Simon Heffer

From Riga with Love

The Zinoviev Letter: The Conspiracy That Never Dies


Oxford University Press 340pp £25 order from our bookshop

As Gill Bennett relates in this superb book, a compelling mixture of history, anecdote and historiography, the Zinoviev Letter arrived in Britain in 1924 and has never really gone away. Three weeks before the general election of October that year, a decoded telegram reached the headquarters of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in a villa in Holland Park from its Riga station. It purported to be a translation into English of a communication from Grigori Zinoviev, the Bolsheviks’ propaganda chief, to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Zinoviev was head of the Comintern and had in that capacity written a number of letters to European communist parties urging them to radicalise the working classes in their countries. The letter that had allegedly been sent to the CPGB, signed also by a Finnish communist, Otto Kuusinen, and by Arthur MacManus, a Clydeside docker, claimed that the re-election of a Labour government would confirm the stability of diplomatic relations between the two countries (which Labour had instituted in January 1924 but which would be under threat if the Conservatives won) and stated that closer contact between the two countries would facilitate the spread of Leninist propaganda and ideals in Britain.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,