ISBN : 9780198767305
This is the story of one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in British politics, an intrigue that still has resonance nearly a century after it was written: the Zinoviev Letter of 1924. Almost certainly a forgery, no original has ever been traced, and even if genuine it was probably Soviet fake news. Despite this, the Letter still haunts British politics nearly a century after it was written, the subject of major Whitehall investigations in the 1960s and 1990s, and cropping up in the media as recently as during the Referendum campaign and the 2017 general election.
The Letter, encouraging the British proletariat to greater revolutionary fervour, was apparently sent by Grigori Zinoviev, head of the Bolshevik propaganda organization, to the British Communist Party in September 1924. Sent to London through British Secret Intelligence Service channels, it arrived during the general election campaign and was leaked to the press. The Letter's publication by the Daily Mail on 25 October 1924 just before the General Election humiliated the first ever British Labour government, headed by Ramsay MacDonald, when its political opponents used it to create a 'Red Scare' in the media. Labour blamed the Letter for its defeat, insisting there had been a right-wing Establishment conspiracy, and many in the Labour Party have never forgotten it.
The Zinoviev Letter has long been a symbol of political dirty tricks and what we would now call fake news. But it is also a gripping historical detective story of spies and secrets, fraud and forgery, international subversion and the nascent global conflict between communism and capitalism.
Introduction: The Impact of the Zinoviev Letter on British Politics
1: One Version of the Truth
2: In Search of the Red Letter
3: Enquiries and investigations, 1924-25
4: The Plot Thickens, 1928-29
5: The Philby Effect, 1960-70
6: New Labour, New Investigation, 1998-99
7: So Who Wrote the Zinoviev Letter, and Does it Matter?
A suspenseful and illuminating peek behind the veiled layers of secrecy underlying Western and Soviet intelligence operations - FOREWORD Reviews
Authoritative, absorbing, scrupulously researched. - Tony Barber, The Financial Times
In her vivid account of her bid to ascertain the real origins of the Zinoviev epistle, Gill Bennett provides many fascinating new details of this tangled episode. - The Economist
In an age of "fake news", when the Zinoviev Letter continues to be used as shorthand for establishment skulduggery, historians have an important role in separating myth from fact, even if many of those facts are, frustratingly, far from clear. This book is a timely addition to that cause. - Giles Udy, The Times
A well-written, scrupulously researched and argued account of an enduring mystery that neatly illustrates the haphazard interactions of politics, bureaucracy and history. In the absence of further new evidence, this book is as close as we're likely to get to a definitive account. - Alan Judd, The Spectator
[A] superb book, a compelling mixture of history, anecdote and historiography ... Bennett tells a story that could have been a plot from an Ealing comedy, featuring a motley crew of retired services types and chancers, cynical Foreign Office mandarins, inept politicians, intriguing Bolsheviks and dispossessed White Russians ... [a] careful and scrupulous study. - Simon Heffer, Literary Review
Bennett does an excellent job of weaving the complicated subplots, scandals and tales of incompetence into an engrossing narrative. - Dan Lomas, International Affairs
Bennett's story is fascinating. - Duncan Bowie, Chartist
This is a substantial and authoritative history of one of the most controversial and long-lasting items of "fake news" ever published. - Ian Mitchell's Book Recommendations
Did Gill Bennett, the Miss Marple of secret service archives, have a premonition when setting out to write this fascinating book, that current events would shape its market? The Zinoviev Letter has the lot - possible subversion of a Western democratic election, forged documents, fake news, clandestine networks and an array of characters straight out of Central Casting. The ultimate mystery of who wrote the 1924 letter, which was read round the world, still remains. But Gill Bennett's account is the closest we have got so far to finding out who did what, with what and for whom. - Lord Peter Hennessy
A brilliant, gripping dissection of the most famous 'fake news' in twentieth-century Britain and its dramatic impact on relations with Russia, British politics, and the intelligence services. - Christopher Andrew, Emeritus Professor of Modern and Contemporary History, University of Cambridge, and author of The Secret World: A History of Intelligence