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Communists and Suspected Communists

Aaron Scheinman (KV 2/1978)

KV 2/1978 (1918-1942) is a rather unusual file in that it traces Security Service interest in a high ranking Soviet official who managed in the inter-war years to cut himself off from the Soviet leadership (incurring the wrath of Stalin in the process) and settled down to peaceful commercial life in the UK, eventually acquiring British nationality. The file contains a detailed summary of Scheinman's revolutionary career, which included in 1920 becoming the first Chairman of the Soviet State Bank, in which capacity he travelled widely in Europe and became a trusted and respected colleague of his counterparts in Europe. The file records the peculiar circumstances of his breach with Stalin: "after dismissing SCHEINMAN, the Soviet authorities suddenly realised that he held large sums of Soviet money in banks in Berlin under his name…the Soviet authorities had agreed to allow him to retain a respectable amount of cash for himself." Understandably, Scheinman declined to return to Russia, but entered into commerce, trading on his contacts and his knowledge of Russia. In 1933 he first came to London as a representative of Intourist based at Bush House, and lived in various addresses in The Strand, Golders Green, Finchley and, eventually, Berkhamsted. Despite his connections to Stalin, his previous high position in the Red establishment, and his control of Soviet funds, nothing of substance was found against him when he applied for naturalisation as a British subject, which was granted in October 1939. Scheinman later offered his services during the war to the British government, though it is not clear from this file if this offer was taken up. The file includes photographs of Scheinman.

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Ernestine Evans (KV 2/1985-1986)

This file, concerning the American writer and literary agent Ernestine Evans, is chiefly of interest as it shows the efforts made by the Security Service to track and collect information about targets of interest to the authorities in America, who had done little to arouse official attention in Britain. Evans had left the USA in 1925 with Kenneth Durant when he was expelled, having been connected with various Communist front organisations. She travelled as Durant's wife, but it is not clear from the file if she had ever married him. The file records her as being married to a British subject, one George Evans, a coal merchant of Penarth. As it was known that the Americans were interested in Evans' activities, the Security Service extracted former references to her from its files (the Secret Intelligence Service had reported in 1923 that she was a 'notorious' agent of Durant), and subsequent references to her in intercepted phone calls and correspondence and traces in Home Office traffic cards were recorded. Throughout the file there are requests from the Americans for any information Britain could furnish on Evans - yet there is little on the file to indicate any subversive activity from 1917 (the start of file KV 2/1985) to 1954 (the end of KV 2/1986). It does seem likely that her file was only kept open because of the frequent enquiries from the United States. There is a photograph of Evans, who is described as being "enormously stout and a most unattractive woman but an ardent Bolshevik and apparently full of brains", in KV 2/1986.

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Otto Lehmann-Russbueldt (KV 2/2001-2006)

The reconstituted files on Otto Lehmann-Russbueldt and his associate Helmuth Simons are interesting for the light they throw on the existence of refugee anti-Nazi activists in the pre-war period, and especially for Lehmann-Russbueldt's account of life as an internee.

KV 2/2001 (1933-1936) shows how Simons, a German scientist, and Lehmann-Russbueldt, a writer imprisoned by the Nazis the day after the Reichstag fire, first came to Security Service attention as the sources for Wickham Steed's story on bacteriological warfare research published in The Nineteenth Century and Beyond in July 1934. The story, which told how German plans existed for spreading bacteria through the London and Paris underground systems, has contemporary resonances, but was not given much credence by the Security Service (though it attracted considerable press attention at the time). Copies of the article and related press coverage are on the file. The possibility that Lehmann-Russbueldt was a Communist was considered (though later rejected) and a Home Office Warrant was taken out to intercept his communications. This correspondence turned out to be voluminous and takes over the bulk of this file and most of KV 2/2002-2004 (1936-1937).

The warrant on Lehmann-Russbueldt was suspended while he was interned during the summer of 1940, but on his release from internment Lehmann-Russbueldt wrote a detailed account his time as an internee at Huyton Camp in Liverpool, which shows that he arrived at the camp just after the sinking of the internee ship Arandora Star, the event that ended the practice of using Huyton as a holding camp for internees en route to the Isle of Man. Lehmann-Russbueldt's account shows that rumours spread in the camp after the Arandosa Star was torpedoed, including one that Churchill had resigned as a result and been replaced as Prime Minister by Lord Londonderry. The account is in KV 2/2005 (1937-1943) at serial 251ab. The watch on Lehmann-Russbueldt's post resumed after his release, and the product of that watch forms most of the rest of this file and of KV 2/2006 (1943-1953), which also includes case summaries for Simons (serial 285c) and Lehmann-Russbueldt (serial 300a). There is a poor quality photograph of Lehmann-Russbueldt at serial 240a (KV 2/2005).

Walter Ulbricht (KV 2/2007-2008)

Ulbricht, a pre-war Communist member of the Reichstag (1928-1933), was imprisoned for two years in 1931 after his parliamentary immunity was removed. He subsequently became leader of the East German Communist party after the Second World War, and these files were kept by the Security Service to monitor his activities until he resigned due to illness in 1954. KV 2/2007 (1931-1952) initially deals with concerns that Ulbricht and other leading German Communists should not gain entry to Britain if they fled from Nazi persecution. Ulbricht was removed from the Home Office watch list while in prison, but was placed on it again after he surfaced as a leading figure in the German Communist Party in exile in Paris in 1934. Ulbricht followed the Party line and supported the Nazi-Soviet pact, and there are reports on this file that he denounced Party members who did not agree with it to the Gestapo. He later relocated to Moscow, and after the German invasion is recorded as shifting his views along with changing official positions, to left or right. The file contains allegations that he headed an international sabotage organisation from Moscow, which the Security Service dismissed as Nazi propaganda. At the close of the war, the file records how the Soviets infiltrated Ulbricht into Berlin, where he set about organising the Communist Party in the dying days of the Third Reich. This file includes a number of photographs of Ulbricht. The story continues in KV 2/2008 (1952-1954), which includes press reports linking Ulbricht to the West German spy ring in 1954. Ulbricht retired through ill health in May 1954 as leader of the German Communist Party, at which point the file closes, though his career in fact lasted into the 1970s. There is little or no mention on the file of many aspects of Ulbricht's life, including his period fighting in the Spanish Civil War and his part in the suppression of the workers' uprising in 1953.

Johannes 'Hanns' Eisler (KV 2/2009)

Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) was a left-wing composer of classical and film score music in Germany and the United States, and of the East German national anthem, who was expelled from the USA in 1948. His brother was Gerhart Eisler, a leading Comintern figure in America. The Security Service file on Eisler deals mainly with the pre-war period when, having been forced to flee Germany, he took up work in Paris, New York, and briefly London, where his connections to many notable communists meant that he was viewed with suspicion. The Ministry of Labour refused him permission to work on a film score in London in 1936, though he did manage to stage a play in London for which he composed the score. During this period his London residence was in Abbey Road. The post-war content of the file deals chiefly with his expulsion from the USA after his case was investigated by the House committee on Un-American Activities in 1947, which recommended that Eisler be tried for perjury and passport fraud and expelled. He and his wife were deported in March 1948, and travelled through Heathrow en route for Prague. The original of Eisler's landing card is on this file. Once he reached Prague, Reuters reported that Eisler claimed he had been strip-searched and humiliated at Heathrow. This claim was denied and there is nothing to substantiate it on the file, which records his abusive behaviour to customs staff at Heathrow, and that a search of his luggage found nothing suspicious. When Gerhart Eisler was arrested on the Polish ship SS Batory in British waters and held at Bow Street, Hanns Eisler wrote to his brother there to offer to appear for him in any court proceedings, and this letter is on the file.

Betty Reid (KV 2/2042-2047)

Betty Reid was a prominent figure in the Communist Party in the UK during and after the Second World War. These six files give a huge amount of detailed reports and investigations into her activities in the period 1936-1956. Reid was responsible for Party security in the 1940s and '50s but, as was reported in her Guardian obituary in 2004, she believed that she herself had been compromised by the Security Service when she hired a home help in 1950 who she later believed to have been a Security Service plant.

Reid first came to the attention of the Security Service in 1936 when she took up employment at the Left Book Club department of publishers Victor Gollancz. A close watch was established on her, and all the files contain detailed accounts of Reid's movements and meetings, reports of speeches, and copies of intercepted correspondence and telephone conversations. KV 2/2042 (1936-1950) covers the period when Reid was secretary of the Holborn Branch of the Communist Party, and her time as Secretary of the London Council for Anti-Fascist Aid (from May 1941 the National Council for Democratic Aid), the body which supported refugees from fascist Europe in Britain. From 1946, Reid was in charge of Party 'membership' issues, meaning the vetting of members for dissident views and to check their loyalty to the Party. There is a summary of her work to 1951 in KV 2/2043 (1950-1952), which also includes a photograph of Reid taken at the 1950 Warsaw Peace Conference. Both these files, and especially KV 2/2043, contain references in intercepted phone calls and reports of conversations to the difficulties Reid was facing in her work because she had not been able to find somebody suitable to help her with childcare - so the Service would certainly have known about her position and had the opportunity to insert a plant. However, there is no information on the files (from which numerous folios have been retained) to confirm or deny the story that the home help Reid hired was in fact working for the Security Service.

There is further similar material in KV 2/2044 (1952) and KV 2/2045 (1953-1955) which includes the following detailed appraisal by source NORTH (folio 259a): "In spite of her bulk and apparent lack of beauty she is a feminine personality…[who] tends to have a disarming effect on comrades who have been summoned to see her, and who have mounted the stairs to the Org. Dept. prepared for severity. As far as I know, she has been entirely responsible for the elaborate machinery for the vetting of party comrades….Her patience and robust sense of humour are more than a match for the leg-pulling to which she is constantly subjected, and her great weakness is a profound liking for cheese cake!" KV 2/2046 (1955) includes accounts of Reid's meetings with her contact in the Soviet embassy in London, 2nd Secretary Nikolai Tiomfeev, who Reid describes as her 'cream cakes pal'. She reports Timofeev as being astounded that the workers who printed the Daily Worker, who had downed tools, were not Party members. The case continues with further similar material in KV 2/2047, covering 1955-1956.

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Rev Michael Scott (KV 2/2052-2055)

The Reverend Scott was a well-known figure in the 1940s and '50s, who campaigned extensively to protect the rights of the black populations of South and South West Africa, taking the cases to the United Nations on more than one occasion. It was not this activity that drew him to the Security Service's attention, but his membership of (and later suspected on-going connections to) the Communist Party. The files give a great deal of contemporary detail about his campaigns, and are of interest to those studying the development of awareness of developing racial tensions in southern Africa at this time.

KV 2/2052 records the start of Security Service interest in Scott when he is mentioned in intercepted communications involving Harry Pollitt as having proposed a 'mission' to the South African townships around Johannesburg. The Service quickly put together biographical notes on Scott (serials 4-5) recording his early career, as a pastor in Kensington and working in India, through a spell in the RAF in 1940-1941 before he was invalided out. Scott went to South Africa in 1943, and little of interest to the Service is recorded about him there until 1947, when he emerges as the leader of a group petitioning the United Nations against the actions of the South African government in its treatment of the black population in South West Africa. The file includes large numbers of reports, intercepted communications and press clippings relating to Scott's work.

By now the Security Service was sharing information about Scott's communist connections with the South African authorities, and there was much disquiet in the Service about the lack of care shown by the South Africans in protecting the origin of the information, as shown in KV 2/2053 (1950-1952) and KV 2/2054 (1952-1953). The Service continued to collect information about Scott, even though it was by now picking up indications that he was severing his links to the Communist Party (for example, at serial 120a on KV 2/2053, "there are signs that he himself is deliberately avoiding contact with the party, who consider him to be 'most peculiar' and under the influence of Quakers.") The Service in the end did not think that it would suffer from the misuse of information in this way by the South Africans, but thought that there might be some political embarrassment.

KV 2/2055 (1953-1956) shows Scott's interest focused on Central Africa, and probably the most interesting aspect of this file is the collection of intercepted phone conversations between Scott and Hastings Banda about events in Nyasaland in the early days of the Federation, captured through monitoring of Banda's phone.