The Press and Accusations of Communist Influence/Infiltration in the Labour Party

Mark Hollingworth’s book, The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship, also does an excellent job of showing how the press, at just about every general election since the 1920s, repeats the lie that the Labour party has been infiltrated by Communists and others from the hard left, or that their policies hardly differ from those of the Communist party. He writes

Ever since the Labour Party have been in a position to form a government – by themselves or in coalition – Britain’s press have tried to portray them as being Communist wolves in sheep’s clothing. In their polling day edition for the 1923 general election, the Daily Mail produced the headline: ‘Moscow Funds For Rowdies – Labour Candidates Subsidized’. The paper alleged that Labour’s parliamentary candidates ‘received £300 apiece’ from Bolshevik sources. Two years later, on 25 October 1925, the Daily mail produced – ‘Civil War Plot by Socialist Masters-Moscow’s Orders To Our Reds’. the basis for this story was a letter supposedly written by Zinoviev, president of the Third Communist International in Moscow, to the British Communist Party which the Mail described as ‘the masters of Mr Ramsey MacDonald’s [minority Labour] government’. Despite clear indications that the Zinoviev letter was a forgery, the story was given uncritical coverage by all the popular papers. Six years later, in 1931, MacDonald and his supporters deserted the Labour Party and formed a National Government with the Conservative Party.

Very little has changed. At almost every election various lists of Labour candidates with alleged Communist or Marxist sympathies are displayed with great prominence on the front page of the popular papers. The 1983 campaign was no exception. In fact, Fleet Street tried harder than usual to show that the Labour Party was, as the Sun put, ‘penetrated at all levels by sinister Marxist forces’. This section of the chapter describes how the press repeated the claims of Douglas Eden, a member of the Council for Social Democracy, that 55 members of the Labour party, later expanded by the Daily Express to 70, had extreme left-wing, Marxist-Leninist sympathies.

The chapter also discusses the way the press decided that there were marked similarities between Labour’s manifesto and that of the Communists at the 1983 election.

That same day, 19 may, the Communist Party manifesto was published. The next morning ‘Red Shadows’ headlined the Daily Express editorial:

Pick up the Communist Manifesto and it might be Labour’s. The two have chilling similarities. From unilateral nuclear disarmament to withdrawal from Europe, from economic controls to nationalisation. The difference is that the Communists will not win a seat… The voters rumbled them long ago. That is why the clever Marxists have gone into the Labour party. Mr Foot is no Communist. Doubtless he finds their support thoroughly distasteful. But his policies have made him a tool of those who are foes of the democratic freedom he upholds.

This was not a sudden discovery by the Express. The paper produced an identical response to the Labour and Communist manifestoes in the previous general election in 1979. ‘The Red Face of Labour-Communists Pick Same Policies’, was the headline to a front-page news report by John Warden on 11 April 1979. ‘The Communist Manifesto made an astonishing appearance yesterday as the Red Face of Labour. This “carbon copy” of policies is embarrassing for Mr Jim Callaghan.

One of those smeared as a Communist was Robert Hughes, who was the MP for Aberdeen North, and a member of the left-wing Tribune group. The evidence for his supposed Communist sympathies was that he had written for the Morning Star, Marxism Today, and Labour Monthly and Straight Left, the last two pro-Soviet magazines. The Express also claimed he was a member of three other pro-Soviet organisations, the World Peace Council, British-Soviet Friendship Society and Friends of Afghanistan. In fact, the World Peace Council had made him a member unilaterally, without consulting him or even telling him. Hughes didn’t know anything about the two other organisations, nobody he asked knew either, and he concluded they didn’t exist. When Hughes contacted the Express, they claimed that he had also been a member of Liberation and Voice of the Unions, which they also stated were Communist front organisations. Hughes had indeed been a member of them, but they weren’t fronts for the Communist party. The only evidence that they were was the fact that some of the leadership were former members of the Communist party. Hughes took the Express to the Press Complaints Council, which issued an adjudication in his favour, ruling that it had published inaccurate information.

Under Tony Blair, the Labour party managed to avoid being smeared as being infiltrated by Communists, as Murdoch had switched sides and was backing the Neoliberal future warmonger. But they were back on course with the gibes at ‘Red’ Ed Miliband, and they’re repeating the smears against Jeremy Corbyn. Well, it’s nonsense – nasty, pernicious nonsense intended to scare the public, but still nonsense. And once you find that it’s been more or less tried against the Labour party at just about every general election the party has fought, the allegation soon loses its force.

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