Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, at the Houses of Parliament with members of the Birmingham Six campaign, March 28, 1990. Press Association Archive. All rights reserved.An affair concerning the alleged cooperation of British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with the Czechoslovak secret service (StB) has recently set the media in full cry. The uproar was triggered by gossip coming from a Slovak ex-agent, Ján Sarkocy, who was active in London in the late 80s, during which time he met with Corbyn. Sarkocy claims that Corbyn deliberately passed information to the Czech StB, and even “got cash” for it. But we are in possession of material that proves the opposite: Ján Sarkocy’s personal file at the Security Services Archive in Prague (file of cadre member reg. no. 30505). It shows that Sarkocy is lying, and that what we seem to be dealing with is an effort to discredit one of the most notable left-wing politicians of the day.
Meetings with Corbyn
According to Sarkocy, Corbyn, a member of parliament at the time, was a frequent caller with agents from the East. He was supposedly recruited “under the protection of Russia” and gave the Cold War enemy sensitive information in exchange for money. But the Security Services Archive holds documents that map Sarkocy’s own activities during his period at the Czechoslovak Embassy in London between 1986 and 1989. We can certainly speculate on whether everything in the file is absolutely true, or whether some things are missing. But even so, the document seems decisive in many regards. It certainly does not provide evidence that Corbyn was a spy or a “traitor”.
The media claim that Sarkocy (a.k.a. “Dymič”) met Corbyn three times altogether, but that there might have been one or two additional meetings. Sarkocy’s file contains a detailed list of his activities in Britain, which included several alleged meetings with Corbyn (abbreviated to “COB” in the file): 25 Nov 1986, 8 Apr 1987, 3 Jul 1987, 22 Oct 1987 and 19 Sep 1988. However, there is no mention of any sensitive information or willing cooperation. Sarkocy had others for those purposes, as his file shows, including individuals from the wider circle of the British Conservative government at the time.
Real informers and spies
In order to better understand the “Corbyn affair”, we must look into the daily work of the secret services. The StB kept meticulous records on their contacts based on their importance and level of collaboration. Crucially, Corbyn is found under the “RS” acronym in Sarkocy’s file, which denotes a category of people who did not cooperate with the Czechoslovak intelligence agency, but who the agency was interested in.
Czechoslovak agents tested these people, as was the case with Corbyn. Sarkocy, it would seem, was trying to see if cooperation might be established, while verifying that Corbyn himself wasn’t an enemy spy. His work on Corbyn – in the spy parlance of the times – was “under way”.
In June 1989, Sarkocy had to leave his British post early, as he and other Czechoslovaks were deported, most probably in connection with the defection of the agent Vlastimil Ludvík, who at the end of the 1980’s went over to the British and handed them a notable amount of information.
And so Corbyn remained in the second-rate “RS” category forever. In other words, the current Labour leader certainly did not boost his income with espionage. Meanwhile, in Sarkocy’s file, we find individuals much more valuable to the Czechoslovak secret services, who really did give information. These include an unnamed advisor to the British government for Eastern Europe, codename “Rave”. He was in a much more important category, “DS” (důvěrný styk; intimate contact), and, according to the file, Sarkocy used him often.
These facts are important for Corbyn’s case. In addition to “Rave” we find a British Council of Churches member, codename “JAK”. He too handed over some valuable pieces of information, according to the file, and if it weren’t for Sarkocy’s deportation, would have also reached “DS” level. There is no information of this sort regarding Corbyn. If our ex-spy claims that thanks to today’s Labour leader he knew what Prime Minister Thatcher herself was having for dinner, we should not be inclined to believe him.
Sarkocy’s failed ambitions
Perhaps it will aid our search to consider what Sarkocy’s superiors wrote about him. He was quite an ambitious fellow, it turns out. In 1980 he started working with the StB in Bratislava, passed his English and Russian language exams, and was transferred to Prague, where he was assessed as “young, capable and full of perspective”. At the end of May 1986, he travelled to London as a first lieutenant. There, he was active under the false identity of the third secretary of the Czechoslovak embassy. It is interesting to note that he was considered an egotist and troublemaker from the very beginning. The file says he got into conflicts with his colleagues, was jealous and enjoyed secrecy and acting on his own. He was, apparently, “unpopular with the Czechoslovak colony” and his behaviour led to isolation.
However, he wanted to assert himself, and so after about two years, he received a difficult task – that of infiltrating the British secret service. It didn’t work out, and so Sarkocy was forced to end at the top of his career, if we can call it that. Who knows, perhaps these are the reasons why he is trying to attract media attention and get back a speck of his lost credit. And perhaps he wants to pull down Corbyn in particular, as a person who – unlike him – made it to the top.
Credible testimony from a spy?
There is one more striking aspect to the “Corbyn affair”: the trust placed in gossip from an ex-StB operative. For decades, Czechs have been told that former StB agents were the worst kind of vile riff-raff, never to be taken seriously. But with Corbyn, it’s suddenly all different. A former member of State Security is considered an “authority” with the ability to make the ground shake beneath the popular Labour politician’s feet.
All that needed to be done was to fact-check Sarkocy’s claims in the archive before letting the “Czech sensation” out into the world. The British Conservatives and the tabloid press have, in the meantime, put their hysterical circus in motion, spreading vitriol all round. Corbyn has been labelled a “traitor”, Theresa May demands an explanation and many decry and amplify his “evil” intentions.
After studying Ján Sarkocy’s personal file, however, we can confirm the position of the director of the Security Services Archive, Světlana Ptáčníková: Corbyn was no communist spy. Perhaps he was naive. Perhaps he was angry at the British government for its colonial past, and at Prime Minister Thatcher, who had declared war on trade unions. And as someone whose wife was from Chile, where Pinochet’s putsch had taken place, he knew the kind of dirt the US had on their hands, in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World.
These reasons might have contributed to Corbyn’s disenchantment with the Cold War, its black-and-white view of “good and evil” and of two blocks waging an irreconcilable battle. And so perhaps – again with a certain dose of naivety – he observed the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev with hopes of reform in the Eastern Bloc.
Furthermore, Corbyn was considered Labour’s unofficial “foreign secretary of the left”, who was used to meeting delegates from around the world. As a result he had several candid meetings with a certain Czechoslovak “diplomat”, who – unfortunately – turned out to be someone rather different from what he had claimed.
This piece was translated from Czech by Ian Mikyska, and originally published on Political Critique on February 17, 2018.