George Blake is widely known as the spy who escaped from Wormwood Scrubs, a Soviet double-agent, a cold war warrior who went on to live out his years in peace near Moscow.
George Blake, who until the end of his days was revered in the Russian intelligence services, was ideologically committed to communism, convinced of the correctness of the Marxist teachings and willing to risk his life for them, knowing full well that serving such a cause meant serving the interests of the exploited people, of being on the right side of history – the side of the working class. And Blake’s life experience, as a witness to the terror of Nazi occupation and US imperialist aerial bombardment of Korea, was sufficient to steel him for the challenges which lay ahead in his own war with imperialism.
Born to a Dutch-Egyptian family whose surname of Behar was changed to Blake when the family arrived in Britain in 1943. The Behars had been forced to flee the Netherlands and the Nazi occupation, George Blake having served in the resistance movement as a messenger, though only a boy.
Upon arrival in Britain George joined the Royal Navy and later MI6. The Daily Mail in its vitriolic obituary says that, “after a stint working as a clerk for the Dutch government-in-exile, Blake joined the Royal Navy and within a year had been hired by MI6. He was sent to Cambridge to learn Russian before being posted to Seoul in 1948.
“… when he was captured by Communist forces during the Korean War he switched sides. He later said it was the discovery that American Flying Fortresses were carpet-bombing local villages that made him throw in his lot with the Soviets” (Edward Lucas, ‘Let’s never glamourise this traitor with blood on his hands’, 27 December 2020).
In an obituary for RT, George Galloway wrote that:
“In Britain, he volunteered for the Royal Navy and was given officer training, after which – because of his background and fluency in Dutch – he was asked if he wanted to join the Special Service. As part of British intelligence, Blake became a conducting officer. ‘I had to accompany Dutch agents in their training,’ he explained in an interview. He was also deciphering coded messages sent to Britain by the Dutch resistance.
“As needs must in such now-unimaginable times, British intelligence didn’t look too closely at who and what he was.
“If they had, they would’ve known that his relatives were senior members of the Communist Party in Egypt. While they were Jewish, they were also Arabs and, though fighting for the British, George Blake’s heart belonged in Moscow long before he got there…
“Blake’s progression into the British Secret Service was not dictated by Moscow. he did not then belong to the KGB, but he was already an outsider in every way amongst the class-ridden empire loyalists in MI6. And he was already turning his mind to questioning the false narratives of the Cold War.
“Everybody knew that the Red Army really won the war but admitting it was rare (again with the exception of Churchill) amongst the ruling elite. Blake knew it too but admitted it only in his heart. But for the USSR, fascism would have prevailed. Hitler fascism, Japanese and Italian fascism, and the fascism of the enemy within each occupied country.
“Of all the places George Blake could’ve been posted by Britain’s SIS, he was sent to Korea, quickly consumed by imperialist invasion in the first but far from the last proxy war between East and West.
“Again, Blake knew the lie he was living – a British ‘diplomat’ peddling a narrative about the charnel-house of the Korean War knowing it was the opposite of the truth. Captured by the red forces in Seoul… in a North Korean prison camp, he changed sides and the rest is history.
“Only those with a knowledge of history can know how Berlin almost became the flashpoint for World War III. And therefore know how foolish it was for the British to send the KGB officer George Blake next to, Berlin.
“The US and Britain had dug a secret tunnel deep into the Soviet zone in East Berlin at great risk and greater expense. Its purpose was to tap the telephone lines of the Red Army and the East German authorities. Because Blake had already warned Moscow of the illegal tapping, a huge disinformation campaign was mounted by Moscow which led the CIA on the merriest of dances.
“When this huge success for the KGB was in turn discovered, the finger of suspicion turned on Blake” (‘Farewell, George Blake. They say you were a traitor, but to whom & what? You helped rescue humanity from fascism’, 28 December 2020).
“’Much worse than Philby’, Sir Dick White, the then head of SIS, remarked grimly when he was told of the case against Blake.
“The suspected spy was unmasked by a tip from a defecting Polish intelligence officer who told the CIA that two Soviet agents were operating in Britain, one at a royal navy research centre, the other in SIS.
“They were codenamed Lambda-1 and Lambda-2. Quickly, Lambda-1 was identified as Harry Houghton, but it was months before Blake, then on temporary assignment in Lebanon to learn Arabic, became the prime suspect for Lambda-2” (Rupert Cornwell, ‘George Blake: The last of Britain’s “ideological” double agents who retained faith in communism to the end’, The Independent, 27 December 2020).
Despite indications that the British were on to him, he took the risk of returning to Britain where he was arrested. In the end, George Blake admitted that he had offered to spy for the Soviet Union voluntarily, out of his Marxist conviction.
Trial and imprisonment
Prosecuting Blake posed some problems for the British authorities, it was said that MI6 were uncomfortable about too heavy a sentence as it might discourage other double-agents from coming forward.
“Blake had to be prosecuted, but a public trial would be desperately damaging. To the relief of the authorities, he agreed to plead guilty, and at a short hearing on 3 May 1961 he was sentenced by Lord Chief Justice Parker to a prison term of 42 years – a year, it was said at the time, for each of the British agents he had betrayed.
"The severity of the sentence, the longest ever handed down for espionage by a British court, was stunning. In the event, however, he spent just five years in Wormwood Scrubs.
"On October 22 1966 came the final humiliation of SIS, as Blake escaped from what was supposed to be a maximum security prison, with the help of three fellow inmates, an Irish hellraiser called Sean Bourke, and Pat Pottle and Michael Randle, both jailed for civil disobedience” (ibid.).
The three had met Blake in prison where they were doing time for peace activism that had included organising a trespassing sit in at a US air base in England. After their release it was said that they had they smuggled in a walkie talkie to George Blake allowing him to coordinate his escape over the prison walls with them. After coming over the wall with a handmade rope ladder with knitting needles for rungs, Blake was hidden in London by sympathisers until smuggled out of the country in a VW camper van and dropped off at an East German checkpoint. He was to spend the rest of his days in Russia.
Life in Russia
According to Rupert Cornwell writing in the Independent Blake would “re-establish good relations with his three children by his first marriage. Blake became a fluent Russian speaker, lecturing aspiring spies at the KGB; for many years he spent two or three days a week at Moscow’s Institute of World Economics and International Affairs, where Donald Maclean also taught.
“For his spying services, he was awarded the Order of Lenin and Order of the Red Banner. He took no British newspapers but kept in touch with international affairs through the BBC World Service. In his slightly accented English, he gave the odd interview to the British and American media
“He and Ida [Blake’s second wife] were on good terms with Philby and his Russian wife Rufina. But he was especially fond of Maclean, whose commitment to communism, for all the disillusions, was closest to his own. When he died in 1983, Maclean bequeathed to Blake his library” (Rupert Cornwell, ibid.)
A communist fighter
Speaking about the collapse of the once mighty USSR, George Blake refused to accept that the collapse of the Soviet Union was inevitable, and rejected the idea that the multi-national Soviet state was unattractive to the smaller nationalities. Blake pointed out the bankruptcy of revisionism, particularly in economics where it had betrayed Marxism and had since the death of Stalin failed to provide continuing growth in the cultural and material welfare of society. He said:
“If Soviet society had been able to succeed in building a society which was just and where there was equality, and where there was an abundance of goods, as was the intention… the Poles, the Georgians, the Ukrainians and any other nation wouldn’t have wanted to leave it, nobody leaves a going concern.” (‘George Blake: British-Soviet double agent’s thoughts on communism’, Sky News video, 26 December 2020). Its failure to do so was down to revisionism in favour of ‘market socialism’.
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