actress Coral Brown and Guy Burgess in Moscow in 1958. Burgess was friendly, apparently invited Brown to his flat to talk about London and the theatre, and went on to correspond with her for some time after that, even getting her to buy some English tailoring for him. She repaid his friendship by retailing it all to Bennett at the time his play The Old Country was playing in London. Bennett turned it into An Englishman Abroad, a sad picture of "a seedy exile sitting in a dingy Moscow flat through a long afternoon listening again and again to Jack Buchanan singing Who Stole My Heart Away?". A few years later, when the "fourth man" in the so-called Cambridge group of Soviet intelligence agents was revealed to be Sir Anthony Blunt, the Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, Bennett wrote yet another of his witty attacks on these dastardly traitors, A Question of Attribution. It involves Blunt, the Queen, a picture which may not be what it seems (irony, you understand) and the investigation of Blunt himself. The Northside Theatre Company's Marian Street Theatre in Sydney is presenting the two plays about Burgess and Blunt as a double bill under the title Single Spies during April and early May. I mention it only as a matter of interest, not as a recommendation. The Cambridge group were men of courage and integrity who risked their lives and their liberty for the working people of the world. Kim Philby personally thwarted an Anglo-US Bay of Pigs style invasion of Albania that would have cost many lives had it been allowed to go unhindered. When Maclean, a British diplomat, finally came under suspicion he was tipped off by Philby and was able to make his escape to the USSR where he continued his career within the Soviet Foreign Ministry. Burgess, the weak link in the group, chose to bolt as well (against explicit instructions) and by doing so placed Philby under suspicion. The latter was able to weather the subsequent investigation and, although always suspect thereafter, was able in his own words "to do useful work for several more years". Eventually, Philby too had to use his escape route to safety in Moscow, and the rank of Colonel in Soviet Intelligence. Blunt, even when identified as the "fourth man", refused to talk until an unknown fifth man had died and could not be endangered by any revelations. Only then did Blunt co-operate with embarrassed British authorities (a spy wandering around the Palace what next?). They deserve better than Bennett and his class bias.

Back to index page