Freedom of information logo

(Archibald) Fenner Brockway MP, later Lord Brockway (KV 2/1917-1921)

Back

(Archibald) Fenner Brockway MP, later Lord Brockway (KV 2/1917-1921)

Thumbnail linking to pop-up window

Brockway, 1888-1988, was a life-long campaigner in his chosen causes, of which his most firmly held, pacifism and the cause of conscientious objection to warfare, was the one that brought him to MI5 attention during the First World War. Brockway was then editor of The Labour Leader, the organ of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which was publishing anti-conflict pieces. The export of The Labour Leader from the UK was prohibited in 1917, and around this time MI5 began collecting information about Brockway in his role as editor.

KV 2/1917 (1915-1917) mostly contains MI5 papers about The Labour Leader, but there is some correspondence about Brockway rather than the paper he edited, including cuttings about his frequent brushes with the courts martial system for his conscientious objection and his anti-war and anti-conscription activities. A minute of June 1916 (on sub file H 2058) declares "The Labour Leader is an old offender…it seems most desirable to suppress the paper." Nevertheless it continued publication, and there are copies of the paper dated 7 December 1916 and 13 September 1917 on the file. The file also contains an intercepted copy of a 1915 letter from Lenin (under his given name of Ulyanov) to the editor of The Labour Leader.

There is more similar material in KV 2/1918 (1917-1920) which includes copies of The Labour Leader from March, June and September 1918, the 14 November 1918 edition containing Philip Snowden MP's front-page article on the armistice, and June and July 1919. A particular issue taken up by the paper at this time was the ill-treatment of Russian conscientious objectors. KV 2/1919, covering 1921-1940, becomes a much more typical Security Service personal file over time, turning its attention away from the ILP and The Labour Leader and more onto Brockway's own activities. The volume of correspondence decreases as the First World War passed into history and the importance of conscientious objection as an issue faded, and there is little material from the 1920s, when Brockway was elected to Parliament for the first time, in June 1929 for Leyton East. The file includes a copy of the pamphlet Which Way for the Workers? Harry Pollitt, Communist Party versus Fenner Brockway, Independent Labour Party. A warrant to intercept Brockway's mail was first considered in May 1933 by the Security Service, and revisited in January 1934 (when the Director General minuted to the Home Office "Brockway has gone considerably to the left since our last discussion"). On both occasions the Home Office refused the request.

In fact, a warrant to intercept Brockway's post was not granted until 1942, as recorded on KV 2/1920 (1940-1950), when it was approved following the argument that "this man is an associate of Harold Whitten, on whose correspondence a check is already imposed. Both these men are suspected of receiving secret information from a government official." The selected product of that warrant is on this file, which also includes a photograph of Brockway, a detailed history sheet, and a copy of The Way Out, Brockway's war-time pamphlet. As in the First World War, Brockway's position during the Second (for which he was too old for combat duty) was to support conscientious objectors, though he himself now had doubts about the correctness of this choice in the face of European Fascism and Nazism. In the post-war period, the correspondence on the file is chiefly about Brockway's involvement with anti-colonial and pro-independence movements and organisations, and there is a detailed report of his visit to Uganda in 1950. The final file in this release covering 1951-1954 (KV 2/1921) continues in a similar vein.