The Security Service, the Communist Party of Great Britain and British Fascism, 1932–51

  • Richard C. Thurlow


In the often dramatic story of the confrontations between the labour movement and British fascism from the 1930s until the early Cold War, there is a tendency to forget the role played by a third player in the proceedings, the state authorities, particularly the security service and the various police forces around the country. Yet although the state saw its role as being that of an impartial umpire between the combatants, there was a significant difference in the attitude adopted towards the two parties: the labour movement was seen as a tool to further the alleged sinister motives of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), whilst the British Union of Fascists (BUF) was perceived as a contradictory mixture of disillusioned right-wing patriotic Conservatives and revolutionary nationalists to whom Mosley inclined. The growth of civil unrest and what was perceived by the state as extremism in the interwar period, led to political surveillance of the CPGB and the BUF, by the secret agencies of government. The function of the police and the security authorities was to maintain public order and to investigate presumed linkages with foreign powers, particularly with regard to financing political activity, the dissemination of propaganda and the organisation of espionage and subversion. British security after 1921 was particularly concerned that the CPGB was controlled and directed by the Comintern, the Communist International, with its stated objective of organising the revolutionary overthrow of the British Empire and furthering the interests of the Soviet Union.


Communist Party Labour Movement Public Order National Archive Interwar Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Richard M. Bennett, Espionage, Spies and Secrets (London: Virgin, 2003), p. 175. I am grateful for information about Knight from David Turner.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    J. C. Curry, The Security Service 1908–1945 (Kew: Public Record Office, 1999), p. 351.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    R. Thurlow, ‘The Charm Offensive: The “Coming Out” of MI5’, Intelligence and National Security, 15, 1, Spring 2000, pp. 183–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 7.
    T. Bower, The Perfect English Spy (London: Heinemann, 1995), pp. 22–3.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    C. Andrew, Secret Service (London: Heinemann, 1985), pp. 224–45.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    F. H. Hinsley and C. A. G. Simkins, British Intelligence in the Second World War, Volume 4, Security and Counter Intelligence (London: HMSO, 1990), pp. 68–75.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    R. Thurlow, The Secret State (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), pp. 107–72.Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    NA: HW 3/81, Inspector Kenworthy and Y Service; M. Smith, ‘The Government Code and Cypher School and the First Cold War’, in M. Smith and R. Erskine (eds), Action This Day (London: Bantam Press, 2001), pp. 15–40.Google Scholar
  9. 20.
    M. Smith, Foley: The Spy Who Saved 10,000 Jews (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1999), pp. 51–62;Google Scholar
  10. M. Smith, The Spying Game (London: Politico’s, 2003), pp. 83–4, 159–60.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    R. Thurlow, ‘“A Very Clever Capitalist Class”. British Communism and State Surveillance 1939–45’, Intelligence and National Security, 12, 2, April 1997, p. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 22.
    N. West and O. Tsarev, The Crown Jewels (London: Harper Collins, 1998), pp. 279–93.Google Scholar
  13. 30.
    J. Hope, ‘Fascism, the Security Service and the Curious Careers of Maxwell Knight and James Mcguirk Hughes’, Lobster 22; J. Hope, ‘Fascism and the State in Britain: The Case of the British Fascisti 1923–31’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 39, 3, 1993, pp. 367–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 31.
    P. Martland, Lord Haw-Haw: The English Voice of Nazi Germany (Kew: National Archives, 2003), pp. 33–70.Google Scholar
  15. 37.
    R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front second edition (London: I.B. Tauris, 1998).Google Scholar
  16. 38.
    R. Thurlow, ‘The Guardian of the “Sacred Flame”: The Failed Political Resurrection of Sir Oswald Mosley after 1945’, Journal of Contemporary History, 33, 2, April 1998, pp. 241–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard C. Thurlow

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations