The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is not only concerned with the Cold War tensions between the Communist and Capitalist systems—it also looks at tensions between haves and have-nots in both societies, tensions stretching back far into their histories. In particular, the novel points to the way social class and religious identity can define an individual’s opportunities in each society. And, once again, the novel finds more similarities than differences between East and West than the ideologists of either side would wish to admit.
The British intelligence service, the Circus, is mainly run by members of the Christian upper class. These men and women speak, dress, and think differently from the protagonist, Alec Leamas, who grew up abroad and comes from a working-class background. Leamas despises what he sees as the snobbishness of the people with whom he works, and there are some indications that they also dislike him. Although Leamas’s boss Control is too polite to ever express his prejudice against Leamas, by sending Leamas on a dangerous mission that he can predict will entail a great deal of physical and mental suffering he betrays how little value he places on Leamas’s life. The impression that Control, along with the rest of the British society that he is charged with protecting, cares less about those outside his own social sphere is also suggested by his decision to use Liz as a pawn in his scheme to save Mundt. Liz is not only poor; she is also Jewish and a Communist. This makes her life worth even less to Control than Leamas’s.
On the East German side, despite an ideology that calls for equality and fairness under Communism, a continuity between past and present has preserved the position of elites at the top, including Nazis. Hans-Dieter Mundt rose through the ranks as a Nazi, and has been able to—seemingly easily—switch over to become a Communist. He, like the upper-class agents of the Circus, is an elite who can rise to the top of his society’s organizations. Although East Germany’s ally the Soviet Union fought the Nazis, it did not do so in order to protect Jews. Both the Nazi past and the Soviet-influenced present encourage anti-Semitism among the East German intelligence agencies. In this society, anti-Semitism sometimes seems so prevalent as to override other ideologies entirely. The Russian agent Peters, Mundt, and the Prison Wardress all express anti-Semitic views.
In this environment, Fiedler is entirely unmatched to face down Mundt. When Mundt’s lawyer Karden brings Liz into the tribunal to discredit Leamas, Fiedler can point out why the proof that Leamas was sent to frame Mundt is also, simultaneously, evidence that Mundt is a British agent. But, because this tribunal is full of people who see themselves in Mundt and are rooting for him because he is like them, Fiedler’s logic goes unheard. In the end, the tribunal would rather kill Fiedler because he is Jewish than listen to his logic, which would lead them to kill Mundt because he is a traitor.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold shows the unfair and ugly treatment of those outside of religious and class elites in both societies. This is yet another way that the novel creates the impression that both Communist East Germany and the Capitalist West are equally morally bankrupt societies that treat individuals unfairly and inhumanely.
Elites and Others ThemeTracker
Elites and Others Quotes in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
That damned woman, thought Leamas, and that fool Karl who'd lied about her. Lied by omission, as they all do, agents the world over. You teach them to cheat, to cover their tracks, and they cheat you as well. He'd only produced her once, after that dinner in the Schürzstrasse last year. Karl had just had his big scoop and Control had wanted to meet him. Control always came in on success. They'd had dinner together—Leamas, Control, and Karl. Karl loved that kind of thing. He turned up looking like a Sunday School boy, scrubbed and shining, doffing his hat and all respectful. Control had shaken his hand for five minutes and said: "I want you to know how pleased we are, Karl, damn pleased." Leamas had watched and thought, "That'll cost us another couple of hundred a year." When they'd finished dinner Control pumped their hands again, nodded significantly and implying that he had to go off and risk his life somewhere else, got back into his chauffeur-driven car.
He shook his head. "Sorry, Liz, you've got it wrong. I don't like Americans and public schools. I don't like military parades and people who play soldiers." Without smiling he added, “And I don't like conversations about Life.”
"But, Alec, you might as well say—"
"I should have added," Leamas interrupted, "that I don't like people who tell me what I ought to think."
She knew he was getting angry but she couldn't stop herself anymore. "That's because you don't want to think, you don't dare! There's some poison in your mind, some hate. You're a fanatic, Alec. I know you are, but I don't know what about. You're a fanatic who doesn’t want to convert people, and that's a dangerous thing. You're like a man who's . . . sworn vengeance or something." The brown eyes rested on her. When he spoke she was frightened by the menace in his voice.
"If I were you," he said roughly, "I'd mind my own business."
They'd talked about it in the meeting of her party branch. George Hanby, the branch treasurer, had actually been passing Ford the grocer's as it happened, he hadn’t seen much because of the crowd, but he'd talked to a bloke who'd seen the whole thing. Hanby had been so impressed that he'd rung the Worker, and they'd sent a man to the trial—that was why the Worker had given it a middle page spread as a matter of fact. It was just a straight case of protest—of sudden social awareness and hatred against the boss class, as the Worker said. This bloke that Hanby spoke to (he was just a little ordinary chap with specs, white collar type) said it had been so sudden—spontaneous was what he meant—and it just proved to Hanby once again how incendiary was the fabric of the capitalist system. Liz had kept very quiet while Hanby talked: none of them knew, of course, about her and Leamas. She realised then that she hated George Hanby; he was a pompous, dirty-minded little man, always leering at her and trying to touch her.
Mundt's appearance was fully consistent with his temperament. He looked an athlete. His fair hair was cut short. It lay matt and neat. His young face had a hard, clean line, and a frightening directness; it was barren of humour or fantasy. He looked young but not youthful; older men would take him seriously. He was well built. His clothes fitted him because he was an easy man to fit. Leamas found no difficulty in recalling that Mundt was a killer. There was a coldness about him, a rigorous self-sufficiency which perfectly equipped him for the business of murder. Mundt was a very hard man.
“Riemeck had no car himself, he could not have followed de Jong from his house in West Berlin. There was only one way he could have known—through the agency of our own Security police, who reported de Jong's presence as a matter of routine as soon as the car passed the Inter Sector checkpoint. That knowledge was available to Mundt, and Mundt made it available to Riemeck. That is the case against Hans-Dieter Mundt—I tell you, Riemeck was his creature, the link between Mundt and his imperialist masters!”
Fiedler paused, then added quietly:
“Mundt-Riemeck-Leamas: that was the chain of command, and it is axiomatic of intelligence technique the whole world over that each link of the chain be kept, as far as possible, in ignorance of the others. Thus it is right that Leamas should maintain he knows nothing to the detriment of Mundt: that is no more than the proof of good security by his masters in London.”
London must have gone raving mad. He'd told them—that was the joke—he’d told them to leave her alone. And now it was clear that from the moment, the very moment he left England—before that, even, as soon as he went to prison—some bloody fool had gone round tidying up—paying the bills, settling the grocer, the landlord; above all, Liz. It was insane, fantastic. What were they trying to do—kill Fiedler, kill their agent? Sabotage their own operation? Was it just Smiley—had his wretched little conscience driven him to this? There was only one thing to do—get Liz and Fiedler out of it and carry the can. He was probably written off anyway. If he could save Fiedler’s skin—if he could do that—perhaps there was a chance that Liz would get away.
"As for the Jew," she continued, "he made an accusation against a loyal comrade."
"Will they shoot Fiedler for that?" asked Liz incredulously.
“Jews are all the same,” the woman commented. “Comrade Mundt knows what to do with Jews. We don't need their kind here. If they join the Party they think it belongs to them. If they stay out, they think it is conspiring against them. It is said that Leamas and Fiedler plotted against Mundt. Are you going to eat that?” she enquired, indicating the food on the desk. Liz shook her head.