Is anyone really surprised that Jeremy Corbyn once associated (even if only briefly) with a Soviet-bloc spy? It seems a minor indiscretion when you look at his views on the Iranian government or Irish terrorism. But while Mr Corbyn might have genuinely not known his Czech ‘diplomatic’ contact was a spy, it makes no difference to the fact that he showed either appalling judgement or moral blindness at the crimes of a brutal regime.
What could the Czech intelligence service, which was very definitely a proxy of the KGB, have wanted with Mr Corbyn, and what did he imagine its interest was in him? He might not have been pumped for state secrets, he doubtless didn’t know any anyway, but as Guido Fawkes has pointed out, Labour’s statement that Mr Corbyn shared no ‘privileged’ information with the Czechs uses extremely careful wording.
So he didn’t pass on NATO’s battle plans, an MI5 code-book or the layout of Buckingham Palace, but what was discussed at these meetings? If the claims that they were talking about ‘anti-communists,’ are true (though we don’t know), I think that’s chilling enough. Imagine the horror if Theresa May had been caught discussing Chilean dissidents with secret policemen from General Pinochet’s Chile.
Labour has made a clever straw man argument in its response to the issue, with dismissive comparisons to a bad James Bond movie. But no one is trying to portray Mr Corbyn as a mastermind of international espionage. That would require levels of intelligence, competence and discretion you might think beyond him. I’m dubious about any claim that Mr Corbyn would have been seen as any sort of agent or solid intelligence asset, but that doesn’t let him off the hook.
How could a professional politician who grew up during the Cold War not be aware of the machinations of Soviet bloc intelligence agencies? Is Mr Corbyn claiming he was so naïve that it did not occur to him that an official from a Communist embassy might want to exploit him? Did he not realise we were in the middle of an enormous ideological conflict in which spying was widely employed by both sides? You didn’t need to be paranoid or an over-eager reader of John le Carré to know that Soviet bloc ‘diplomats’ must always be treated with extreme suspicion.
Or worse, was he so blinded by dislike of the West that he simply didn’t care, not seeing anything wrong with a regime which rested on Soviet tanks for its legitimacy? I’m sure Mr Corbyn would have well remembered the crushing of the Prague Spring of 1968, given that he was 19 years old and doubtless politically conscious at the time. Perhaps it didn’t bother him that he was co-operating with a regime which had stamped out democracy so comprehensively and relied on the whole panoply of Communist repression?
The reactions of Mr Corbyn’s defenders to this affair have been pretty much what you would expect. To the Daily Mirror, Mr Corbyn is simply battling as always against the ‘attacks of the Right-wing press,’ while the BBC, at least in the output I have seen at time of writing, seems completely unaware of the story.
The various Corbyn fan groups on Facebook seem to think that it’s simply a smear. They have been having fun lampooning the story with fake newspaper covers claiming Corbyn sold out ancient Britain to the Romans, and (and please bear with me here) publishing pictures of a former Daily Mail proprietor meeting Hitler in the 1930s. Presumably the logic is that if a Right-winger once did something unpleasant or misadvised, then everyone on the Left has a free pass entitling them to be above any sort of criticism from anyone, ever.
It seems as if the Left can’t face the fact that their party and the trade union movement have a long tradition of cosying up to Soviet totalitarianism, from excusing its crimes to arguing that we should have had weaker or non-existent military defences against it. Or even, in the worst cases, providing agents and spies to act for it. It’s a shabby and dishonourable story which many would like to leave buried. As Peter Oborne once put it in the Spectator, ‘Soviet infiltration of the Labour movement remains a neuralgic subject on the Left’.
And although we don’t know, and probably never will, exactly what transpired between Mr Corbyn and the Czech intelligence agent, we do know that Mr Corbyn seems unbothered about being associated with some of the trappings of Communism, a world movement which left us a pile of 100million human corpses. From his reading of the Morning Star to his daft Lenin cap or his stated admiration for that blood-soaked thug Fidel Castro or having a shadow chancellor inspired by the writings of the equally bloody Lenin and Trotsky, Communism seems to be nothing to be ashamed of.
The Labour Party once had a different tradition: men and women who believed in democracy, freedom and a strong defence against Soviet totalitarianism. They proved their patriotism in the world wars and then in fierce internal party battles over unilateralism with the far Left. They fought a determined campaign which lasted decades against those who were happy to see us defenceless against Soviet imperialism. They knew that the Soviets (and the Czech Communist government too) had a never-abandoned doctrine, a historic duty, to spread proletarian revolution (ie brutal dictatorship) to the rest of the world. And if you think that last sentence is hyperbole, please do your reading. It’s not.
Sadly, those decent people in Labour, with a few honourable exceptions, now seem long gone, replaced by Momentum kids who have probably never heard of the Gulag, or who think that ‘revolution’ is a cool and edgy word. Those who are a little better informed might think that the old Czechoslovakian state was not the worst example of Communism, and that perhaps the young intelligence officer whom Mr Corbyn met was not an obvious spy. Mr Corbyn might have acted in complete innocence. Perhaps they think it was all too long ago to matter.
But there would be far fewer people questioning Mr Corbyn’s sincerity if he could at least admit his mistake and acknowledge the terrible crimes of Communism.