Liquidation of a Soviet gull D C Watt on some great minds that were seduced into supporting Stalin

He cannot admit the appeal of what Stalin perverted

DOUBLE LIVES: Stalin, Willi Manzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals Stephen Koch HarperCollins £16.99

Willi Manzenberg is thoroughly deserving of a biography in the English language. At the moment there is only a little known translation, done in America, of the memoir written by his wife, Babette Gross, who died a few years ago. He was German, a young Leftist before the First World War, who took refuge from the Prussian police in Switzerland where he met and befriended the exiled Lenin. He was a political organiser of exceptional ability. More than that, he was an originative genius as a political propagandist. The Communist front organisation was his invention, beginning with the International Worker's Aid Organisation, which raised money and enlisted help from every progressive writer in Europe, and many in America, to aid the fledgling Soviet republic.

In Weimar Germany he became the earliest baron of the media, building a press and cinema empire which included two daily mass circulation newspapers, an illustrated weekly, a whole mass of specialist magazines from technical journals for amateur photographers and radio hams to theoretical communist papers. With the money generated from this he built up the Soviet cinema and organised a network of cinema clubs throughout the west, through which the masterpieces of Soviet film in the Twenties could be shown without running the gamut of capitalist distribution.

When Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in Germany destroyed all this, he escaped to Paris and took over an ailing publishing house to turn out a series of "Brown Books" attacking Hitler. He staged the anti-Reichstag Trial in London's Law Society Officesto parallel Hitler's trial of the Comintern leader Dimitrov and others on charges of torching the German Reichstag. Later Stalin sought to purge him, summoning him to Moscow. He went once, but managed to leave Russia. Thereafter he was expelled from theGerman Communist party. He founded his last journal, Die Zukunft, which was independent and anti-Stalinist. In the collapse of France in 1940, he disappeared. His body was found, apparently mutilated; he had, it was suggested, hung himself. Documents and testimony, which have emerged in the last two years, and which Professor Koch seems to have overlooked, suggest that he was murdered by two Polish Communist agents of the Soviet NKVD, who then returned to Moscow - where they were subsequently themselves liquidated.

Professor Koch is chairman of the writing programme at Columbia university, New York. He has devoted more than a decade to the research for this book. It must be said that like Wednesday lunch at Charles Lamb's school, it in equal measure arouses and disappoints the appetite. In part this is because the author, who writes a most stirring tale in places, has set himself too ambitious a trio of tasks. To write an account of Stalin's relations with the propagandists for Communism whom Manzenberg enlisted or who performed similar roles to his would be enough in itself for a much larger book than this. A true biography of Manzenberg which followed and enlarged the account given by his widow and his assistants from Arthur Koestler onwards would have been a valuable enterprise. As it is Professor Koch spends almost as much time on Otto Katz aka Andre Simone, who first worked for Munzenberg, then broke with him and perished finally in the Czechoslovak purge trial of 1952.

The real problem however lies much deeper, in Professor Koch's failure either to define the term intellectual or to understand how these indefinables could be so easily gulled and conned into supporting the Soviet Union or recognising its realities. Someof his intellectuals are creative writers, some, like the ever resurrected Cambridge Five, simply university educated elitists.

He never covers, except in a brief but perceptive discussion of the myth of the Renaissance, the state of mind which delivered so many smart middle-class intellectuals into the seducers' hands. He studies Romain Rolland and Hemingway; though it is difficult to avoid the feeling that he has neither read nor seen the film of For Whom the Bell Tolls, with its easily recognisable pictures of Mikhail Koltsov and Andre Marti, the Soviet journalist and the impenetrably stupid Comintern Stalinist.

Most of all he cannot admit, because he never really studies, the appeal of what Stalinism perverted, the vision of revolution after the obscene infamy, as it was widely perceived, of the First World War. And he cannot see that with Manzenberg's murder, as with those of his generation, the European working class revolutionary movement died - exactly as Stalin, the Asiatic despot, intended.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup