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A complete picture of a truly dedicated revolutionary

The Shadow Man: At the Heart of the Cambridge Spy Circle
by Geoff Andrews
(IB Tauris, £20)

Our paper’s headline was: “Homage to Klugmann Teacher of Genius” on the day of his funeral in 1977.

Gordon McLennan, general secretary of the Communist Party, told mourners: “James was eternally young” and no-one had done more in the last 40 years to explain and win understanding of the world-changing ideas of Marxism.

Yet as Geoff Andrews shows in this extensive and meticulously researched autobiography he was so much more than the donnish, bespectacled intellectual giant of communism.

After seven years of research, using the file held on Klugmann by MI5 and the opening of relevant Moscow archives, he illuminates the complete story of a brilliant intellectual who gave his life to the Communist Party.

Norman John Klugmann, known as James, was born on February 27 1912 and is primarily remembered as the party’s historian and editor of its theoretical journal Marxism Today.

However, this autobiography reveals all his extraordinary life — as an inspirational international student leader who met Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru, as the (unofficial) political mentor of several of the “Cambridge five” including a short period as a reluctant spy himself, and as the officer in the Special Operations Executive, Britain’s wartime intelligence network operating behind the lines in nazi-occupied Europe, who was largely responsible for shifting Churchill’s support behind Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia in 1943-44.

That is in itself a hilarious story bearing in mind Klugmann was an open communist and never attempted to hide his convictions.

Born into a prosperous Jewish family in Hampstead, he went to the progressive Greshams school. where he won a modern-languages scholarship to Cambridge.

He joined the party in 1933 in his first year as a postgraduate and, working with John Cornford, the brilliant young poet and activist who would die in Spain three years later, took over the leadership of the university’s communist student organisation.

He was a brilliant recruiter, incredibly softly spoken and persuasive and the political commitment unleashed among his generation went beyond the fashionable, superficial rite of passage communism is often portrayed as today.

This was undoubtedly because of his unprecedented internationalism, expressed in total opposition to fascism in Europe and in his contempt for an unequal, unjust and depressed society.

It is that total commitment that later saw Klugmann loyally defend the party’s line over Tito, 1956 and throughout the rest of his life, often at great personal expense to his intellectual reputation and health.

Andrews further believes that his brief and reluctant role as an NKVD agent in the recruitment of John Cairncross also tormented him right up to his death.

What is evident though in this fascinating book is a complete picture of a truly dedicated revolutionary, an incredible intellect, a brilliant teacher, a hard-working, self-sacrificing man who gave everything for the cause in which he truly believed.

With 20 pages of notes, this is an important work about a generation that was like no other and a man who was a giant of his time.

Review by Bob Oram


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