MI5 and gossip in the 1950s Communist Party

This week I have been looking at the papers of the CPGB’s Vice-Chairman Rajani Palme Dutt at the British Library and also the MI5 files on Dutt at the National Archives at Kew. In one file (KV 2/1809), I found this summary of a conversation secretly recorded by the security services concerning Dutt and other leading members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is a fascinating piece of gossip between the Party elites:

EXTRACT from 20/11/1952 (extracted on 4/12/1952)

FALBER was heard telling BETTY REID just what he thought of Dutt. This was unprintable. He then went on to say that DUTT’s reaction to ANDREW (ROTHSTEIN) was not the same as the reaction FALBER had had, “Which was that the theoretical line – theoretical case – inevitably upsets people, and antagoni[ses] people”.

FABLER and BETTY REID continued to talk about DUTT.

“DUTT’s approach is one where you have to get theoretical clarity first, and then you work out your tactics, and you therefore get from him a kind of divorce between theory and reality.” This continued at length, and BETTY REID remarked that DUTT was inclined to have an “acid attitude” to the Party and Party activity.

Apparently the topic of discussion was Rothstein’s article on Zionism, which had allegedly upset many Jewish activists within the CPGB at the time.

Often the Party leadership during this period has been seen as a monolithic entity that all had the exact same mindset, but the historiography has shown that there were divisions amongst Dutt, Pollitt and the other high-ranking figures of the CPGB. I think this extract shows the frustration that many in the Party felt with Dutt, even at the upper echelons!

I’m off to the CPGB archives at the People’s History Museum next week, looking at the files of the International Department. Huzzah!


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