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The Zinoviev Letter

The Conspiracy that Never Dies

Gill Bennett (Former Chief Historian of the Foreign Office, 1995-2005)



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Oxford University Press
28 August 2018
History; British & Irish history; 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000; Conspiracy theories; Marxism & Communism; Espionage & secret services
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 organisation, 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.
By:   Gill Bennett (Former Chief Historian of the Foreign Office 1995-2005)
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 242mm,  Width: 162mm,  Spine: 33mm
Weight:   598g
ISBN:   9780198767305
ISBN 10:   0198767307
Pages:   368
Publication Date:   28 August 2018
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Gill Bennett MA, OBE, FRHistS is an Associate Fellow of RUSI. She was Chief Historian of the Foreign Office from 1995-2005, and senior editor of its official history of British foreign policy, Documents on British Policy Overseas. As a historian in Whitehall for over forty years, she provided historical advice to twelve foreign secretaries under six prime ministers, from Edward Heath to Tony Blair. In 1998, in her role as Chief Historian of the Foreign Office, she was commissioned to write a report into the Zinoviev Letter affair for the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook. A specialist in the history of secret intelligence, Gill published a ground-breaking biography, Churchill's Man of Mystery: Desmond Morton and the World of Intelligence (2006). Her most recent book, Six Moments of Crisis: Inside British Foreign Policy, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013.

Reviews for The Zinoviev Letter: The Conspiracy that Never Dies

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 * 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] 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 * 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 * 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 *

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