As part of a month long build up to International Women’s Day Celebrations on the 8th of March, the YCL will be publishing daily articles highlighting the exemplary role played by women in the international communist & working class movement.
In this instalment the YCL celebrates the life of little known Communist Party veteran and Soviet agent, Melita Norwood.
YCLers are encouraged to host, support and participate in celebrations locally to bring the message of International Women’s Day into Our workplaces, colleges and schools, and communities.
Melita Norwood (1912 – 2005) Britain’s humblest and highly important Soviet spy, was born to socialist parents, in Bournemouth in 1912.
Norwood’s parents published a journal “The Southern Worker and Labour and Socialist Journal” for distribution amongst members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, so class politics featured prominently in her early life as the “School Captain” of Itchen Secondary School. After her school life ended, she began pursuing a degree in Latin and Logic at Southampton University before dropping out quickly to pursue employment in the City of London.
She spent her early political life as an active member of Independent Labour Party until the party split in 1936, pushing her to become, an atypically low profile and unbeknownst to intelligence authorities, member of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Her employment as a secretary at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association flagged her, to prominent CPGB member Andrew Rothstein, as someone with potential value to the NKVD intelligence service of the USSR.
Her double life as an intelligence agent began as a member of the so-called Woolwich Spy Ring, which gathered valuable intelligence throughout the 1930s. While other members of the ring were caught and arrested, Norwood remained undetected for most of her long life.
The information she was able to provide as “Agent Hola” allowed the USSR to catch up with the UK’s nuclear programme within two years. The importance of this heroic act cannot be overstated in terms of guaranteeing peace and the security of the socialist countries in the 20th Century. It weakened the scope for the imperialist NATO alliance to implement its genocidal “First Strike” policy. However despite the USSR’s ability to defend itself and the socialist camp, nuclear war and the first strike policy would remain an obsession for the US, UK and the NATO powers.
Norwood lived into old age without being outed as a spy, until 1999 when the testimony of a Soviet archivist sent journalists from across the country to her front door. At the door the media found a unassuming old woman making them all cups of tea and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Norwood never made a penny as an intelligence source for the USSR, instead when questioned about her motivations she claimed: “I did what I did, not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had, at great cost, given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, a good education and a health service.”
Pardoned by the Labour Government of the time due to her age, she spent the rest of her days delivering copies of the Morning Star to all her neighbours, until she passed away in 2005 at 93. She is a stunning example of the willingness of British Communists, at great personal risk, to make a stand for peace and solidarity.