Communists and suspected Communists

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Communists and suspected Communists

James Miller, alias Ewan MacColl (KV 2/2175-2176)

These reconstituted files deal with the Security Service´s monitoring of the activity of James Miller, 1915-1989 (from 1952 under the nom de plume Ewan MacColl, dominant figure in the post-war British folk revival) in staging theatrical events and concerts that supported his keenly held Communist views. The records also include some details of his then wife, the actress and broadcaster Joan Littlewood.

KV 2/2175(1932-1951) records how Miller first came to the attention of the authorities in 1932 when the chief constable in Salford reported him as a Communist Party member of the Ramblers Section of the British Workers´ Sports Federation. A watch was initiated on his activities, and steps were taken to ascertain his exact status (i.e. whether directly employed by the BBC or not). In January 1939 the Lancashire police reported Miller´s performance at a rally: "my officer has been making enquiries regarding a youth named Jimmy MILLER who was the MC for the dancing…and showed exceptional ability as a singer and musical organiser." A watch was kept on Miller and Littlewoods´ broadcasting activities, and police mounted a ´discreet supervision´ of Oak Cottage in Higham Lane, Hyde, where the Millers were living, and reports of activities and visitors are on the file. Because of his Communist history, Miller was placed on the Special Observation List when he enlisted in the Army in July 1940 (well before the German invasion of the Soviet Union). The file includes a conduct report by his commanding officer, noting his generally good conduct and his outstanding contribution to the battalion concert party (and including the lyrics of his newly composed song, Browned Off), dated 16 December, just two days before Miller went absent without leave. The file includes some intercepted correspondence from the Millers when they wrote to contacts whose communications were being intercepted, but their own posts and telephone were not intercepted. The file includes photographs of Miller (both before and after he grew his beard) and Littlewood.

The story continues in KV 2/2176. The first use of the name Ewan MacColl is noted in March 1952, at a time when the authorities´ interest in Miller was revived as he reapplied to join the Communist Party (his previous membership having lapsed some years before). A copy of the application form in the name of Ewan MacColl is on this file. The file is mainly concerned with ongoing monitoring of Miller´s theatrical and radio work, but records his marriage to Joan Newlove, mother of Kirsty MacColl.

The Reverend Hewlett Johnson (KV 2/2150-2152)

The Rev Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury and widely known to contemporaries as "The Red Dean", was a leading Marxist cleric and obvious figure for Security Service attention. He first came to the Service´s attention in 1917 when he was noted as speaking in support of the Russian people´s struggle in Manchester, and KV 2/2150 records the Service´s tracking of his speeches, correspondence, activities and contacts from that time to 1947. In June 1940 there was particular concern that Johnson was openly spreading defeatist views, and these were reported to the Home Office by Sir William Wayland MP. In common with many British Communists, his anti-war attitude to the Second World War changed to one of supporting the war effort after the German attack in the Soviet Union. The file includes a copy of Hewlett Johnson: Priest, Prophet and Man of Action by the Rev Clive Hancock, and many press clippings recording the Rev Johnson´s public activities.

Further similar material can be found in KV 2/2151 (1947-1951) and KV 2/2152 (1951-1954), which also include many details of his overseas travel by air (including, bizarrely, a full list of dinner companions served a meal by BOAC in Karachi with Johnson during a stop-over). Serial 230a contains a summary from August 1952 of the Service´s opinion of the Dean´s influence at that time: "The influence of the Dean of Canterbury is probably less felt in Canterbury than anywhere else. The majority of the citizens, somewhat apathetic by nature, are prepared to accept him rather in the same spirit as those living opposite a gas works or a sewage farm accept the smell."

Francis Klingender (KV 2/2155-2156)

Klingender was a notable art historian and academic who only really came under serious scrutiny by the Security Service in late 1942, when concerns were raised that such a man as Klingender, a German by birth, should have access to the Ministry of Supply´s Machine Tool Control records. The Service´s investigations soon identified him as an academic Marxist, who was known to Anthony Blunt, and it is Blunt´s comments on Klingender made in a minute of 7 November 1942 that form perhaps the most interesting aspect of this file. Blunt wrote: "As far as I can sum up what I know about K, I should say that he belonged essentially to the intellectual type of Marxist whose activities, as I know them, have been almost entirely in the field of research…I am in any case quite confident that he would not do anything disloyal to this country." Blunt´s comments, which are recorded in KV 2/2155(1931-1945), perhaps drew attention away from Klingender - he is described on these files as being essentially a minor figure, though one of continuing interest.  By 1951, with interest in contacts of Guy Burgess being understandably high, KV 2/2156 (1950-1955) describes in the minuting how Klingender fitted into the web of Burgess´s contacts, and makes connections between Klingender, Burgess and Blunt. The file does not record any serious investigation into Klingender, however, and monitoring of his activities continued at a low level until his death in 1955. This file includes two photographs of Klingender.

Karl Gröhl (KV 2/2171-2172)

These two pieces trace the career of Karl Gröhl, who went from agent of Trotsky to working for SOE in London while continuing to act as a Communist intelligence gatherer. Along the way he converted to Stalinist beliefs(perhaps as a cover for continued Trotskyite persuasions), became a refugee in France and escaped to the UK via Portugal. It is perhaps one of the most extraordinary paths taken through the war years.

As recorded in KV 2/2171(1936-1941) Gröhl was a founder member of the German Communist Party and remained active between the wars as Trotsky´s representative in central Europe. He first came to the notice of the Security Service in 1936 when his name appeared in intercepted correspondence between Otto Lehman-Ruessbueldt and Karl Otten. Gröhl was in fact to become closely linked to Otten, staying with him on visits to London from Paris. At this stage Gröhl was part of the Munzenberg Committee in Paris, and was of interest both to The Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service, which shared what information they had on Gröhl. When the war broke out, Gröhl was imprisoned as a German national by the French authorities, and wrote seeking assistance to Otten. By December 1939 he had been released and was staying with Otten in London, and for the next year he travelled regularly between France and Britain, gathering information on German military preparations, much of which is reported in the intercepted communications on this file. Gröhl´s fortunes changed with the fall of France, and he existed as a refugee for some months before obtaining false papers in the name of Stanislaw Retzlaw, a supposed Polish national, with which he managed to obtain passage from Lisbon to Bristol. It was under this name that Gröhl obtained employment in section SO2 (operations) of the Special Operations Executive. A copy of his false papers, with an original photograph of Gröhl as Retlaw, is on this file.

While Gröhl´s work in such a sensitive area was obviously a concern for the Security Service, SOE seemed initially happy with his performance. However, by March 1942 there were concerns that Gröhl was suffering some form of crisis, and it was noted that he was being indiscreet with SOE information. KV 2/2172 (1941-1951) records how SOE approached the Security Service to try to get Gröhl interned - the specific worry was that he might attempt to pass SOE information to the French. The Service responded that there was no case for internment, and instead Gröhl had to be moved away from sensitive work. The file continues to cover his intercepted correspondence in some detail (including, bizarrely, his attempts to sell £50 worth of replica tin soldiers of the German army). In 1946 he left the UK for Saarbrücken, and the file records how he began his active political involvement in post-war Germany, before petering out in 1951. There is a full case summary at serial 121a.

Paul Löw-Beer (KV 2/2181-2190)

The eminent Austrian businessman and industrialist Paul Löw-Beer and his wife Alice were prominent Austrian Communists in pre-war and Second World War Britain, leading several organisations that supported refugees from occupied Austria. They arrived via Croydon Airport in the UK in July 1938, joining his parents who lived in London and had the right to permanent residence. He first came to the attention of the Security Service in 1939 when a Special Branch report on the Council of Austrians in Great Britain listed him as a prominent member. Since the Service suspected the Council and other Austrian bodies in London of being Communist front organisations, further investigations followed, and Löw-Beer soon emerged as financial adviser to the Austrian Centre as well. These ten files trace the detailed Security Service investigation into the Löw-Beers and their family and contacts during the war.

As early as 1940 (serial 6b, KV 2/21811939-1941) Löw-Beer was being described as "a woolly headed Left-Radical" with Communist leanings, and sources suggested (serial 6c, January 1940) that he was a "direct agent of Stalin". The focus of the lengthy Service investigation was to determine if there was substance to these allegations, and though there was no doubt as to Löw-Beer´s political opinions, no evidence was ever discovered to show that he was such an agent. The file includes copies of intercepted correspondence, giving detailed insights into Löw-Beer´s activities at this time, including the period in 1940-1941 when he lived in Oxford and worked with refugee groups there. The family was exempted from internment in November 1939, without Service intervention. The file includes a copy of Löw-Beer´s aliens registration card from November 1938.

The following files contain similar intercepted correspondence in the main part, allowing researchers to reconstruct in great detail Löw-Beer´s activities during the war. KV 2/2182 and 2183 (both 1941) contain correspondence including financial papers and bank statements and letters relating to commercial transactions. KV 2/2184 (1942-1943) includes the period when the Löw-Beers returned from Oxford to London. In November 1942 Alice sought employment in a hospital - because of her Communist beliefs, the Service was keen to restrict her employment to restricted hospitals where her activities could be properly monitored. By 1943-1944 (KV 2/2185) Löw-Beer´s attention was turning to post-war Austrian conditions, and his political involvement in refugee and reconstruction Austrian refugee groups was closely monitored. KV 2/2186 includes a photograph of Paul Löw-Beer, and at serial 208d, a summary of his case to date. In January 1946, Löw-Beer was allowed a military permit to travel to Austria. The files of intercepted correspondence continue through 1946 (KV 2/2187 and 2188) and in the latter of these the final cancellation of the Home Office warrant to intercept letters to the Löw-Beers´ London address at Eyre Court in Finchley Road is recorded. In KV 2/2189 (1946-1950) the file begins to wind up. The case was summarised in detail by W S Mars, and it was decided that the Secret Intelligence Service should be informed of the Service´s information on the Löw-Beers in case it wished to continue to monitor their activities in Austria. Mars wrote (minute 352): "…I have gained the impression that he is a rich and clever man who is undoubtedly, at least, a sympathiser of Communism who mixes in Communist circles…he may well be assisting the soviets in the economic and scientific field." The file continues in a low-level fashion in KV 2/2190, covering 1950-1955, which generally focuses on Löw-Beer´s commercial activities.

Ernest Adam (KV 2/2192-2193)

The principal interest in the file of Ernest Adam, a figure of otherwise little significance, is summarised in a minute of August 1942 on file KV 2/2192(1942): "Ernest Adam is a German employed on highly confidential work with the P[olitical] W[arfare] E[xecutive]. He is at present engaged to be married to a Miss Mary Margaret Foster who is a woman of low moral character…" The possibility that somebody with access to sensitive information might marry a prostitute (indeed somebody whose mother, the file later reveals, is also a prostitute) was enough to warrant a close Security Service investigation. The engaged couple´s correspondence was intercepted and copies of the letters, some of an intimate nature, are on this and the succeeding file. The possibility of warning Adam not to get entangled with a prostitute for the damage it might do his career was abandoned once it became clear that he in fact knew all too well her line of work. They were married later in 1942. From the case summary (at serial 93a) on KV 2/2193, 1942-1954, it is clear that Mrs Adam did pass on sensitive information about her husband´s work to her mother. The files include a photograph of Ernest Adam.