"Lying for the truth..."
My friend Bill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, posted a link to a long but fascinating article that very nearly convinces me that there was indeed not only a Communist 'conspiracy' but even a rather effective one at work in the middle years of the twentieth century.
I say "very nearly" because I'm not sure that the 'conspiracy' was quite so effective, but that's a point for debate.
Anyway, if you have an hour, go and read Stephen Koch's long essay, "Lying for the truth: Münzenberg & the Comintern" (The New Criterion, Volume 12, Number 3, November 1993). One hour is about how much time that I spent yesterday reading this fascinating report on one of yesterday's threats to world order. That hour was time that I didn't actually have available for leisurely reading, but I could justify the luxury of enjoying a well-written essay by telling myself that we can possibly learn something about the current methods of Islamists by studying the past methods of Communists. This rationale might even be true, but whether it is or isn't, the article itself made for compelling reading, as you can see from its opening lines:
On October 22, 1940, not far from a tiny French hamlet near Grenoble called Montagne, two hunters out with their dogs stumbled across something gruesome hidden in a small stand of woods. At the foot of a fine old oak sat, upright, the decomposing body of a man. The man had been dead for a long time, and he appeared to have been hanged.Unlike those French villagers, I'd heard of Willi Münzenberg, though I didn't really know his story, but this opening had my curiosity whetted for more details, and I read the entire essay without being distracted despite the various people coming and going through the faculty lounge that doubles as 'my' office.
What the hunters found that day would become more than a legend of their town; it would take its place among the enduring mysteries of modern politics. For this was the body of a man named Willi Münzenberg, and Willi Münzenberg had lived and died as one of the unseen powers of twentieth-century Europe. When the hunters found it, his corpse was almost entirely covered with fallen leaves. Only the vile face and the popped stare of strangulation were visible -- that and the noose. The reek was awful; the body had plainly been there for months. The knotted cord around its neck seemed to have snapped, probably quite soon after he had been hanged, and when it broke, the body had apparently dropped to the base of the tree. There it had stayed, knees up, all through that summer of the French defeat, sitting oddly undetected until October began to cover it with the drift of autumn and the hunters' dogs, yelping and whining, discovered the thing.
The French villagers knew nothing about Willi Münzenberg. Münzenberg was and is not a famous name, though this man's power had given him a potent grip on the workings of fame. Since his radical youth in 1917, Willi Münzenberg had been a largely covert but major actor in the politics of the twentieth century. As a founding organizer of the Communist International and a leader in the structure of Marxist-Leninist power outside Russia, Münzenberg had played an especially influential part in the conspiracies, the maneuvers, the propaganda, the secret policies and actions that had led to this very spot: here to the fall of France; here to Hitler's war on the West; here to these woods, and this death.
What did Münzenberg do? He worked, rather successfully, to organize a network of Communists, their witting sympathizers, and their unwitting-but-culturally-influential fellow-travelers into a conspiracy aimed at shaping cultural values in the West, especially in Europe. How did he do this? Through the Comintern:
The instrument through which Münzenberg organized this cultural power was the Communist International, or, as it was almost always known, the Comintern. The Comintern was in many ways the quintessential Leninist institution, shaped from its inception by the two leading passions of Lenin's political personality: his obsession with secrecy, and his preoccupation with absolute power. Its aims were never even remotely democratic, never even remotely meliorist, and never were intended to provide any real assistance, however minute, to any branch of the left not entirely under Soviet control.It worked like this:
Münzenberg'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." To use the jargon of a different age, 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 classic 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. They were, in short, secret agents, people who lived and worked, however publicly, in a secret world: the realm of intelligence gathering, covert action, undercover penetration, clandestine influence, quiet sabotage, discreet blackmail -- what the American counter-spy James Jesus Angleton, quoting T. S. Eliot, called "a wilderness of mirrors." Nor did the work stop with the media. Münzenberg also courted business people who could be used in industrial espionage, both in Europe and the United States. Given Lenin's obsession with electrification, for example, an early target was General Electric. And back when the revolution was still young, it was Münzenberg's task to create for much of this vast unseen enterprise a persuasive public face.Münzenberg's efforts ultimately failed. History ever slips through our mortal fingers. But in its day, Münzenberg's network shaped European and even American attitudes profoundly enough to persuade many that Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were innocent. Why? Münzenberg cared not whether the two were innocent or not. The point was a different one:
Münzenberg's ... idea was to create and sustain a worldwide anti-American campaign that would focus its appeal upon the mythology of the country's immigration. The purpose of such a campaign would be to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people as a prime tropism of left-wing enlightenment. To undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.With such an aim (and possibly Communism's principal, lasting success), the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti was a thing that the Communists only pretended to oppose, as revealed in the following anecdote that Koch attributes to the writer Katherine Anne Porter:
The Communist goal was never to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. Acquittal would have dissolved the whole political point. Katherine Anne Porter, like hundreds of writers and artists of the time, participated in the Boston deathwatch. She reports an exchange with the Comintern agent who was her group leader, Rosa Baron, "a dry, fanatical little woman who wore thick-lensed spectacles over her accusing eyes, a born whiphand, who talked an almost impenetrable jargon of party dogma. ... I remarked ... that even then, at that late time, I still hoped the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti could be saved. ... 'Saved' she said, ringing a change on her favorite answer to political illiteracy, 'who wants them saved? What earthly good would they do us alive?'"Ms. Baron's remark is either the profound cynicism of the nihilist or the deep conviction of the true believer that every deception is permitted in pressing forward toward the utopian 'truth' ... and maybe both at once.
In this regard, the old Communists -- unwittingly of course -- prepared the way for today's Islamists ... but will history slip through their fingers?