Thursday, August 2, 2007

Munzenberg

I've been trying to spend less time on the internet and more time reading books. It's easy for hours to pass browsing from blog to blog while the "to read" pile gets higher and higher. I'm now reading Double Lives: Stalin, Willi Munzenberg and the Seduction of the Intellectuals. It has become clear to me, as someone with a developing interest in IO, public diplomacy, and persuasion/influence operations in general, that Munzenberg is a "must know." I have come across references to him many times around the blogosphere over the past few years and finally got around to buying a book about him last week. I wish I had read about him sooner, it is very interesting reading. Here are some excerpts from the book about Munzenberg and his operation:

...Munzenberg's true role in the world was a closely guarded secret, though in keeping with his particular talent, it was concealed in conspicuousness. His talent was for propaganda, albeit of a special kind. For Willi Munzenberg was the first grand master of two quite new kinds of secret service work, essential to this century, and to the Soviets: the covertly controlled propaganda front, and the secretly manipulated fellow traveler. His goal was to create for the right-thinking non-communist West the dominating political prejudice of the era: the belief that any opinion that happened to serve the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was derived from the most essential elements of human decency. He wanted to instill the feeling, like a truth of nature, that seriously to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and marked by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Willi's first move in any situation was to capture--to co-opt--liberal opinion for communist ends: his second, was to deny that any such sleight of hand had taken place. To create his networks of fronts and fellow travelers Munzenberg used every resource of propaganda, from highbrow cultural to funny hats and balloons. But his two prime tools were co-option and denial: Co-option of liberal democratic opinion; denial of Communist motives. He organized in all media: newspapers, film, radio, books, magazines, the theater. Every kind of "opinion maker" was involved: writers, artists, actors, commentators, priests, ministers, professors, "business leaders," scientists, psychologists, anyone at all whose opinion the public was likely to respect.
...
His heydey lasted for a little less than fifteen years, from the 1921 Volga Famine in Russia and the Sacco-Vanzetti case in America to the Spanish Civil War. During that time, he was amazingly successful at co-opting and mobilizing the intelligentsia of the West on behalf of a moralistic set of political attitudes responsive to Soviet needs. In the process, he organized and defined the "enlightened" moral agenda of his era. In a sense, Munzenberg's apparatus was as instrumental as any other single factor in giving direction to the political attitudes we now call The Thirties. Hundreds of groups and committees and publications operated under his auspices, or those of his agents. The writers, artists, journalists, scientists, educators, clerics, columnists, film-makers, and publishers, either under his influence or regularly manipulated by his "Munzenberg men," present a startling list of notables from the era, from Ernest Hemingway, to John Dos Passos to Lillian Hellman to George Grosz to Edward Piscator to Andre Malraux to Bertold Brecht to Dorothy Parker...
...
But Munzenberg's information network controlled newspapers and radio stations, ran film companies, created book clubs, ran magazines, sponsored publicity tours, dispatched journalists, and commissioned books. It planted articles and created organizations to give direction to the "innocent." It was a media combine. Yet it differed in a number of ways from the BBC, Time, Inc., or even from an explicit instrument of political propaganda like Radio Liberty. For example, many people working for it did not publicly acknowledge the connection. Many operated under aliases. Many led double lives, sometimes totally changing their identities, concealing their true mission from their friends, even their spouses, and certainly from employers, who often included unsuspecting editors, publishers, and producers whose ideas were very remote from the real agenda. The "Munzenberg men" were, in short, secret agents, people who lived and worked, however publicly, in the secret world: the realm of intelligence gathering, covert action, undercover penetration, clandestine influence, quiet sabotage, discreet blackmail...And back when the revolution was still young, it was Munzenberg's task to create for much of this vast unseen enterprise a persuasive public face.

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