Review of Matthews, Owen.
≪An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalinʼs Master Agent≫
(London: Bloomsbury, 2019).


Senior Research Fellow/Associate Professor, Reitaku University Jason M. Morgan

Richard Sorge is one of the twentieth centuryʼs most well-known spies. Thrice wounded in combat while fighting on the German side during World War I, Sorge grew disillusioned with the war aims of, and overall social and political situation in, imperial Germany and was eventually converted to Leninist socialism-communism while convalescing in a military hospital after his third, and nearly fatal, battle injury. After the war, Sorge threw himself into the study of radical politics and also to its practice as an agent for various communist parties and movements in Europe and the Soviet Union. He was a member of the influential Institut für Sozialforschung (Institute for Social Research) in Frankfurt—later to become infamous as the headquarters of Cultural Marxism—and through that connection was recruited to the Comintern in Moscow. Following an internal Comintern shakeup Sorge was assigned to the Fourth Department, part of the nascent Soviet intelligence apparatus, and was eventually sent to Shanghai, and then to Japan, where he was tasked with gathering information on all of the USSRʼs enemies and relaying that purloined information back to Moscow via encoded radio transmissions. Sorge was executed by the Japanese special police (Tokkō) in 1944 for his espionage activities, but by then it was far too late. Sorge had already stolen information which helped change the course of twentieth-century history. Making full use of his cover as a respected journalist (in Shanghai this cover also included posing as an American named “Johnson”), and also relying heavily on the friendships he cultivated with the German ambassador to Japan, Eugen Ott, and his inner circle of National Socialist officials, Sorge burrowed to the heart of information networks and also influenced those networks to Moscowʼs advantage.