Ian Fleming's James Bond in "From Russia, With Love" as a nostalgic desire for a revived British supremacy?

The Role of a Fallen Empire in Cold War Politics of the 1950s


Term Paper, 2015

12 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Excerpt

Outline

1. Introduction

2. British Decolonization
2.1. The Demise of a Super Power
2.2. Consequences in Public & Culture

3. SMERSH vs. MI5 - a biased portrayal
3.1. Donovan ‘Red’ Grant
3.2. Rosa Klebb & SMERSH
3.3. James Bond & The MI5

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The post-world war era heralded a profound change in power constellations of international politics. The United States and the Soviet Union, allied nations which suffered a dreadful amount of casualties during the war against German fascism, were now separated politically through an ideological demarcation line. The leaders of nations with the diametrically oppositional political systems of Communism and Capitalism established a hostile political and military polarity that divided the world into the political spheres of the East and West.

Britain, obviously positioned beside its American ally, made no less efforts in defeating Hitler but had to gradually draw back from its major position in international relations after the war. Simultaneously, the British government also had to resolve the challenge of the rising tension from ambitions of colonies aiming to break away from their British rulers. This seemingly inevitable process of acquiring regional autonomy in former protectorates not only had a massively negative impact on the British economy but also required the chief negotiators to make concessions that were supposed to pave the way for a dignified colonial retreat in political dignity. The former naval super power of colonial days was forced to reposition itself within the international community, reluctantly accepting its weakened political role.

Ian Fleming’s “James Bond: From Russia, With Love” is the fifth novel of the world famous James Bond series. The books reached an iconic status in film and literature. Considering the time of its publication in 1957 it is arguable that the narration of the novel and its depiction of the characters highly reflects the dichotomous nature of Cold War politics, making reference to the associated propaganda campaigns on both sides, East and West, in the 1950’s. A particularly salient feature of this novel, which stands contrary to other James Bond novels, is that Fleming dedicates the first half of the story to the description of the main villains, thoroughly portraying the viciously ruthless dictatorship of the Soviet communist party leaders. Obedience of subordination seems to have been achieved solely on the grounds of fear. In contrast, the protagonist, his agency MI5 and its head executive maintain a rather personal relationship, illustrating a selflessly idealistic incentive behind James Bond’s extremely dangerous endeavors as a spy. But why did Fleming deploy such a simplistic black-and-white scheme? And why does the British intelligence play an exceptionally central role in counter-measures against the “evil” Soviets described in “From Russia, With Love”, even though Great Britain, in comparison to the United States, had to accept an inferior role in anti-communist efforts? In consideration of Fleming’s involvement in the British naval intelligence, the answer might be convincingly apparent, yet, it is arguable that the cultural consequences of the British Empire’s decolonization process on the British society influenced the way Fleming unfolded his story. The implicit notion in “From Russia, With Love” that James Bond successfully prevails in all adverse circumstances of his adventure in Istanbul might insinuate Fleming’s intention to figuratively shift the British nation back onto the former hegemonic status of the preceding century. This paper aims to analyze Fleming’s depiction of the opposing characters as well as their respective intelligence agencies in view of the literary zeitgeist of the early Cold War era and the consequences of gradual decolonization in the British public. On the grounds of historical evidence, the extent to which Fleming’s novel accommodated the British nostalgic desire for a new supremacy in an internationally constricting sphere of influence will be examined.

2. British Decolonization

2.1. The Demise of a Super Power

The difficulty to pinpoint a specific date of a major shift in colonial policies suggests that decolonization processes endured over decades. Due to the large spread of the Empire over different continents the pursuit of regional sovereignty of colonies was set off in different periods. The “British Empire was so astonishingly vast that its decolonization took place in stages from the inter-war years right down the 1990s” (MacKenzie 21). The United Nations, which was consequentially formed as a result of the horrors of the Second World War, passed a resolution which postulated a “speedy and unconditional end to colonialism” (Louis 186). However, the British Colonial Office was confident to disregard decisions of the UN Assembly in colonial affairs. (187) Colonial Secretaries, such as Sir Hilton Poynton, unanimously conceived the desire that the British periphery should not be cut off completely but allow it to “become self-governing within the empire as a step towards dominion status within the Commonwealth.” (187)

Nevertheless, The Colonial Office had to face movements against the British regime in India already before the Second World War and initially managed to appease insurgents by reputedly allowing partial sovereignty. The “[…] British would retain responsibility for the internal and external security of India while the Indians themselves would progressively obtain control of all other areas of policy.” (Sanders 75) However, by failing to actually implement this codified agreement made with Indian representatives the revolts against the British were rekindled yet again (76). Consequently, several events of violent civil uprisings had de facto abolished control over the colony, as “three-million British and Indian troops of the Raj were simply unable to maintain anything approaching law and order” (Sanders 77). MacKenzie suggests that British decolonization, even though proceeding gradually, had been initiated by major political impacts of several revolutionary events, which he describes as a “consequence of implosions” (MacKenzie 21). Several social outbursts, taking place shortly after the Second World War, accelerated British decolonization in its international entirety. These “rapid decolonisations” (Mackenzie 22) diminished the efforts of repression against nationalist movements and further reduced Britain’s sphere of influence.

Yet, another implosion deemed as “Britain’s greatest imperial failures” (Sanders 88), extensive in terms of political status within the international community, was the Suez crisis. Essentially, the conflict revolved around the armed intervention of Britain in their “semi- autonomous […] protectorate” (89) in Egypt, specifically intending to recapture the important supply route of the Suez Canal. After the downfall of the Egyptian monarchy, which had not caused a great deal of political or military clashes with the British, nationalist leaders took full control over Egypt and began to approach the Soviet Union diplomatically.

(90) “[…] Nasser’s continued discussions with the Soviet Union increased concern in London and Washington that he might be about to move Egypt into the Soviet sphere of influence.” (90) While the British had abandoned their military posts on the basis of previous agreements, the Egyptian government took full control of the Suez Canal. (90) The Egyptian contravention of a mutual agreement, although not breaking international law, caused military strikes, conducted by an alliance of Israel, France and Great Britain. However, the international community harshly disapproved the British militaries’ redeployment of strategic interests at the Suez Canal. (90) Even bilateral relations with The United States had suffered an extraordinary setback, as the American government attempted “to use all peaceful means to obstruct Anglo-French operations” (90), also by applying financial pressure onto the British currency and therefore the entire economy. (91) Seemingly struck by diplomatic sanctions, “British forces were completely evacuated from Suez […]” (91) in order to reduce further conflicts. Britain was now severely compromised in political terms. Imperial strategies in dealing with the colonial periphery, peaking in the Suez conflict, had miserably failed to preserve Britain’s dominance and publicly humiliated the ruling government. “Without Suez, the subsequent self-conscious analysis of Britain’s diminished role in the world of superpowers might not have been so intense or the indigenous demands for change in the colonies so insistent.” (99)

2.2. Consequences in Public & Culture

Although, the effects of decolonization on British culture have been examined rather infrequently in social science, a basic tendency of how the public had viewed the British Empire can still be evaluated based on historical evidence.

Throughout the years before and after the war, the government actively supported the conveyance of imperial representations in various public exhibitions. These had a central focus on the civilizing benefits of British imperialism for the founded colonies. “This was the renewed emergence of a strategy of colonial development and welfare after the war. […] The Empire could at last be justified on the grounds of enlightened official notions of welfare, investment and development. […]” (MacKenzie 29)

In literature, particularly during the 1950s, traditionally imperial writing was still prominent amongst the young reader’s market. (30) While British writers were generally quite ambivalent in their views on imperialism, sales figures of that time show the preference for “[…] colonial fictions of white, often still explicitly pro-imperial writers like John Masters […].” (Howe 233) Hence, in regard to the heroic prodigy of a British spy James Bond, Fleming was presented with a politically conscious audience more in need than ever of a narrative based on an idealistically driven British action hero constantly prepared to die for his native soil. It seems Fleming merely lines up with authors who delivered a rather deceptive imagery of Britain’s shrinking domination, even long after the humiliation of Suez. MacKenzie pointedly summarizes that: “In all of these ways it does seem to me that an illusion of imperial power, underpinned by popular cultural reflections, continued to be projected throughout the 1950s.” (MacKenzie 32) These misconceptions about Britain were not disclosed until a decade later. (32) In association with Fleming, “From Russia, With Love” was apparently published in a period of time where imperial nostalgia stood at the zenith of the British contemporary zeitgeist, offering a highly fertile soil for nationalistically oriented literature.

3. SMERSH vs. MI5 - a biased portrayal

3.1. Donovan ‘Red’ Grant

The existence of at least one villain who functions as a major antagonist is a key feature in all Bond novels. However, Fleming’s narrative approach in portraying these characters can strongly vary throughout the series.

[...]

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Details

Title
Ian Fleming's James Bond in "From Russia, With Love" as a nostalgic desire for a revived British supremacy?
Subtitle
The Role of a Fallen Empire in Cold War Politics of the 1950s
College
University of Trier
Course
James Bond
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2015
Pages
12
Catalog Number
V338052
ISBN (eBook)
9783668274792
ISBN (Book)
9783668274808
File size
686 KB
Language
English
Tags
James Bond, Cold War, From Russia with Love, Soviet, MI5, Ian Fleming, Communism, Capitalism, Decolonization, English Public Culture, SMERSH
Quote paper
Parwez Paryani (Author), 2015, Ian Fleming's James Bond in "From Russia, With Love" as a nostalgic desire for a revived British supremacy?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/338052

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