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Background and Early Career
Born Norman John Klugmann, in 1912, he later adopted the name James and dropped the second n in his surname. His father was a tobacco pipe merchant, with a strong Jewish accent and the family lived in a Victorian house on Haverstock Hill, Hampstead, London. His sister Kitty Cornforth was also a committed Communist, marrying Maurice Cornforth. Harry Hodson, in his memoirs, recalls visiting the Klugmann family home and recounts of James Klugmann, that “his background was impeccably bourgeois.”
Educated at The Hall School, Hampstead, Gresham's School and Trinity College, Cambridge (at both of which he was a friend and contemporary of the spy Donald Maclean), Klugman joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1933 whilst studying at Cambridge, where he won a double first.
Klugmann was at pains to deny any connection with spying during his lifetime and a long period of secret service surveillance on him threw up no obvious proof. He had however been on the fringes of such activity, which no doubt gave rise to suspicion, along with his university friendships of some of those who were involved in espionage.
In 1935, Klugmann gave up an academic career to become Secretary of the World Student Association, based in Paris, travelling widely across the world. This role, which involved the building of the Popular Front against fascism, first attracted the attention of the British Security Service. MI5’s description of James for its operatives, which was put on file around 1938, said: “Height about 5’ 8”, light build, broad brow, small featured face, fuzz of greyish hair, probably wears glasses, not remarkably jewish but rather foreign appearance.”
Career in Yugoslavia with Special Operations
He had joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a private in 1940 but, having a natural flair for languages, he was soon transferred to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), who apparently ignored his communist sympathies. It was claimed by the official historian of SOE that when Klugmann was recruited into SOE by Brigadier Terence Airey (an old boy of his school), MI5 reported that he was not known to them. In fact, the relevant files had been destroyed at Wormwood Scrubs by a German air raid. In February 1942 Klugmann was posted to the Yugoslav Section of SOE as an intelligence and coordination officer, based in Cairo. Klugmann became critical of the Serb Royalist leader General Draza Mihailovic, who was the chief beneficiary of British aid and support in the resistance movement in Yugoslavia. Klugmann's reports influenced thinking at the Political Warfare Executive, Secret Intelligence Service (M16), the Foreign Office, and BBC. He suggested that the Communist leader Tito and his partisans were killing more Germans than Mihailovic's Cetniks despite smaller numbers. The Partisans deliberately provoked retaliation by killing German soldiers in outlying posts. The Germans would then select random villagers and execute them; this brutal response boosted partisan recruitment.
Churchill switched his support to Tito (see Yugoslavia and the Allies). Some eight understrength Wehrmacht divisions and Bulgarian and Croatian Ustase units were employed in Yugoslavia during 1943 and 1944 fighting the partisans. Yugoslavia was the only country during World War II that liberated itself with little military assistance from the Allies. Although this move was one favoured by Stalin, Tito and Stalin later fell out and became bitter critics. Klugmann rose to the rank of major, an unlikely outcome given his general disposition. He was under constant surveillance, suspected of being an NKVD agent along with Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt, all of whom he knew at Cambridge, and one of whom, Maclean, had been a friend at Gresham's. However, no proof was ever found. During his time in SOE and later whilst a civilian in UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in Yugoslavia he supported Soviet aims.
Klugmann remained a devout Communist all his life and went on to play a significant role in the CPGB becoming responsible for the Education branch. After his wartime service, he became a member of the executive committee of the British Communist Party and editor of Marxism Today. Michael Straight (later owner and editor of The New Republic and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts), an American who had studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and who had become friends there with Blunt, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess described Klugmann as "a warm-hearted and compassionate intellectual whose commitment to Communism left him no time for such minor preoccupations as taking a bath or cleaning his fingernails."
One of the most active and overt British communists of his generation, Klugmann became an influential left-wing journalist after the war and wrote the first two volumes of the official History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, which was continued by Noreen Branson. He also wrote the controversial From Trotsky to Tito justifying, to a British communist audience, policy towards Tito's Yugoslavia.
Books by James Klugmann
- The History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: Formative and Early Years 1919-1924 (Vol. 1) ISBN 0-85315-372-8
- The History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: The General Strike 1925-26 (Vol. 2) ISBN 0-85315-374-4
- Wall Street's Drive to War (Communist Party, 1950)
- From Trotsky to Tito (Lawrence & Wishart, 1951) ASIN B0006DBG3G
- The Peaceful Co-existence of Capitalism and Socialism (People's Publishing House 1952) ASIN B0007K14QM
- Dialogue of Christianity and Marxism (Lawrence & Wishart, 1967) ASIN B000G9OYD4
- What Kind of Revolution?: A Christian-Communist Dialogue (Panther, 1968) ISBN 0-586-02580-4
- The Future of Man (Communist Party of Great Britain, 1971) ISBN 0-900302-20-8
- Marxism Today: Theoretical and Discussion Journal of the Communist Party (Communist Party of Great Britain, 1975) ASIN B0006DLHUI
- Concise Dictionary of National Biography
- Foot, M.R.D. (1999). The Special Operations Executive 1940–1946. Pimlico. pp. 46–47. ISBN 0-7126-6585-4.