Arthur Ransome was a very well-known author of children’s books, best known for his series beginning with Swallows and Amazons. He was also a spy for British intelligence and a close enough friend to the Bolshevik leadership that he married Leon Trotsky’s secretary. These security service files show how for years he was spied on as a suspected Communist sympathiser, even while he was providing information to British military intelligence.
Suspicions were first raised shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, when Ransome left Russia in September 1918 without telling any of his friends in British intelligence an officer at the British legation in Petrograd wrote to HQ suggesting his passport be revoked. In his assessment Ransome was unwilling to use his considerable influence on the Bolshevik leadership and therefore didn’t deserve British nationality. Other memos referred to him as a ‘Bolshevik courier’ and talked about his ‘propaganda work’ for the new Russian leadership.
However, a later memo records how, ‘Ransome seems to have been badly handled. He is quite loyal and willing to help by giving information. The appearance of working against us is due to his friendship with the Bolshevik leaders, not by any means any sympathy with the regime, which the Terror made him detest.’ A March 1919 report states ‘he is still employed by MI’ i.e. military intelligence.
By 1927 MI5 seemed have come to the conclusion that they’d bungled the situation, writing, ‘It is difficult to gauge Ransome’s real sentiments, but it seems clear from our file that he did some good work for us, but at the same time there has always been the suspicion that he was leaning towards Bolshevism’. It was another 10 years before Ransome’s name was removed from the black list.