chapter  3
28 Pages

The Knock on the Door

B efore Stalin’s purges got properly under way, it was already clear that foreigners could spark suspicious paranoia as well as Soviet citizens. Even in the 1920s, Britons in Moscow were not always as safe as most of them liked to think. Abraham Landau, a 22-year-old London communist, was sent by Britain’s Communist Party to work in the headquarters of the Communist Youth Inter­ national, where Bill Rust was a senior official. He was arrested in his room in the Hotel Lux in January 1923 and executed two weeks later on a charge of espionage. (McLoughlin)

Jack Murphy, when he was the representative of the British Communist Party at the Comintern, was arrested in Moscow in the 1920s, on the flimsiest circumstantial evidence that he might be a British spy, and was greatly relieved when he was cleared, for he knew what happened to spies. The Russians, he wrote later, have a way of dealing with spies that ensures their offence can never be repeated. (Murphy) Harry Pollitt believed to the end of his life, wrongly, that Murphy was a British Intelligence spy who, on his return to Britain, spied on British communists. (Foot)

Murphy saw the Comintern warfare at first hand, writing that the ‘great polemical battle’ between Stalin and Trotsky ‘went on from 1925 until it ended with the crack of the rifles of the firing squads of revolution in 1937’. He saw how polemical battles were waged in the Comintern: ‘Everyone knew what was coming when the speaker

got to the point of saying: “And it is by no means an accident that Comrade So-and-so says this.” Always it meant that we had now to listen to the political history of that particular person, how he had written an article 20 years ago, and on the speaker would go to prove that his opponent never was a Marxist. He was a Menshevik, or a Social Revolutionary, or some other term equally opprobrious.’ (Murphy) Yet Jack Murphy did not at that time see what was brewing, remaining loyally on Stalin’s side, even proposing the motion in the Comintern that expelled Trotsky from the Communist Party. It was not until the early 1930s that he left the Communist Party and joined Stafford Cripps’s Socialist League.