1990s >> 1995 >> no-1085-january-1995

Book Review: ‘The Enemy Within – MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair’

An enemy of the state?

The Enemy Within: MI5, Maxwell and the Scargill Affair, by Seumas Milne (Verso, 344pp, £16.95)

In a letter to me which Arthur Scargill, President of the National Union of Mineworkers, wrote in August 1992, he said: “It is now obvious from all the documentation in our possession that every single smear and allegation made against Peter Heathfield and myself has been discredited, disproved, thrown out by the court or been subject of a legal agreement which has vindicated the two National Officials and the Union itself.”

Seumas Milne’s long-awaited book on the 1984-5 miners’ strike, and its aftermath, confirms this and much more besides. Unlike Paul Routledge, in his Scargill, Milne generally asserts that Scargill was more wronged than wrong.

Milne claims that there has been a twenty-year secret war against the NUM in general, and Arthur Scargill in particular. This was spearheaded by Margaret Thatcher, Robert Maxwell and Stella Rimington, now head of MI5. It was, he asserts, an unholy alliance. “For the Tories and the British Establishment as a whole,” he writes, “Arthur Scargill came to embody all that they most feared and hated about trade union power in general, and the miners in particular.” Scargill was “a man apart”; the living “embodiment of the enemy”. The ruling class hated, and did everything it could, to defeat the NUM and Scargill.

Although the NUM was defeated in the 1984-5 strike, the end of the strike did not end the war against Scargill and the miners. In the war against the NUM, the Maxwell-owned Daily Mirror was probably more vociferous than the traditional anti-union papers. Together with ITV’s Cook Report, the Mirror accused Scargill and the NUM general secretary, Peter Heathfield, of theft and embezzlement of money donated for strike purposes; of using money sent from Libya to pay off mortgages; and of receiving million of pounds from the Soviet Union. Almost all the media, the government, and many Labour Party leaders, joined in the chorus of abuse – which continued well into 1990.

But as Arthur Scargill said in his letter to me, and as Milne demonstrates in meticulous details, every one of the claims proved to be untrue, unfounded or wildly exaggerated. Neither Scargill nor Heathfield paid off mortgages with Libyan money, because neither had a mortgage and neither received a penny from Libya. And although the Soviet Union belatedly sent a million dollars to the pro-“Communist” international miners’ organisation for general purposes, none of this money reached the NUM, or its leaders, during the strike. The British state seized the NUM’s assets, and Scargill arranged parallel, supposedly secret funds. But, as Milne demonstrates, MI5 and GCHQ, using all kind of illegal methods, knew about most of the money. They also, apparently, had a spy right in the headquarters of the union. Indeed, the government used every trick in the book to destroy the NUM and its top officials such as Peter Heathfield and Arthur Scargill. For instance, Scargill and the NUM were tricked into concentrating mass picketing at the British Steel coking plant at Orgreave near Sheffield and the resulting pitched battle with the police.

Although Milne is largely sympathetic towards Scargill and Heathfield, it is obvious from his account, and what we already know, particularly of Scargill, that he made many mistakes before, during and after the strike. This was largely due to his peculiar political views – an unholy mixture of Bolshevik/Stalinist vanguardism and ill-digested syndicalism.

Nevertheless, he was considered to be a danger to British capitalism. To the British ruling class, he was very much an “enemy within”. Milne’s book is well reading, even if it only demonstrates to what extent the capitalist class and its lackeys will go.

Peter E. Newell

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