1 March 2005


The Guardian has a piece today by David Pallister (click here) on documents released by the National Archives that show beyond any shadow of doubt that Arthur Ransome (later author of Swallows and Amazons) was working for British intelligence while a correspondent in Russia for the Daily News and then the Manchester Guardian between 1914 and 1927. It’s more confirmation of an old story rather than a stunning revelation. Robert Bruce Lockhart, the British vice-consul in Petrograd before the Bolshevik revolution and briefly a British emissary to Russia in 1918, identified Ransome as some sort of British agent in a book of memoirs published in 1932; Hugh Brogan’s biography of Ransome, published in 1984, deals at some length with his links with the Foreign Office; and documents released three years ago made it clear that Ransome was an agent for MI1c, the precursor of MI6, at least from 1918 to 1920, with the code name S76.

Nevertheless, Ransome’s role is undoubtedly strange – not so much because he later wrote much-loved children’s books but because of his outspoken sympathy with the Bolsheviks and his closeness to Trotsky (whose secretary, Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, he married). Ransome’s position in late 1917 and early 1918, in the months between Bolshevik Russia declaring an end to war with Germany and the Bolsheviks capitulating to the Germans’ humiliating terms for peace, is particularly intriguing. In his dispatches for the Daily News in this period (and indeed into early summer 1918) he consistently argued that the Bolsheviks would soon rejoin the war and deserved British support – a line he was presumably getting from Trotsky and also feeding to Bruce Lockhart in his role as an agent.

Could Ransome’s intelligence (which as it turned out was overtaken by events) have been instrumental in the decision of the British government to send troops to Murmansk in March 1918 – an intervention usually explained as being simply against the Bolsheviks but at the time tolerated by them? Maybe there’s even a piece of paper somewhere in the archives on which Ransome reports Lenin and Trotsky pleading for British military intervention to save Russia from the Germans. Now that would be a really big story . . .


Another Pallister piece in the Guardian (click here) summarises other newly released documents dealing with the government's plans in the late 1940s and early 1950s to intern communists and Trotskyists in the event of war with the Soviet Union and keep them in holiday camps on the Isle of Man. He reports that estimates of the number that would be detained fluctuated wildly, though the list of names to be detained – the "Everest List" – had settled at 12,000 by 1949. Quite shocking, but nowhere near as shocking as the list itself would be. For some reason, it has not been released.

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