The Role of the “Fraternal Parties” in the Soviet Union’s Global Mission

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 9 August 2021

Hungary, 1956

After the post looking at the relationship of Reuben Falber and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) to the Soviet Union—namely the total subservience of the former to the latter—a follow-up was intended on the broader issue of the how the KGB and its predecessors interacted with the “fraternal” Parties around the world. Eighteen months later, this is that post. Let’s blame COVID.

The accusation that the Communist Parties around the world were fronts for the KGB was often derided as “McCarthyism” while the Cold War was going on. Arguments about that term in general to one side,[1] it certainly did not apply in this case. The accusations as stated were entirely factual.

The KGB archive smuggled out of the Soviet Union by Vasili Mitrokhin, and written up with Christopher Andrew in The Sword and the Shield,[2] makes clear that the “fraternal” Parties were dependent for their existence on secret Soviet subsidies,[3] and these Parties at all points cooperated, consciously, with the KGB’s global espionage apparatus: as talent-spotters for spies, logistical support for Illegals, and as direct operatives—either as thieves of classified information or agents for sabotage operations and active measures.

FROM 1919 TO 1945

In March 1919, about sixteen months after the Bolshevik coup, the Soviet regime created the COMINTERN that coordinated the Communist Parties around the world. In the initial phase, the COMINTERN was focused on direct, violent export of its Revolution, notably in Hungary and Germany. With the Soviet advance halted in Warsaw in August 1920, Lenin turned to a longer-term program. By the early 1920s, Soviet-loyal parties were established in places as far afield as South Africa, where Moscow not only had the South African Communist Party (SACP) but had been able to co-opt the African National Congress (ANC).[4]

Already by the 1920s, the unstable settlement after the First World War was unravelling and then there was the Wall Street crash. In the 1930s, until Stalin made an alliance with Hitler, the Soviets were also able to reach out to recruits under the banner of “anti-fascism”. The capitalist systems, then, appeared to have failed, but the Soviets still needed to make a positive offer of an alternative, which they did: the myth-image of the “workers’ state” where the distinctions of class and race had been dissolved and poverty, among other human evils, eliminated. It was an offer that combined an emotional appeal to the downtrodden and dispossessed, with an intellectual appeal to idealistic and educated elites.[5]

The truth of the Soviet system was knowable from early on for those who cared,[6] but people preferred the promise of a utopia beyond the Urals and at the time—even through the Ukrainian terror-famine and the Great Terror, the largest-scale peace-time atrocity known to Europe’s history—it was the great and the good peddling the Soviet version of reality.[7]

Across Europe, Soviet-loyal Communist Parties infiltrated political systems, perhaps most clearly in Germany, where Stalin ordered his loyalists not to side with the social democrats in the final hours of the free Reichstag, since Nazi rule was destined by History to heighten the contradictions sufficiently to bring about Communism. “After Hitler, Us”, was the slogan of the German progressives.

In Paris, in particular, the Soviet apparat made itself felt with kidnappings and assassinations against Russian dissidents. In Spain, after the uprising began against the Bolshevized Republic, the Soviet secret police were deployed in even greater force—mostly to hunt down Leftist heretics, Trotskyists above all.[8] The Left was fighting itself when the Nationalists marched into Madrid in March 1939.[9]

In America, the Soviets proceeded in a similar way to in Europe. “From the mid-1930s to the onset of the Cold War, Communism had been a major force in the American labor movement [and] a significant influence on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party”.[10] Since these power centres effectively came into office in 1933, it is perhaps less surprising than it might be that America became a virtual satellite of the Soviet Union during the Second World War, penetrated at every level of government, and acting in the world to destroy its own interests and further Stalin’s, from Jugoslavija to China.[11]

Even so, it took the personal naivete of Franklin Roosevelt to push it to the extent that Stalin privately told the Politburo in 1943 the aim of overthrowing the bourgeois capitalist regime in America was temporarily on hold: no conceivable Communist government could possibly be as beneficial to Soviet interests as FDR’s administration.[12]


Stalin had outplayed his “allies”, America and Britain, all through the global war he had started in collaboration with the Nazis. Stalin was able to do this in no small part because of the extent of infiltration by his spies in both London and Washington.[13] By May 1945, the Soviets were victorious: the Red Army had been allowed to sweep into Central Europe as far as Berlin.[14] The expansionist dreams of Lenin were being realised.

Having raped and massacred everything in their path for a thousand miles,[15] then plundered these zones in the name of “reparations”, [16] the Soviets installed the Communist Parties they had trained in exile at gunpoint and exterminated all opposition, indeed all potential opposition: lists were drawn up of the types of people likely to resist their rule—and at the top of the list was the non-Communist anti-Nazi Resistance.[17] Anyone who had already resisted one form of totalitarianism was by definition a problem to the Soviets, after all.

But Stalin was not satisfied; the Soviet program was intended for the whole world, and with Eastern Europe crushed under heel, Western Europe was the next target.[18]

Although the Soviets did not have total control in the West, what they did have at the dawn of the Cold War, in addition to the practically fatal breaches of the British and American intelligence systems,[19] were ministries in four European governments—in France, Italy, Finland, and Austria.


The Parti Communiste Français (PCF) had been an important element in the ruling authorities since Liberation in the summer of 1944 and remained so until May 1947, first in Charles de Gaulle’s Provisional Government and then after winning a quarter of the vote at the October 1945 elections. As well as the PCF channel into the official bureaucracy, the wartime Soviet spy networks were reactivated.[20] The damage was immense. In 1950, the Soviets reported that they had fifty agents running in Paris, double what they had had a year earlier, and that number, the largest in Western Europe, held for the remainder of the Cold War. After the loyalty-security programs began to take effect in the U.S. and with the compromise of the Magnificent Five[21] in 1951, France became the source of the most and the best intelligence for the Soviets for the remainder of the decade.[22]

The Quai d’Orsay diplomats were quite resistant, though there were important breakthroughs like Etienne Manac’h (codenamed TAKSIM), later the ambassador to Red China (1969-75),[23] and several did get themselves snared in “honeytraps” in Moscow.[24] It was the cipher clerks at the Foreign Ministry, however, that did the most damage,[25] one codenamed JOUR especially, who helped bug the Embassy in Moscow so the French were conducting virtually open diplomacy toward the Soviets until 1983.[26] Worse again was the foreign intelligence service, the SDECE (now DGSE), where (literal) infighting and corruption gave the Soviets more openings than they would otherwise have had.[27]

In just one year, from 1 July 1946 to 30 June 1947, nearly 1,300 documents stolen from French intelligence were passed from the Paris residency to Moscow. The Soviets’ main man within the PCF—the French Falber—was Gaston Plissonnier (codenamed LANG) by the 1950s. Little known to the public and uncharismatic, Plissonnier was a master of procedure and by the 1970s he was deputy leader in the Party.

The intellectual and media class all throughout the West had a weakness for Communism, and in France this was at its most extreme. An extraordinary number of French journalists were Soviet agents all the way to 1991, and from the 1970s onward the majority of the best French agents were journalists, helping steer the most respected outlets in the country, like Le Monde and Agence France-Presse (AFP), to participation in active measures, even ones so outrageous as slandering Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a Nazi sympathiser. A prominent case of Soviet influence operations in the 1940s was the weekly international relations magazine, La Tribune des Nations, esteemed by government departments and foreign embassies, while being controlled by André Ulmann (DURANT), a secret PCF member who answered to the KGB.[28]

The most successful influencing operation used Franaois Saar-Demichel (NN), a member of the Resistance and briefly an SDECE officer, who went into business, winning a large contract in the Soviet Union and being recruited by the KGB in 1955. Saar-Demichel was a key financier of the Gaullists during the latter part of the Fourth Republic, and some of that money almost certainly from the Soviets. Saar-Demichel was important in reinforcing De Gaulle’s belief that the Soviet leadership was not guided by Communist ideology and that the U.S.S.R. was really a traditional great power that France could do business with. This gave De Gaulle the confidence to tilt to the Soviets to “counter-balance” America, in service of his vision of national independence. In March 1966, De Gaulle removed France from the integrated command of NATO and on 30 June 1966 turned up in the Soviet Union, where Leonid Brezhnev could barely believe his luck. All the additional space the Soviets received was used to infiltrate and steal what they could on every front—political, military, scientific.[29]


Even more than France, the situation in Italy after 1945 seemed dangerously poised for the Sovietization. Benito Mussolini had invented the term “totalitarian”, yet never approached the “ideal”; the state simply did not work, and for most Italians the period 1922 to 1939 had seen only minor disruptions to their lives. The state’s malfunction meant that even once war began, production could not be increased, and after the country was conquered in 1943, a terrifying internal war raged between Communists and Fascists that levelled essentially every national institution—except the Mafia, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Communist Party, the Partito Comunista Italiano (PCI).

The Communists had been included in the post-war provisional government and there were fears of a Communist victory and/or mass violence in which they could seize power at the April 1948 election. The evidence of the Communists’ popularity was all around in the pictures of Stalin at factories, Italy was right on the border with the Communist Bloc, and the election took place in the shadow of the coup in Czechoslovakia and the murder of Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk weeks earlier. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) undertook its first ever covert action during this election to channel $10 million confiscated from the Axis to the Christian Democrats, who ended up winning.[30] Whatever credit the Agency gave itself, a larger share has to go to Pope Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli), who used every instrument of power his office gave him to mobilise against the Communists; a year later he banned Communists from receiving the sacraments altogether.

The PCI used its time in government well, aiding the penetration of Party members and other Soviet agents into the ministries. The Foreign Ministry was a particular target, as in France: one important post-war infiltrator, recruited in the 1930s, had created a record that was carefully distanced from the Party—he had actually joined Mussolini’s Fascists—and the cipher clerks and typists proved easy to recruit, sometimes by ideology, more usually with Romeo spies or otherwise under a false flag, or by bribery and blackmail. The honeytraps at the Moscow Embassy worked even better: one diplomat was caught in two. The recruitment of a senior Italian diplomat in Moscow, and of diplomats at other Embassies, meant the Italians were conducting virtually open diplomacy for large stretches of the Cold War.[31]


A unique country in the Cold War matrix, Finland was the only ally of Germany’s that was not Sovietized after the war, essentially because the memory of the Winter War meant Stalin feared the bloodbath it would take to impose Soviet occupation in the country. The price of independence was massive reparations and the country being rendered “neutral” in its foreign relations. At the outset of the Cold War, Stalin kept his options open, however: the Suomen Kommunistinen Puolue (SKP) was in the coalition government—as were the Communist Parties in Denmark and Norway—and the Party was told to prepare for a possible coup d’état. The SKP captured the Interior Ministry under Yrji Leino and held it for three years, using the time to stack the new security police, the Valpo, with Communist Party members. Leino ended up in disgrace, an alcoholic that even Moscow told to resign; he refused and was fired by the President in April 1948. Leino’s memoir a decade later caused further embarrassment to the Centre by drawing attention to its control of the “fraternal” Parties. Still, it took the Finns decades to comb out the damage Leino did.[32]


Austria, the fourth state where Communists had a post-war role in the government, was the least important. Like Germany, Austria was occupied by the four “Allies”; unlike Germany, it was allowed to govern itself. The Kommunistische Partei Österreichs (KPO) had three ministries in the provisional administration of Karl Renner, formed in April 1945, and was reduced to one ministry (electrification) after the November election. In the seven-month period from April to November 1945, the Interior Ministry was controlled by the KPO’s Franz Honner, who used the time—just as Leino had in Finland—to pack the federal police and other security branches with declared and undeclared KPO members. The effect of this was still being felt into the 1980s, and in some ways is still felt to this day, where Vienna is a playground for foreign spies. Nor did the Soviets completely give up on a Communist takeover in Austria: consideration was given to a coup in 1947 and again in 1950.[33]


The realisation eventually set in at the Centre that the removal of Communist Parties from Western governments in 1948 was permanent. In April 1971, a decision was made, spearheaded by the KGB chief Yuri Andropov, to adapt to this circumstance by recreating the era of the “Great Illegals” the Soviets had had in the 1930s. The decision was formalised at the Twenty-Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in April 1971. The Illegals program begun in the 1970s involved the “fraternal” Parties in more extensive activity on Moscow’s behalf than at any time since at least the late 1950s, and it was a global program: Andropov gave personal orders to the Communist Parties in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria about what was expected of them. The Centre used Richard Sorge (German) as their template to new recruits, despite him being a military intelligence (GRU) officer. The man they would like to have used was Arnold Deutsch (Austrian), the recruiter and early runner of the Magnificent Five, but since two of the Five, Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross, were still at liberty in the West, this was not really possible.[34]

The one exception to the rule of Communists being a thing of the past in Western governments occurred a quarter-century after Italy and Finland dismissed their Communist Ministers, in Portugal, a country that had been immunised from Communism under the government of António Salazar. After Salazar died in July 1970, there was a military coup by radical officers from the “Armed Forces Movement” (MFA) in April 1974. Within days, the Communist leader, Álvaro Cunhal, a slavish devotee of the Soviet Union, the first Party leader to publicly support the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, was back in Lisbon, stood alongside Mário Soares, the Socialist Party leader, also returning from exile.[35]

Portugal established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in June 1974, and Cunhal was transferred to being run by the legal resident, Svyatoslav Kuznetsov (LEONID). The first Cunhal-Kuznetsov meeting, arranged at a safe house by the Partido Comunista Português (PCP), was vaguely farcical: neither man trusted that the building was not bugged, so the meeting was conducted entirely by passing a pencil and pad between the two of them. PCP operatives were soon trained by the KGB in the tradecraft that allowed Cunhal and his handlers to have vocal meetings.[36]

Even in the silent first meeting, Cunhal had agreed to hand over everything he could on his country’s intelligence agencies and NATO to the Soviets, and the PCP had a major role in the “commission of inquiry” the radicals set up to “investigate” the Salazar government, particularly its security services. The volume of materials Cunhal and his colleagues betrayed to the KGB was so vast the First Chief Directorate (FCD) department had to create a special department in January 1976 to handle the documents. The information caused terrible harm to France, America, West Germany, and Spain, compromising sources and methods; exposed Portuguese agents behind the Iron Curtain; told the Soviets which of their agents in Portugal were blown (and most importantly, which were not); and got any number of people killed in Angola and Mozambique, where the Soviets were warring on the Portuguese colonial authorities, by exposing Lisbon’s agent networks in those countries. The KGB was then able to use these documents, and well-constructed forgeries, for active measures.[37]

After the PCP did badly at the April 1975 elections, Cunhal said publicly it did not matter since the “revolution” hardly concerned itself with democracy: “I promise you there will be no parliament in Portugal”. Cunhal miscalculated, however, and a constitutional coup in November 1975 managed to dislodge the Communists from power and open the way to free and meaningful elections in April 1976. Out but not down, the PCP continued to do its damage: it acted as a talent-spotter for the KGB in parliament and provided all the logistical support the “fraternal” Parties did to the Illegals, particularly in the fabrication of legends.[38]

Mozambique had been declared independent of Portugal in June 1975, handed over to the Soviet-run FRELIMO, and five months later Angola was allowed to pass into the hands of the Soviets’ MPLA. A million Portuguese refugees fled these regimes, and the confusion allowed many documents to be lost and duplicated by the PCP on behalf of the KGB. The war the Salazar government had been waging against Communist insurrections did not end in these colonies; to the contrary, the wars escalated, merely with the roles of state and insurgent switched, and the KGB freer to use these countries, as it had been already, to train a menagerie of terrorists targeting local governments, like Rhodesia and South Africa, and Western states further afield, including Britain.[39]

The Soviet effort to revive the era of the “Great Illegals”, however, failed. In the 1930s, living in the afterglow of a multinational Empire, the Soviets had access to brilliant linguists and highly cultured men who could negotiate their way around the West; four decades later, with two generations raised in a system that secured uniformity of thought through systematic terror, the Soviets had precious few citizens who could easily pass as Westerners, or cope working in such an environment. The cumbersome, blinkered bureaucracy no longer produced—and would have expelled—men like Deutsch. In the inter-war years, the Soviets had been able to appeal to the idealistic in the West by offering the faith of the future; the efforts to publicise Soviet ideology and crimes at the dawn of the Cold War, for all their flaws, had made it much more difficult for the Soviets to present themselves simply as “anti-fascists” (with fascism defined very broadly).[40] By the 1970s, after Kronstadt, Holodomor, Yezhovshchina, Katyn, East Germany (1953), Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, not only the intellectual but crucially the social respectability of the pro-Soviet position had faded in high society; with the publication of The Gulag Archipelago in 1974 and the Soviet conquest of Afghanistan in 1979 it faded even further. The ideological recruits now available were of a significantly inferior order.


As Mitrokhin and Andrew explain in their chapter on Eurocommunism,[41] the phenomenon emerged after 1968, initially bubbling up in reaction to the invasion of Czechoslovakia, then seeming to settle down because, as PCI general-secretary Luigi Longo put it, Soviet support was for these Parties “a real necessity for their existence”. The driving force of that initial breach, however, the flat contradiction between the Western Communists’ professed ideals of a better, fairer world and the reality of the system they served in the Soviet Union, remained, and in 1975 it erupted into full view. That year, Enrico Berlinguer, who had succeeded Longo at the head of the Italian Party in 1972, was joined by the French PCF and Spanish Partido Comunista de España (PCE) in issuing what was in effect a Eurocommunist manifesto that called for socialists to chart their own way in their own countries rather than following the Soviet model, and advocated for a free press and free elections within a multi-party system. The “CPSU leadership was outraged to find its infallibility being called into question”, the authors note, and it was the Soviets who labelled this heresy “Eurocommunism”. In this schism, as in so much else, the Communist experience became a full-dress parody of Christianity.[42]

The three parties evolved in somewhat different directions. The Italians led the Eurocommunist trend. Berlinguer, whose wife was a devout Roman Catholic, had been a choice of last resort after PCI faction fighting, and he would now begin a journey that took him further and further from Moscow Centre. Already by 1976, after Berlinguer said NATO was on balance of benefit to Italy, the Centre was planning active measures to destabilise Berlinguer’s position, though, interestingly, they never even considered cutting the over-five million dollars per year they paid to PCI. But Berlinguer held his ground and PCI’s improved performance at the 1976 election under the banner of Berlinguer’s “new thinking” only steeled his resolve. Two events in quick succession then shattered relations entirely. In 1978, the Christian Democrat president Aldo Moro was abducted and murdered by the Red Brigades, a terrorist group that Berlinguer knew was supported by the KGB’s Czech branch. Berlinguer had both the cynical fear that this would be revealed, knowing the political damage it would do him, and the more genuine sense of outrage shared with the rest of the nation. The 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets was the end of it.[43]

In 1982, Berlinguer issued a statement saying the October Revolution was “exhausted” and that Western Communists should work for a “democratic renewal” of Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union found only the language of excommunication sufficient to express the depth of its fury: this was “truly blasphemous”, thundered Pravda. At this point the Soviet subsidies were cut back and the roughly half-million dollars per year was channelled to “healthy elements” in the PCI, namely Armando Cossutta and the other pro-Soviet PCI leaders, plus the newspaper Paese Sera.[44]

The PCE leader Santiago Carrillo was able to return to Spain in December 1976 after the death of General Franco in November 1975. Carrillo had spent his life as a Soviet loyalist and in 1936 had signed the order for the worst atrocity of the whole war, the Paracuellos massacres.[45] Yet somewhere along the way he had a crisis of faith. Carrillo had, in 1969 and 1970, purged the members of the Central Committee who defended the crushing of Czechoslovakia, and now the Soviets switched their funding to a pro-Soviet PCE operative, Ignacio Gallego. The Soviets also undertook what turned out to be a devastating active measure by sending Carrillo’s predecessor as PCE secretary-general, the 83-year-old Dolores Ibárruri, known as la Pasionaria (the Passionflower), to Spain.[46]

Ibárruri had become a cult figure around the world due to her part in the myth-image of the Spanish Civil War; her speeches against “fascism” were the kind of thing quoted by Western Leftists as “heroic” and “inspirational”. At home people knew better. Ibárruri had taken part in the Communist revolt in October 1934 that was a response to an election outcome they did not like, and during the war she had supported the savage repression not only of the Catholic faithful but of Trotskyists and other non-Stalinist Leftists, show trials and all: she accused them of being in alliance with the Nazis.[47] Once back in Spain, Ibárruri missed no opportunity to praise the Soviet “achievement” in Eastern Europe and intimate that this was the program PCE planned to bring to Spain. Carrillo’s effort to “distance” the PCE from its extremist roots collapsed and the party was rejected at the election. The PCE’s socialist rival found a charismatic leader that more successfully convinced the electorate it was not what it had been in the 1930s.[48] The Soviets subsequently succeeded in displacing Carrillo with Gallego, after which the PCE basically disintegrated.

In France, the PCF’s turn to Eurocommunism proved to be fleeting, a tactical move by secretary-general Georges Marchais to get into coalition with the socialists. When the plan went wrong and PCF began losing ground to the socialists, Marchais reversed course and by the summer of 1977 his flirtation with Eurocommunism was over. Unfortunately for Marchais, the information the Soviets were going to use for active measures against him—that he had voluntarily worked in a Nazi factory in Germany during World War Two—was discovered and published by the Right-wing press in France. Marchais brought a libel suit, which he lost humiliatingly, including crying on the stand. The PCF was one of the most devoted Soviet loyalist outfits at the end of the Cold War, to rival the CPUSA and CPSA/ANC. The PCF was the first to publicly defend the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 and hailed the “triumph” of martial law and banning Solidarity in Poland two years later.[49]


The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) had, in so many ways, a different Cold War to its fraternal outfits in the Old World—and even to the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). The differences can be summarised as three.

First, the CPUSA was banned at the outset of the Cold War, which did not happen to the Communist Parties in Europe. In July 1948, the CPUSA general-secretary Eugene Dennis (RYAN) and ten of his comrades were arrested, and nine months later convicted. In June 1951, the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in Dennis v. United States, ruling that free speech did not include a right to advocate the violent overthrow of the American government. This warrant in hand, the FBI rolled up another one-hundred-plus leading Communists, forcing the CPUSA into an essentially underground existence for most of the 1950s, crippling its utility to Moscow.[50] As Mitrokhin and Andrew point out, the alternative to this course can be seen in the appalling damage done to Canada by the military intelligence officer Hugh Hambleton (RIMEN/RADOV), talent-spotted by the CPC.[51] Ultimately, the Supreme Court softened its view in Yates v. United States (1957), ruling that radical speech had to present a “clear and present danger” in order to be illegal, and then reversed itself entirely in Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), setting the bar at incitement to “imminent lawless action”. The Soviets enjoyed the greater freedom to operate—or thought they did.

The second major difference between the CPUSA and the European and Canadian Parties is that the CPUSA was infiltrated at such senior levels for so long that its activities were visible to the U.S. government for the greater part of the Cold War. Gus Hall (PALM) was the leader of CPUSA from 1959, and he received instructions from Moscow through a radio signal in New York, operated by Albert Friedman (FORD), an unregistered member of the CPUSA. Friedman would pass these messages to Jack Childs (MARAT), who would decode them and pass them to Hall or Hall’s wife, Elizabeth Turner. Jack was also responsible for exchanging regular written messages with the Centre using elaborate security procedures and was the KGB’s “special channel” for receiving the CPUSA subsidies—one million dollars per year in the 1960s and double that by the 1970s. Since Hall was under close surveillance and knew he was, the “Moscow gold” was deposited with Jack’s brother, Morris Childs (KHAB). The flaw in all of this was that the Childs brothers had been turned by the FBI in 1952.[52]

The Centre began to suspect something was afoot in 1974: Morris had not been imprisoned in the 1950s, he always accompanied Hall to Moscow when Hall went to receive instructions from the Centre, and he displayed “nervousness” whenever the KGB communicated directly with Hall, rather than using Morris or his brother as intermediaries. Extraordinarily, despite a Centre request to replace the Childs duo and plans drawn up to do it, Hall procrastinated and the Centre did not insist. Finally, in 1980, Jack died and Morris was moved into witness protection when the FBI concluded the game was up.[53] Morris and Jack posthumously were given the Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1987, having been given the Order of the Red Banner in 1975 (Morris in person from Brezhnev), making them “the only spies ever to be decorated by both the Soviet Union and the United States”.[54]

Third, there was no “Eurocommunist” trend in America; the CPUSA remained slavishly loyal to the Soviet Union up to 1989. Indeed, when a breach finally did occur between the CPUSA and Moscow, it was because the Americans rejected the Soviet revisionism.[55]

Despite the events of 1956, the CPUSA had retained considerable purchase in the mainstream American Left, in the civil rights movement and the campaign to allow the Sovietization of Vietnam through the 1960s,[56] and within the Democratic Party into the 1970s.[57] The occupation of Afghanistan had caused CPUSA some trouble, but with the Western “peace movement” in the 1980s—the mobilisation against the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles to counter the Soviet SS-20s, the latter of which never seemed to concern the “anti-nuclear” advocates—the CPUSA found some new footing. Hall had an exaggerated sense of the CPUSA’s influence and the Centre by all indications believed him: right before Mikhail Gorbachev cut the CPUSA off for its rejection of his “new thinking”, the CPUSA budget had been increased by fifty percent.[58] Once deprived, the Party paper, the People’s Daily World, was reduced from five days to two and then became a weekly.[59]


The Communist Parties around the world were, for the entire duration of the Cold War and indeed from before it, loyal to the Soviet Union, directly funded and controlled by the KGB, and engaged in espionage. These facts were some of the most vehemently denied by Soviet agents, apologists, and useful idiots during that long struggle, usually accompanied by counter-charges of “McCarthyism” and “conspiracy theory”. The only comparable issue the Soviets went to such lengths to obscure was the KGB’s fostering and using global terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Just like with the “fraternal” Parties, the lies about terrorism were transparent at the time for anybody who cared to look.[60]

The methods of the Parties in advancing the Revolution changed over time and place. In the initial phase after the Bolshevik coup, they led violent risings in Central Europe and waited for the Red Army to arrive and link them up with the Fatherland. When that failed, they worked to capture Western elites and strike down their opponents residing on enemy territory, laying the groundwork for the day when Revolution was back on the table. Embroiled in a world war where these enemies mistook the Kremlin for an ally, they burrowed deeper into state institutions and were able for a time in the aftermath to use positions of official power in the West to spread even further. Through conquest and coup, these Parties made it into power through half the Continent before the front froze and Revolution in Europe was once again on hold. In the interim, the Parties worked to sway public opinion in the West so as to build up the political base for future Communist rule and to ensure the Soviet Union could wage the Cold War.

The Soviets mostly beat the West at the spy-war, but the theological commitments of the Centre meant that they could not process political intelligence effectively, even when they had virtually total access to Western states, such as with the Magnificent Five in Britain in the 1940s.[61] There was less inhibition with scientific and technological material, which the Soviets stole in vast quantities and which helped them maintain something like military parity, despite the Soviet economy never being more than half the size of the United States’.[62]

None of this stopped at any point. In the Gorbachev era, his reformed version of the Empire was premised on a continued stream of pillaged Western intellectual property, and the KGB continued its mission to rule the world to the bitter end. In the 1980s, the Soviets tried to stem the tide of Eurocommunism by finding “healthy” elements to support within the “fraternal” Parties, providing massive subsidies, in cash, at a time when the Soviet Union was “chronically short of hard currency”.[63] In 1989, months after the October 1988 meeting of the heads of intelligence from the “Socialist Commonwealth”, a meeting many of them knew was the last,[64] the Soviets increased the CPUSA subsidy from two million to three million dollars; this would have continued if Hall had not launched his broadside against Gorbachev’s revisionism, as it did with the others.[65]

It is not possible to be a little bit heretical in a totalitarian, ideological state like the Soviet Union. By their nature, such systems can break, but they cannot bend. The logic of Gorbachev’s reforms opened the road to dissolution; if a little bit of liberalism is good, more must be better. Some in the Soviet elite were clearly disillusioned; many were not, as the August 1991 coup attempt showed. There were believers willing to fight to preserve the system and had they succeeded they would have been able to call on “friends” who also believed, all around the world, even now.

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[1] A subsequent, separate post will deal with “McCarthyism”—soon, theoretically.

[2] The Mitrokhin Archive is written up in two volumes: The Sword and the Shield (1999) that deals with America, Europe, and the Soviet Empire itself, and The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for Third World (2005), which focuses on the Soviet attempt after 1961 to use “national liberation” movements to win the Cold War in the “third world”.

[3] In terms of exact figures for how dependent the Western Communist Parties were on Soviet subsidies, a KGB document from 1980 from Canada noted that the dues payments from members amounted to 8.5% of running costs; there were then donations, money left to the Party from deceased comrades, and funds from business enterprises “deniably” run by the KGB. These four sources—one of which, note, was not “independent” but came from the Centre—amounted to no more than 35%. The rest—i.e. two-thirds—came in direct cash transfers from Moscow. The Sword and the Shield, pp. 286-7.

[4] The World Was Going Our Way, p. 423.

[5] There was a flow of settlers to live in the nascent Soviet state—not unlike the movement of people from across the world to live in the Islamic State’s caliphate after 2014—and they tended to be from the bottom of the heap in their own countries. Unsurprisingly, in an era when post-Reconstruction legal and popular persecution was at its worst, this included a large number of American blacks. See, for example: Robert Robinson (1988), Black on Red: My Forty-Four Years Inside the Soviet Union.

[6] Bertrand Russell was able to write The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism in 1920 about the defects of the Soviet system, particularly its reliance on persecution and militarised violence to sustain itself. Russell had journeyed to the Soviet Union as an ardent admirer—or so he thought. It seems to have been the clash between Russell’s highly developed, ideologized vision of the Soviet system and the reality that led to such profound shock and disillusionment; a similar thing happened to Malcolm Muggeridge a decade later. Unlike Muggeridge, though, Russell ended his life in a haze of silliness, deceived by Soviet active measures laundered through Mark Lane over the Kennedy assassination and swept along in the campaign advocating for the Soviet colonisation of South Vietnam.

[7] Walter Duranty is an infamous case, The New York Times correspondent who covered up for Holodomor. Duranty was untouched by ideology; his reasons were careerist. Beatrice Webb and her husband, Sidney Webb, the Baron Passfield, no less, mild-mannered intellectuals and socialist reformers at home, are likewise well-known cases of people who were thrilled by the vast prison camp of a country Stalin built, or at any rate the version the NKVD showed them. George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright and fierce atheist, whose vision of Progress included eugenics but did not include vaccines (he called them “attempted murder”), was among the most clear-eyed of Stalin’s prominent pre-war supporters. In the more cultural realm, French novelists André Gide and Henri Barbusse, and the Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, were ardent enthusiasts of the Soviet “experiment”.

[8] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 72-4.

[9] George Hills (1967), Franco: The Man and His Nation, p. 324.

[10] The Sword and the Shield, p. 279.

[11] Sean McMeekin (2021), Stalin’s War, pp. 474-515.

[12] Stalin’s War, p. 490.

[13] At each of the “Big Three” conferences—in Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam—Stalin was fully briefed on American and British negotiating and real positions, allowing him to know where to hold his line and where to give way; just as importantly, it meant he knew what he could push through without much resistance. There was no reason this should have been allowed to happen. On 2 September 1939, Whittaker Chambers had told everything he knew about the Communist apparat in the U.S. to Adolf Berle, the Assistant Secretary of State and President Franklin Roosevelt’s adviser on internal security. Chambers named Harry Dexter White, Alger Hiss, and a senior White House aide Lauchlin Currie, among others, as Soviet agents, and this was noted in a memo prepared for FDR, who promptly dismissed the whole idea of spy rings in his administration as absurd. Duly browbeaten, Berle simply filed the memo away, and only revisited it when he was asked by the FBI for a copy in 1943. Another missed opportunity was May 1941, when the head of the American residency, Gayk Ovakimyan (GENNADI), who had among other things been a collaborator in Leon Trotsky’s assassination, was arrested after being caught by the FBI actually in the act of receiving classified documents. The “remarkably lax security of the Roosevelt administration” meant that Ovakimyan was allowed to leave the country in July 1941, and the massive agent network he oversaw of over-200 people—the strain of which is what had led to his sloppy tradecraft—remained intact and untouched. The Sword and the Shield, p. 107.

[14] Stalin had already gotten the U.S. and Britain to switch away from the Italian campaign that would have taken Berlin rapidly and put any theoretical contact point between Western forces and the Red Army much further to the East. Instead, Stalin convinced the Allies to undertake Operation OVERLORD (D-Day), coming through the thickest Nazi defences the longest distance in the West from Berlin. Stalin’s purpose in doing this was to clear his path to conquest in the East by having the Germans transfer forces from the East to France, and to have the American and British armies mauled by the Wehrmacht so they were weakened, physically and politically, thus less likely to at any point confront the Soviets. In the event, Stalin need not have worried: the Allies did not even protest—they seemingly did not even remember—when Stalin reneged on the promise made at Tehran to use some of the lend-lease aid that kept the Soviet regime alive for an Eastern offensive simultaneous with OVERLORD. Stalin’s War, pp. 540-42.

[15] The systematic rape of civilians in areas captured by the Red Army, especially in Germany, became a major issue during the post-war occupation—albeit one that could not be spoken about openly, or not often, so erupted in various other ways. See: Anne Applebaum (2012), Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, pp. 29-33. This issue had been brought to Stalin’s attention by a senior Communist official from Jugoslavija, Milovan Djilas, who relayed to the Soviet tyrant the damage the conduct of his army was doing to the cause. Similar complaints were raised by the Hungarians, who pointed out that this behaviour and the looting was cementing the idea the Communist Party as a tool of foreigners. Stalin’s response was: “Can’t he understand it if a soldier who has crossed thousands of kilometres through blood and fire and death has fun with a woman or takes some trifle?” See: Martin Mevius (2005), Agents of Moscow: The Hungarian Communist Party and the Origins of Socialist Patriotism, 1941-1953, p. 65.

[16] The scale of the wealth stripped particularly from (East) Germany by the Soviets in the name of “reparations” is nearly unbelievable. 4,500 out of 17,000 medium and large factories were simply packed up and shipped back to the Soviet Union, often with their employees forcibly deported, too. The fifty or so remaining large companies were expropriated by Soviet agents and became “state” agencies of the new “German Democratic Republic”. At least half of East Germany’s industrial capacity was removed by the Soviets between 1945 and 1947, plus untold amounts of food, gold, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down. Private, individual property was not safe, either: the Soviets declared whatever they wanted “Nazi-owned” and as such theirs under the laws of the occupation. Some of it really had been held by Nazis, but it had belonged to Jews, as the Soviets well-knew; they did not give it back. In Hungary, the Soviets stripped out about 15% of the GDP and made the Hungarians pay direct tribute to the Soviet Union of about 10% of Hungarian GDP every year into the 1950s. The Soviets charged the Hungarians another 10% of annual GDP to feed and house the Red Army occupation forces stationed on their territory. Romania was treated similarly, and there was the special case of Finland. Iron Curtain, pp. 35-9.

[17] Iron Curtain, p. 95.

[18] This is not to say the Soviets were only focused on Western Europe in this period: the first crisis of the Cold War was in Iran, and it was that episode that prompted Winston Churchill’s Fulton speech.

[19] In 1944, a Soviet agent, Kim Philby, had been installed as head of SIS’s counter-intelligence division (Section IX) dealing with Communist espionage; in spy-war terms this is what victory looks like (p. 125). Philby was able to protect Soviet agents, to monitor the progress of VENONA to at least warn those he couldn’t save, to give up Western agents or would-be defectors in the Soviet Union (most infamously Konstantin Volkov), to sabotage the early “rollback” efforts, and to feed disinformation of all kinds into the system. Through Five Eyes, this poisoned the entire Anglosphere intelligence system. Crippling Five Eyes was the KGB’s main intention throughout the Cold War: as well as misleading it, the Soviets tried as far as possible to break it apart. An early active measure had Guy Burgess use differences over China, partly created by his disinformation, to cause trouble in the Anglo-American “Special Relationship” (p. 154), and Donald Maclean tried the same thing at the outbreak of the Korean War. Maclean had less success, but he did allow the Soviets to put the North Koreans and Mao in the picture about Western thinking on the war (p. 155). The Sword and the Shield.

[20] The Sword and the Shield, p. 150.

[21] “Magnificent Five” is the name Soviet intelligence used after the 1970s to describe the five spies recruited as students at Cambridge in the 1930s who went on in the 1940s to acquire such sensitive roles in the British foreign and defence establishment that it amounted to institutional capture. The five (in order of recruitment) were: Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, and John Cairncross. It is notable that the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), their “official historian” James Klugmann most saliently, played a significant role in talent-spotting and converting members of the Five to Communism. See: The Sword and the Shield, pp. 56-65.

[22] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 153-54.

[23] The Sword and the Shield, p. 152.

[24] The Sword and the Shield, p. 463.

[25] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 150-53.

[26] The Sword and the Shield, p. 467.

[27] The Sword and the Shield, p. 151.

[28] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 460-75.

[29] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 463-65.

[30] The Sword and the Shield, p. 277.

[31] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 277-8, 475-85.

[32] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 278-9.

[33] The Sword and the Shield, p. 278.

[34] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 281-3.

[35] The Sword and the Shield, p. 283.

[36] The Sword and the Shield, p. 283.

[37] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 283-4.

[38] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 283-4.

[39] One of the groups at the Soviet camps in Angola was the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA).

[40] The Sword and the Shield, p. 165.

[41] The Sword and the Shield, 295-306.

[42] The temptation towards a version of Communism is a repeated phenomenon in Christian history, most infamously seen in the Anabaptist rebellion in Munster, but repeated numerous times before and since. After the eighteenth century it became possible to formally strip God out of the equation, but the story being enacted remained the same. See also: Tom Holland (2019), Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind, pp. 466-70.

[43] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 295-9.

[44] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 299-300.

[45] The Soviets approved the slaughter at Paracuellos, but the instigation came from the Republican government. Julius Ruiz (2014), The “Red Terror” and the Spanish Civil War, pp. 231-83.

[46] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 300-01.

[47] Ibárruri participated in the Soviet propaganda offensive to justify the murder of “Trotskyists” within the Soviet Union, too. Days after the Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial in 1936, Ibárruri wrote in a Spanish Communist newspaper, Frente Rojo, the “wretched role” of the Trotskyists had now been demonstrated by the “irrefutable facts” that were “unmasked” at the show trial and the “cause of freedom” greatly advanced by this judicial massacre. Ibárruri vowed that PCE would never cooperate with Trotskyists, and all Communists now had to uproot Trotskyism from their own countries. Vadim Rogovin (1996), 1937: Stalin’s Year of Terror, p. 127.

[48] The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party or Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) was led by Felipe González, and that seems to have been crucial in convincing Spaniards the PSOE had remade itself, but its history is as soaked in blood as PCE’s. The PSOE was captured by its Soviet-loyal wing during the war led by Francisco Largo Caballero—essentially a popular front within one of the participants of the Popular Front. And Largo, known as “the Spanish Lenin”, then captured the state: his role as Prime Minister from September 1936 to May 1937 was to ensure the Republican cause’s utter subservience to the Soviet Union.

[49] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 304-6.

[50] The Sword and the Shield, p. 164.

[51] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 167-8, 280.

[52] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 287-9.

[53] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 289-92.

[54] The Sword and the Shield, p. 292.

[55] Gus Hall was horrified especially by Mikhail Gorbachev alleviating the censorship of the Soviet press. Gus Hall had been voicing private criticism of Gorbachev for many years and made his first public criticism in 1988, targeting Moscow News, a weekly that fervently supported Gorbachev’s reforms. The final straw was an interview Hall gave to Newsweek in 1989, where he said, “Under glasnost, the editors have gone wild with untruths, especially about history and capitalism”. Gorbachev was constrained by his own stated project from doing what Soviet rulers would usually do in such a circumstance—remove Hall and replace him with a dependable loyalist—but he “saw no reason for subsidizing criticism”. Harvey Klehr (2010), The Communist Experience in America: A Political and Social History, p. 128.

[56] The Soviets had infiltrated Martin Luther King’s entourage most prominently via Stanley Levinson, a secret CPUSA member, and, upon Levinson’s recommendation, Jack O’Dell (a.k.a. Hunter Pitts O’Dell). Levinson was caught by the FBI meeting with his KGB handler, Viktor Lesiovsky, who was working under cover as special assistant to the United Nations secretary-general U Thant. This is what led to the wiretaps, first on Levinson and ultimately on King himself. The Sword and the Shield, p. 290. President John Kennedy tried, before it came to that, to meet with King personally in June 1963, begging him to “get rid” of these two Communist operatives since their discovery—there had already been one press story about O’Dell—would destroy the civil rights movement. King promised he would. Evan Thomas (2002), Robert Kennedy: His Life, pp. 252-3. King lied, as was soon detected by FBI surveillance. King maintained contact through an intermediary with Levinson, and then resumed direct contact around October 1965. The declassified FBI files are available here, p. 34.

[57] There was a secret CPUSA member, not named in the Mitrokhin Archive, who was very high up in the California Democratic Party in the 1970s, with access to a wide network of powerbrokers like Governor Jerry Brown, Edward Kennedy, and Jimmy Carter himself, to whom he provided advice—and from whom he gathered information—during the 1976 campaign. Then there was Andrew Young (LUTHER), one of the Reverend King’s former executive secretary’s, who was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations in the new Carter administration in 1977. Young had been surrounded for years by CPUSA operatives, who heavily influenced his thinking, and once he was working at the U.N. he was in close proximity and regular contact with Lesiovsky, allowing the Centre to continue guiding him. The Sword and the Shield, pp. 290-1. Young was involved in several of the worst foreign policy disasters of the Carter years, notably Rhodesia and Iran, where he notoriously said, “Khomeini will be [regarded as] somewhat of a saint when we get over the panic.”

[58] The Sword and the Shield, pp. 292-3.

[59] The Sword and the Shield, p. 306.

[60] In 1984, Ray S. Cline and Yonah Alexander published Terrorism: The Soviet Connection, partly based on captured documents from the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, showing that the camps were overseen by the Soviets and that the terrorist groups therein were trained, resourced, and directed by the KGB. The response was a hyper-literalism that said one must be cautious not to infer too much from all this evidence and that nuance was required to interpret the local intentions of these organisations. Once the records were available, especially in East Germany, it confirmed that Cline and Alexander if anything understated their conclusions.

[61] The Centre broke contact with the Five twice, once at the height of Yezhovshchina for several months when their controller was recalled and then again in October 1943, convinced they were MI5 double agents because they had not turned over the (non-existent) British plans for operations against the Soviet Union. The KGB analysts were confused, though, since the Five sent them so much classified information, which was allowing the Soviets to do Britain real harm; the Soviets were used to giving up real information to make a dangle convincing, but this seemed excessive. It resulted in an expedition of KGB (NKVD, as it then was) investigators being sent to London that was pure farce. Ultimately, the Centre realised its mistake and contact was re-established in June 1944. See: The Sword and the Shield, pp. 84-5, 118-25.

[62] The World Was Going Our Way, p. 308.

[63] The Sword and the Shield, p. 287.

[64] At the conclusion of the meeting, no date was set for the next one—a first. Jefferson Adams (2015), Strategic Intelligence in the Cold War and Beyond, p. 117.

[65] The Sword and the Shield, p. 293.

3 thoughts on “The Role of the “Fraternal Parties” in the Soviet Union’s Global Mission

  1. Craken

    Given the loss of Christianity in Europe and communism’s superior appeal to mankind’s religious instinct compared to capitalism, it is a kind of surprise that none of the Western nations quite fell. I suppose there were enough religion substitutes to sustain the Western spirit, however weakly. The wealth generated by the capitalist engine, hedonism, entertainment, various little revolutions in furtherance of human autonomy, even “communism lite” conferred sufficient power of abeyance–until the darkness of the Soviet regime shone through clearly enough to undercut its power in the West–and the Mitrokhin and Vetrov revelations destroyed much of the vital Soviet espionage networks, convincing the Soviet elite that its future capacity to compete geopolitically had come into grave doubt.

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