Workers' Liberty #58


Spies and renegades

At a time when there is much hysteria about old spies in the press we might ask a few questions of our own which occur to me after reading Stan Crooke's review of Volkogonov's book on Trotsky.

By Ted Crawford

This work contains an odd little mystery. In the preface to Volkogonov's book he thanks both his English collaborators Tamara Deutscher and Stuart Kirby. Tamara Deutscher was well-known and a liberal semi-Stalinist sort just when Volkogonov was trying to be a liberal Stalinist, so that makes sense. But who on earth was this English expert on Trotsky, Stuart Kirby?

Stuart Kirby was a very early Trotskyist who had been out of the movement since at least 1937. (He is never mentioned by name in either John Archer's thesis or Martin Uphams's.) He was at the London School of Economics 1932-33, where he recruited John Archer, then he taught in Japan, then worked as Research Economist in the League of Nations and, just before the war, joined the Indian Army. This was sensible if you did not wish to meet dangerous Nazis in Europe. In India he attained the dizzy height of Lieutenant Colonel in the Intelligence Corps though as far as I can see from the Indian Army List his work involved operating in those parts of India that contained no fanatical Japanese but only nationalist agitators. After the war he became a university lecturer and eventually Professor of Geography at Aston University, where he wrote books and articles in military journals on the Far East which often express extreme right wing views. So much so indeed that in the correspondence columns of the Royal United Service Institution Journal, poor, puzzled countryside-loving Lt-Colonels wondered if he was correct in thinking that the "Greens" and ecology movement were part of a sinister Communist plot for world domination. At Warwick University at the time of the student agitation in the late '60s, some student members of the old International Socialists believed that he was an agent of the security services.

How on earth did this obscure and third-rate academic from the far conservative right become Volkogonov's adviser on Trotskyism? Did Kirby and he only get in contact after 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union? Is this likely? Kirby was about 80 years old then, unknown as any kind of expert on Trotskyism. His academic work was economic geography, such a The Soviet Far East (1971) - what I call "bomb-aiming manuals" - and his Trotskyist past almost totally obscure to any but the obsessives of Revolutionary History. I only picked him up because of my interest in strategy, tactics and military history and thus I must be the only Trotskyist in the world who once subscribed to and read the Journal of the RUSI, (Royal United Services Institution).

So Kirby was a man who, like Volkogonov, had been in Military Intelligence but who had been out of the Trotskyist movement since 1935 or so - 57 years! In his academic work he had never published anything on Trotskyism. Had he, with the full permission of the security services and as his patriotic duty, been in contact with Volkogonov for years and was he perhaps one of the conduits, or as we say in our movement, the sewers, along which information on the Trotskyist and non-Stalinist movement here was passed to the GPU in exchange perhaps for the odd tidbit of information going the other way? It is more than likely that some nationalist, anti-imperialist movement, which would not toe the Moscow line completely, would be the subject of such little exchanges.

Indeed it is more than probable that 20 or 30 years ago Kirby got some of this information from his old friends here when many of them were around and active in the movement. Fleet Street at any rate would always be ready to approve of anyone willing to betray their friends for their country.

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