The National Archives
Search The National Archives
Advanced search
Freedom of information logo

Communists and suspected Communists


William Gallagher MP (KV 2/1753-1755)

Gallagher (1881-1965) was one of a number Clydeside dockers who came to the attention of the Security Services in February 1916 for stirring up disaffection in the Glasgow yards and were convicted under the Defence of the Realm Regulations. KV 2/1753 (1916-1945) shows how this first brought him to the attention of the Security Service as Chair of the Clyde Workers' Committee. The file contains reports of Gallagher's speeches and activities after his release from prison. In 1922 a Home Office Warrant was taken out to intercept his mail, and some of the intercepted correspondence is on the file. The file shows that in 1927 the Spanish ambassador in London provided information on Gallagher, alleging that he was a high official in the Arcos organisation and was connected with a plot to supply arms to the Riff rebels in Spanish North Africa. By 1931, the file shows how Gallagher had been identified as a chief link between the Communist Party in Britain and Russian Oil Products Limited. After several failed attempts, Gallagher was elected as Communist MP for West Fife in November 1935, and the file contains a copy of his election address, and of his pamphlet Willie Gallagher's Story - The Clyde in Wartime. In the same year, however, the file records that Gallagher and the party had fallen out. Though the watch on Gallagher's post continued after his election, the volume of material placed on the file reduced markedly from that time. The file includes a career summary for Gallagher (serial 30a), and photograph (serial 111a).

The observation of Gallagher continues in KV 2/1754 (1945-1951) and KV 2/1755 (1951-1954), with the addition of some phone intercept transcripts. However, the volume of material decreases as Gallagher's health wanes (he is reported to be "at death's door" in July 1950) and after he lost his seat in the 1950 general election. In his post-parliamentary career the files are chiefly concerned with his overseas trips, to Australia and Italy, from where he was expelled in 1952.

John Gollan (KV 2/1772-1778)

Gollan (1911-1977) was General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain and as a life-long party member was a key focus of Security Service interest. Of the files on him in this release, perhaps of particular interest is serial 474bc in KV 2/1777. This consists of a transcript of an intercepted conversation recorded at the Communist Party headquarters between Gollan and an unidentified visitor where, in the course of a lengthy discussion about the authorities' penetration of extreme political parties, Gollan makes some interesting observations: "'They interfere with me. That bl***** telephone there – the fact that you phoned me, they know – what I said to you, they know – they open our letters – they go to our meetings…the spies are everywhere'. He said that nothing of this had ever been published. He said nothing of this would ever be known and would never be heard of 'until we've cracked the archives one day, then you'll really know what was going on.'"

Rajani Palme Dutt (KV 2/1807-1809)

Palme Dutt (1896-1974) was The British Communist Party's leading Marxist thinker, and was long-time editor of the communist publication "Labour Monthly".

Thomas Evans Nicholas (KV 2/1750-1752) and Thomas Islwyn Nicholas (KV 2/1822-1823)

Thomas Evans Nicholas, known popularly as "Nicholas of Glais", was a Welsh Congregationalist minister and pacifist during the First World War, who joined the Communist Party in 1920. He is a key Welsh cultural figure as one of the foremost bards of the early twentieth century, having organised Eisteddfods and won 30 Eisteddfod chairs between 1906 and 1914 when he retired from competition. He preached the sermon at James Kier Hardie's funeral in 1915. Nicholas left the clergy to become a dentist, and was detained in 1940 as an anti-war activist, and became a member of the World Peace Council after the Second World War. He was also the father of Thomas Islwyn Nicholas, who worked with him as a dental technician and was also a member of the Communist Party. These files on the father and son throw interesting light on Welsh radical politics in the first half of the twentieth century.

KV 2/1750 (1915-1918) is one of three reconstituted files on the elder Nicholas, and contains outline accounts of his pacifist sermons preached during the First World War, and copies of intercepted correspondence. His views of the varying culpability of the conscript and the volunteer who killed during war are of some interest. He was at this time resident in Eglwyswrw in Pembrokeshire. The local constabulary took a keen interest in Nicholas' activities, and pressed repeatedly for a charge for sedition as a result of his sermons and speeches. All requests were turned down for lack of evidence. The file records Nicholas being drawn in to Independent Labour Party politics. After the war ended, Nichols' pacifism was less of an issue, and the correspondence on file KV 2/1751 (1918-1942) dries up completely between 1919 and 1932. In 1932, however, an intercepted letter to a third party from his son identifies Nicholas as a Communist, but this time living in Aberystwyth and working as a dentist. With the outbreak of the Second World War, Nicholas, with his son Thomas Islwyn Nicholas, resumed pacifist campaigning, and they were arrested and interned in July 1940. When their house was searched, a large collection of swastika flags were discovered, which Nicholas claimed were to be used for sticking on a war map, along with large volumes of Communist and Pacifist literature. Both men appealed against their internment and were released in October 1940 after a Home Office Advisory Committee heard their case at Ascot (a copy of the proceedings including Nicholas' testimony to the Advisory Committee is on this file). The last file on the elder Nicholas, KV 2/1752, covers 1942-1952, but consists mainly of further reports of his wartime speeches and activities, and there is little coverage of his work in the World Peace Council.

The files on Thomas Islwyn Nicholas cover 1930-1940 (KV 2/1822) and 1940-1949 (KV 2/1823). The first file contains many copies of intercepted correspondence from Nicholas to other known or suspected Communists, and includes the file compiled by Cardigan Constabulary on the cases of the father and son. Like his father's file, this one includes a copy of the proceedings of the Home Office Advisory Committee that heard his successful appeal against internment. The latter file includes a copy of Nicholas' 1935 passport application form, to cover an intended trip to the Soviet Union, along with an original photograph. A brief career summary shows that by 1949, though still a member of the Communist Party, Nicholas had also joined the Welsh Nationalist Party.

John Haldane (KV 2/1832)

Haldane (1892-1964) was a researcher in genetics at the outbreak of the First World War, when his experiences as an officer in the Black Watch led him to become a socialist. Returning to university life after the war, he became a best selling scientific author, but was involved in a scandalous divorce case in 1925, which resulted in his dismissal from Cambridge on the grounds of 'gross immorality'. He continued writing and in 1931 visited the Soviet Union with other British scientists, and became increasingly involved in left-wing politics.

The file opens in 1928 when the Security Service first took an interest in Haldane because of his professional links to certain Soviet scientists. He began speaking at public meetings in support of left-wing causes, and acted as an adviser to the Spanish republican government during the civil war on protection of civilians from air attack. This became a key-note of his work, and in 1937, Haldane joined a group of Cambridge scientists in attacking British preparations for air-raid defences. The file is filled with reports of these activities, and notes his officially declared membership of the Communist Party in May 1942. There is a case history sheet detailing all Haldane's activities at serial 134a. Haldane fell out with the Communist hierarchy in 1948 when he disputed validity of the officially sponsored Lysenko theory of genetics, and the file speculates that he had done this because to support the theory "…would not only ruin his scientific reputation but would also do irreparable damage to Communist Party recruitment among scientists. The Party appears to have decided that Haldane is too valuable a Party member to be lost on a theoretical issue." (Serial 258b, from a Top Secret source in the Communist Party). Haldane declared that he had left the Party in 1950, and the file peters out in 1954.

In addition to Haldane, this series of releases also includes a number of other files on leading figures whose attachment to a variety of left-wing causes was seen as lending respectability to the Communist movement. These include socialist historian and writer George Cole (KV 2/1756-1757); Cambridge lecturer, (and contemporary of Philby and Blunt), Maurice Dobb (KV 2/1758-1759); John Desmond Bernal, academic at Cambridge and London universities and author of books on Marxism and science, who during the Second World War worked on scientific approaches to the problems of storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day, and was a pioneer of x-ray crystallography (KV 2/1811-1814); and George Thompson, Professor of Greek at Birmingham University (KV 2/1842-1844).