14 July 2003


Most comment on Anthony Glees's book on the operations of the Stasi in the UK, The Stasi Files, has concentrated on his case against John Roper, an obscure former Labour MP who defected to the SDP and is now a Liberal Democrat peer. During the 1980s, Roper was one of the big-wigs at Chatham House, the establishment foreign affairs think-tank. In this role, Glees says, on the basis of archival material from the now-closed Stasi archives, he employed a Stasi agent as a researcher and generally acted in an over-sympathetic way towards Erich Honecker's deeply unpleasant regime. Glees identifies Roper as an "agent of influence"; Roper says Glees is a right-wing axe-grinder; the rest of the world wonders what the fuss is about.

But there is material in Glees's book that is more interesting - at least to me. A substantial chunk of the book is taken up with an account of the Stasi's attempts to infiltrate and influence the British peace movement, in particular European Nuclear Disarmament, the small but influential group set up by Edward Thompson and others that campaigned against both Nato and Warsaw Pact nuclear arms in Europe and made a point of making common cause with Soviet-bloc dissidents.

Here I have to declare an interest. I was the deputy editor of END Journal, the group's magazine, from 1984 to 1987, and the people Glees is writing about were comrades and friends. I also have a walk-on role in the story, in that in early 1985 I went to East Berlin with my colleague Patrick Burke and met the dissident peace and human rights group there that the inaptly named German Democratic Republic was so keen to suppress. My report on that (extremely boozy and fun, but rather inconsequential) meeting was circulated to END in London - and it ended up in the Stasi's files because one of our supposed supporters was in fact a Stasi informant. The Stasi also had an agent at the meeting in East Berlin: he or she filed an account that survives. I remember plenty of black humour at the meeting about who was the stooge.

I've known about the Stasi informant in END for some time: my report was one of several documents the journalist David Rose turned up four years ago when he was trawling the Stasi files, with the help of Glees, for a TV documentary. What's new in Glees's book is that he identifies (it seems) the London ENDer who was passing on the not-very-hot poop to East Berlin - as well as fingering Vic Allen, the hardcore Stalinist CNDer, as a GDR embassy informant. There's also a mass of documentation that shows just how important the Stasi thought it was to target END.

The problem, however, is that Glees has looked only cursorily at the evidence at the Brit peacenik end that shows the Stasi's efforts were laughably ineffective, and he consistently exaggerates their impact. Glees has it that the END GDR working group collapsed after one of its members, Barbara Einhorn, was arrested in East Germany in late 1983. Not so: the working group was not even set up until after she was released, and it beavered away, with a regular newsletter, until 1989. There are also some passages where Glees's interpretations of ENDers' motives are little short of libellous - he comes close to accusing John Sandford, the Reading University academic who was one of the mainstays of the group, of being at least a useful idiot for the GDR regime, which he most certainly was not.

This is an important story. The actions of the Soviet Union and its surrogates against the non-aligned 1980s peace movement in western Europe were not on the level of their assault on the non-Stalinist left in Spain in the 1930s, but they were the some of the last of that vile police-state system's great betrayals of the left. The tale deserves a better chronicler.

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