The MI5 files: E.P Thompson 1958-62.
The National Archives have recently released a number of MI5 files relating to Communists up to the early 1960s.
One set relates to E.P Thompson. He left the Communist Party in 1956 but MI5 bureaucracy took time to adjust.
His file for 1958-62 is slim compared to earlier periods (particularly 1956/7) and as far as can be understood (short of any MI5 or police operative speaking out on the matter) the interest in Thompson during this period was residual.
That is, there was a limited interest in anything that he might do that would disrupt or annoy the CP. Much if not of all this would have been to the left of the CP around the New Left, but it was the disruption not the specific political position that probably interested MI5.
On an initial reading there are four specific issues in the 1958-62 file that have some wider interest:
1] On 14th August 1958 a report was filed from Halifax Police HQ with the subject of Magdaleine Marie Fales. It was signed J Stephens Aliens Officer. Apparently ‘recently’ Thompson’s house in Halifax had been ‘feloniously entered’ and Stephens had accompanied the ‘investigating officer’ for the purpose of sniffing around Thompson’s house. He ( and Dorothy) ‘being away on holiday’. He found a telegram dating back to 1953 relating to Fales, a French national, who had stayed with the Thompsons in that year and had been the subject of an MI5 report. He concludes that ‘Several aliens have stayed with THOMPSON from time to time’. Don’t hold the front page..
2] In June 1961 Thompson appeared in a BBC TV programme about the Communist Party. There is an exchange of letters between Thompson and Howard Hill of Sheffield about this. Hill argues that Thompson had appeared in a programme that had attacked the CP. Thompson in reply noted that he had tried to avoid attacking the CP since the 1956 split, even though he disagreed with its line and leadership. He suggests that he had argued on the programme that the BBC underplayed or ignored left politics including the CP.
3] In the same letter 13th June 1961 Thompson notes that ‘last autumn I volunteered to go to work in Cuba for a year and I know that my invitation was quashed by Communist intervention’. This is interesting because it suggests a perhaps hitherto unknown Thompsonian regard for the Cuban Revolution but also because it would have caused further issues with something he mentioned in another letter
4] On 3rd April 1962 he wrote to Maurice that ‘I’m desperately trying to finish a book on the ‘Making of the Working Class, now very much overdue.
I will post on the earlier files in due course. An initial scan suggests they don’t add anything significant about Thompson at a headline level but do provide interesting ‘colour’