"A Marxist historian feted by the modern Labour Party was under surveillance for two decades by MI5 who uncovered his links to at least two Soviet spies, secret papers reveal today. Eric Hobsbawm, whose death in 2012 aged 95 was publicly mourned by Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, has long been known as an ‘unrepentant Communist’.British physicist Alan Nunn May passed military secrets to Stalin from 1942 to 1945, including details of British war plans, among them the D-Day landings. His case led to a horrified US ending the sharing of atomic information and to Britain developing its own bomb.
However, files newly released by the National Archives detail how his activities provoked such concern among the authorities that he was placed under extensive monitoring. Between 1942 and 1963, MI5 kept eight files on Hobsbawm – who was a close friend of Ed Miliband’s father, the Marxist academic Ralph Miliband – running to hundreds of pages. Eric Hobsbawm, whose death in 2012 aged 95 was publicly mourned by Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, has long been known as an ‘unrepentant Communist’
He was subjected to phone taps, had his correspondence intercepted and bugs placed in the rooms he used for meetings. There is nothing in the files to suggest Hobsbawm himself passed secrets to the Soviets – but he was in contact with at least two men who did, including a convicted spy whom he readily gave a bed for the night.
Between them, the pair, James MacGibbon and Alan Nunn May, handed the Russians top secret information on atomic research and intelligence on British and German war plans, including details of the D-Day landings.
Intriguingly, one of the eight files originally intended for publication today and relating to Hobsbawm’s contacts and activities in the 1950s was ‘kept back’ by officials. British physicist Nunn May became notorious for passing secret information to the Soviets about the Manhattan project – the western allies’ development of the atom bomb. He even couriered to the Soviets small samples of uranium 233 and 235, along with detailed information about the first atom bomb tests. The courier of the samples was not informed of the danger of radiation and needed lifelong regular blood transfusions.
Unrepentant to the end, he argued that he had ‘acted rightly’ and that he only passed on information because he felt it was a ‘contribution I could make to the safety of mankind’. He also insisted he had burned the 200 dollars he received from the Soviets as a reward.
Nunn May, who was based in Montreal at the time of his betrayal, was sentenced to ten years hard labour in 1946 by the British courts, eventually being released in 1952... Transcripts of a secretly recorded telephone conversation reveal details of how the spy arranged to spend the night at Hobsbawm’s London flat in May 1956.
MacGibbon, later a distinguished London publisher, was unmasked as a Soviet spy in 2004, four years after his death. The British intelligence officer, code-named ‘Dolly’ by his Soviet handlers, passed military secrets to Stalin from 1942 to 1945, including details of British war plans, among them the D-Day landings. Working within the War Office department known as MO3, he regularly gathered information that he passed on via a Soviet contact in London, whom he knew as Natasha.
The details he shared with the Soviets include intelligence gleaned by the Enigma code-breaking team at Bletchley Park. But he also had access to one of the biggest secrets of the entire war – the locations of British forces as they prepared for the D-Day landings.
The de-classified files show Hobsbawm, who was made a Companion of Honour by the Blair Government in 1998, first joined the Communist Party in 1936. He came to the attention of MI5 four years later when he wished to invite a German Communist to give a lecture to British troops.
The incident, which took place while Hobsbawm was a sergeant in the Army Education Corps, triggered almost two decades of surveillance. He is described in one file as a ‘tireless (and tiresome) organiser of petitions and champion of lost causes’.
During his time at the Army Education Corps, Hobsbawm was marked out as a ‘bad influence’ after leaving Left-wing literature lying around. One report notes: ‘We know Hobsbawm has been continually in touch with prominent Communists and with party headquarters and there is no doubt he is a keen and very active party member.’
Communist Party records, obtained under a secret MI5 operation named Party Piece, reveal his frustration at not contributing more to the cause. The file records him saying: ‘I don’t feel I’ve done what I might for the Party, or that I’ve been advancing in my capacity to do so.’
When the war was over, while pursuing an academic career at Birkbeck College in London and King’s College Cambridge, Hobsbawm was chairman of the Historians Group of the Communist Party. The files show he was
in contact with senior members of the Party, including MacGibbon, as well as Nunn May...
Hobsbawm, who once described himself as an ‘unrepentant Communist’, was a towering figure on the British Left for decades. Upon his death in 2012, Ed Miliband led the tributes to a man he said had ‘brought history out of the ivory tower and into people’s lives’.
The Labour leader described him as ‘a great friend of my family’ and ‘a lovely man, with whom I had some of the most stimulating and challenging conversations about politics and the world’.
Questions had been asked about whether Hobsbawm might have himself been a Soviet agent. When he was at Cambridge during the 1930s, he knew Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess – the notorious double agents who later betrayed Britain.
Shortly before his death, he had attempted, under the Data Protection Act, to read the files kept on him by MI5. He said he wanted to find out who had ‘snitched on him’.
Born in Egypt, Hobsbawm fled Nazi Germany in 1933. His books were studied by generations of students, and his history of the 20th century, The Age Of Extremes, has been translated into more than 40 languages. He faced criticism in later years for continuing to promote communism long after it had been discredited in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Speaking in 1994 to the author Michael Ignatieff about the fall of the Berlin Wall five years earlier, Hobsbawm was asked if Communism had achieved its aims – but at the cost of 15 to 20 million people – would he have supported it? His answer was, ‘yes'!"
"What (your view) comes down to is that, had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fiteen to twenty million people might have been justified?"
Hobsbawm's unhesitating answer was, as previously stated: 'YES!' Indeed, despite the fact that most of those killed would have been innocent of any crime, he went on to further defend 'what HAD to be done.'
What do you think? Was Ed Miliband right to suggest someone who could unquestioningly support a totalitarian system that slaughtered 15 to 20 million people (a conservative estimate) was 'a lovely man?' Was Tony Blair right to ensure that this 'unrepentant' Egyptian Commie was awarded the Companion of Honour? (No more than 65 such 'Companions' may hold this sward at any one time)
I guess, if you are inclined towards Bolshevism and genocide, you might say 'yes.'
If you are not so inclined, I trust you'd say no.
The fact that a hero of both Blair and Miliband should be a died-in-wool Red who cared not a jot for the sufferings of so many should surprise no one and, I hope, might alert you to the mentality of those who aspire to be the leader of the Labour Party.
It is a mentality that, I'm sure, does not chime with that of the British people.
Eric Hobsbawm was Jewish, as was Ed's father, Ralph ('the man who hated Britain'), and Ed Miliband is, of course, Jewish himself.