A fortnight ago I marked the passing of Reuben Falber, for many years Assistant General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and throughout that time a "squalid, low-life, lying, fraudulent, corrupt brute". He was the man who took delivery of large sums of money from the Soviet Embassy and laundered it through party funds.
A reader wrote to ask, among other things, if I had independent grounds for regarding Falber as corrupt and brutish. I gave my correspondent permission to post my reply on his own blog, but as he hasn't done so I assume to my complacence that I managed to answer his questions with complete success. On grounds of Falber's corruption, the answer is implicit but clear, and I reproduce what I said in my reply.
Falber secretly accepted huge sums of money, stashed it, lied about it and kept no records of any kind. As recorded by Francis Beckett (whose book I cited in my post), when asked how much money he'd got: "I haven't a clue. I never kept a tally. It was cash, it didn't go through a bank account or anything like that." Beckett, in a broadly sympathetic account of the history of CPGB, speculates that when the Soviet records are found, in all likelihood the full truth of Falber's activities will be "innocent enough" - which is an extraordinary way of putting it even if you assume that no part of the funds was used by the Falber household. But this is a huge assumption by Beckett - as he fairly records, if Falber was telling the truth in claiming that the money was paid secretly to party branches, then he must have been extremely selective in which branches to favour. When the evidence of the payments came out, the first instinct of many CPGB branches was fury that they'd never seen any of the money. There is also circumstantial evidence that the payments, which Falber claimed had ceased in 1979, continued into the 1980s. Falber's conduct was corrupt in a moral sense, and it would be unreasonably pedantic to deny it was financially corrupt as well merely because we don't have the records of where the money went.
On the matter of brutishness, the answer is even clearer, and I'm reminded of it by the forthcoming anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising. I should have thought it a non-contentious point that a senior official (not just an ordinary member) of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s and 1970s merited this description. The party itself supported the Soviet intervention, in a resolution on 3 November 1956. The General Secretary of the Party, John Gollan, maintained: "There is the greatest danger that reaction can obtain victory in Hungary" (quoted in Keith Laybourn and Dylan Murphy, Under the Red Flag: A History of Communism in Britain, 1999, p. 149). Seven thousand party members resigned over this.
So far as I am aware, the CPGB in its inglorious history never resiled from this position, even though it later liked to present itself as independent of hard-line pro-Sovietism and mildly criticised the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. A leading party ideologist (who we now know served as a Soviet agent) explicitly declared in 1969 that Hungary and Czechoslovakia were not comparable, and that the invasion of Hungary was justified on grounds of the potential in that nation for couner-revolution (James Klugmann, Comment, 11 October 1969, cited in Geoff Andrews, Endgames and New Times: The Final Years of British Communism 1964-1991, p. 104).
All things considered, I stand by my description of the late Reuben Falber, and offer my commiserations to his family on their connection with an appalling man.