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Double Lives - Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals
by Stephen Koch
Reviewed by Michael Newland
How did it come about that much of the British intelligensia, for decades, was persuaded of
the moral superiority of Communism, and of its inevitability as the future political system of
One man, virtually unknown and
unnoticed, can claim the dubious distinction of being the prime mover. Willi Münzenburg was
born in 1888, the son of an
alcoholic innkeeper in Thuringia, Germany, who killed himself cleaning a gun while drunk.
Unlike most of the leading early German
Communists, who were upper-middle class, he could claim to be a genuine proletarian.
During the First World War Münzenburg
was a young left-wing radical living in Switzerland. Talent-spotted by Trotsky he
soon became part of the Bolshevik circle around
Lenin, as they waited their opportunity to return to a revolutionary Russia.
It was to Münzenburg that Lenin turned as the famous
sealed train left Zurich for Russia in 1917. "Six months from now we will either be in power
or hanging from the gallows" he said.
Trotsky chose well in Münzenburg. Following the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, he pioneered
most of the manipulative political
techniques which are a feature of life in Britain today. Ad hoc committees for endless
causes, politicized arts festivals, mock trials,
celebrity letterheads, disinformation stunts and protest marches all sprang from Münzenburg's
sheer genius for propaganda.
Stephen Koch, in his book Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Münzenburg and the Seduction of the
Intellectuals, calls this "righteous
politics." Political issues are turned into a quasi-religion, which brooks no debate -
witness the 'no platform' antics of left-wing
students who can tolerate no outlook besides their own.
During the 1920's and most of the 1930's Münzenburg played a leading
role in the Comintern, Lenin's front for world-wide co-ordination of the left under
Russian control. Under Münzenburg's direction,
hundreds of groups, committees and publications cynically used and manipulated the devout
radicals of the West.
Most of this
army of workers in what Münzenburg called 'Innocents' Clubs' had no idea they were working
for Stalin. They were led to believe that they were advancing the cause of a sort of socialist
humanism. The descendents of the 'Innocents' Clubs' are still hard at work in our universities
and colleges. Every year a new cohort of impressionable students join groups like the
Anti-Nazi League believing them to be benign opponents of oppression, rather than the
Trotskyite fronts they really are.
The old tricks certainly are the best! Münzenburg's right-hand man, Otto Katz, established an
Anti-Nazi League in Hollywood, placing the writer Dorothy Parker in charge as celebrity
window-dressing. The novelist Thomas Mann was one of the few to detect a swindle, although
it took him five years to grasp the realities. How familiar it all seems in a Britain in which
extreme left-wing groups sport the names of duped and half-brained actors, sportsmen,
etcetera as patrons!
Katz worked hard in Britain to establish the Left Book Club. It networked the Stalinist
influence and promoted the left as the chic fashion of the time. The Club ran camps,
conferences and propaganda tours of Russia. As in all the Western countries in which
'the Münzenburg men' extended their networks, the 'innocents' believed that they were
working to oppose Hitler. In reality the purpose was the undermine the West and pave the
way for Soviet control.
The Comintern were able to play upon the vanity of the elite for
whom life could never reach their gilded expectations. The secret world offered a "wonderful
restorative" - Koch's phrase again - with a particular appeal to the homosexual milieu of
Bloomsbury which made up its centre. A connection to power is an aphrodisiac to people of
Thus the Cambridge spies Blunt, Burgess et al. Burgess worked for the BBC for
several years - helping other Soviet agents onto the airwaves. Appropriately, he lived out
the war years in the house in Bentinck Street where Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire ! By 1935 Münzenburg had almost outlived his usefulness to Stalin, and was
lucky to escape from Moscow when he attended the last world congress of the Comintern in
1936. Stalin had no use for proletarians with attitude. The Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 stripped
away any illusions of Soviet anti-fascism and the notion
of a popular front against Hitler.
Münzenburg lived precariously in Paris until the Nazi invasion of June 1940. He then fled
southward and his strangled corpse was found in a wood near Grenoble in October. Almost
certainly he had been murdered by a
Otto Katz survived until 1952. He was arrested by the regime, on whose behalf
he had been a devoted and obedient
servant, and hanged after reading a prepared 'confession' at the show trials in Prague of
that year. Knowing well what was in store,
he offered his 'confession' the moment he was arrested. This was insufficient, and he
was tortured for months while his final service
to Communism, the 'confession' as an instrument of disinformation, was worked up.
Despite the formal collapse of Communism in
1989, the legacy of Stalin's strategy of destroying the West by propaganda has an increasing
hold through the cult of 'political
correctness.' The undermining of our society by the media has steadily intensified since
then. Münzenburg's spectre hovers as
vital as ever in contemporary life. At a time when Communism has little remaining formal
influence, Münzenburg's techniques of
propaganda and disinformation pervade our lives. His legacy had far outlasted the formal
cause it served, and now works for new
masters. The opinion-formers who so misjudged Communism still claim legitimacy in
dictating political ideals. Their track record
is little considered.
Marx wrote in 1857, "It is possible I've made a fool of myself, but that can always be remedied with a little bit of
dialectics." The malady lingers on.
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