Cold War Reruns

The little red book. Jeremy Corbyn, August 2017.

In case you haven’t heard, Jeremy Corbyn is a Communist spy. He was sent to destroy Britain from within and was planted at the heart of the establishment in 1986 to do so. This was serious long-term planning on the part of the Soviet Union.

Or at least that’s what The Sun would have you believe. The Murdoch-owned tabloid ran the story last week, and it soon took hold in the right-wing section of UK media. The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Express and Sky News soon lapped it up.

So what are the facts? Over 30 years ago, Jeremy Corbyn met with Czech diplomat Jan Dymic, whose real name is Ján Sarkocy, on five occasions. Sarkocy claims Corbyn was recruited to the pay of the Czech secret services and even given the codename ‘Agent Cob’. He also claims he had 15 Labour MPs on the payroll and managed to organise Live Aid.

Okay, but what do the Czech intelligence archives tell us? There is no evidence of any payments or collaboration, but there is a record of meetings in 1986 and 1987. The entries for the meetings confirm that the information provided was of a “general nature” and therefore “could not be used”. It looks like these were just chats rather than intelligence briefings.

It’s almost certain that no state secrets were disclosed (not that Corbyn had any such secrets to share) and it was increasingly normal for Western politicians to meet Eastern bloc representatives since this was the era or perestroika and glasnost. The end of the Cold War was on the horizon.

Two years later, Corbyn was one of just four MPs to sign a motion in support of workers striking against the Czechoslovakian regime, which it described as a “Stalinist bureaucracy” and condemned for “corruption and mismanagement”.

Nevertheless, the story was soon trending on Twitter and it quickly got out of hand. Fortunately, historian Niall Ferguson came out to restore calm. “I find this at once appalling and unsurprising,” he tweeted.

Of course, it’s very rare that anything surprises and appals Ferguson simultaneously. But the claims could not be contained to the right, the main pillars of mainstream journalism were soon involved.

After Corbyn rebutted the claims, the BBC ran the headline: “Corbyn attacks press over spy ‘smears’.” Note speech marks are often used in the British press to engage in attacks, but it’s ironic for the BBC to punctuate ‘smear’ while it undermines the Labour leader.

Hang on, it gets worse. The Guardian even ran an article by the liberal Tory Matthew d’Ancona backing the smear campaign. “Corbyn was cosying up to a dreadful regime that was still routinely imprisoning Václav Havel and his fellow dissidents,” d’Ancona writes in The Guardian, before adding “I can only speak for myself, but that rubs me wrong.”

We’re told Corbyn can’t be trusted because he has allegedly backed ‘our enemies’ for decades. The list of allegations has been extended again and again to try and demolish the Labour leader’s credibility. So far all these attempts have failed, except for those already convinced of his implacable wickedness.

Few politicians are as vilified as Jeremy Corbyn. He has been accused of being an IRA sympathiser to an Assadnik and much more. When Corbyn was first running for the Labour leadership, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a speech threw just about everything at the man.

“Don’t tell me that we can do much for the poor of the world if the alliances we favour most are with Hezbollah, Hamas, Chávez’s successor in Venezuela and Putin’s totalitarian Russia,” Brown told the audience.

So this kind of slander is nothing new. What may stand out is the direct appeal to the anti-Communist witch-hunts of the Cold War. This is old-fashioned red-baiting. It used to be normal for Labour leaders to face such paranoid accusations.

The right-wing press claimed left-wing Labour leader Michael Foot was in cahoots with the KGB. They even claimed Foot’s moderate successor Neil Kinnock had ties to the Kremlin in the run-up to the 1992 election. Many paranoid far-righters believed Harold Wilson was a Soviet agent. These beliefs may have had some resonance in the days when the Soviet Union was a part of living memory.

Today that memory has faded over more than 25 years. Eventually, the power of anti-Communist terror will be no more, but until then there will be some people who believe Corbyn could be a secret agent for a country that no longer exists. The very suggestion fits a right-wing fantasy about the here and now, but also about the past.

Just as the Labour right is nostalgic for the struggles against Militant and sees Trotskyists under its bed at night, the conservative right wishes it could fight the Cold War again. The good news is that the past is no longer with us.

Photograph courtesy of coolloud. Published under a Creative Commons license.