Common Cause: UK anti-communist organisation
Robin Ramsay writes:
- The failure of the Freedom and Democracy Trust seems to have deterred the TUC members from creating another body so directly linked to the TUC General Council.Instead, some individual members of the General Council, who had been involved in the Freedom and Democracy Trust fiasco, joined a private group with the same anti-communist aims. This was Common Cause, whose origins are to be found in the merging of two quite distinct political strands.
- One strand was the clandestine anti-communist (and anti-socialist) organisation in British trade unions, of which the best example is to be found within the Amalgamated Engineering Union (AEU). Within the AEU,
- 'An anti-Communist organisation was established at meetings of the fifty-two-member national committee, their ruling body in 1943 and 1944, and was followed a few years later by a loose national organisation, working in secret and known as "the side" or the "antis" which succeeded in removing a good many communists from office.'
- This was the organisation which later came to be known as 'the Club' or 'the Group', and 'defined its purpose in terms of preventing a Communist takeover of the union'.(81)
- 'In the mid 1950s ..... the Right-wing members of the Executive Council began attending the factional meeting. In this period also a National Committee "Club" organiser was discreetly appointed from amongst the regular delegates to tighten the organisation of the Right-wing faction(82)....At all National Committee meetings during the period from 1956 to 1970 the right-wing controlled all places on the Standing Orders Committee, and J. Ramsden, organiser of the National Committee "Club" for nine years, was also Chairman of its Standing Orders Committee for seven of them. With [President] Carron in the Chair at the National Committee and the union Secretaryship also held by a "Club" member for the whole of the period, procedural control by the Right was overwhelming.'(83)
- The late Ernie Roberts MP quotes from a report of a 1951 meeting of 'the Club' (infiltrated by a member of the left in the union), and notes that the principal figure was Cecil Hallett, then AEU General Secretary.(84)
This clandestine trade union anti-socialism joined up with an Anglo-American anti-communist group called Common Cause. The American group was formed in January 1947 as Common Cause Incorporated, by Mrs Natalie Wales Latham (nee Paine). Among the great and the good on its letterhead National Council were Adolph Berle Jnr, Max Eastman, Sumner Welles and Hodding Carter. Another well-known member was Clare Booth Luce, wife of the owner of Time, Henry Luce, and later US Ambassador to Italy. In his biography of Mrs Luce, Alden Hatch notes that as early as 1946, before its official launch, Common Cause had established liaison with the anti-Soviet group, Russian Solidarists, better known as NTS, and that John Foster Dulles was the organisation's 'unofficial adviser'.(85) Hatch also notes that Mrs Wales Latham became Lady Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton - the only link I am aware of between the US and UK groups. For when the British Common Cause was formally launched in 1952, its first joint chairs were John Brown, ex General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation and member of the TUC General Council and the self-same Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton MP.(86)
The British Common Cause, however, had been in existence for some years before its official launch, originally very much as the vehicle of Dr. C. A. Smith, one of the more interesting mavericks of the British Left in the 20th century. Smith met Trotsky in the 1933, was Chairman of the Independent Labour Party from 39-41, quit and joined Common Wealth as its Research Officer in 1941. When some of the Common Wealth party left to join the Labour Party, Smith became Chair of Common Wealth. As the nature of the Stalinist takeover of Eastern Europe became clear in 1947, Smith tried to take Common Wealth with him in his increasingly anti-Soviet stance. They baulked and eventually Smith left the party and joined or formed - which is not clear - Common Cause in Easter 1948.(87)
The British League for European Freedom
Whatever the British Common Cause amounted to in 1948, four years before its official launch, it had joined forces with the British League for European Freedom (BLEF), the first organisation formed in this country in direct response to the Soviet Union's takeover in Eastern Europe. The BLEF had been initiated in 1944 by a quartet of Tory MP's, including Victor Raikes, a pre-war member of the Imperial Policy Group.(88) Despite the dominance of Tory MPs, the BLEF attracted a trio of Labour MPs: Ivor Thomas (who defected to the Tories in 1950 after the publication of his book The Socialist Tragedy); George Dallas, former TUC General Council member and Labour MP, Chair of the Labour Party's International Committee during the war; and Richard Stokes MP. Stokes was a 'socialist' of the most idiosyncratic kind, having been a member of the anti-Semitic Right Club before the war.(89) Although information on these groups in this period is very thin, it is clear that Common Cause and the BLEF were very close. In 1950, for example, Common Cause published a pamphlet, Communism and Democracy, by Smith, in which he said he was writing as a member of the BLEF. The two groups shared an office in Elizabeth Street in London donated by the wealthy Duke of Westminster.(90)
The Duchess of Atholl, one of the founders of the BLEF, notes in her autobiography that the decline in the BLEF's 'political work' was attributable to the arrival of Common Cause, and from then on the BLEF 'concentrated its efforts on bringing home to people the unhappy plight of the many Displaced Persons still in Germany.'(91) This is something of a euphemism for the BLEF's role as support group for Eastern European exile groups such as the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN) then being run by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). The BLEF produced an offshoot, the Scottish League for European Freedom, headed by Victor Raikes' colleague in the Imperial Policy Group, the Earl of Mansfield. In 1950 the Scottish League organised a conference in Edinburgh for Eastern European exiles, many of them Nazi war criminals and collaborators, who had been recruited by SIS. They had been moved to the UK during the scramble at the end of World War 2 by the British and American governments for good, reliable, anti-Soviet 'assets'. (92)
Common Cause USA
In the USA the fledgling CIA had sponsored a front organisation, the National Committee for a Free Europe (NCFE). NCFE's 'sister organisation' was Common Cause Inc., which included among its personnel 'many of the men - Adolf Berle, Arthur Bliss Lane, and Eugene Lyons, among others - who simultaneously led CIA-financed groups such as the NCFE and, later, the American Committee for Liberation from Bolshevism.'(93) Christopher Simpson notes that it was Common Cause Inc. which, in 1948, sponsored the NTS founder on a tour of the United States. (94) Just as the British League for European Freedom became the sponsor for the British exile groups in the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), Christopher Emmet, Chairman of the American Common Cause Inc, turns up later as head of the American Friends of the Captive Nations, the domestic support group for the CIA-sponsored Assembly of Captive Nations (ACEN).(95)
The BLEF's George Dallas was one of those who stayed close to American interests. He became preoccupied with the danger of a communist take-over in China, and formed the Friends of Free China Association, with himself as chair and the Duchess of Atholl as president. Dallas eventually attended the 1958 foundation meeting of what became the the World Anti-Communist League. The one time socialist farm labourer had come a long way. With him at that meeting were Marvin Liebman, one of the key members of the US 'China Lobby', the late Yaroslav Stetsko, Ukranian collaborator with the Germans and head of the ABN, and Charles Edison of the John Birch Society.(96)
Common Cause UK
The official, 1952-launched Common Cause was apparently founded by Neil Elles, Peter Crane (on both of whom, more below) and C.A. Smith. Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, then a Scottish Tory MP, and John Brown were joint chairs. Brown had been the Treasurer of the Freedom and Democracy Trust which had tried to launch Freedom First five years before. It set up a national structure with local branches - in 1954 there were 14 - published a monthly Bulletin, and distributed many of the standard anti-communist texts of the time, for example Tufton Beamish's Must Night Fall?; some, such as the 'Background Books' series, published and/or subsidised by IRD; and leaflets from the CIA labour front in Europe, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU).(97)
In 1955 Common Cause's 'Advisory Council' included:
- Tom O'Brien and Florence Hancock, both past TUC presidents;(98)
- Bob Edwards, General Secretary of the Chemical Workers Union, 1947-51;(99)
- Cecil Hallett, Assistant General Secretary of the AEU 1948-57; General Secretary 1957-64;
- Philip Fothergill, ex President of the Liberal Party;
- Admiral Lord Cunningham;(100)
- a coterie of other retired senior military, the Duchess of Atholl and Lord Ammon.
Such 'advisory bodies' may mean very little: this might just be a notepaper job. Nonetheless, some of the 'advisory body' were people with rather specialised interests. For example, at one point the name of General Leslie Hollis appeared on it. Hollis had been the Secretary of the Chiefs of Staff committee which 'considered, with Sir Stewart Menzies, the head of MI6, and Warner [of IRD] and William Hayter of the Foreign Office, what form of organisation was required to establish a satisfactory link between the Chiefs of Staff and Foreign Office on matters connected with the day-to-day conduct of anti-Communist propaganda overseas.'(101)
In the Autumn of 1955 the Common Cause Bulletin reported that there had been moves at the Labour Party conference that year to get it proscribed - but the motion to that effect 'was among the many crowded out from discussion'.(102)
The Labour Party's intelligence-gathering Common Cause was one of the sources of information used by the Labour Party in its anti-communist activities in the 1950s. While no central unit was ever formally established 'for collecting information or monitoring the activities of communist-inspired or pro-Soviet groups', in practice the National Agent's Department at Labour headquarters, Transport House, did the job, using as sources the publications of proscribed organisations, regional organisers' reports, 'Foreign Office' material - i.e. IRD - and Common Cause.(103) The National Agent's Department [NAD] had 'lay responsibility for compiling the [proscription] list'. Shaw notes that in 1953 the proscription list was expanded by the addition of eighteen fresh groups.
'What happened was rather unusual. Without consulting the NAD the International Department had submitted a report to the Overseas Subcommittee on "peace" and "friendship" societies. In response the Subcommittee recommended that they all be proscribed. NAD officials were never told the source of the International Department's information though they assumed it to be the Foreign Office [i.e. IRD] and Special Branch.'(104)
A glimpse of the content of the NAD's intelligence-gathering has been provided by the late Ian Mikardo MP, who saw 'dossiers' in the possession of National Agent Sarah Barker At a meeting of a subcommittee of the NEC in 1955, Sara Barker objected to Konni Zilliacus and Ernie Roberts as prospective Parliamentary candidates. When Barker began quoting derogatory comments from files she had in her possession, Mikardo demanded to see the files.
- 'They were an eye-opener. No MI5, no Special Branch, no George Smiley could have compiled more comprehensive dossiers. Not just press-cuttings, photographs and document references but also notes by watchers and eavesdroppers, and all sorts of tittle-tattle. I'm convinced that there was input into them from government sources and from at least a couple of Labour Attaches at the United States embassy who were close to some of our trade union leaders, notably Sam Watson.'(105)
Common Cause splits - IRIS is formed
The pretty unstable-looking mixture of admirals, generals and trade union leaders that was Common Cause, disintegrated in 1956. C. A. Smith resigned along with Advisory Council members Fothergill, Edwards, Ammon, Professor Arthur Newell and Sydney Walton.(106) This group complained that the organisation had become 'reactionary' and that the promised democratic structure had never materialised. In August 1956 Common Cause Ltd was registered, owned and controlled by the 'reactionary' faction.
The original directors of Common Cause Ltd were:
- the new chair, Peter Crane, the director of a number of British subsidiaries of American companies, including Collins Radio of England, whose American headquarters had connections with the CIA.(107)
- David Pelham James - Conservative MP, and Director of the Catholic publishing house, Hollis and Carter. There were a number of Catholics prominent in the
Common Cause network, including the man who ran IRIS for any years, Andy McKeown.
- Neil Elles, barrister and later a member of the European-wide anti-subversion outfit, INTERDOC.(108)
- Christopher Blackett - a Scottish landowner and farmer and, I presume, but cannot prove, a relative of
- Though there is a hint that such activities may have been continued abroad. In Coleman's book on the Congress for Cultural Freedom (discussed below) there is a reference to an Indian anti-communist politician, Minoo Misani, who in the early post-war years, founded the Democratic Research Service and published a magazine called… Freedom First. Coleman p. 150.
- ^ Wigham, p. 128
- ^ Minkin p. 180
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Roberts pp. 124/5
- ^ Hatch, p. 187
- ^ The Times 25 February, 1952
- ^ Details on Smith from J.C. Banks, Editor of the Common Wealth Journal. In the obituary of Smith in the The Libertarian, the Common Wealth journal, no. 25, Summer 1985, Smith is said to have formed Common Cause. I believe this to be mistaken.
- ^ The Imperial Policy Group was largely the work of Kenneth de Courcy. De Courcy edited and published the Review of World Affairs during the Second World War. The IPG and de Courcy in particular were much disliked by the Soviet government of the time. Since then de Courcy has published the newsletters Intelligence Digest and Special Office Brief. De Courcy had some influence on the right of the Tory Party into the 1960s. See index references in Highams on De Courcy.
- ^ This information from John Hope who has had access to the Right Club's membership list. It is possible Stokes had joined for reasons other than agreement with the Club's aims.
- ^ Duchess of Atholl p. 252
- ^ Ibid.
- ^ Loftus p. 204
- ^ Simpson p. 222
- ^ Ibid p. 223
- ^ Ibid. p. 222. 'Christopher Emmet is a classic example of those who ran the British Intelligence fronts before and during World War II and who, having proven themselves faithful and competent, went on to run the CIA/MI6 fronts of the Cold War.' Mahl, thesis, p. 198.
- ^ Details of the WACL meeting is in Charles Goldman's 'World Anti-Communist League', adapted from Under Dackke, ed. Frik Krensen and Petter Sommerfelt (Demos, Copenhagen, 1978)}} I am unsure of the source of this Goldman article but it appears to be an early edition of Counterspy. Dallas' career, with some of the later associations glossed over, is described by his son in the Dictionary of Labour Biography eds. Saville and Bellamy, vol. 4 1977.
- ^ On ICFTU and the CIA see the comments of former CIA officers Joseph Smith (p. 138) and Philip Agee (CIA Diary) (p. 611). For a more general discussion see Winslow Peck. The rival but much less significant World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was, of course, funded and run by the Soviet Union.
- ^ Hancock had been Chief Woman Officer of the TUC.
- ^ Edwards had been chair of the ILP. During 1948 the Chemical Workers Union had been involved in protracted proceedings over alleged forged ballot papers by communists.
- ^ In 1945, as Chief of the Defence Staff he had threatened Attlee with resignation over proposed defence cuts.
- ^ Scott Lucas and Morris p. 101.
- ^ For which, perhaps, read 'our friends fixed the agenda'.
- ^ Shaw p. 58
- ^ Ibid. pp. 58 and 9 Shaw notes in footnote 44 p. 314 that 'at least one NAD official was approached by a member of the Special Branch [and brother of a future International Secretary] offering "assistance".'
- ^ Mikardo p. 131.
- ^ The Times, April 6, 1957
- ^ Collins Radio was first linked with CIA operations by Peter Dale Scott in his unpublished manuscript, The Dallas Conspiracy, ch. 11 p. 3. More recently, 'Collins Radio' by Bill Kelly, in Back Channels, (USA) Vol. 1, Number 4, lists a number of links between the company and the CIA-controlled anti-Castro milieu of the early 1960s
- ^ On INTERDOC see Crozier pp. 49 and 81.
- ^ Frances Blackett in Duchess of Atholl, p. 250.