Monday, January 16, 2017

Fake documents to foment fear of Russia: 1924 edition

From Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker:

The Daily Mail, a conservative London paper, published a forged letter. It was October 25, 1924.

The letter was purportedly signed by Grigori Zinoviev, a Russian communist leader, and addressed to the Communist Party in England. It appeared four days before the general election of 1924 – an important race for Winston Churchill, who had lost two previous campaigns.

The letter, marked “very secret,” talked of a “successful rising in any of the working districts of England.” Its prose had faintly Churchillian cadences in places – there were phrases such as “strain every nerve” and “pronounced its weighty word” – but with an admixture of bolshevistic pastiche. “It would be desirable to have cells (nuclei?) in all the units of troops, particularly among those quartered in large centres of the country, and among factories working on munitions and at military store depots,” the letter said. The headline in the Daily Mail was “Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters.”

Churchill’s devoted supporter Esmond Harmsworth wa the son of Lord Rothermere, publisher of the Daily Mail. Churchill’s close ally in Secret Intelligence, Desmond Morton, first forwarded the letter from an obscure Latvian source to the British Foreign Office, attesting to its authenticity.

Moscow called the letter a “clumsy forgery” and a “crude fabrication” and demanded an apology. ...

Churchill and other conservatives used the Zinoviev letter to unseat Prime Minister MacDonald. Churchill compared MacDonald to Alexander Kerensky, the weak Russian socialist leader who allowed the Bolsheviks to triumph.

“You all know the story of Kerensky,” Churchill said in a campaign speech, “how he stood there, like Mr. MacDonald, pretending that he meant to do the best he could for his country, and all the time apologizing behind the scenes to the wild, dark, deadly forces which had him in their grip.”

Churchill won his election. Still he couldn’t stop talking about the Zinoviev letter. Conspirators and revolutionaries “of every race under the sun” had assembled in Russia to plan world revolution, he asserted in the Weekly Dispatch. “Everywhere they have endeavoured to bring into being the ‘germ cells’ from which the cancer of Communism should grow,” he wrote. ...