Monday, January 3, 2022

Kim Philby Remembered: A traitor to his class

Kim Philby, born on January 1st, 1912, is one of the best known double agents of the Cold War era. A man of affluent bourgeois background who decided to cut ties with his class and devote himself to the struggle of the working class by serving the Soviet Union secret services. In his homeland, Britain, he has been labeled as a “traitor”. But, in fact, just for “betraying” the interests of British imperialism, Philby should be regarded as a hero for the working class people.

“I have followed exactly the same line the whole of my adult life. The fight against fascism and the fight against imperialism were fundamentally the same fight”, Kim Philby was quoted as saying. 

Philby, alongside some other progressive young people of his generation, understood the deeply reactionary character of capitalism. That is why they began searching for radical ideas, studied Marxism and, some of them, came closer to the communist ideology. 

In his 1968 book "My Silent War", where he provides a detailed account of his activity as a double agent, Philby writes:

"It was the Labour disaster of 1931 which first set me seriously to thinking about possible alternatives to the Labour Party. I began to take a more active part in the proceedings of the Cambridge University Socialist Society, and was its Treasurer in 1952/35. This brought me into contact with streams of Left-Wing opinion critical of the Labour Party, notably with the Communists. Extensive reading and growing appreciation of the classics of European Socialism alternated with vigorous and sometimes heated discussions within the Society. It was a slow and brain-racking process; my transition from a Socialist viewpoint to a Communist one took two years. It was not until my last term at Cambridge, in the summer of 1933, that I threw off my last doubts. I left the University with a degree and with the conviction that my life must be devoted to Communism."
In the usually dark world of secret agents, Philby was one of the bright examples who betrayed his own class and served the people of the Soviet Union and the world's proletariat.

Below you can read the brief story of Kim Philby published in “Russia Beyond the Headlines” (

Harold Adrian Russell Philby (Kim was a nickname) was born into an affluent family: His father, St John Philby, worked in British India, later converted to Islam, and was advisor to King Ibn Sa'ud of Saudi Arabia. Such are the ironies of fate: St John persuaded the Saudis to cooperate with Britain and the USA – instead of the USSR – while his own son ended up working for Moscow for 30 years.

Young Philby received a first-class education at Cambridge. While there, he associated with the British Socialists – something he later addressed by saying: "When I was a nineteen-year-old undergraduate trying to form my views on life, I had a good look around and I reached a simple conclusion – the rich had had it too damn good for too long and the poor had had it too damn bad and it was time that it was all changed."

The desire to bring equality to the world led him to work for the main citadel of the Left at the time – the Soviet Union. In 1933, Philby was recruited in Vienna by Arnold Deutsch, a deep-cover Soviet intelligence agent. Later, when accused of betrayal, Philby always calmly retorted that he remained true to his own convictions – and that this was more important than loyalty to his country.

Arnold Deutsch convinced Philby that, as a secret agent inside British counterintelligence, he would do far more good for the communist cause than any devoted Socialist could, and, beginning in the 1930s, Kim began to conceal his political beliefs: as a correspondent for The Times, he sent reports from Fascist Spain and publicly praised General Franco. Gradually, Philby’s international experience had led to the SIS taking up interest in the journalist, and offering him a job. Philby agreed.

After the outbreak of WWII in 1939 Philby became an indispensable agent for Soviet intelligence. Thanks to the decryption of the Enigma code, the British managed to read secret German radiograms throughout the war, and while Winston Churchill was in no hurry to share all the information with his Soviet allies, Kim Philby had been secretly doing that job for him.

"You have probably all heard stories that the SIS is an organization of mythical efficiency, a very, very dangerous thing indeed. Well, in a time of war, it honestly was not," Philby told a seminar for East German intelligence officers in 1981. Every day he had left the office with a big briefcase full of the latest papers and reports, and handed them to his contact. The latter photographed them and sent them to Moscow, while Philby put the originals back in their place with no one any the wiser next morning.

Philby took personal pride in the 1943 Battle of Kursk: thanks to him, the USSR knew exactly where the Third Reich was planning to deliver the decisive blow – near the village of Prokhorovka – and held back a powerful attack by German tanks, which later made it possible to win the battle. "When Philby was asked what his main achievement in life had been, he would repeatedly say 'Prokhorovka'," Sergei Ivanov, head of the press service of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, told RIA Novosti.

From 1944, having had his own boss ousted with the use of clever manipulation ("It was a very dirty story but our work does imply getting dirty hands from time to time," the former agent recalled later), Kim Philby was put in charge of SIS Section IX, which oversaw anti-Communist operations. In his new position he continued to pass information to Moscow but skillfully covered his tracks: so much so, that in 1946, he received the Order of the British Empire from King George VI.

Philby was skating on thin ice all the time. On one occasion, in 1945, the Soviet vice-consul in Turkey, Konstantin Volkov, told the British that, in exchange for political asylum and money, he was prepared to reveal the names of three important Soviet agents in London. Philby, being one of them, flew to a meeting with Volkov as SIS representative, having sent a tip-off to Moscow. Volkov was arrested, with Philby telling his SIS bosses that the meeting must have been a provocation.

In 1951, the clouds were gathering over Philby again, following the escape to Moscow of two Soviet spies who had been recruited on his recommendation – Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess. Maclean was already on the verge of being exposed, but Burgess, who had organized Maclean’s escape, fled without permission, deeply compromising Philby's position. The SIS was aware that Philby and Burgess knew each other, and decided it was quite possible that Philby was the "third man”. He underwent questioning.

The Soviet agent kept his nerve: the British subjected him to weeks of daily interrogation, but couldn’t spot one lie, In the end, he was left alone (although he was removed as head of the department) and officially cleared by the foreign secretary personally. And in 1955 Philby convened a news conference at which he expressed his outrage at being accused of espionage. "The last time I spoke to a Communist knowing that he was a Communist was some time in 1934," Philby said. And the nation believed.

In the years 1956-1963, Philby worked in the Middle East: ostensibly as a journalist but in reality as an SIS agent (and Moscow's, of course). Not much is known about this period of his life. In 1963, however, he was finally exposed thanks to testimonies provided by new defectors to the West, as well as by an old girlfriend who revealed his Communist beliefs. An offer of immunity "was contingent on my telling all I knew about the KGB and naming names in Britain", Philby was to recall later. But his Soviet comrades organized his escape from Beirut to Moscow (some people believe the British intentionally let Philby "flee" to the east to avoid a scandalous trial).

In the USSR, Philby essentially became an honorary pensioner: he passed on to Soviet intelligence everything he had, and occasionally gave seminars for intelligence officers. He lived in a flat in central Moscow and married a Muscovite 20 years his junior. In the few interviews, he gave he said he regretted nothing and spoke of the USSR as "we" – although admitted that he did miss Britain a little. According to some intelligence officers, many of the things Philby had been involved in are classified to this day and may remain shrouded in mystery forever.