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Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals Paperback – 22 Jan 1996
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From the Back Cover
‘An extremely clever book, entertaining, despite its often hideous subject matter, on the Soviet ‘apparatus’ and its dirty work in the west. Stephen Koch's huge cast of remarkable characters is headed by Willi Münzenberg, German comrade of Lenin from pre-Revolutionary days, found hanged in a remote forest after the Nazi conquest of France in 1940. Münzenberg's skill was organisational. He was a Bolshevik Hearst or Murdoch. Newspapers, magazines, books, plays, films appeared in the west at his instigation… the fellow-travelling innocents who joined the front organisations he controlled included some of the major names in 20th-century culture – Mann and Gide, Hemingway and Eluard. Bad-tempered Sinclair Lewis and wise-cracking Dorothy Parker. His lieutenant Otto Katz was the friend of Kafka and Marlene Dietrich, Brecht and Fritz Lang, and mobilised Hollywood for Stalin.’
ANGUS CALDER, 'Scotland on Sunday '
‘An excellent history of soviet propaganda in the west under Stalin… Koch, to his credit, has not taken a single rumour for granted. This is an excellent example of both scholarship and detective work, sourced from newly-opened archives in Germany and Russia’
ANNE McELVOY, ' The Times'
‘Riveting – As a classic example of conspiracy theory, Stephen Koch's account of Willi Münzenberg and the Soviet propaganda machine of the 1920s and 30s is hard to beat.’
AC GRAYLING, 'Financial Times'
‘This story is a compelling one … It is unlikely that a more compelling account of the subject will be written than this, and Koch writes well, and with gusto.’
PHILIP MARSDEN, 'Spectator'
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Stephen Koch's book, now available in its second printing (may there be a third!) highlights the communist undercover propaganda activities in the West that formed Moscow's ideological spearhead in the 1920s and 1930s. It tells the often tragic stories of the men and women doing the work who thought they were helping to create a better world and often ended up dangling from Stalin's gallows or as non-entities in the endless plains of the Gulag.
In the early days of the Bolshevik empire, this propaganda was aimed primarily at the capitalist countries, it was to promote the cause of the forgotten masses, to fight the lost but glorious causes of victims like Sacco and Vanzetti, to eliminate local rivals and to establish goodwill in intellectual circles. Capitalism was, obviously, the class enemy number one, but intially the campaign lacked a political foe, although Italian fascism, another liberatory ideology that sprang up after the first World War had at least given the enemy a name.
From that point of view, Hitler's sudden rise in Germany, spurred by the Depression which struck Germany hardest of all industrialized nations, was a godsend for communist cause. Now there was a way for Moscow to get a free entry ticket into the ruling circles of the Capitalist world. Stalin could now sell to the society he was trying to eliminate a glossy magazine describing Hitler's evil deeds, and the pitch was made so much easier because the claims could be verified on the spot - not many people toured the Soviet Union unaccompanied by local "guides", but anyone, more or less, was able to travel to Berlin or into the German provinces to view the astonishing - and to many people threatening - changes that were taking place there. For most observers it was preferable to get their goosebumps closer to home, in an environment they knew fairly well rather than attempt to satisfy their curiosity by visiting the Red Empire.
The person who had forged Moscow's propaganda organization abroad from the very beginning and who had immediately identified the new objectives by producing the "Brown Book" which blamed the Reichstag fire on the Nazi's themselves, was Willi Muenzenberg, a man born in Germany and one of Lenin's personal aides. Stalin supplied him with whatever means he needed to seduce the intellectual elites, both in Europe and in America, leaving to Willi the choice of the treatment - money, women, publicity - to be aplied in each particular case, be it Bertolt Brecht or Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway or Picasso, André Malraux or the Mann family.
Anything that would disparage Hitler and his ideas would be used to advantage; the result was a world-wide political constellation of strange bedfellows, fundamentally opposed to each other. At a critical moment it created a common groundswell which engulfed the center of Europe and pushed the rest of the continent to the edge of an abyss where it was to remain for half a century. To achieve his ends, Willi and the all-too-willing writers he had bought in one way or another were not afraid to use the Lie on a grand scale. Paris was their HQ. According to Stephen Koch, Malraux' report of a trip to Berlin he undertook in early 1934 to secure the release of Dimitroff was a fabrication and a fraud (p. 129f). Koch states that the "Oberfohren memorandum", supposedly a German account of the horrors perpetrated by the SA and published in the Manchester Guardian, was a "pure piece of black propaganda" (p. 157) written by one of Münzenberg's men. Countless other such fabrications were circulated and poisoned the soul of western culture and civilization.
By 1939, once the Hitler-Stalin pact had allowed the great European War to start, however, Muenzenberg became expendable like so many other communists who fell from grace. Stalin eliminated the international activities which Moscow had so strongly promoted for more than two decades. When the German army moved into France, Willi fled south from Paris but never reached a safe haven in Switzerland or Spain. Many months later, his dead body was found in a forest on his escape route. Stephen Koch is hesitant as to how Willi died, whether by his own hands or by those of Stalin's men. He also allows for a Blitzaktion of the Gestapo, but this is unconvincing, because the Wehrmacht had not yet reached that area and even if the Germans had been looking for him and had been aware of his whereabouts in those tumultuous days of the collapse of France, they would certainly not have failed to interrogate such an important personality before any act of revenge, whereas the Soviet Union, for both political and tactical reasons, would have been most eager to silence him at the first opportunity.
In spite of a few questionable theses, "Double Lives" is a highly recommendable book which can be placed alongside Christopher Andrew's "Mitrokhin Archive" and Stéphane Courtois' "Black Book of Communism" without any reservations.
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