The Iron Curtain and the Iron Fist: Cold War and Fascism in Britain

When Adolf Hitler’s right hand man, Rudolf Hess, ran out of fuel and parachuted onto a field in Scotland, on 10 May, 1941, there was considerable speculation over his purpose and motives. Some said he had mental health problems and that his solo mission was pure fantasy. Following both the Battle of Britain and Dunkirk others viewed the landing as a behind-the-scenes attempt to reach a peace deal with Westminster via sections of the Scottish aristocracy. To this day, there is no conclusive evidence in one direction or the other.


The connection between the Nazis and the British ruling class did not begin or end with Hess’s failed mission. Although the war continued unabated for a further four and more years it proved to be something of an interregnum in the establishment’s secret affair with fascism.

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UK hosts convention of fascists and war criminals

Scotland had never seen anything quite like it. Not only was it a swelteringly hot summer;s day, but in June 1950 Edinburgh’s central hall played host to the largest Nazi gathering this side of the Third Reich’s Nuremburg rally of September 1938. This was the conference of an umbrella organisation known as the Anti-Bolshevik Group of Nations featuring a range of individuals and organisations responsible for some of the most unspeakable crimes against humanity. Between them all they were directly responsible for 100’s of thousands of civilian deaths of Jews, Communists, Gypsies and homosexuals.(1)




The British government was not only aware of the horrendous crimes of these participants but was instrumental in facilitating the conference through the Foreign Office and MI6.


Officially it was spondored by the Scottish League for European Freedom headed by the former Tory MP and Duchess of Atholl, Kathleen Stewart-Murray and its spy and chairman John Finlay Stewart.



Whilst masquerading as champions of refugees fleeing Soviet persecution in Eastern Europe, both were, in fact and in deed, intransigent cold warriors pursuing a post war agenda set by Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech of 1946.

Stetsko – Ukraine delegation


Amongst the mostly Baltic emigres present at the Edinburgh conference, were cadres of the OUN (Organisation of Ukranian Nationalists) who had constituted the backbone of the Waffen SS Galizien Division. The OUN espoused a racist and anti-communist strand of Ukranian nationalism which advocated ethinic cleansing of Jews, Gypsies and communists from an independent Ukraine.



This was hardly surprising given that the OUN itself was a creature of the German military intelligence organisation Abwehr. It was also trained by the Gestapo to operate as an essential part of the Nazi occupation forces in the Ukraine and Poland where it played a leading part in the Holocaust. (2)

It was this very same division which ended their war role in a POW camp in Italy. From there they were smuggled into Britain under cover of Labour’s Westward Ho immigration program. There were more than 8,000 of them spread throughout 24 camps in Britain with the largest contingent of 945 being settled and discharged into civilian life in a former POW camp in Haddington just outside Edinburgh.

It is not known how many of them were present at the conference but we do know that their leader Yaroslav Stetsko was there as a keynote speaker and organiser.


In 1941, Stetsko opened a national assembly which a proclaimed an independent Ukraine allied to the Reich. It was in that same year that he proclaimed his passion for the Holocaust:

“I fully appreciate the harmful and undeniably hostile role of the Jews who are helping Moscow to enslave the Ukraine. I therefore support the destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine, barring their assimilation and the like.”(3)


Yet here he was, an unrepentant Nazi pogromist playing a stellar role in an Edinburgh conference hosted essentially by the Labour government. And he was there for a reason as were the many other war criminals occupying pride of place on the conference platform.

Antanas Gecevicius – Lithuania delegation

Living in Edinburgh at that time was another war criminal named Antanas Gecevicius. He was a commander of an Lithuanian Police Batallion which, coincidentally or otherwise, was also held at an Italian POW camp. Gecevius was brought to Britain in 1948, given the alias Anton Gecas and discharged into civilian life as a mining engineer for the National Coal Board.

Despite extensive documentary evidence and eyewitness testimony confirming Gecevicius’ direct involvement in the Nazi extermination program (4), the government deinied Lithuania’s demand for his extradition. He was never forced to stand trial and lived out his last days in Scotland.

Alfrēds Bērziņš - Latvia delegation

On November 30 and December 8, 1941, about 25,000 Jews were killed in or on the way to the Rumbula forest near Riga, Latvia. With the exception of the Ukraine, this was the biggest two-day Holocaust atrocity prior the operation of the death camps. About 24,000 of the victims were Latvian Jews from the Riga Ghetto and approximately 1,000 were German Jews transported to the forest by train.

One of the men responsible for this, Alfrēds Bērziņš, was a featured speaker at the Edinburgh conference.Bērziņš, was a former henchman of the Ulmanis dictatorship which ruled Latvia following a military coup d’etat in 1934. As Minister of Public Affairs, it was Berzins who issued the orders banning opposition parties and closing down or gagging the press. According to the Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects (CROWCASS), during the Nazi occupation of Latvia, Bērziņš was “partly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Latvians and thousands of Jews”.


Berzins was part of a huge post-war cohort of some 10,000 Latvians who came to Britain as part of the Labour's Westward Ho programme. Again many of these were former members of the Waffen SS including Lt Colonel Robert Osis who was recruited my MI6 prior to the war and became director of operations in the Nazi puppet government’s Ministry of Interior


Vasily Glazkov – Cossack delegation

The Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, or Ostministerium as it was titled,was created by Adolf Hitler on 17 July 1941 and headed by the Nazi theoretical expert, the Baltic German Alfred Rosenberg. The Ostministerium was the overarching Nazi organisation for governing the occupied Baltic states and for incorporating the anti-communist organisations into the political-military operations of the occuppying forces.


It is important to bear in mind that German invasion of the Soviet Union was designated as a Vernichtungskrieg i,e,, a war of extermination whose declared goal was the liquidation not only of the "Jewish Bolshevik elite" who supposedly governed the Soviet Union, but also the extermination of every single Jewish man, woman and child in the Soviet Union. The Nazis also considered Russians as sub-human and aimed to turn Russian territory into a huge slave camp colonised by millions of German setttlers of the suppossedly aryan race.


This is what the “anti-Bolshevik nations” signed up to when enlisting in the German war effort. However, this was somewhat problematic when it came to the Cossacks who considered themselves as Russian, and even more so as the Nazi invasion of the USSR faltered. Adjustments had to be made in the Nazi racial classification system to enable Cossack participation. The Cossacks themselves were also divided between those such as General Pyotr Krasnov who favoured some form of autonomy and others such as their Edinburgh spokesman, Vasily Glazkov, who advocated complete separation or Cossakia as it was termed.


It was Krasnov who was appointed to the Cossack Central Office of the Ostministrium but this did not inhibit a working relationship with Glazkov as part of the Nazi war effort. At a meeting with of the two collaborators in Berlin in July 1944, it was agreed that 3 of Glazkov’s supporters be appointed to important positions in the Cossack Central Office.


The presence of these Nazi war criminials and collaborators such as Glazkov at a conference in Edinburgh in 1950 proves one thing at least: namely, that Britain was a Nazi safehouse, a haven for people and organisations who were previously considered to be Britain’s avowed moral, political and military enemies. Millions of people, including some 23 million Soviet citizens, sacrificed their lives and those of their loved ones to fight these monsters. Yet here they were, sheltered by Britain’s so-called democracy and encouraged to assemble once more and to take up arms against the USSR.

Just sheltering such monstrous figures was blatant disregard for the international agreements made by the Allies that all persons directly or indirectly responsible for the Holocaust should be put on trial for war crimes. However, during the same period when Hitler’s most notorious henchmen were facing trial in Nuremberg , both Westminster and Washington were engaged in one of the biggest covert operations to rescue and protect the many thousands of the self-same Nazi officials, high-ranking military officers industrialists, lawyers, doctors and scientists who were liable for prosecution.

But for what purpose? And why is this period still shrouded in so much secrecy even today when many of the documents surrounding these cases remain classified or heavily redacted? Moreover, how did this disgraceful policy take place under the watch of the Atlee administration which is still trumpeted by some as the most “radical” or “left wing” labour government of the last century?


The apparent – but entirely synthetic – paradox of a left leaning British democray sheltering and deploying fascists for covert operations can only be understood if we take a deeper look at the class interests served by the British state and its traditional parties.


The Russian revolution

British imperialism’s hostility to the Bolshevik revolution began even before the October insurrection when the British military attache in Petrograd, Brigadier-General Alfred Knox, was involved in supporting an attempted military coup d’etat by General Kornilov against the Kerensky government. Behind Knox stood Lord Milner and behind Milner, the government of Lloyd George, all of them willing associates in Kornilov’s attempt to drown the Petrograd soviet in blood.


This strategy was continued by Winston Churchill in 1919 when Churchill was Secretary for War in Lloyd George’s cabinet. Long before Stalin’s rise to power, the infant Soviet republic ended the war with Germany and embarked on a revolutionary, working class path which overthrew the capitalist and landed interests represented by the Czar. It was a genuine people’s revolution that threatened to spread by example to neighbouring Germany.

Fearful of that Bolshevism might become a European pandemic, Churchill deployed two infantry batallions as part of the 100,000 Allied military forces who had invaded Russia in support of the White army led again by General Kornilov.

The affair begins

The intervention failed miserably and so began the British ruling class’s love affair with fascism. Over the course of two decades, before the outbreak of WW2, Westminster gave tacit support to the fascist triumvirate of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. It was Mussolini in particular that caught Churchill’s eye when he visited Italy in 1927. Writing to his wife, Clementine he stated:


"This country gives the impression of discipline, order, goodwill, smiling faces. A happy strict school... The Fascists have been saluting in their impressive manner all over the place."


At a press conference held in Rome following a meeting with Musssolini, Churchill declared that he had been "charmed" by Mussolini’s "gentle and simple bearing" and praised the way "he thought of nothing but the lasting good... of the Italian people." To make it absolutely clear where his sympathies lay he asserted that it was:


"quite absurd to suggest that the Italian Government does not stand upon a popular basis or that it is not upheld by the active and practical assent of the great masses."


After Mussolini’s black shirts had carried out a reign of terror against Socialists, Communists and trades unionists, Mussolini formally banned both parties and independent unions. In response to this Churchill declared:


"If I had been an Italian, I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to the finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism."


Myth of appeasement


The view peddled by nearly every mainstream historian and commentator is that the pre-war government of Neville Chamberlain “appeased” the Hitler regime in the hope of avoiding war. According to this same fairy tale, it was down to the anti-fascist Churchill to denounce and end this appeasement. This might have some merit were it not for the fact that Churchill himself was a declared admirer of Hitler even as late as 1937. Responding to Hitler’s regime of political terror and the use of concentration camps, he wrote:


"Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim and even frightful methods, but who nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.”


So, it was hardly supprising that in reponse to both the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) in 1935 and the German invasion of Austria in 1938., Churchill and Chamberlain were as one in pursuing a purely diplomatic course.



Thus it was that virtually the entire ruling class of Britain stood by as Hitler, Mussolini and Franco terrorised their own and other peoples. The reason for this was clear. Fascism represented the interests of the European capitalism at a time of incredible crisis. In the case of Germany in particular, it was a bulwark against the Soviet Union which, despite Stalin, still represented a beacon for millions of workers devastated by depression.


Explaining his own "appeasement" policy in 1936, Churchill wrote the following:


"We should have to expect that the Germans would soon begin a war of conquest east and south and that at the same time Japan would attack Russia in the Far East. But Britain and France would maintain a heavily-armed neutrality."


It was the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 that really put the cat amongst the pigeons With the invasion of Poland in the following month, the “appeasement” policy became untenable. It was never a war against fascism per se.


The alliance forged in Edinburgh b,etween British intelligence and the remnants of the fascist movements in Eastern Europe, was not new one. Owing to their common hostility to the Soviet Union their affair blossomed as early as the 1920s when Britain established secret bases of operation in the Baltic states and provided financial and logistical support to White Russians, dissident emigres and right wing nationalists within the Soviet Union, most notably the Ukranian Nationalist Organisation headed by Stefan Bandera. These same movements also received poltical and financial backing from Nazi intelligence forces.


The outbreak of war and the temporary alliance with the Soviet Union placed a strain on this relationship but never quite broke it.


Origins of the Cold War


Although historians cannot agree on an exact date, the beginning of the Cold War is frequently marked by Churchill’s 1946 speech declaring that an Iron Curtain had descended over Eastern Europe. Without an supporting evidence, the suggestion was that the Soviet Union had now become a threat to the West.


In reality the Cold War was started by Britain even before the war against Germany and Japan had ended. The alliance with Stalin had served its purpose but if anything the Soviet Union was emerging stronger as the war played out. So even as the Allied armies were driving on to Berlin, both British and US intelligence services were mounting several missions to secure the services of high ranking members of the German army, intelligence services and scientific community who might prove useful in resuming the pre-war conflict against the USSR. Known as Operation Apple Pie, it mostly benefitted Washington but Westminster was firmly behind it and secured the services of several Nazi officials.


But if anything demonstrated the British rulers willingness to employ fascist forces and methods it was the unfolding conflict in Greece. It was there, on one of the key battlefields in Europe, that the British Army worked hand in glove with the fascist Security Batallions to crush the very partisan movement which had smashed Mussolini’s army and forced the withdrawal of the Wehrmacht. (5)


Although Stalin did his very best to assure Churchill and Roosevelt that the Soviet Union

was not a threat to western capitalism, including turning a blind eye to Britian's reign of terror in Greece, the ruling class's fear of social revolution both in Europe and in Asia drove along a one way street towards confrontation and a new war.

The class nature of this unfolding conflict was laid bare in Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech. Not only did he warn of Soviet advances in Eastern Europe. Also included were the struggles of working people in China, Italy, France and elsewhere where “the Communist parties or fifth columns constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilisation”.



Whilst Churchill insisted that he was speaking in a personal capacity as a private individual without governmental responsibility, he spoke eloquently on behalf of the post war administrations of Truman and Atlee. The cold war had clearly begun and with it came the McCarthyite witchunt on both sides of the pond.

McCarthyism in Britain

The cold war cast a multitude of shadows over post- war Britain, each of them overlapping one another in a stairway of ascending darkness. Transparency, to the extent that it was deemed worthy of existence at all, was confined to a wheelchair at the foot of this staircase. At the top stood the figures of Labour PM Clement Atlee and his foreign secretary Ernest Bevin, both of whom had faithfully served Churchill in the wartime coalition.

As civil war and revolution enveloped Yugoslavia, Greece, China and Korea, national liberation struggles against the colonial establishment were breaking out in Africa and Asia. In a striking scissors movement, these struggles evolved to the left with the Labour government in equal measure lurching to the right. Already it had retained much of the war rationing and austerity, This was followed by a pay freeze backed by the use of draconian legislation outlawing strikes. When Scottish and English dockers struck against this austerity, tens of thousands of troops were mobilised by Atlee to break the strike.

Bevin had already established his anti-communist credentials in his pre-war role as leader of the Transport and General Workers Union and on the executive of the TUC. In government he and Atlee elevated this to the level of a state policy worthy of Senator Joseph McCarthy himself.

At the heart of this was an organisation known as the Information Resources Department (IRD) originating within the Foreign Office and subsequently attached to M15. The IRD performed a multitude of functions one of which was to ensure that the BBC and particularly its overseas service bombarded the colonies and the Baltic states with propaganda that reflected the alleged values of Western democracy – a particularly useful function when it came to broadcasting the message of the SS convention in Edinburgh. Part of that message was point 6 of the post conference press release which stated, just as Churchill had done earlier, that

“In order to put an end to their undermining activities, to declare the ‘fifth columns’ of Communist parties acting on Moscow’s orders all over the world to be illegal.”


Orwell’s list


The Communist Part of Great Britiain was relatively small compared to its sister organisations in mainland Europe and it was never banned as such. However, while it’s legal status remained intact, this did not deter the government from engaging in a covert McCarthyite witch-hunt which permeated virtually the whole of society. In addition to vetting civil service appointments it also carried out an extensive screening operation within the BBC to the extent that even George Orwell – the celebrated author of 1984 – willingly handed over a list of suspected communists and communist sympathisers within the world of literature, journalism and the arts in general.


In total the list contained names of some 38 public figures, from the actors Charlie Chaplin and Michael Redgrave to the author JB Priestley, whom Orwell suggested should not be trusted by the IRD as anti-communist propagandists. Orwell’s list is also noted for highlighting Jews, Blacks and homosexuals as potential “suspects” whose loyalties might lie elsewhere. In addition to including the singer and actor Paul Robeson who he accused of being “anti-white”, he also lists the pan Africanist journalist and writer George Padmore as “Negro. African origin? Expelled CP about 1936. Nevertheless pro-Russian. Main emphasis anti-white”.


Orwell’s list demonstrates just how widespread, the IRD’s screening was. There was also an unvarnished anti-semitic element on the list which refers to “Deutscher (Polish Jew), Driberg, Tom. English Jew, Chaplin, Charles (Jewish?)”, which Orwell must have believed was an important criterion of the IRD's screening objectives.


The head of the BBC in the early fifties was none other than Lieutenant Edward Ian Claud Jacob who had served as Military Assistant Secretary to Churchill's war cabinet. Quite why or how his military background qualified him to be Director General of the BBC is questionable to say the least. What is known is that the BBC had a blacklist of 100 "suspects" a ccording to the Cabinet Secretary at that time, Norman Brook, Jacob was "of course helped by knowing precisely who the suspects are and what positions they hold"


However, even Jacob himself did not entirely escape the witchunt after it was

discovered that a relative of his was blacklisted because his wife was a communist.

Working hand in glove with the CIA and other US agencies, the IRD collated several dossiers on communist "infiltration" into the Scottish and English labour movement. These were passed on to officers at the highest level of the TUC and Labour Party who then used them to blacklist, expel or isolate potential "troublemakers".

There were calls from Tory MP’s to emulate the US witchunt and establish a parliamentary committee to investigate “un-British activities” but this was rejected on the grounds that it was too hamfisted and that the intelligent services had everything in hand. So there was no open witchunt and not the same level of hysteria, but there was a prevailing atmosphere of fear of the “Communist menace” particulary in the “reds under the beds” cultural output emanating from Hollywood.


Lessons for today

At the beginning of this article I talked about the British rulers’ love affair with fascism. It is an apt description I think of a relationship which lies somewhere in between occasional flirtation and a full blown marriage. Britain was indeed a parliamentary democracy and it did eventually go to war with Hitler’s Germany and Mussolin’s Italy. However, this was no war against fascism per se. From the earliest years of the Russian revolution, British “democracy” has willingly used fascist organisations and methods to crush working class struggles including during the heat of battle with Nazi Germany.

Taken together with Cold War, what emerges from behind the cloak of parliamentary democracy is a ruthless state apparatus of coercion serving the interests of a capitalist oligarchy against anyone who might challenge it. If further evidence was needed of this it was furnished very recently by an empty Covid Commons chamber enabling British undercover police and secret service agents to carry out torture, assassination or any other illegal measures without fear of criminal prosecution.

Fascism is not on the rise in Britain nor is it necessary at this time of relative class peace. But the ruling class are attacking our democratic rights and giving increased draconian powers to the state. Their historical record of support for and collaboration with fascist organisations shows just how far - and possibly further – they are prepared to go to defend their interests.


Footnotes


1 The following nations were officially recorded has having sent delegations to the conference: Azerbaijan, Albania, Armenia, Belorussia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Idel-Ural, Georgia, the North Caucasus mountain peoples, Ukraine, Czechia, and Estonia. 
 
2. In the Polish territory of  Lvov it participated  in the 1941  pogroms   that snuffed out the lives of  6.000 Jews in the month of July alone. The Galizien division had a reputation for barbaric violence and ruthlessness against the partisans and for mass murder of Jews on a scale admired by Himmler's Black Tribe.  The specialism of the OUN unit there was to heap men, women and children into trenches and grenade them to death.
 
3. Indeed, Stetsko was true to his word. Between 1943 and 1944 alone, it is estimated that the OUN murdered more than 90,000 Poles and several thousand Jews in the framework of ethnic cleansing. Subsequently  it assisted the German SS in murdering approximately 200,000 Volhynian Jews in western Ukraine. 
 
4. The Lithuanian Police Batallions were responsible for the massacre of around 70,000 Jews in Lithuania. Gecevicius was commander of the 12th Police Batallion which played a leading part in this genocide.  In one incident alone  on 14 October 1941, it is recorded that Gecas' battalion liquidated 1,300 people. The victims were specified as Jews, communists and elements hostile to Germans. By the winter of 1941 a total of  more than 90% of the country's 220,000 Jews were killed.

5.For a full account of British duplicity in Greece see my article Who Let the Dogs Out?