Willi Münzenberg, inter alia German, French, Communist, marked in the Encyclopaedia of Jewry as politician and owner of a publishing-house group, founder of the Communist Youth Association, built up his “Münzenberg group” during the Weimar period with numerous daily and weekly newspapers, film corporations and book clubs, including Welt am Abend, Berlin am Morgen and Arbeiter-Illustrierte. Residing in Paris in 1933, he became the propaganda chief of the Comintern using the cover name: “International Aid Committee for the Victims of Fascism.”

The ‘Innocents’ Clubs’

The Life and Influence of Willi Münzenberg

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 the world? One man, virtually unknown and unnoticed, can claim the dubious distinction of being the prime mover.

Willi Münzenberg 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 Münzenberg 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 Münzenberg 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 Münzenberg. 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 Münzenberg’s sheer genius for propaganda.

Stephen Koch, in his book Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Münzenberg 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 Münzenberg played a leading role in the Comintern, Lenin’s front for world-wide co-ordination of the left under Russian control. Under Münzenberg’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 Münzenberg 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!

Münzenberg’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 Münzenberg 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 this ilk. 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 Münzenberg had almost out-lived 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.

Münzenberg 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 Soviet agent.

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. Münzenberg’s spectre hovers as vital as ever in contemporary life. At a time when Communism has little remaining formal influence, Münzenberg’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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