Clemens Palme Dutt
Note on pics: Pictures of Clemens Dutt are unusually plentiful, even though he was rarely publicly pictured in his lifetime. Those shown throughout this biographical sketch are of CPD at various ages previously held in from records held by MI5. A photostat also held by MI5 of his Party registration card is also pictured. The secret service held the records of most members of the Party in this period, having obtained them by theft or inside plants.
Clemens Palme Dutt was born in Cambridge 15th April 1893, the elder son of Dr Upendra Krishna Nath Dutt, a Bengali (born in Calcutta [Kolkatta] in 1857, died in 1938), who came to Britain as a Gilchrist scholar in 1875 (a prestigious charitable award for promising student from the British Empire to aid study in Britain) and of Anna Augusta Dutt, nee Palme, a Swede, who died in 1949. (Hence the double barrelled name Palme Dutt.) (Anna was related to Sven Olof Joachim Palme, leader of the Swedish Social Democrats and Prime Minister in the 1970s and 80s, particularly noted for his policy of friendship with the Soviet Union.) Upendra Dutt made a point of practicing medicine in a poor part of Cambridge and both parents were clearly major influences over their children.
Left: Clemens Dutt in 1921
Clemens attended Perse School in Cambridge and won a BA with honours in botany from Queen's College, Cambridge; the Vice-Chancellor of the university wrote to the then Foreign Secretary of the British cabinet, Lord Curzon, in 1919 about a range of "very sinister characters we have here". Both Clemens and his later more famous but younger brother, Rajani Palme Dutt (Raji to Clem), were singled out as being "the worst elements". They "are men of extreme ability and have quite good control of the Socialist Club here", noted the Vice-Chancellor. He thought they ought to be "closely watched" and it was thus that the Dutts would be major targets for the attention of the British Security forces for much of the rest of their lives.
At the beginning of 1919, Clemens became Secretary of the Bristol Communist Party formed by local socialists and leaders of the unemployed eighteen months before the Communist Party of Great Britain was founded, which he joined the moment it was possible to do so.
Rajani (see separate entry) was the leading ideological figure of British Communism for a quarter of a century at least from the late 1920s. As "RPD", he was the author of the famous Notes of the Month editorials in the privately owned publication, Labour Monthly, that the brothers employed to project their take on current affairs. Their sister, Elna, who obtained a First in Mathematics at Cambridge, was employed from 1921 for many years in the International Labour Office (ILO) in Geneva in publishing and translation. But she also was certainly engaged in Communist activities in the 1920s and was the author of `Fascism and Social Revolution', published in 1935 by the CPUSA's publishers, International Publishers, in New York. Elna Palme Dutt is recalled as one of the most effective staff members at the ILO, both professionally and in her relations with other staff members. [`Social Justice for Women: The International Labor Organization and Women by Carol Riegelman Lubin, Anne Winslow] Interestingly, none of the supposedly `cold' characteristics, in terms of human relations, claimed by a rather hostile biographer of RPD emerge as features held by any of the siblings or their parents in their warm and pleasant letters to each other, always poured over by the British security forces over the years.
Like his more famous brother, and only mildly famous sister, Clemens was a blisteringly intelligent man but at Cambridge had "never appear(ed) in public". Both brothers were foundation member of the Party and there is a sense in which neither's career in the Party could be divorced from the others. They worked as one but in very different ways; Clemens was always more discreet and more in the shadow but that they worked as one also appears to have escaped the hatchet professional anti-communists who crawl over Party history in the interests of publishing and lecturing.
Pic: Clemens Dutt in the late 1920s
In 1920, the entire Dutt family had moved from Cambridge to London and in October of that year a home office warrant was taken out to intercept and check their correspondence. There is no evidence of this having ever been lifted. The original reason for this was that they were known to be in communication with Klishenko, a member of the Russian nascent diplomatic delegation in London, and to have associated with Sylvia Pankhurst.
Called Clem by comrades, and often CPD in letters and minutes (his brother was always Raji to Clem and a few close comrades and RPD to everyone else), he was known to all in his family, including his brother, as `Bocca'. It is unclear how this name came about; perhaps it was some fond childhood thing. The obsessive attention to CPD that the British security forces would employ at times seemingly boggle at this `secret' name. The one good thing that emerges from the detailed files kept on Clem from when he was about 30 to when he was about 60 is that posterity, granted access to seventy of the Public Records Office MI5 files held on him at Kew, is able to now make a detailed biographical sketch of an otherwise largely invisible personality.
Every single address he had ever lived at, in Britain or abroad, was carefully recorded in one file, with details of co-habitees and originating sources and he would be a fixed target of MI5 for some thirty years, even after they had long since ceased to actually suspect him of spying. The core suspicions had been created almost entirely due to Clem's role in fostering a liberation movement for independence in India, then, of course, firmly part of the British Empire. The origin of this almost certainly was what the MI5 files called "his Indian parentage" and the fact that he spent time in the 1920s in Moscow on secondment from the British Party to the Comintern.
On leaving Cambridge, where he had been a demonstrator, or lab technician after graduating; at one point, he had been researching a wide range of non-conifer trees and was briefly a teacher in Reading in the autumn term of 1918. But the following year, he obtained a post in the Food Investigation Board at the University of Bristol Agricultural and Horticultural Research Station at Long Ashton, which aimed to improve the cultivation of West Country cider apples. This was entirely consistent with a lifetime involved in background research – albeit mostly in politics, but often with a scientific bent. But his remarkable fluency in German, French and Russian, along with his part-Indian ancestry, would mark him out to be utilised by Communism in very different ways.
At this point, however, he immediately became immersed in local Bristol Communist Party activity. In one letter to his mother, he described how Soviet Russian crews on ships bringing timber to Bristol had distributed 250 rouble notes for propaganda purposes, each note bearing the inscription "Proletarians of all the world unite" stamped on it in various languages, including Chinese and Persian! It was later recorded that he had been active in the organisation of the unemployed in the very early 1920s and, if this is so, it is likely to have been in Bristol that he was engaged in this work. Clem was at this time a serious chess player and he was sufficiently good to be able to play the man regarded as the `Mozart' of chess, Jose Raul Capablanca y Graupera. The world chess champion in the 1920s, he is often referred to in chess circles as a candidate for the greatest chess player of all time. It was no disgrace for Clem to be beaten by Capablanca in Bristol in a game published in the Western Daily Press, which is still considered to be a display by the champion of a highly innovative, difficult to carry off, but model move.
In April 1921, Clem began working at the Labour Research Department with his brother Raji. Clemens soon became also a voluntary helper of the Workers' Welfare League of India (the forerunner of the India League) and was able to give considerable assistance to Indian Communists in the very early years of their movement. Clem sought to visit Soviet Russia in June 1921, with Robin Page Arnot (see separate entry) and his wife, Olive Budden, and Ellen Wilkinson (see separate entry). However, Clem's application, at least, for a passport was turned down and he went on a walking tour of Cornwall instead. But he was able to get a passport in December to go to France and Switzerland to spend Christmas with his sister in Geneva. That month, his job with the FIB was "terminated" (probably for political reasons) and he returned to London, to write on Indian affairs. He was at the 1922 Party Congress but MI5 (and other) records on his activities fade for a couple of years. About three years later, he would use the Labour Research Department as a cover for a Comintern role and it may be that he was informally working with fellow Communists who dominated the LRD office at this time on international matters.
From 1923 onwards, whenever he was available, he was a valued member of the editorial board of Labour Monthly, making profoundly thought-out but yet lucid and incisive interventions in discussions. MI5's collective ears pricked up again when it was reported to them that a "P Dutte", thought to be Clem, had arrived in Berlin on 29th July 1923 from Moscow with the intention of "co-operating with M N Roy, who was in charge of the Indian Section of the Comintern". This was the special bureau on Indian affairs formed by the Comintern and headed by Manabendra Nath Roy, an early leader of Indian Communism. It was thought that Clem was sent by the Comintern back to London, via Holland, to assist Shapurji Saklatvala (see separate entry) to carry on propaganda in Britain amongst French officials with the object of making it possible for Roy to start activities in Paris.
The British Communist Party established its own Colonial Bureau in 1925 under Clemens Dutt's leadership and now began to probe for contacts in India, Palestine, China, Egypt and Ireland. In July, 1925, Clem and Roy were present at a Comintern Colonial Conference held in Amsterdam, which was attended also by Percy Glading (see separate entry). The latter had just returned from a special mission to India and submitted to the Conference a full report on his visit. Clem was receiving correspondence at the LRD offices at least from April 1925 and by July, if not before, was employed there. It had been Page Arnot who had engaged him on the staff. But the British Communist Party's Organising Bureau, headed by Albert Inkpin the Party's General Secretary, had queried with Page Arnot whether this role clashed with Clem's work in the Colonial Bureau and with a "plan of special work involving his services" which the Party had under consideration.
MI5 had filed copies of correspondence between Clem and Inkpin that had been seized with a vast amount of other documentation during a raid on the Party's offices in October 1925 that has resulted in the imprisonment of a significant part of its leadership in the run-up to the following year's general strike. There was clearly some hesitancy on the part of the Comintern at this point that the British Party was yet sufficiently sharp enough in its colonial work and Clem was stuck in the middle of a mini-power struggle.
In his letter to the General Secretary, Clem emphatically denied that his LRD work was the result of an irregular arrangement with Page Arnot. "I received my instructions", he wrote, "to make the temporary change of occupation from the proper authorities of both Arcos and the Delegation. (Arcos was the All-Russian Co-operative Society headquarters in London that acted as an unofficial embassy, along with the trade delegation.) Nor do I understand what my association with the Colonial Bureau has to do with the matter since my time and facilities for work in that connection during the temporary change remain exactly as before. As for being aware of the plan for special work for me which is under consideration I have not received a single communication either written or oral from the British Party which would make me aware of anything of the kind."
By September 1926 a clearer line of accountability was established whereby, as a result of discussions in Moscow by Indian Communists, a triumvirate was formed composed of Roy, Clem and Muhammad Ali Sepassi (`Khushy Mahomed'), to lead Indian Comintern organisation in Europe. (Sepassi was trapped in Paris in 1939 and was shot by the Nazis the following year.) Roy was to remain at headquarters in Moscow, Clem was to control the British Party's Indian affairs and Sepassi was to work from Paris, liaising with Clem. Thus, between 1926 and 1930 Clem, as a member of the Colonial Bureau of the British Party and the Comintern's Indian Section representative in the United Kingdom, became the chief link with Indian Communists.
In 1926, Clem arranged for 10,000 copies of Roy's manifesto to the All-Indian National Congress to be printed in London and transmitted to India. He was the prime mover in 1927 in the secret despatch to India of Philip Spratt and Pazl Elahi, with whom, using the alias of Douglas, he maintained a clandestine correspondence over their work to build an Indian Communist movement. (Spratt would be involved in the Meerut case, of which more later, but would eventually become an anti-communist. The latter agent was possibly, Fazl Elahi Qurban who would later play a significant role in the Communist Party of Pakistan.) Clem also arranged for the transmission of Comintern funds to India, was responsible for the importation of Roy's journal, `Masses of India', into Britain and, was also siphoning funds to assist the publication of local newspapers in India in indigenous languages. During the absence of Roy, on a mission to China in 1927, Clem was responsible for the publication of this organ and visited Paris at least twice a month to go through the paper and subsidise Sepassi, who was short of funds.
By 1927, Clem was leading the work in London to build an Indian seafarers' union organisation liaising with A J Upadhyaya and Ajoy Banerji. They had been meeting Indian seafarers at hostels but had been banned from entering these. At a meeting with the Indian leaders in East India Dock Road, Clem was able to let them know that he had made arrangements to be informed of the arrival of ships with Indian crews, so that he could put them on board to talk to the crews before they disembarked. He was now on the London Council of the Workers Welfare League of India, which had been founded in 1917. The British Communist MP, Saklatvala was also much involved in this. Clem also visited Liverpool several times in connection with the organisation of Indian seamen by local Communists involved in the port.
The accumulation of all this work, seen as a threat to the British Empire was carefully watched by Britain's secret service, who noted that Clem played a significant role at a 1927 meeting of what MI5 called the Colonial Committee of the Comintern, meeting at Ostend. The agenda focused on discussions on the creation of an "Indian Kuomintang", clearly a short-hand for the idea of a broad-based national liberation movement. In December 1927, Clem paid a visit to Brussels to attend a conference of the League Against Imperialism. He spent Christmas with his brother, Raji, in Brussels and discussed his work with him. (In 1928 and up to 1931 Clem was, intermittently if not continuously, acting as editor of "Labour Monthly", in the absence in Brussels of his brother who was the official editor.)
In March 1928, a leading anti-imperialist campaigner, Reginald Bridgeman wrote to Clem to ask if he would join the EC of the British Section of the League against Imperialism. The LAI, (in French, the `Ligue contre l'imperialisme et l'oppression coloniale') had been founded in February 1927 at a conference in Brussels of 175 delegates, among which 107 came from 37 countries under colonial rule. The aim was to build a mass anti-imperialist movement across the globe and the movement was mainly supported by the Comintern and its constituent parties.
During 1928, Clem was in correspondence with Shripat Amrit Dange (always referred to as S A), who had been one of the early leaders of Communism in India, a fact that greatly interested the Intelligence Department at Simla. From about April 1928 to November 1928, Clem was in the USSR. He was elected a member of a sub-committee of Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI), to discuss the Indian situation. He was also made responsible for obtaining Indian delegates to the 6th World Congress of the Comintern in July of that year and he himself attended.
M N Roy's break with the Comintern in 1929 did not appear to have affected Clem, in that he continued to work in a special capacity, directly under the Comintern. He was a delegate to the 6th Comintern World Congress in 1928 and was also, for a period, the Acting Editor of Labour Monthly and often contributed to the journal's famous editorial Notes of the Month in place of his brother.
But the establishment of a British Communist Party Colonial Committee under the direction of its CC resulted in a bureaucratic awkwardness for him. The transfer of funds for salaries that had been used to pay Clem to the new department, which he was not attached to, created a hiatus and his work now continued on an individual basis, with Percy Glading being formally employed by the British Party. Clem's role as Acting Editor of Labour Monthly, in permitting articles that the Political Bureau was unhappy with, certainly did not help. He was now earning funds from occasional journalism and translation for Party and outside publications.
A turning point began when, in May 1929, Clem was sent to lend special assistance in Spen Valley, during the election campaign of the absent Communist candidate, Shaukat Usmani (see separate entry), an imprisoned leader in India. Clem was also a member of the Meerut Prisoners' Defence Committee, with a special brief to look after the care of prisoners, when the British authorities charged a large number of Indian progressives with conspiracy "to deprive the King of the sovereignty of British India". Clem attended the 2nd World Congress of the League Against Imperialism in Frankfurt and his role was now sufficiently well-thought of that he was elected to the Central Committee of the British Party at the 11th Party congress in December 1929.
In many ways, this was the signal for change in the British Party and, after his involvement in the Spen election, Clem had been pushed to the fore. In March, 1930, probably due to disclosures at the trial of the Meerut prisoners, for a short time, Clem went to Yorkshire on instructions from the British Party to work among woollen textile operators. But he was back on the international scene by May 1930, when he went to Berlin at the time of an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee of the League Against Imperialism.
In June, 1930 MI6 reported that a defector from the Soviet Embassy in Berlin had told them that the chief Soviet spy in England "is Mr. Palme DUTT, who is either the brother or a cousin of the well known Communist Palme DUTT. He has three aliases, DATE, SIRJME and DATXSLMANN. His speciality is Woolwich (Arsenal) and the aerodromes in Cornwall and Halton. His reports are sent to Polpredstvo, Berlin, for despatch to Moscow. Palme DUTT's reports are said to be signed 'F.A.', which means 'FINICOFF ANGLIA'. They are written in code and brought to Germany by special courier – usually women – via Paris or Rotterdam." (MI5 Registry convention placed all file names in upper case.)
However, MI6 disclaimed all responsibility for the accuracy of the information – on account of the source whom they appeared to consider unreliable. Despite the openness that now surrounds records of intelligence operations from three-quarters of a century ago, no trace can be found of the claimed aliases. It is not surprising that Clem was known to the Soviet embassy in Berlin, or that he was known to be engaged in delicate work, but it is clear that the slur that he was obtaining military secrets was unfounded. It is certain that he would have been arrested if there had ever been a shred of evidence.
For a supposed Soviet spy, Clem was remarkably out and about. It was not long before Clem was formally employed in the Party's new Colonial Department and delegated by the new EC to reorganise it. In August, 1930, Clem was formally appointed Head of the Colonial Department of the British Party in place of Percy Glading, who was not best pleased. Glading wrote to a friend: "I have been removed from the charge of the Colonial Commission and the brother of the great R.P.D. has stepped into the show and has swept me and mine on one side. What amazes me is that this amazingly contemptuous, superior and clever intellectual – and he is all these in turn – does not produce something equally amazing, but he does not." Glading was perhaps too close to his own disappointment to recognise that, in fact, a patronising view in the British Party, perhaps the Comintern too, of how to build a revolutionary and an independence movement in India would now give way to one that helped the Indians to open up their own potential, quite successfully in the long run.
In the British Party leadership, Clem now reported directly to Bob Stewart (see separate entry), who appears to have been very much taken with the younger man's abilities. He appears to have moved to stabilise his domestic circumstances with his new role in the Party's office. He had now formed a relationship with "Mrs Sophya P Tomchinsky, Welwyn, Herts", and he was trying to find accommodation in London to move in with her and her son, Peter, during 1930. (It is not clear whether the relationship failed, or whether Clem's soon-to-be international wanderings were the cause of this or a reflection of a new found freedom to travel.) That year, he was instrumental, with Saklatvala, in forming an organisation called the Workers' Section of the London Branch of the Indian National Congress, the executive of which Clem was elected.
In September 1930, representing the British Party and the LAI, Dutt attended a demonstration held in Amsterdam against the Fleet Law of the Dutch Government. In October 1930, he addressed the Cambridge University Labour Club on Is Socialism attainable by Parliamentary Means?. But his sensitive – and absolutely correct – work to undermine British power in India went on. In June 1931, he was one of the members of a sub-committee appointed by the Colonial Bureau of the British Party to organise Indian students in Britain. Shortly after, Clem used the pseudonym Cepeda in Inprecorr (International Press Correspondence – an official organ of the Communist International) for an article entitled British Blood-Stained Rule in Bombay; a pseudonym was used, again, probably due to revelations about his background role in Meerut.
All this work was disrupted after a most secret communique had been sent from Berlin to King Street in August 1931, asking them to send Clemens by the Eastern Secretariat of the League Against Imperialism. The head of the LAI Secretariat was Willi Munzenberg, a leading propagandist for the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and general secretary of the Communist Youth International. Under his influence, the July 1929 LAI congress saw a harsh struggle between Communists enthusiastically promoting the new Class Against Class line and anti-imperialist but national bourgeois allies; the fall out of the confrontation much thwarted a great deal of the potential of anti-imperialist work. No doubt, the feeling was that someone with knowledge of an important place such as India might aid the refocusing of the LAI's work.
During the 1931 general election, Dutt went back to the UK for a couple of weeks to produce a pamphlet on the Meerut case and "put the Indian question to the forefront of the Party's election campaign". But, aside from this, Clem had relocated to Berlin, where his formal job was to be the sub-editor of the Anti-Imperialist Review. So as to help his application to become a member of the Institute of Foreign Journalists in Berlin, he asked the Party dominated Labour Research Department in London to invite him to become their Berlin correspondent. For the next few years his passport became a vital tool and his use of it was carefully monitored by Britain's secret police. Clem had had only briefly travelled on his passport in 1921 and now needed to renew it. He described himself as a journalist on his new passport, which he first applied for in May 1929. It would be later renewed on June 28th 1931 as valid until 17th May 1933 but it was heavily marked as most decidedly NOT VALID FOR INDIA!
But, even while he was aiming to settle in, moves were afoot to rescue him from the deteriorating situation in Berlin. It appears, from an extract from a document obtained by the German police during the raid on the LAI office was seen by Captain Liddell in 1933 in Berlin, that some in the British Party were trying to replace Clem at the LAI with Jack Murphy, a member of the leadership who was finding himself increasingly out of sorts with Pollitt.
This document had been written by L Magyar on 12th August 1931 and was addressed to Ferdi Husni Bey (presumably LAI officials of Hungarian and Turkish origins). The relevant section, as reproduced in the security files, read (note that MI5 registry convention was to place all cross referenced subject names in upper case): "Your feelings against DUTT are not convincing. DUTT is not an organiser or administrator but MURPHY is no better an organiser or administrator. On the other hand, DUTT, even if he is only half Indian, understands German. MURPHY does not. It seems to me that certain English (this will mean British) comrades simply want to get rid of MURPHY and that is the real story." Murphy was expelled from the Party in 1932 anyway but the LAI was falling apart and the coming to power of the Nazis changed everything for the foreseeable future.
Clem had only been in Berlin a very short time before the German police conducted a raid on the offices of the LAI, in December 1931. The German government gave Clem notice to quit the country. Clem had escaped arrest during the raid by saying that he wasn't employed there but was merely visiting, It was claimed by MI5 that his comrades gave him "vital papers" to hide in his briefcase and he brought these to Britain while the LAI offices were closed and restored them when he returned in February 1931.
For the first time, the suggestion of his now engaging in research work in Moscow on the work of Marx and Engels came up, a task he would much later become more publicly known for. But in the meantime, "by way of camouflage", according to MI5, he enrolled himself as a post graduate in biochemistry at the University of Berlin. Even so, having resumed scientific studies, he was lecturing at the Marxistische Arbeitschule, the Marxist Workers' School, and a KPD body. MI5 claimed that the lectures were of a "military nature" and were attended by selected foreigners and members of the suppressed Front Kampferbund, although one suspects Clem of merely recalling Engels' historical work on street-fighting in the 1848 revolutions! (Actually, the full name was Roter Front-Kampferbund, or Red Front Fighters League, the KPD paramilitary set up as a defence force against the Sturmabteilung, the 'Brown Shirts' or Storm Troopers, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party.) Whilst, in June 1932, he was at the Anti-War Congress in Amsterdam; by February 1933, he went to Moscow and was there "ostensibly doing journalist work" until March 1934, apart from a visit to Geneva and Vienna in May 1933.
At the end of 1933, Clem felt he was "more or less getting into the position of being next to final consultant editorial authority on Marx and Engels", whose works were to appear in English. In 1934 he had become manager of the English section of a Translating Bureau in Moscow, possibly the nascent Foreign Languages Publishing House. Whatever the case, he was complaining that his work was now only monotonous and uninteresting. In the autumn of 1935, he returned to Britain on holiday. During his visit he was in touch with John Strachey, J D Bernal, Maurice Dobb and Joseph Needham, regarding a publication which he hoped to launch. Clem went back to Moscow for a short period but a heady period followed, as he became virtually an itinerant traveller in Europe, making the most of the ownership of a British passport, which traditionally guaranteed less attention and a lack of suspicion that almost any other. His movements were recorded with care, for he appears to have been slipping in and out of the nations surrounding what was now Nazi Germany:
Latvia March 33
Konigsberg March 1933 (now Kaliningrad, Russia, it was then German territory on the edge of the Soviet Union)
Left Breclaw May 1933
(variously also spelt Breslaw, Breclau, Wroclaw, this was in Germany at this time and later became Polish)
Poland entered May left June 1933
Petrocvice June 1933
(there are a dozen such places named thus in Czech or Slovak lands)
Breclaw entered August 1933
Austria September 1933
Perhaps it had been more presentment at the coming changes that motivated the summer 1931 back-door moves to shift Clem back to Britain. Harry Pollitt saw Clem in Moscow and wrote to Rajani Palme Dutt that he had "tried very hard to persuade him (Clem) to come back and work on the Foreign page of the `Daily Worker'". Clem was "very undecided as to his future and did not yet know when he was likely to return to Britain; meanwhile, he was `writing a book on Pavlov".
Clem had been living at Rose Cohen's (see separate entry) flat for a while and through her met Violet Lansbury, the daughter of George and Minnie Lansbury (see separate entry). In July 1933 writing to his mother from Moscow, he noted playing tennis at the Dynamo club with Violet Lansbury's husband "who is a professor and agrarian expert", this was Igor Reisnner, a Soviet citizen. Violet had been born in Seven Kings in London on 4th December 1900. George Lansbury (1859-1940) was a socialist-minded Labour MP and leader of the Labour Party from 1932 to 1935. In 1934, Clem was engaged in bio-chemical research, working with the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Moscow, making translations and writing newspaper articles on scientific subjects, but he was aiming to leave for England as soon as possible after August 1935.
But Clem would return to Moscow and to Violet. In 1935, he gave his permanent address Moscow and his marital status as single. But this was about to change; he and Violet now admitted to each other the fact that they had fallen in love and would now be together for the rest of their lives; they began to live together from sometime in 1936. A daughter, Anna Elizabeth, appears to have been born about a year after their liaison began (no doubt the `Anna' was in honour of her paternal grandmother). From May 1936, Clem was based in Paris, where he worked for the World Committee Against War and Fascism (Comite Mondial Contre la Guerre et Le Fascisme). In July 1936, he intimated his intention of returning to Moscow that month, but by August he was again in Paris. Here he spent the following 18 months at the office of the World Committee.
The reason seems to be that Violet apparently divorced her husband and agreed to move to Paris with Clem; MI5 records note that Violet "is now C P DUTT's wife, by Russian marriage only", which was not seemingly recognised in Britain and they never married under British laws. (Although later Violet always referred to herself as Mrs Dutt, in their earlier days, she used the designation `Mrs Lansbury-Dutt'.)
Clem and Violet, possibly with Anna's future in mind, determined to return to Britain. But Violet now had trouble getting permission to leave the Soviet Union, having lived there for 13 years and been married to a Soviet citizen. Perhaps it was due to her ex-husband's problems: Reissner's "affairs have been in some confusion, but are now getting straightened out". Violet was advised by some Soviet comrades that there was no reason why a definite date for her departure ought not have been settled, so she resolved that she would let Clem know if no date was set and arranged that he would "send a snorting telegram straight to the Bull's eye". Was the `Bull' meant to be Stalin? Either way, a date soon came through and Clem's ability to pull strings in the already dangerous Soviet bureaucracy was not tested.
Although Clem was based in Paris and responsible for the publication of Clart', the monthly paper of the World Committee, he was now travelling a great deal and much fuss was made by the British authorities over frequent passport renewals. In impounding his passport for extensive scrutiny in May 1937, it was speculated that he had concealed visits to the Soviet Union and Spain. When Clem had applied for a new passport that year a defacement was discovered. On "being interrogated", he freely explained to the authorities that the deletion had been made by Soviet officials at Negerolye in 1933, to conceal the fact that he had entered the country as he had been "an object of suspicion" to the British authorities. A record of his travels was thoroughly scrutinised:
March 1936 Geneva stamp;
October 1936 embarkation (sic), Dieppe; disembarkation (sic) Dieppe;
November 1936 Disembarkation, Calais;
December 1936 stamp Geneva;
January 1937 Disembarkation, Dunkirk;
March 1937 entry Bellegard (Franco-German frontier).
The conclusion of the official examination of Clem's passport determined "a deliberate attempt to eliminate and entry". His passport was impounded on the authority of the Secretary of State for India, until a satisfactory explanation could be ascertained. Clearly, the authorities had been worried that he had made a secret visit to India, since they assumed the defacement was to cloak an entry visa or stamp at some sensitive frontier point. In the end, as he had not concealed his many visits to the Soviet Union, and presumably because there was no evidence that the focus of the Comintern was currently on India, MI5 concluded that Clem had illicitly and secretly visited Spain, though they were never able to pin this down.
In April 1937 he was at a meeting of the European bureau of the Profintern, the Red International of Labour Unions, widely known by its Russian abbreviation. The following month he was at a bi-annual conference of the Comintern in Paris and a short visit to Moscow and then Paris followed. Clearly, the dominating subject would have been Spain but what Clem was doing is uncertain; even Britain's spooks did not know – the most that was concluded by them was that he "was closely concerned with the organisation of support for the Spanish Republican Government".
The only evidence of his likely covert work in Spain that is readily available indicates a role in mobilising support for the Republic amongst anti-imperialist nationalists in the British Empire. Like many British Communists, Clem was intimately associated with the many rising citizens of the Empire in the 1930s and 1940s, living in London, who would become world leaders in developing states in later decades. He had a particularly good relationship with all of the later stars of Indian nationalism, including those who would be towering figures of independent India. One was Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon, who was at this time a Labour councillor in St Pancras. (He later became India's UN representative and a government cabinet minister.)
A documented aspect of their intimacy and a sign of a special role Clem played in the Spanish Civil War arose when Krishna Menon wrote to him about an ambulance for use in Spain that he had apparently asked him to obtain, presumably with funds from Indian progressives. A leader of the left in the Indian National Congress, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who became the first Prime Minister of Indian and a pivotal figure on the world stage, was another confidante.
But this marked the end of Clem's 1930s travels; by February 1939, he (and his new family) had returned to the UK from Paris and was soon heavily involved in writing articles for the Party press and in speaking at Party meetings in Britain. By way of paid employment, in April 1939, he became the proprietor of his own business, the European Translation Bureau which had an office in Doughty Street. This concern was, however, short lived and in December, 1940, he replaced Hymie Fagan as a director of Central Books Ltd, the Communist Party Bookshop, and took charge of the Central Literature Commission of the Party.
He was also a director of Modern Books, the Party's then longstanding publishing house at the time. Clem was solely responsible for the first-ever translation of Engels' `Dialectics of Nature', published in 1940, a task one suspects that he had been engaged in for some years on his travels. Up to 1941 Clem was also associated with Fore Publications and `Our Time' and was a member of the Editorial Board of the Modern Quarterly. Of course, this was a period leading up to the banning of the Daily Worker and the government hovered over what to do about what was widely dubbed a phoney war with Nazi Germany, given the low level of actual military engagement especially from September 1939 to March 1940, and the general unease about the lack of equality of sacrifice.
A 1952 MI5 note quoted Douglas Hyde's (see separate entry) reference to him that probably had its origins in events of this period (no doubt in a debrief to the security forces after his high profile desertion of the Party) as "one who always worked two thirds underground and who had been given the task during the war of finding secret addresses for meetings of the Political Bureau".
For the next couple of years, he was much involved in speaking at ever larger and more successful meetings of the Party right across the country, although a new course opened up with the entry of the Soviet Union into the war. Ben Bradley took over Dutt's role at Central Books and, about April 1942, Clem obtained employment with TASS as sub-editor of the 'Soviet Monitor', a TASS publication (the Soviet news agency). Although his role was now quite different, and in any case the Comintern had been dissolved, there was little let up on surveillance on him. Indeed, from the evidence in his secret service files, which includes cuttings about him from the Daily Worker, the British Party was still thoroughly monitored even though the Soviet Union was Britain's formal wartime ally.
Every single letter and phone call to and from King Street, the Party's headquarters, and Central Books, where Clem worked, was copied by typists or Photostatted, or typed up and kept in files relevant to persons mentioned in them. It was a costly and time-consuming business. A Photostat machine was as large and expensive as an industrial press. It consisted of a large camera that created images directly onto 350 foot rolls of sensitised paper. After a 10-second exposure, the paper was directed to developing and fixing baths and then dried. The result was a negative print, which could be used to make any number of positive prints. This surveillance of the British Party certainly continued up until the early 1970s, at the earliest.
C P Dutt's long-standing connection with India – still part of the Empire – was clearly the main factor in the continuing post-war interest in him from the security forces. The scrutiny of every phone call, letter and trip was intensive to a ludicrous degree, so much so that one 1946 report records tittle-tattle about a row between Ted Bramley and Clem after the latter "had made some remark about an unknown female communist to which Bramley took exception". Seemingly, the row caused delay in giving Clem a further assignment, other than feature-writing, after he had returned from Paris in late 1945 after a period as a journalist for the Daily Worker. In this role, he was once again a major target for the attention of the security forces.
Clem, Violet and Anna were happily living in Finchley in 1943 when the Party needed his resourcefulness, knowledge of international travel and languages. Claud Cockburn, the Daily Worker's Frank Pitcairn, had been refused permission go to north Africa, where the tide of the war was now changing rapidly in favour of the Allies. In April, 1943, an application for Clem to be accredited as Daily Worker war correspondent to the army in North Africa was made. It was Daily Worker editor, Bill Rust, who put Clem's name forward for accreditation. The MI5 file drily notes that Clem "was vetted on 14.4.43 and the application was refused on 24.5.43". Although no really good reason could be found for refusing the paper an accredited correspondent, or any particular individual put forward, the security forces simply couldn't bring themselves to accept it. Their view to reject was put to the cabinet, as a War Department view, where Herbert Morrison supported the ban. But the Department had pointedly reserved the right not to explain their reasons, which were merely based on political hostility. Put simply, the top brass of the army did not want any Communist journalist anywhere near them for their own political reasons.
But the Daily Worker then applied for him to Clem to be their political correspondent in Algiers, and the Ministry of Information obtained permission from Allied Forces H.Q., North Africa, for him to take up this post. Before Clem went out to Algiers he took steps to be briefed as regards his duties by his brother Raji as well as by Bill Rust, editor of the "Daily Worker". Andrew Rothstein (see separate entry), then chief correspondent of TASS, released him from the staff of the "Soviet Monitor" and Clem left the United Kingdom for Algiers on 9th December 1943.
Accredited by the French Provisional Government, he managed to become accredited as a war correspondent to French forces about to invade the south coast of France. Churchill is known to have been actually opposed to the landings, although General Montgomery had proposed it, and perhaps would not have welcomed scrutiny. Clem was with the Free French forces engaged in the landings on the beaches of the Riviera. After three days, on 18th August, Clem was recalled to Allied HQ by order of the (American) Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean and his accreditation as war correspondent was cancelled; albeit that the military men began to blame their governments back home.
He returned to Algiers but in September, 1944, made his way to Paris as political correspondent of the Daily Worker where a Free French government now ruled. Clem reported for the paper, which gleefully published his account, on the jubilant mood and the enormous popularity of the French Communist Party during the liberation and its immediate aftermath. Such despatches were unwelcome to the British and American governments already planning what would become the cold war. Communication between Paris and London was entirely dependent on SHAEF, which took great pleasure at disrupting the Communists correspondent's work. (This was the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, pronounced `Shafe', the base of the Commander of Allied forces in north west Europe from late 1943 until the end of the war; General Eisenhower was in command of SHAEF). In Paris, he was subject to hounding from the authorities who, amongst other things, denied him cable facilities for no good reason. Irrespective of what the French liberation government thought, it had been "settled by the decision of the war cabinet that a Communist should not be accepted as an Accredited War Correspondent" and it was as simple as that.
In November, 1944, Clem returned to Britain for a visit but in July 1945, he spent three uninterrupted months in Paris, where he interviewed Picasso, who had recently joined the newly legal French Communist Party. His every move in and out of Britain was closely followed and recorded. Every ferry crossing he made, his bags were closely searched and the contents recorded. But Dutt soon permanently returned to Britain, citing personal reasons for not being able to be employed abroad, having found the enforced separation from Violet difficult. She had been hospitalised for some months in late 1944 and early 1945. (Dutt was replaced as the Daily Worker European correspondent in Paris by Derek Kartun.)
For the next decade or so, most of Clem's work revolved around various friendship societies for the new peoples' democracies of eastern Europe. From the earliest days of the planning of the cold war, he was still a focus for state police surveillance. But, perhaps largely because his daughter Anna was of a relatively young age during this period, he did not travel anywhere near as much as he had done. But tabs began to be kept on him as the cold war intensified, just in case.
It is quite clear that by a combined process of obtaining information via break-ins of Communist Party offices and using agents to work deep inside the Party, that MI5 had Photostat copies of the actual records of the Party's entire membership. Such a level of information had never been formally sought and sanction had never been given by parliament. Clem's membership record from, variously, the Hendon and Finchley North branches in 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, his membership of the Party's London Journalists Group, his actual Party registration card in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, and 1955 were in his file. His continuing shareholding in Central Books was also investigated.
At times, the files convey an impression that Clem was viewed as being a master criminal but perhaps the state simply saw all Communists this way! He was even followed on holiday; Penzance police station in July 1951 was asked by Cornwall's Assistant Chief Constable to get ready to spy on him when he and his family went on holiday there in the August. The report breathlessly recorded that he was accompanied by "a woman using the name of `Mrs V. DUTT", believed to be his wife, and a girl aged approximately 14 years" – Anna, of course.
Incredulously, Special Branch noted that he had stayed in a caravan at George's meadow, Sennen Cove, after answering an advertisement in a periodical named `the Lady'. Quite simply, this old established journal was known for being a good place to look for holiday accommodation; that it's editorial offices were a stone's throw from the Party's King Street headquarters may have escaped the constabulary!
A 1950 list of the entire membership of the Science Section of the Society of Cultural Relations with Russia naturally included Clem and even noted his registered interests with the society as "Chemistry, Biology". This body had founding members who were amongst the leading intellectuals of the 20th century day, including EM Forster, Julian Huxley, Maynard Keynes, Bertrand Russell, Sybil Thorndyke, Alexei Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf. The SCR sought to collect and diffuse information in both countries on developments in science, education, philosophy, art, literature, and social and economic life. But, in the suspicious days of the cold war, Britain's intelligence services quite wrongly viewed it as a Trojan horse for Soviet espionage.
It was discerned through a secret source that Bob Stewart had introduced Clem to the Polish embassy and he was engaged in discussing work producing bulletins on recent scientific and technical advances that might be of interest to Poland's scientific community. In 1951, Clem had problems finding work but by the end of the year both Clem and Violet were employed by TASS, he as editor and she as a translator. But he was still looking for work and, in early 1952, MI5 told a contact at the Electrical Research Association who had checked on him that they did not mind if Clem was employed by them, provided he did not have access to the secret work that it was engaged in. It seems he may have been given translating work to do at home but was not directly employed. In 1952-1953, he found work as editor of the British-Rumanian Friendship Association bulletin.
In March 1953, Stalin died; it may be that this was a trigger for the new collective leadership to seek his involvement once again in translation work on the political legacy of Marxism. Almost certainly, the thought was the need for a competent but safe pair of hands to tackle the thorny question of how to place Stalin within the wider context of the theoretical tradition of Communism. Within months of Stalin's death, he was in Moscow; in July 1953, Violet and Anna left by sea to join him. She had told the British authorities she was going for two months but the report on her noted that "another source suggests that they may be staying for eighteen months". The obsessive detail to which the security forces was devoted is revealed by a phone tap record between Violet (V) and Harry Pollitt (H) over Clem's job in Moscow.
V. Listen, HARRY-
V. Do you think it is a very long term job? ("in Moscow" is added in handwriting)
H. I do.
V. I see. Right you are.
H. That's my opinion VIOLET.
V. Well thank you for telling me. That's something to go on anyway.
H. Okey doke love.
V. Right you are.
H, Good bye.
V. Good bye.
Pic: MI5's copy of Clemens Dutt's Party registration form
For the secret services, Clem was as ever under the shadow of RPD, his famous brother. The security forces just could not make their mind up about Clem and his international profile. It did not help that any cable he sent from Moscow on the mildest of matters was watched and that he was all too often simply sometimes mistaken for his brother, RPD. One security force officer wrote in Clem's file in 1953: "It seems strange to me that the Party have not made better use of such an able man. I have noted the information but do not feel it is sufficiently form to warrant our placing Clemens Palme DUTT in our Spies Index." Later that year, a review of the decision concluded that: "In the light of his record, I find it impossible to believe that he has not been engaged in espionage." By April 1954, it had been decided not to classify him as a risk. "Dutt's continued absence from the country means that nothing much can be done in the way of active investigation. It certainly seems possible that he may have filled some espionage role, particularly during the days when the Comintern was most active."
Even so, the spooks continued to watch him. Everywhere Clem went, especially in and out of Britain, he was stopped and searched and a report made by Special Branch of his belongings and statements. Clem and Violet went back to Britain in July 1954, "possibly on holiday". An enquiry as to whether he had returned in October 1954, established that he was living in Moscow again, "where he is understood to be employed in translating STALIN'S works into English". (Since Registry files for Britain secret service always rendered a subject's name in upper case; somewhere, there will have been a set of cross-referenced files on the Soviet leader.)
A report in October 1954, clearly arising from a mix up between Bocca and Raji, trying to clear the matter up, pondered "unless, grim thought, there is a third DUTT brother"! The response, "Heaven forbid!", suggests the fear that the talent of the brothers inspired in the British state. But it was alright: "It must be C.P.D. CUBIST now confirms." Clearly, Cubist a deep entrist spy for the British security forces had wrongly identified Clem, even though, in 1955 Clem and Violet had a flat directly opposite the Kremlin and it was in Moscow that Clem devoted his remaining years to translation work of a high calibre.
Pic right: Clemens Dutt around 1957;
Pic below – and obvious copy of CPD's passport photo held by MI5
It would be a mere three years to his formal retirement age of 65 and it is not as yet entirely clear to this writer as to what lay ahead in his life. But posterity rather downgraded Clem's role in the history of Communism. He has been mentioned in passing in a number of histories of the British Party as having had a role in Indian affairs in the 1920s. More `famously', his name appears in countless editions of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin as translator. It is clear from the dates of some of these (a non-exhaustive list follows) translations that in his late 60s and 70s he continued to occasionally translate works for publication.
Clemens Dutt died on April 12th 1975, three days short of his 82nd birthday.
PUBLICATIONS BY CLEMENS PALME DUTT:
1927 (editor) Is India Different? The Class Struggle in India – Communist Party;
June 1930 Conspiracy against the King, published by the National Meerut Prisoners' Defence Committee;
1936? Italian fascism on the scrapheap;
1940 The meaning of the French trial
1956 `Weissbuch der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands uber die mondliche verhandlung im verbotsprozess (The Karlsruhe trial banning the Communist Party of Germany)
1918 Lenin telegram to l M Karakhan
1919 Lenin Speech at a Joint Session of the All-Russia Central Executive
1919 Letters: Letter from Marx to Dagobert Oppenheim
1926 letters: letter from Marx to Oscar Ludwig Bernhard Wolff
1929 extract from the register of marriages
1929 Letter from Heinrich Marx to son Karl
1930 Conspectus of Feuerbach's `Lectures on the Essence of Religion'
1932 `The German Ideology' pp. 94-451
1933 Selected Works K Marx (with V. Adoratsky)
1934 `Anti-Duhring' F Engels
1934 Notes and Fragments by Dialectics of Nature
1934 Plans and Outlines by Dialectics of Nature – Engels
1934 The Part Played by Labor in the Transition From Ape to Man
1937 `Pavlov and his school': by Y. P. Frolov;
1937 `The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte' K Marx
1940 `The housing question' by F Engels
1940 F Engels `Dialectics of Nature'
1941 `The German ideology' by K Marx & F Engels (with C J Arthur)
1941 Critique of the Gotha programme. by K Marx & F Engels
1943 Collected works: v. 25 by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels (with Emile Burns)
1943 Karl Marx `Selected works', vol I & vol II
1953 `Economics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR' (with Andrew Rothstein)
1957 `Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR' J V Stalin (editor and translator with Andrew Rothstein)
1957 `Political Economy, A Textbook'
1960 `The poverty of philosophy' K Marx (with V Chattopadhyaya)
1963 Fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism: Manual (Translated from Russian and editor)
1963 V I Lenin 'Philosophical notebooks', volume 38 of the
1963- 1977 `Collected works': v. 11 to 27 by K Marx & F Engels
1968 Letters: from Jenny Marx
1968 Letters: Marx to Arnold Ruge
1975 Letters: Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge
Engels `The German Ideology', i.e., The Leipzig Council, and also Engels `The True Socialists'
Marx-Engels Volume 3, 7, 9, of the Collected Works with Jack Cohen, Clemens Dutt, Martin Milligan, Barbara Ruhemann, Dirk J. Struik and Christopher Upward
Fr. Paulsen. Introduction to Philosophy
Fr. Uberweg. Outline of the History of Philosophy
Lenin: Remarks on Books on the Natural Sciences and Philosophy Lenin The Socialist Fatherland is in Danger!
Lenin: letters to Axelrod
Lenin: Report Delivered at a Moscow Gubernia Conference of Factory
Lenin: telegram to the Petrograd labour commune
Lenin: The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government
Lenin: to Plekanov
Lenin's summary of Hegel's dialectics
Marx – articles from the Deutsch-Franzcsische Jahrbucher
Marx and Engels – The Holy Family
Marx – On Freedom of the Press
Marx: Debates on the Law on Thefts of Wood
Marx: Economic Manuscripts: Comments on James S Mill
Marx's notebook comments on Mill
Preface to Marx Engels Collected Works Volume 5
Preface to Marx-Engels Works Volume 4
Preface to The first volume of the Collected Works of Karl Marx
Some of the many articles by Clemens Dutt in Labour Monthly were:
- The Indian Struggle for Independence (1928)
- The Role and Leadership of the Indian Working Class (1929)
- Some Lessons of the Woollen Textile Struggle (1930)
- The Indian National Revolution ('Notes of the Month', June 1930)
- The Imperialist Warmakers and the Anti-Imperialist Struggle (1932)
- Dialectical Materialism and Natural Science (1933)
- Spain and the Struggle for Peace (1936)
- The People's Front and the Class Struggle in France (1939)
- The Colonial Question and War (1940)
- Italian Fascism on the Scrapheap (1943)
- The French Political Situation (1944)
- Mines Nationalisation in France (1945)
- Peace in the Balance ('Notes', June 1946)
- War Moves over the Middle East (1952)
- Charles Darwin (1959)
- Theories of Alienation (1972)
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