Loyalty or the lack thereof is a defining quality of the characters in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. Each character presents a unique combination of loyalties: some are most loyal to organizations and ideologies, while others are dedicated to moral principles and to other people. Some characters, however, are willing to betray anyone or anything for their own gain.
Loyalty to an organization is of the utmost importance for spies and intelligence operators, but it does not guarantee that the organization will show loyalty to the spy in return. Leamas is loyal to the Circus, the British Intelligence Organization. In giving his loyalty to this organization, he cuts himself off from other people, knowing that, if push came to shove, he would betray them in order to stay loyal to his work. But despite his efforts to isolate himself from others, Leamas does care about other people. He is sickened by the deaths of the agents he leads in Berlin. He has harrowing memories of refugees he saw killed during War World II and of nearly killing a carful of children while speeding on the Autobahn. Although Leamas seems too alienated to fall in love with Liz the way she falls in love with him, he does feel loyalty towards her. In the end, the Circus finally goes one step too far in its betrayal of him by orchestrating Liz’s death, and Leamas chooses loyalty to Liz over the organization, as he decides to die with her.
Control may seem to be loyal to the Circus, the organization he runs, but he is not loyal to anyone who works there, only to the organization’s mission, and, by extension, only to his own success in leading that mission. Control has no qualms volunteering Leamas for a harrowing experience in East German prison and court, where he faces possible execution. But his betrayal of Leamas goes deeper than exposing him to this physical danger. This is because of the way Control misleads Leamas about the nature of the mission. Leamas had been eager to go on the mission to frame Mundt and see him killed, not only out of loyalty to the Circus, but also to avenge the deaths of the many agents he had supervised and Mundt had murdered. In forcing Leamas to unwittingly risk his own life to protect Mundt’s, Control forces Leamas to violate his sense of loyalty and connection to the agents whom Mundt killed.
Mundt is only loyal to himself, and perhaps to the defeated Nazi cause. An ex-Hitler youth, current East German spy chief, and British double agent, Mundt is a cold-blooded killer seemingly lacking in loyalty. Rather than helping agents, who, like him, are East Germans spying for the British, to escape from East Berlin, he kills them as soon as it seems like they are suspected by the East Germans and could expose his own role in spying for the British. Mundt is an unreformed Nazi. As he interrogates and tortures Fiedler, he whispers anti-Semitic taunts in his ear. Loyal only to a failed political ideology that preached his own racial superiority to other people, Mundt now cynically provides his services as a spy to whichever secret service will protect him and pay him well.
Loyalty to loved ones goes together with loyalty to moral principles, as displayed in the character of Liz Gold. Although she believes herself to be a loyal Communist, as she begins to see the moral compromises that Communist authorities make, she is repulsed. Liz, like Leamas, is betrayed by the organization she has pledged loyalty to when the Communist party organization lures her to East Germany on a false pretense to have her undermine Leamas’s testimony in court. But although Liz is a Communist party member, she is mainly interested in the party as a method to promote peace and protect people. When she is urged to remain loyal to the Communist cause when testifying in court where she believes Leamas—a person she loves—to be in danger, she feels nothing but a desire to protect Leamas.
Liz does not live long enough to denounce Communism. But although she is more disgusted by the callousness of the British in protecting Mundt than she is by the way the Communist side used and manipulated her, she is also chilled by hearing the Prison Wardress glorify killing for ideology’s sake. It seems likely that if she had made it over the Berlin Wall, Liz would have reassessed her Communist loyalties. In this way, Liz is typical of this moment in Cold War history. Her character represents the possibility to reprioritize and change one’s loyalties, a possibility that many Communist party members outside of the Soviet Union faced as knowledge of Stalin’s genocidal crimes spread abroad in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Total loyalty to an ideology leads characters to act immorally and to ultimately compromise their own survival. Fiedler, a Jew who returned from Canada to Germany to work in the Communist East German special services, is a true believer in Communism. But by moving into a work environment full of unreformed Nazis like Mundt, he opens himself up to being attacked by those who hate him because he is Jewish. Fiedler is a somewhat sympathetic character. He is a true believer in Communism and dedicates his life to trying to build a fair and peaceful world. He also shows kindness to Liz in the courtroom. But Fiedler is so loyal to Communism that he buys into the theory that the deaths of innocents are allowable if it moves society closer to Communism. And, whereas Mundt is an unreformed Nazi, Fiedler is an unreformed Stalinist. In the end, Fiedler himself becomes the innocent killed senselessly by the system whose right to commit senseless murders he has defended.
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold paints a bleak picture of the cost of being loyal in this environment of Cold War struggle. Although the novel portrays those characters with strongly felt loyalties in a sympathetic light, it suggests that loyalty to anything outside of one’s own interests can lead the individual down a path to being humiliated, manipulated, and ultimately killed by those who are willing to betray anyone and anything. And, once more, this characteristic is not unique to either the Communist or Capitalist system in particular, but yet another way in which they are alike in their brutality.
Loyalty and Betrayal ThemeTracker
Loyalty and Betrayal Quotes in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
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."
"How very distressing; and nobody to look after you, of course."
There was a very long silence.
"You know she's in the Party, don't you?" Control asked quietly.
"Yes," Leamas replied. Another silence. "I don't want her brought into this."
"Why should she be?" Control asked sharply and for a moment, just for a moment, Leamas thought he had penetrated the veneer of academic detachment. "Who suggested she should be?"
"No one," Leamas replied, "I'm just making the point. I know how these things go—all offensive operations. They have by-products, take sudden turns in unexpected directions. You think you've caught one fish and you find you've caught another. I want her kept clear of it."
"Oh, quite, quite."
"Who's that man in the Labour Exchange—Pitt? Wasn't he in the Circus during the war?"
"I know no one of that name. Pitt, did you say?"
"No, not a name to me. In the Labour Exchange?"
"Oh, for God's sake," Leamas muttered audibly.
Tactically, he reflected, they're right to rush it. I'm on my uppers, prison experience still fresh, social resentment strong. I'm an old horse, I don’t need breaking in; I don’t have to pretend they've offended my honour as an English gentleman. On the other hand they would expect practical objections. They would expect him to be afraid; for his Service pursued traitors as the eye of God followed Cain across the desert.
And finally, they would know it was a gamble. They would know that inconsistency in human decision can make nonsense of the best-planned espionage approach; that cheats, liars, and criminals may resist every blandishment while respectable gentlemen have been moved to appalling treasons by watery cabbage in a Departmental canteen.
Leamas was sweating. Peters watched him coolly, appraising him like a professional gambler across the table. What was Leamas worth? What would break him, what attract or frighten him? What did he hate, above all, what did he know? Would he keep his best card to the end and sell it dear? Peters didn’t think so; Leamas was too much off balance to monkey about. He was a man at odds with himself, a man who knew one life, one confession, and had betrayed them. Peters had seen it before. He had seen it, even in men who had undergone a complete ideological rehearsal, who in the secret hours of the night had found a new creed, and alone, compelled by the internal power of their convictions, had betrayed their calling, their families, their countries. Even they, filled as they were with new zeal and new hope, had had to struggle against the stigma of treachery; even they wrestled with the almost physical anguish of saying that which they had been trained never, never to reveal. Like apostates who feared to burn the Cross, they hesitated between the instinctive and the material; and Peters, caught in the same polarity, must give them comfort and destroy their pride.
"I was head of the Berlin set-up, wasn't I? I'd have been in on it. A high-level agent in East Germany would have to be run from Berlin. I'd have known." Leamas got up, went to the sideboard, and poured himself some whisky. He didn't bother about Peters.
"You said yourself there were special precautions, special procedures in this case. Perhaps they didn't think you needed to know."
"Don't be bloody silly," Leamas rejoined shortly; "of course I'd have known." This was the point he would stick to through thick and thin; it made them feel they knew better, gave credence to the rest of his information. "They will want to deduce in spite of you," Control had said. "We must give them the material and remain sceptical to their conclusions. Rely on their intelligence and conceit, on their suspicion of one another—that's what we must do."
This wasn't part of the bargain; this was different. What the hell was he supposed to do? By pulling out now; by refusing to go along with Peters, he was wrecking the operation. It was just possible that Peters was lying, that this was the test—all the more reason that he should agree to go. But if he went, if he agreed to go east, to Poland, Czechoslovakia, or God knows where, there was no good reason why they should ever let him out—there was no good reason (since he was notionally a wanted man in the West) why he should want to be let out.
Control had done it—he was sure. The terms had been too generous, he'd known that all along. They didn't throw money about like that for nothing—not unless they thought they might lose you. Money like that was a douceur for discomfort and dangers Control would not openly admit to. Money like that was a warning; Leamas had not heeded the warning.
"I've thought about it night and day. Ever since Viereck was shot, I've asked for a reason. At first it seemed fantastic. I told myself I was jealous, that the work was going to my head, that I was seeing treachery behind every tree; we get like that, people in our world. But I couldn't help myself, Leamas, I had to work it out. There’d been other things before. He was afraid—he was afraid that we would catch one who would talk too much!"
"What are you saying? You're out of your mind," said Leamas, and his voice held a trace of fear.
“It all held together, you see. Mundt escaped so easily from England; you told me yourself he did. And what did Guillam say to you? He said they didn't want to catch him! Why not? I'll tell you why—he was their man; they turned him, they caught him, don't you see, and that was the price of his freedom—that and the money he was paid.”
She had reservations about Germans, that was true. She knew, she had been told, that West Germany was militarist and revanchist, and that East Germany was democratic and peaceloving. But she doubted whether all the good Germans were on one side and all the bad ones on the other. And it was the bad ones who had killed her father. Perhaps that was why the Party had chosen her—as a generous act of reconciliation. Perhaps that was what Ashe had had in mind when he asked her all those questions. Of course—that was the explanation. She was suddenly filled with a feeling of warmth and gratitude towards the Party. They really were decent people and she was proud and thankful to belong.
“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.”
Liz hated having her back to the court; she wished she could turn and see Leamas, see his face perhaps; read in it some guidance, some sign telling her how to answer. She was becoming frightened for herself; these questions which proceeded from charges and suspicions of which she knew nothing. They must know she wanted to help Alec, that she was afraid, but no one helped her—why would no one help her?
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.
Fiedler, who had returned to his chair and was listening with rather studied detachment, looked at Leamas blandly for a moment:
“And you messed it all up, Leamas, is that it?” he asked. “An old dog like Leamas, engaged in the crowning operation of his career, falls for a . . . what did you call her? . . . a frustrated little girl in a crackpot library? London must have known; Smiley couldn't have done it alone.” Fiedler turned to Mundt: “Here's an odd thing, Mundt; they must have known you'd check up on every part of his story. That was why Leamas lived the life. Yet afterwards they sent money to the grocer, paid up the rent; and they bought the lease for the girl. Of all the extraordinary things for them to do . . . people of their experience . . . to pay a thousand pounds, to a girl—to a member of the Party—who was supposed to believe he was broke. Don't tell me Smiley's conscience goes that far. London must have done it. What a risk!”
"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.
Shielding his eyes he looked down at the foot of the wall and at last he managed to see her, lying still. For a moment he hesitated, then quite slowly he climbed back down the same rungs, until he was standing beside her. She was dead; her face was turned away, her black hair drawn across her cheek as if to protect her from the rain.
They seemed to hesitate before firing again; someone shouted an order, and still no one fired. Finally they shot him, two or three shots. He stood glaring round him like a blinded bull in the arena. As he fell, Leamas saw a small car smashed between great lorries, and the children waving cheerfully through the window.