Skip to comments.Outcry as historian labelled a Soviet spy
Posted on 03/12/2003 7:58:43 AM PST by robowombat
The Guardian (London) March 6, 2003
SECTION: Guardian Home Pages, Pg. 9
HEADLINE: Outcry as historian labelled a Soviet spy: Foreign Office papers 'prove Christopher Hill was a mole'
BYLINE: Owen Bowcott
The late Christopher Hill, the distinguished Marxist historian who became master of Balliol College, Oxford, is alleged to have operated as a Soviet "agent of influence" during wartime service at the Foreign Office.
A fellow historian has revealed details of conversations and government papers which he says prove that Mr Hill - who died aged 91 on February 23 - was a Soviet "mole" who concealed his membership of the Communist party.
The allegation has prompted a fierce defence of Mr Hill by other academics.
Mr Hill's studies of Britain in the turbulent 17th century, in particular his Century of Revolution (1961), have been required reading for generations of students. His work offers a radical interpretation, exploring social forces behind political events. But Anthony Glees, a reader in politics at Brunel University and a historical adviser to the Home Office on war crimes, said his respect for Mr Hill had been undermined after examining Foreign Office files and memorandums written by the historian in the 1940s.
After graduating from Oxford with first-class honours, Mr Hill spent almost a year in the Soviet Union. In 1940, he won a commission in the Oxford and Bucks light infantry but was soon recruited to the Special Operations Executive, which carried out attacks in Nazi-occupied Europe.
He was later seconded to the Foreign Office, running the Russian desk at a time when Russia was Britain's close ally against Nazi Germany.
"I was writing a book about how good MI5 was at combating communist subversion," Mr Glees explained yesterday, "and did a trawl of documents from the Foreign Office. I came across a number of things I thought were decidedly dodgy which carried his signature." Among the letters was a proposal, apparently drawn up by Mr Hill, suggesting that at the 1945 Potsdam conference, which Stalin attended, Churchill should offer to dismiss white Russian emigres teaching Russian at British universities. The plan was rejected by Churchill's advisers.
It also emerged, Mr Glees said, that Mr Hill was a close associate of Peter Smollett, head of the Ministry of Information's Russian desk in the second world war. Together they formed a cultural relations committee with the Soviet Union. Smollett, an Austrian emigre, was a Soviet spy.
Mr Glees requested an interview with Mr Hill. "His first question was, 'you are not going to expose me as a mole, are you?' It was not a threat but a plea." Mr Glees said he had given his word he would not "unmask" Mr Hill while he lived.
Mr Hill had not denied that he featured on the Communist party's list of secret members, which was not accessible by MI5. "He initially said he had not been vetted (before joining the Foreign Office) as he was approved on the 'say-so' of a former master of Balliol. He later changed his story and said he had been vetted. But this was not a schoolboy jape . . . he was in a position to do this country damage."
Asked whether he was suggesting that Mr Hill might have been a spy, Mr Glees said: "I would not be surprised to find he had a Soviet handler."
Mr Hill resigned from the Communist party in 1957, the year after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, when his proposals for party reform were rejected.
A former close colleague, the historian Eric Hobsbawm, yesterday dismissed Mr Glees' views. "It's inconceivable that Christopher Hill's political views were not known. In 1940 he published a book on the English Revolution which was almost a manifesto. It's absurd that he should be accused of somehow worming his way into the corridors of power by concealing his views."
Andrew Hill, Christopher's son, said yesterday he could not respond to the allegations because his father had never talked about his early years.
Not his views, his membership in a party that swore allegiance to a foreign power. Actions and opinions are two different things. It might well have been known that he had Marxist views on history in 1940. But that he had active political allegiance to communism (which is not theoretical Marxism but a political organization with definite aims committing definite acts, many of them criminal in every sense of the word) and to the Soviet Union is quite another thing, and most certainly was not known in 1940. Or since, until now.
This was true of Lenin as well.
I didn't mean to imply that there was -- I was just amused by the "Marxist analysis", as I usually am.
I'll remember this one the next time the subject of blacklists and McCarthyism comes up.
I have often wondered why Communism appealed to intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic during the early 1900s despite the evidence of the corruption and autrocities of the Communist Party and the obvious contradiction to human nature. The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848 and labor unions began forming in the late 1800s and early 1900s to take up the cause of the working class, supposedly. We now know that many early labor unions were Communist affliated and the powers behind them were not working class, just as with Milton and Lenin and I suppose Marx. In your opinion, was Communism sort of a religion to these people or just an avenue to power?