Willi Münzenberg was a towering figure in the anti-fascist movement during the first half of the twentieth century. He was acquainted with many of the leading left wing activists and thinkers of his day including Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Karl Radek. He also played a foundational role in several important transnational organisations such as the Socialist Youth International, the largest anti-war movement in opposition to the First World War, the International Workers’ Relief organisation, and the League against Colonialism and for National Independence.
As a film distributor and promoter, he brought modern Soviet films to western Europe. As a publicist and manager, he built up the most influential left-wing media empire in the Weimar Republic and initiated the pioneering use of photography and photo montage. He was also a long-time member of the Reichstag. He was a pioneer in the use of a variety of media and the way he gained the support and collaboration of progressive politicians, artists and intellectuals ensured that he would become the leading, and most effective, opponent of Hitler’s and Goebbels’ propaganda machine, as he exposed the venality and brutality of the Nazis. Late in life, his turn against Stalinism almost certainly led to his mysterious death.
This is the first detailed biography in English to give coverage to the full range of Münzenberg's activism. There are valuable lessons to be learnt from the book about the best ways to counter fascism which are powerfully relevant to our contemporary political situation. It should be of great interest to activists, scholars and those studying the history of the radical left.
Table of Contents
1. Early life
2. An émigré in Switzerland
3. Germany in Turmoil
4. Rebuilding the socialist youth movement
5. The Comintern’s emissary in Western Europe
6. The Communist Party and Civil War in Germany
7. Entrepreneur and Propagandist supremo
8. Publishing mogul
9. The influence of the KPD and Münzenberg’s organisation on working class culture in Germany
10. League against Imperialism
11. Fleeing the Nazis to France
12. Reichstag Fire and Counter Trial
13. Battles with the KPD leadership
14. French internment and mysterious death
15. Münzenberg’s British Secret Service Files
16. Summing up Münzenberg’s historical contribution
John Green is a journalist and author. He worked for two decades making television documentaries before devoting himself to writing. He has since written several biographies, including one on Friedrich Engels and this his second for Routledge. He lived in Germany for a number of years and has a keen interest in twentieth-century German political history and culture. He and his wife live and work in West London.
"Willi Münzenberg is a key reference for anyone interested in anti-war movements since the First World War, left cultural politics, or specific relations between socialist and communist movements and transnational solidarity during the interwar period. And still, his biography and politics have fallen through existing webs of historical narration due to existing biases. Therefore I wholeheartedly welcome John Green’s attempt to rediscover and critically re-evaluate Münzenberg’s biography and the extraordinary achievements during his lifetime." - Dr. Uwe Sonnenberg, Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Berlin and Internationales Willi-Münzenberg-Forum, Germany
"Willi Münzenberg remains one of the twentieth century’s most intriguing personalities on the political left. His influence and political legacy still remain largely underrated or misrepresented. John Green’s Münzenberg biography thus forms an important and timely contribution to this complex story, closely related to the rise of international communism and the Soviet Union. This accessible account will help a new generation of readers to discover Münzenberg and his political activism for international solidarity, anti-colonialism and anti-fascism." - Kasper Braskén, Åbo Akademi University, Finland
"My grandmother, Babette Gross, worked for Willi Münzenberg from 1920. She later became his life partner, living and working with him until his death in 1940. The aim of her Political Biography was to tell the story of his life objectively, supported by historical evidence and relying as little as possible on subjective experience. Subsequent biographers, although drawing on her account, have interpreted Münzenberg and his activities through their own somewhat tinted historical perspectives and attitudes. John Green's new biography has a more even-handed approach to the historical setting, bringing relevance to this area for a new generation of readers. A welcome addition to the scholarship, it throws a clearer light on the life and times of the enigmatic Willi Münzenberg and his fellow-travellers." - Dr. Catherine Gross, The Australian National University, Australia
"John Green’s new biography, Willi Munzenberg Fighter against Fascism and Stalinism, is a valuable addition to the growing literature on both Munzenberg and the Weimar period. It is particularly useful in its straightforward account of the treacherous behaviour of the leaders of social democracy around the first world war, the defeat of the 1918 German revolution and the consolidation of capitalist power in Germany." - Nick Wright, Morning Star