Ivan Maiskii (second from left), the Soviet ambassador to London between 1932 and 1943, with Winston Churchill at the Allied ambassadors’ lunch at the Soviet embassy, September 1941. Thank you, nybooks.com.
Earlier in the year I posted an article from the World Marxist Review titled Who Finances Anti-Communism? The article was written in February 1962 by a man styled ‘Ernst Henri’, and it was the first ‘outing’ of the CIA’s anti-Kremlin cultural offensive called the Congress for Cultural Freedom– it’s the first outing that I’m aware of, at least.
Henri’s article exposed how the CIA used insincere ‘charitable’ organizations to fund “anti-communist” cultural expositions. From my experience working in the non-profit sector, Henri was right on the money with his criticism of the Rockefeller, Ford and so many other hypocritical ‘foundations’. However, there are a few things that bother me about Henri’s article, which is why I described it as “seeming” to side with the Russians.
My two nagging doubts are 1) the language Henri uses to describe the CIA’s “anti-communist” offensive and 2) Henri’s focus on the Moral Re-Armament movement, which was founded three decades before the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF). In this post I’ll argue that Henri worked for British as well as Soviet intel, and that some of the fruits around Henri bear hallmarks of being British-run ‘double crossed’ agents.
I’m going to start by looking at Henri’s ‘language problem’. Henri overwhelmingly describes the Congress as “anti-communist”. The next most common adjective is “reactionary” which is a slippery description; I understand “reactionary” as ‘going against the writer’s particular flavor of communist agenda’. Henri calls CCF collaborators “conservatives”, “fascist”, “right-wing”, “anti-Soviet” and “counter-revolutionary”– there’s even a smattering of slurs like “Hitlerism” and “White Russian”.
The only inkling that the Left might be involved comes from this quote describing Congress assets:
In the foreground are prominent personalities in science, literature and the arts, representing a variety of political trends, from Conservatives to Right-wing Socialists.
Henri’s use of language obscures the fact that the CIA’s agenda was a leftist agenda; he never explicitly states that the “anti-communist” crusade used leftist politics to fight the Soviets. You could read Henri’s article and not understand the extent to which the left, and sometimes the far left, was in cahoots with the CIA.
It’s as if Henri wanted to hide the strategy behind the CIA’s operation from World Marxist Review readers (controlling the Left), and only expose some of the tactics behind the campaign (front organizations, etc.).
Someone who cared about communism or the Soviet cause would want to arm WMR readers with the knowledge of exactly what ideologies to look for in a CIA ‘anti-Communist’ agent, e.g. “They promote Black American musicians to discredit Soviet critics of American race politics” — Henri doesn’t point these recurring themes out. By not being explicit about CIA strategy, Henri left the door open for a re-branding of the Congress for Cultural Freedom through Spectorsky’s Playboy operation, amongst others.
The uncomfortable fact is that Henri was going soft on the CIA in his article: its far easier to sacrifice front organizations than it is to formulate an entirely new strategy. I don’t believe Henri’s accusations against the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, etc. were wrong, but they were incomplete. Henri’s vague references to ‘anti-communist’ plotting came without proper explanation, so were therefore alarmist and risked hobbling the communist community with suspicion.
Even more troubling is that the BBC was ‘on board’ with Henri’s agenda by the end of 1962. Several months after Henri’s CCF exposé appeared in World Marxist Review, BBC television aired a derogatory send-up of the CCF on That Was The Week That Was, hosted by Playboy stalwart Kenneth Tynan.
To pour fuel on that fire, Frances Stonor Saunders, who I believe is managed opposition to the CIA, reused Henri’s terminology in her book The Cultural Cold War (2000). Saunders’ book is the gold-standard exposé of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, and even though she doesn’t acknowledge Henri’s article in her writing, she recycles Henri’s language. Henri’s ‘Anti-Communist’ becomes ‘non-Communist’ in Saunders’ work. This nomenclature is misleading, because the CIA’s efforts were never ‘non-Communist’ nor ‘anti-Communist’, they were anti-Kremlin.
Frances Stonor Saunders, author of The Cultural Cold War and CIA asset. Saunders was arts editor at the New Statesman, which you’ll read about more than once in this post.
The CIA isn’t against communism, they promote it through agents like Allen Ginsberg; and some of the CIA’s leading lights fought with the communists in Spain. What the CIA is against is any form of communism which they can’t control. Frances Stonor Saunders wrote her book on the CCF to protect ongoing CIA operations which involve the Left; she used Henri’s misleading language to perpetuate misconceptions about the Agency’s politics. So if Saunders shared goals with Henri, then who was Ernst Henri?
Here’s the bell-ringer: Ernst Henri’s real name was Semen Rostovskii and he worked for the Soviet Ambassador in London, Ivan Maiskii. According to Richard B. Spence in Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult, Rostovskii was also the guy who recruited the ‘Cambridge Five’– the most notorious group of four Soviet double agents ever. Rostovskii ran in the same well-heeled ‘communist’ circles that agent provocateur Aleister Crowley haunted in the 1920s-30s; in fact, Rostovskii had a number of high-level British Intelligence acquaintances. Why might this be?
According to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Rostovskii’s boss, Ivan Maiskii, had “unparalleled access to the British establishment”, which would explain Rostovskii’s well-placed friends. Maiskii was a Bolshevik revolutionary and good friends with George Bernard Shaw; Shaw founded Frances Stonor Saunder’s one-time employer the New Statesman and Shaw’s network placed British spy Roald Dahl into the confidence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (see Storyteller, Donald Sturrock). Maiskii had the ear of other powerful British figures too, including Winston Churchill and the media baron Lord Beaverbrook. Back in the motherland, Maiskii was instrumental in getting Stalin to support Zionist immigration policies to Israel and Maiskii was a confidant to mass-murderer Lavrenti Beria, the head of Stalin’s secret police. According to biography.com:
In 1941, Stalin appointed Beria deputy prime minister, and Beria eventually joined the Politburo. At the Yalta Conference in 1945, Stalin proudly introduced Beria to President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “our Himmler,” referring to Hitler’s head of the Gestapo.
Semen Rostovskii was in the employ of a very nasty Soviet power-broker who was on friendly terms with British businessmen. According to Richard Spence in Secret Agent 666, Rostovskii ran in British circles which were no less Soviet and no less privileged:
The Ring’s [the Cambridge Five’s] recruiter at Cambridge was the Soviet agent Semen Rostovskii (a.k.a Ernst Henri), a protege of Moscow’s then ambassador in London, Ivan Maiskii– whose name will later be linked to Crowley’s by none other than Philby.
Rostovskii’s operation got underway in 1933, around the time the Gibarti-Crowley note was written. One of Rostovskii’s accomplices was the young Cambridge communist Brian Howard. He, in turn, was a friend of Crowley’s erstwhile roommate, Gerald Hamilton. Howard also connects to another of the Mage’s left-leaning homosexual associates, Tom Driberg, about who more in the following chapter.
Judging by Spence’s quote above, it would be easy to assume that Brian Howard, Gerald Hamilton and Tom Driberg  were in the employ of Soviet intelligence– to a certain extent they all were. However, they all worked for British intelligence too! Rostovskii’s ‘pink’ British friends all have the whiff of ‘double cross’ about them. Brian Howard worked for MI5, was a BBC propagandist, and a New Statesman contributor according to this ‘Gay for Today‘ article; Hamilton was a fixer for ‘Red’ media baron Willi Münzenberg as well as an informer to British intel. These boys were all parlor communists who enjoyed the good life and the best opportunities that the British Empire could provide.
Tom Driberg is the member of Rostovskii’s circle who is most relevant to his Who Finances Anti-Communism? exposé because of Driberg’s personal connection to Moral Re-Armament. Tom Driberg’s name is indelibly linked to MRA, because Driberg made himself and MRA famous through his anti-MRA antics in the late 1920s.
Before I go into Driberg’s MRA connection, I’m going to introduce some of the controversy around Driberg’s espionage work because his spook involvement is contested. Biographer Francis Wheen is, on the whole, dismissive of the suggestion that Driberg worked for any intelligence agency. However, Wheen documents one ‘job’ after another which smells spooky: from Driberg’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War alongside Ernst Hemingway, to Driberg’s providing intelligence dossiers to Lord Mountbatten, the Supreme Allied Commander in South East Asia. (Julia Child’s husband Paul Cushing Child worked for Mountbatten too, see her autobiography.)
Not everyone feels as confident about Driberg’s innocence, for instance, here’s Richard Spence’s introduction to Driberg:
Driberg had been a Communist Party member since 1920. He also was a homosexual, like so many others Agent Crowley’s path had crossed. Despite (or maybe because of ) his politics and sexuality, Driberg had become a gossip columnist at the Daily Express. Collecting gossip, after all, is just another way of gathering intelligence. Driberg may have been informing to His Majesty’s authorities for years, but about the time he renewed association with Crowley , Maxwell Knight, now employed by MI5, recruited him as an informant. Max used Driberg to keep tabs on “cafe communists” and fellow-traveler liberals, precisely the crowd Crowley was so busy cultivating.
Wheen saves special scorn for researchers who accuse Driberg of Soviet intelligence connections. Wheen dismisses KGB connections as malicious gossip inspired by– grab your bonnets, ladies– Lord Rothschild. Wheen names two authors in connection with this ‘plot’, Chapman Pincher and Peter Wright. Whether a plot exists or not, here’s what Wright has to say about Driberg in Spy Catcher:
Tom Driberg was another MP named by the Czech defectors [Frolik and August]. I went to see Driberg myself , and he finally admitted that he was providing material to a Czech controller for money. For a while we ran Driberg on, but apart from picking up a mass of salacious detail about Labor Party peccadilloes, he had nothing of interest for us.
His only lasting story concerned the time he lent a Cabinet Minister his flat so that the Minister could try and conduct an affair in strict privacy. Driberg was determined to find the identity of the women who was the recipient of the Minster’s favors, and one evening after the Minister had vacated, he searched the flat and found a letter addressed to a prominent female member of the Labor Party. Driberg claimed to be horrified by his discovery and raised it with the Minister concerned, suggesting that he ought to be more careful in case word of his activities ever became public! Since Driberg was certainly providing the same stories to his Czech friends, his concern for Labor Party confidentiality seemed hollow, to say the least.
Tom Driberg, Lord Bardwell. In the few months between flunking out of Oxford and being hired by the Daily Express, Driberg would turn tricks or look for casual pick-ups in dark doorways along London’s Rupert Street. (See, Tom Driberg, His Life and Indiscretions, by Francis Wheen.) Photo courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery.
So what was the slippery Driberg doing around Moral Re-Armament in 1928? Moral Re-Armament, which was known as the Oxford Group until 1938, would have remained relatively unknown were it not for the work of Tom Driberg through Lord Beaverbrook’s publication the Daily Express. In 1928 Driberg made a name for himself by ginning up a fantastic amount of negative publicity for MRA, which he attacked from the perspective of his own sexuality. Wheen describes Driberg’s multi-article campaign this way:
Barely a month after he joined the paper [Beaverbrook’s Daily Express] it brought him his first scoop. Having heard from friends at Oxford of an odd American evangelist, Dr. Frank Buchman, who had surfaced in the city and was recruiting students to his cause, Tom attended one of the Buchman groups’ Sunday evening meetings in a private room at the Randolph Hotel…
Tom’s articles were the first reports in a popular national paper of a movement which was soon better known as the Oxford Group and eventually, in the 1940s, won international fame– or notoriety, according to taste– as Moral Re-Armament. Tom became MRA’s most unrelenting scourge, accusing them of ‘zeal amounting to fanaticism, persistent crude invasions of physical and spiritual privacy… an obsessive and often impertinent harping on sin, especially sexual sin.’… One Buchmanite, J. P. Thornton-Duesbery (the master of St. Peter’s College, Oxford), was so stung by Tom’s tireless hostility that in 1964 he published a book whose sole purpose was to defend Moral Re-Armament against Tom.
Driberg was so intimately connected with Moral Re-Armament that two years after Rostovskii’s ‘exposé‘ of MRA in 1962, MRA stalwarts were still attacking Driberg.
Tom Driberg’s spooky doings went farther than just writing about Moral Re-Armament. According to Wheen, Driberg actually organized a gang raid on one of the MRA meetings, which ended in an anti-climax because Driberg got the location wrong.
I believe that Driberg was actually working to promote MRA; no sincere critic would organize a mob against such a cult, because a successful raid would have made a martyr out of Frank Buchman. Driberg was managed opposition to MRA. MRA was probably an Anglo-American intelligence operation designed to get impressionable yet useful people with more conservative leanings into political alignment: Buchmanites were a manageable political alternative at a time (1920s-30s) when some class-conscious movements presented a real challenge to elitist interests. The obnoxious gossip king Driberg was a perfect foil to the MRA operation.
Rostovskii’s 1962 tirade against Moral Re-Armament as a millionaire’s “anti-communist” cult is similar to Tom Driberg’s 1928 tirade against Moral Re-Armament as millionaire’s ‘anti-sex’ cult; you could say that Rostovskii recycled Driberg’s criticisms with ‘communism’ substituted for ‘sex’. I find it fascinating that a 1960s Soviet spook was so in tune with a British gossip column from 1928. Perhaps the reason for this synchronicity is that neither men were sincere in their professed beliefs.
Driberg’s sexuality informed his political life; his homosexuality and promiscuity may have marked out his usefulness to intelligence handlers. Driberg’s sympathetic biographer Frances Wheen writes that Tom’s attraction to communism was largely based on his desire for working-class men:
Like George Orwell, Tom had a rather romanticized vision of the working class, and especially of working-class men. (In Tom’s case it was both political and homo-erotic: those sinewy thighs and rough hands, that heroic nobility in adversity, the sweat of labour…) Unlike Orwell, however, he was too fond of the comforts available to ‘pampered Londoners’ to become anything more than a tourist. Tom’s visits to depressed areas– like his sexual encounters with working-class men– were passionately arousing but also impersonal and brief.
Tom would then speak of his achievements in selling the CP’s [Communist Party’s] paper, Workers’ Weekly, at the gates of factories in Cowley– which, as Taylor pointed out, ‘enabled him to become acquainted with the better looking factory workers’. Perhaps Tom Stephensen’s accusations of frivolity were justified. Taylor later admitted: ‘I did not take my political activities very seriously.’ [A.J.P. Taylor was Driberg’s friend and the other Communist Party member at Oxford in the mid 1920s, though other communist sympathizers were present.– a.nolen]
Driberg’s political insincerity aside, Rostovskii must have had a reason for recycling Driberg’s Moral Re-Armament work and tying it onto the Congress for Cultural Freedom in Who Finances Anti-Communism?– there’s no easy way to weave the two together because Moral Re-Armament existed long before the CIA existed. Moral Re-Armament was in swing back when the Soviets were firm friends with British and American elites: the evangelical group that became MRA was founded in 1921 by Swiss-American Frank Buchman. In my opinion, MRA’s mission was to hijack Christianity in service of internationalist business interests. If Rostovskii sincerely wanted to expose ‘spookish’ behavior by Buchman, then he needed to do that in another article separate from the CIA affairs, because MRA had its genesis in different battles.
Frank Buchman of Moral Re-Armament fame.
It seems to me that Rostovskii included Driberg’s old ‘target’ in Who Finances Anti-Communism? because doing so contributed to the “conservative” fog obscuring the CIA’s sponsorship of the Left. Rostovskii could have easily been aware of Driberg’s work on this increasingly obsolete cult through Brian Howard; Rostovskii’s scuppering of MRA may have even done the UKUSA spooks a favor. By 1962 the Imperial political landscape was very different to that of the pre-war years and I believe that ‘christiany’ Moral Re-Armament was baggage that Anglo-American spooks no longer needed (see my post A.C. Spectorsky and CCF 2.0). Helping cold warriors was strange work for a Soviet diplomat, wasn’t it?
Brian Howard, son of American expatriates in Britain whose ancestry is surprising. Howard inspired the bright young things of Evelyn Waugh’s writing.
Just how ‘Rooskie’ was Rostovskii himself? Rostovskii ran in the same circles as Aleister Crowley, who MI5 considered a bone fide Soviet agent by 1933. According to Richard Spence in Secret Agent 666, Crowley’s intelligence specialty was infiltrating political movements and destroying them, otherwise known as being an agent provocateur. Given Crowley’s pattern of provocation in Golden Dawn in the 1900s; and then again amongst German spy networks in NYC during WWI; it seems reasonable to surmise that by the mid thirties Crowley was disrupting communist and socialist networks in the UK. That means his intelligence buddies, like Tom Driberg, were probably in the same business.
But why would a Soviet diplomatic attaché want to associate with a used-up hack like Crowley and his intel buddies? Rostovskii and Crowley were likely collaborators during the lead up to the Russian Revolution in 1917, which resulted in the installation of the Bolshevik government. Rostovskii and The Beast had good reason to protect the communist and socialist movements in the U.K. from elements which Bolshevik apparatchiks and British investors couldn’t control.
How did this strange pairing of Bolsheviks and British millionaires come about?
Rich Brits, the Brits who controlled the intelligence sphere, were opposed to the Tsar. As Richard Spence writes in his biography of Crowley, “The Empire of the Tsar was Britain’s most dangerous international rival and potential enemy.” In 1896 Crowley was *probably* recruited by British Intelligence with the Russian theater in mind; his first missions were to Russia (1897, 1910, 1913) and Crowley always had his eye open for signs of revolution in the Russian Empire. (See Secret Agent 666). Of course, Crowley’s dalliances with the Russian theater during these missions caught Mikhail Bulkagov’s attention.
I strongly suspect that MI6 gained control of German-funded political agitator Leon Trotsky as fallout from the fighting between German and British spooks in the USA during WWI. Crowley was part of this fighting: he posed as a rabidly pro-Kaiser pundit in newspapers which targeted the German-American population while working to undermine German interests stateside, see Secret Agent 666.
According to the Guardian in 2001, documents released by Britain’s Public Records Office (which I haven’t seen) show that in February 1917 Trotsky was arrested by MI5 in Canada while making his way from New York City to Russia with “with $10,000 subscribed by Socialists and Germans”. Trotsky was quickly released on orders from Britain’s MI6, which allowed him to carry on to Russia… the rest is history.
Crowley was heavily involved in breaking up and taking over the US-based German spy networks which, judging by the British Public Records releases, are likely to have supported Trotsky. Trotsky’s success would have put men like Rostovskii in power. There’s no good reason to believe that Rostovskii and Crowley were working against each other with respect to Britain’s domestic political scene in 1933.
What’s more, Anglo-American-Soviet relations were close by 1933: President F.D. Roosevelt had been elected the previous November and officially recognized the USSR. Later, FDR – a good friend to both Stalin and the British– would ensure the USSR’s continued existence by secretly giving Stalin huge amounts of American technology and funding (see Lend Lease and Harry Dexter White). The American Ambassador to Moscow (1933-36), William Christian Bullitt, was very friendly to the Soviets and negotiated sweet business deals with them– he also inspired Bulgakov’s send-up of American intervention in Soviet Russia: the Spring Ball of the Full Moon in Master and Margarita. Was Rostovskii’s boss, the Soviet Ambassador to London Ivan Maiskii, any less business-friendly? His “unparalleled access to the British establishment” would suggest not.
Fresh from the USSR, William Bullitt lets FDR take questions during a 1937 cruise.
Far from being enemies, Crowley, FDR, Churchill, Rostovskii and Maiskii– and lesser mortals like Tom Driberg– were all batting for the same team. From what I can tell, Semen Rostovskii, the recruiter of the “Cambridge Five”, was surrounded by a mess of British double agents and informers. When a network has a couple of agent provocateurs, it’s compromised. When a network is one seething mass of agent provocateurs, it’s managed opposition. Rostovskii was probably working with Crowley and his MI6 buds to control Britain’s domestic socialist and communist movements, and possibly to prevent them being used by other spy outfits. Rostovskii’s collaboration with British intelligence is probably also why the Cambridge Five’s fifth member has been so elusive.
Driberg will get his own post shortly, because he’s the prototype of our current obnoxious lefty gossip columnists like Gawker’s Nick Denton and Rolling Stone’s Jann Wenner. I think, readers, that Crowley recruited Driberg out of Oxford for the British in much the same way Crowley was recruited out of Cambridge– the other ‘elite’ U.K. university. This is how Wheen describes that campus meeting, which lead Crowley to anoint Driberg as the one to “succeed him as the Great Beast”:
As well as favorable notices from the university magazines, Tom’s concert [a poetry reading at Oxford in the summer of 1927, ‘Homage to Beethoven’] was noticed in the next issue of the Sunday Times, under the heading ‘Musical Innovation’. For the second time in as many months the names of Driberg and Christ Church appeared in the national press in a context that cannot have pleased the college authorities. The Sunday Times item was also drawn to the attention of Aleister Crowley, the legendary black magician who rejoiced in the title of ‘the wickedest man in the world’ or, more concisely, ‘The Great Beast’. It is not certain why Crowley was so interested in the report of ‘Homage to Beethoven'; perhaps word had reached him that Tom’s weird lyrics included references to Beelzebub. Whatever the reason, Crowley invited Tom to lunch at the Tour Eiffel restaurant in Percy Street… The two men met again from time to time after this lunch…
Yet it was Tom who made money out of Crowley, not vice versa. By rather dubious means he acquired Crowley’s manuscript diary, which recorded his daily magical and sexual doings; many years later Tom sold this for a handsome sum to Jimmy Page, the guitarist with the rock group Led Zeppelin. [These could easily be the sex diaries that Ken Anger and Alfred Kinsey were looking for in the 1950s.– a.nolen.] In 1973 Tom raised more money by auctioning at Christie’s several volumes presented to him by Crowley. They included a copy of the Book of the Law, inscribed ‘To True Thomas of the Eildon Hills with all best wishes from Boleskine and Alterarff’. In the same lot was a letter from Crowley urging Tom to study the Koran: ‘I also hope that you will be pleased by the sincerity and simplicity of the Mohammedan faith , and learn up the words, so as not to make any more howlers like “Moslems”.
This is how Spence describes Driberg’s relation to The Beast:
Arguably, Crowley’s most important contact in the British Left was Tom Driberg. The Beast had known him since the mid-1920s, when Driberg was an Oxford student and aspiring occultist. They re-established contact when Crowley came back to London in summer 1932. In the years to come, the talkative Driberg made various wild claims about his relationship with the Beast, including being Crowley’s named heir.
Readers will remember that Rostovskii began recruiting the ‘Cambridge Five’ in 1933.
In conclusion, the Brits are known for their ‘double crossing’ and using enemy agents to British ends; they claim a perfect record of this against the Germans in WWII. Practice makes perfect. I’ll also point out that it’s a lot easier to run a double against an enemy if that enemy is only hostile a fraction of the time. Semen Rostovskii, the recruiter of the “Cambridge Five”, seems to have protected British and American interests against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics via the World Marxist Review. Could it be that Rostovskii’s ‘Cambridge Five’ were a bunch of spooks who the Brits didn’t ‘double cross’ very well? Whatever the answer, we can be sure that Rostovskii was a ‘champion of freedom’ in the same vein as Aleister Crowley, Winston Churchill, Tom Driberg and Eugene Kaspersky.
P.S. For more information on how wealthy Brits and Americans subsidized the Bolshevik Revolution, please see Is The Devil a German? and A Death in Finland. For more information on how Rostovskii’s protection of CIA strategy allowed the agency to regroup under the Playboy banner, see A.C. Spectorsky and the CFF 2.0, as well as An American Pravda I, II and III.
 Regular readers will remember Driberg as Mick Jagger’s political handler, and the Member of Parliament who George Orwell denounced to the Information Research Department as “’Homosexual’, ‘Commonly thought to be an underground member [of the Communist Party]’, and ‘English Jew’.” (All true, according to Driberg’s biographer Francis Wheen.)