An extract from the Bernard Moran/Trevor Loudon article in the latest Investigate magazine.
It looks at John Van de Ven, a Wellington oil tanker driver who infiltrated New Zealand’s pro Soviet communists-the Socialist Unity Party in the late 70s.
John Van de Ven was studying in Moscow when the Soviets were developing anti nuclear policies for New Zealand application in 1983/84.
As Moran and Loudon tell the story;
“We now come to the previously untold story of how the SUP was itself infiltrated by a humble truck-driver, who was later selected to attend a specialist course at the Lenin Institute in Moscow.
John Van de Ven, a Dutch immigrant, resembled the mythical tugboat captain: stocky, powerfully built and full of restless energy. He chainsmoked thin cigars.
In the late-1970s, Van de Ven worked as a tanker-driver for Mobil and belonged to the Wellington Drivers’ Union run by Ken Douglas. Van de Ven raced through his delivery rounds and received several warnings that his speed was upsetting the union’s workplace rules. Undeterred, he raced on until called into the union office and forthrightly informed that, if he didn’t play by the rules, he would lose his union card and not drive trucks in Wellington again.
“I was mad at being treated like this,” Van de Ven told the authors of this article. “So I decided to get even. I had no firm plans, but I knew the union was run by the SUP and so I thought that if I can get in–then sometime down the track I’ll get even. It was as simple as that.”
Van de Ven went to the union and performed obeisance. He apologised for his misdemeanours and offered to assist with menial tasks, even hand out copies of the SUP newspaper, Tribune. After a year’s probationary period as a model unionist, his talents were recognised. Drivers’ Union official and senior SUP member, Richie Gillespie, took him aside and said the union had big things planned for him, if he could prove himself.
Fortuitously, in 1977, Van de Ven discovered a legitimate grievance over tyre-safety issues on the tankers. When the company refused to make the changes, he led a prolonged strike that paralysed petrol supplies for weeks around the lower half of the North Island. Finally Mobil capitulated and conceded that the Drivers’ Union, not the company, must have the final say on safety issues.
Ken Douglas, impressed with Van de Ven’s leadership, personally invited him to join the SUP. In 1978, he joined the Porirua branch and studied Marxist-Leninist theory under a secret member (who was later appointed to senior positions in business). Within two years he took over the Porirua branch chairmanship and, in 1981, was the SUP candidate for Porirua at the general election.
Still on course to get even, Van de Ven contacted NZ’s Security Intelligence Service (SIS), who asked him to stay in place. He was put on the payroll, assigned a handler and given the code-name “Joe Martin“.
Van de Ven’s common sense and “street smart” talents were recognised with selection for further training in Moscow from 29 October 1983 to February 12 1984. He went with three other SUP members, and one month later they were joined by Bill
Andersen, George Jackson and Marilyn Tucker (all SUP central committee members).
The Moscow course had been shortened because of the developing situation in New Zealand. Van de Ven noted that his and his fellow-delegates’ passports had to be surrendered and were not stamped, so as to leave no record of their having been in the USSR. He recalled:
“On arrival in Moscow, we were quarantined for medical checks over four days and given new identities. I became John Van, Jim Thompson became Jimmy Brown, Allan Ware–Allan Wolf, Peter Devlin–Peter Jay.
“This took place in an old mansion near Moscow. The ten acres of woodland was [sic] surrounded by high walls, so that nobody could look in or out. After that, we were transported in a mini-bus with black-curtained windows to the Lenin Institute for Higher Learning in Prospect Leningradski, across the road from Metro Aeroport,an underground station.
“There were 3,500 communists from all over the world, being trained five and half days a week, according to the requirements of their home country. We were assigned three tutors who were specialists on New Zealand. They were a (first name unknown) Venediev, who lectured on the National Question (racial manipulation) and trade unions. He was also a staff member of the World Marxist Review. Other tutors included Bella Vorontsova (doctorate in history) and Eduard Nukhovich (doctorate in economics), both of whom visited New Zealand to liaise with SUP branches.
“Peace was high on the agenda. As one tutor told us: ‘We have many clever people in the Soviet Union, but no one has even been able to come up with a weapon potentially as powerful as the peace movement.‘ “
Van de Ven was told that the reason for the “condensed” 13-week course was that Soviet leader (and former KGB chief) Yuri Andropov had initiated a strategy for taking a social democratic country out of the Western alliance, by utilising the “correlation of forces” provided by the peace movement.
New Zealand was given a high priority by the Soviets, for its strategic propaganda potential. The Soviets prioritised countries according to their strategic interest. The United Kingdom, Chile, Argentina and South Africa were Category One. Tiny New Zealand was in Category Two–alongside the then Soviet client-state, India.
The particular circumstances of New Zealand, with a national election in late 1984, was seen as providing a suitable testing ground for this strategy. If it worked as intended, then the concept could be applied to countries such as Denmark.
There were two key aims:
* To get rid of ANZUS;
* For the Labour Government to steer nuclear-free legislation through Parliament.
Van de Ven described the techniques of the strategy as “brilliant“, which, when applied within the trade unions, the peace movement and the Labour Party, worked as intended. He recalled:
“Our role was to influence and steer the peace movement, not by taking the top jobs, but to be done in such a way that the top people in the various peace groups were seen as reasonably responsible by the average New Zealander.
“So our training consisted of being able to train lesser-known communists, secret members, sympathisers and fellow-travellers, to take over these groups, unite them, but never take the leading roles. My own role was as a ‘nuts and bolts’ technician.”
The overall project director was Gennady Yannaev, an engineer by training and later a leading member of the 1991 coup that overthrew Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Van de Ven got on well with Yannaev, and was several times invited to his home for meals and drinks. He found Yannaev a dedicated and honest communist, who frequently vented his disgust at the corruption within the Nomenklatura. He was informally questioned about the other members of the New Zealand delegation and Bill Andersen and Ken Douglas.”
Read the whole article here.