Joseph Godson

From Powerbase
Jump to: navigation, search

Labour attache at the US Embassy in London from 1953 to 1959. Later European Co-ordinator for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.


Godson was born in Poland on 15 January 15 1913.[1]

According to The Times, 'he spoke relatively little English when he went to New York at the age of 13, and throughout his life his accent carried a hint of Central Europe behind the warm and urgent American voice.'[1]

Godson graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1937, and received a law degree from New York University in 1940.[2] Hugh Wilford states that he was a member of the Communist Party Opposition.[3]

According to aTimes obituary:

A Marxist in his early years, he soon decided that Stalin held no attraction for him; but he also rejected the romanticism of the Trotskyists (and was thereby saved from the exaggerated swing to the right which many Trotskyists subsequently went through by way of over-compensation). He belonged to that brave group of Americans who continued to search for a workable, democratic form of Marxism until the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 made them dissolve their organization in despair.[1]

This is most likely a reference to Jay Lovestone's Independent Labor League of America, the final American incarnation of the Communist Right Opposition which was wound up in 1940.[4] According to the Times, this background led Godson into his first jobs.[1]

Between 1940 and 1944 Godson worked in the American labour movement, where he 'helped to beat off communist attempts to control two New York-based trade unions'.[1] For the following six years, he worked for the Jewish Labor Committee.[1]

Foreign Service

Godson joined the Foreign Service in 1950, serving as labour attaché in Canada from 1950 until 1952.[2] He was one of a number of Labour attachés, along with Herbert Weiner, described by Ted Morgan as 'Jay's people', adherents of Jay Lovestone who reported to him, and whose careers he was able to advance in the State Department.[5]

London labour attaché

Godson served as labour attaché in London from 1953 until 1959.[2] Soon afterwards, he lost his assistant attaché to a 1953 reorganisation.[6]

In 1958, Godson married his second wife, Ruth Perlman.[1]

Struggle against Bevanites

Godson arrived at a time of increasing American concern about the rise of 'Bevanism'. He moved quickly to build up links between the British and American labour movements.[6] According to the Times his friends in Britain over the years included Harold Wilson, George Brown, Arthur Deakin and Frank Chapple.[1]

According to Stephen Haseler, Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell became so close to Godson, that Gaitskell's friends warned him to lower Godson's profile.[7] The Daily Mirror's Geoffrey Goodman called Godson's Kensington flat, 'a salon for Gaitskellites'.[8] According to Hugh Wilford, even allies such as Deakin and Gaitskell himself began to entertain doubts about Godson's role in the Labour Party, while 'the Bevanites simply regarded him as a spy from the American Embassy.[8]

Godson's support for the Gaitskellite right of the Labour Party partly reflected his AFL background. This also involved him in something of a rivalry with William Gaussman, a USIA labour information officer with roots in the CIO.[3]

Godson's reports to the State Department, reflected Lovestoneite views of the Bevanite threat, and were informed by long conversations with Deakin and by access to Labour Party documents provided by Sam Watson.[3]

After the death of Jack Carney in 1956, Godson became Lovestone's main correspondent in London.[8] They employed codewords reflecting Lovestoneite involvement in covert action. Although there were rumours in London during the 1950s, that a CIA officer was operating under cover as a Labour attaché, Hugh Wilford concludes there is no evidence that Godson was a CIA officer.[9] However, Lovestone himself was a CIA agent, and Godson's material was probably included in the material he sent to James Angleton.[10]


Aneurin Bevan expulsion

In March 1955, Godson was present at a meeting of the Labour leadership under Hugh Gaitksell at which the possibility of expelling Aneurin Bevan from the Labour Party was discussed.[6]

In their biography of Harold Wilson, Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay record:

Gaitskell held a series of secret meetings at the Russell Hotel, where he planned the expulsion with Sam Watson, the leader of the Durham miners. Also in attendance was the Labour attaché at the American Embassy in London, Joe Godson. One of the most important post-war events in the Labour Party's internal affairs was overseen by an American spook. [11]

Tom Easton states in Lobster 31:

Joseph Godson, as US labour attaché in London in the Fifties, had played a close supporting role in Gaitskell's battle with the Left. (His son, Roy, a close associate of both Stephen Haseler and former CIA director William Casey, married the daughter of Gaitskell's principal union ally in the same battle, Sam Watson.)[12]


Godson served in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, as a first secretary from 1959 to 1961 and then in Zagreb as consul general until 1964.[2] Hugh Gaitskell often visited Godson during his frequent trips to the country.[7]

Labour Advisor for Europe

After Yugoslavia, Godson returned to the State Department as labour advisor for Europe.[1]


Godson became consul general in Edinburgh in 1968 and remained there until he retired from the foreign service in 1971.[2]

Amsterdam conference

In March 1973, Brian Crozier mobilized Godson, Douglas Houghton and Alan Lee Williams to organise a conference in Amsterdam on the common problems of the US and Europe.[13]

Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding

Godson founded the Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding, the labour section of the British Atlantic Committee, in 1976.[14]

Tom Easton states:

Godson Snr. had stayed on in London after retiring from US government service and with money from the US Congress and NATO had set up the Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding with which both Rodgers and Owen had been involved, and whose treasurer for many years had been electricians' union(EETPU) leader Frank Chapple. (Chapple was the only prominent trade unionist to sign the fund-raising appeal for the embryonic SDP in the Guardian in February 1981.) [15]

According to the Guardian, funding of the Committee 'remained a secret until 1980, when the British government said that Nato had given pounds 32,000 over the previous four years.'[14]

According to the National Endowment for Democracy's internal annual report to September 1984, the Labour Committee for Transatlantic Understanding, received $49,000, which was used to finance a delegation of about 12 people to a seminar on western defence in Brussels in May 1984. Godson told the Guardian that he understood the money had come from the American Youth Council. He had complained to the endowment fund for its inaccuracy, but 'I don't object to anything which funds a good cause.[14]

Center for Strategic and International Studies

Easton continues:

Joseph Godson, in an active retirement, was also organising European initiatives for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the proselytising think-tank which funded the author of the SDP/Liberals joint policy statement in 1987. He combined that with running US government-funded educational visits for British trade unionists and editing 35 Years of NATO (Dodd, Mead, 1984) a transatlantic symposium on 'the changing political, economic and military setting', funded by Rupert Murdoch's Times and introduced by its then editor Charles Douglas-Home and NATO secretary general Peter Carrington.
Godson's foremost British associate in this CSIS/NATO work was SDP founder member Alan Lee Williams, a former Labour MP and junior defence minister who was treasurer of the European Movement from 1972 and 1979. From his office as director of the English Speaking Union he had chaired Godson's Labour and Trade Union Press Service operation and, with the renewed rise of CND in the late 1970s, had become a central figure in the government-funded Peace Through NATO. [16]

'The Soviet Worker - Illusions and Realities'

In 1981, Godson and Leonard Schapiro co-edited The Soviet Worker - Illusions and Realities. This was described by the Guardian as 'nine essays, an unusual mix of academic studies, journalists' reports and exiles' recollections', which John Torode suggested had been outdated by the rise of Solidarity in Poland that year.[17] In a letter attributed to Godson as European Co-ordinator of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Godson responded:

The facts are that the events in Poland and the reasons for the creation of Solidarity have, if anything, fully confirmed the book's thesis about the so-called Soviet trade unions and their role as mere adjuncts of the state apparatus to carry out the party's plans and policies on the shop-floor level. The Polish workers revolted and seem, so far at least, to have succeeded to establish their own independent unions, and we wish the same were to take place in the Soviet Union.
While the Polish events could have a spill-over effect in the USSR, there appears to be no prospect, at least in the immediate future, for that to happen.
As for Mr Torode's statement that "today even the TUC general council accepts that its Soviet counterpart is packed with hollow men", well, I pray this were true, but where oh where is the evidence?[18]

'Challenges to the Western Alliance'

In December 1984, when The Times produced a volume of essays Challenges to the Western Alliance, Godson acted as a Washington representative of the publishing effort. Along with Times editor Charles Douglas-Home he presented a copy to US President Ronald Reagan. Contributors to the book included Reagan himself, Margaret Thatcher, Mario Soares, Alexander M. Haig Jr., Robert S. Strauss, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and Lane Kirkland, head of the AFL-CIO.[19]


President Reagan's International Director for Communications in the mid-1980s, Walter Raymond Jr., testified to Congressional Iran-Contra investigators that his assistant [Steven Steiner], had met with Joe Godson. He denied that Central American matters had been discussed.

Q Do you recall your deputy , Steve Steiner, accompanying Ollie North to a meeting in the Washington Hotel with Joe Godson?
A I did not recall that. I recall Steve Steiner meeting Joe Godson at one point. I do not recall Ollie North. I don't know that. Might be.
Q Do you know whether Ollie North met with Joe Godson?
A No, I do not know.
Q What was the purpose of Steve Steiner meeting with Joe Godson?
A Joe Godson was interested and concerned about American image in Europe, particularly the infrastructure of our allies. In other words, the communications, the dialogue among our allies on the one hand and the United States, which he felt had been strained by the INF debate.
Q Did it relate in any way to Central America?
A To the best of my knowledge, no.
Q Was Joe Godson involved in any way in the efforts to influence public opinion in Europe on behalf of the President's policies in Central America?
A I do not believe that he was involved in that aspect of it. I think he was involved only in terms of the U.S.- European debate.
But the U.S .-European debate also included support for the President's policies in Central America, didn't it?
A His principal focus was on security issues.
Q But it also included Central America?
A It could have. I don't know that for a fact.[20]

Miners' strike

Godson wrote an opinion editorial on the British miners' strike, and its implications for future of British trade unions in the Wall Street Journal on 6 March 1985.[21]

The Independent reported in 1992:

In his recently published autobiography, another maverick union leader, the EETPU leader Eric Hammond, wrote that Joe Godson, a shadowy and influential figure between the British and American trade unions and probably some kind of a spook asked him to approach Rupert Murdoch for pounds 250,000 to bolster the UDM. The lunch took place at Maxims in 1986, in the middle of the print dispute at Mr Murdoch's Wapping plant. Roy Lynk was at the meeting, Mr Hammond says. The former electricians' union leader passed on the message but does not believe any money was paid.[22]

Final years

In a New York Times op ed on 11 June 1986, he warned of a new anti-Americanism among young Europeans.[23]

Joseph Godson died of cancer in London in September 1986 at the age of 73.[2]


  • Edited with Leonard Schapiro, The Soviet Worker - Illusions and Realities, Macmillan 1981.




  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Obituary of Mr Joseph Godson, Determined champion of Anglo-American relations, The Times, 6 September 1986.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Joseph Godson, 'New York Times', 12 September 1986.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hugh Wilford, The CIA, The British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, London 2003, p.179.
  4. Robert J. Alexander, The Right Opposition: The Lovestoneites and the International Communist Opposition of the 1930s, Greenwood Press, 1981, p.132.
  5. A Covert Life - Jay Lovestone: Communist, Anti-Communist and Spymaster, Random House, 1999, pp.144-145.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Hugh Wilford, The CIA, The British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, London 2003, p.177.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Stephen Haseler, The Grand Delusion: Britain After Sixty Years of Elizabeth II, I.B.Tauris, 2012, p.39.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Hugh Wilford, The CIA, The British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, London 2003, p.180.
  9. Hugh Wilford, The CIA, The British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, London 2003, p.182.
  10. Hugh Wilford, The CIA, The British Left and the Cold War: Calling the Tune?, Frank Cass, London 2003, p.183.
  11. Smear: Wilson and the Secret State, Stephen Dorril and Robin Ramsay, Fourth Estate Ltd, 1991, p14
  12. By Tom Easton, From Lobster 31, June 1996 Who were they travelling with? Last Accessed 16th June 2007
  13. Giles Scott-Smith, Western Anti-Communism and the Interdoc Network: Cold War Internationale, Plagrave Macmillan, 2012, p.218.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Britons get cash from US 'slush fund' / British organisations receiving money from US sources to 'promote democracy', Guardian, 9 December 1985.
  15. By Tom Easton, From Lobster 31, June 1996 Who were they travelling with? Last Accessed 16th June 2007
  16. By Tom Easton, From Lobster 31, June 1996 Who were they travelling with? Last Accessed 16th June 2007
  17. John Torode, 'Hollow men; THE SOVIET WORKER -- ILLUSIONS AND REALITIES, edited by Leonard Shapiro and Joseph Godson', Guardian Weekly, 6 September 1981.
  18. Joseph Godson, 'Unions in the Eastern Bloc', Guardian Weekly, 27 September 1981.
  19. William E. Farrell and Warren Weaver Jr., 'Reagan the Author', New York Times, 11 December 1984.
  20. Report .of the Congressional Committees Investigating the Iran-Contra Affair, Appendix B: Volume 22, Depositions, 17 November 1987, pp.369-370.
  21. Joseph Godson, Wall Street Journal, 6 March 1985.
  22. Helen Hague, Profile: Burning for a buyout, The Independent, 14 June 1992.
  23. Roger N. Johnson, European students see US as a threat to peace, New Yrok Times, 3 July 1986.