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.Reuse content