What is successful propaganda? - 2

Posted by Tory Historian Sunday, February 11, 2007 , ,

Another dam' long screed, to misquote the Duke of Cumberland's comment to Edward Gibbon. Scribble, scribble.

To continue the saga of the propaganda war waged after the Reichstag fire.

The first aspect of the counter-offensive was “The Brown Book”, followed later on by “The Second Brown Book”. Münzenberg mobilized many of the West’s intellectuals whom he had already enmeshed in his network or the Münzenberg Trust as it was known, to support this endeavour. Names of others, such as Albert Einstein, who protested, were simply added.

“The Brown Book” was probably written largely by Willi’s henchman and probably NKVD agent, the Czech Communist Otto Katz, who may well have been involved later on in Masaryk’s “defenestration”. Subsequently, the grateful Communist government of Czechoslovakia put him on trial together with Rudolf Slánský in the great show trial of 1952. (Incidentally, the trials of the tortured and pressurized accused were filmed and shown. Their self-abasement was made public at the time and later.)

Katz, the ruthless manipulator and brilliant propaganda writer, was accused of Zionism and espionage, confessed to all his “crimes” and begged to be executed as he had no right to live. His masters obliged and he was hanged.

As Stephen Koch, author of “Double Lives” and Sean McMeekin, author of “The Red Millionaire”, Münzenberg’s biography, argued “The Brown Book” so highly praised at the time and so valued by various historians, was largely a pack of lies. In fact, the lies were not really substantiated and only self-imposed hypnosis could have made all those writers and reviewers swoon with praise at the time.

There were three parts to the book. The first one told inaccurately of the Nazi rise to power, blaming largely the Social-Democrats and, naturally enough, being rather reticent about the war the KPD waged on the SD and the Weimar democracy in general.

The second part dealt with Nazi oppression in general and was, as Sean McMeekin puts it, “intuitively correct”, though short on facts. “The Brown Book” emphasised oppression as it affected left-wing parties and individuals not those dreadful people, capitalists, under which rubric came anyone who did not support the KPD.

Nor was there anything about the growing persecution of Jews. Instead of giving examples, the book and its supposed author, merely quoted Lenin’s attack on rich and powerful Zionists, adding quite dishonestly, that rich German Jews had not felt any discomfort under the Nazis. In fact, there was a great deal of indignation that the Nazis accused various non-Jewish left-wing and, above all, Communist activists of being that.

How ironic that the real author of this document should have ended his life as a “Zionist spy”. Communist history is full of ironies of this kind.

The third part dealt with the Reichstag fire and produced the accusations that it was organized by the Nazis, specifically by Göring. To prove this there were fraudulent charts and “photographs” produced that showed a network of subterranean passages through which the Nazis could have entered while Van der Lubbe was torching the place, to give him a hand.

To top the accusations, there were clear innuendos that Van der Lubbe was the SA Chief Ernst Röhm’s catamite, possibly a sexual toy boy to the SA in general.

Even at the time this was thin and has since been disproved quite categorically by, among others, Fritz Tobias in his 1964 book, “The Reichstag Fire”. No other writer has produced any evidence to back the half-baked assertions of “The Brown Book” and “The Second Brown Book”. They have, nevertheless, penetrated into popular psyche to quite an astonishing degree.

Münzenberg’s other ploy was the London counter-trial, the template for many other subsequent “trials”. It was timed to open the day the Leipzig trial of Van der Lubbe, Dimitrov and the others was to start, September 21, 1933.

The counter-trial was chaired by D. N. Pritt KC, barrister and member of the Labour Party, who was also one of the leading fellow travellers. In subsequent years he would use his standing as a barrister and a “silk” to explain why the Soviet show trials were legally entirely correct and how the guilt of the accused had been proved beyond any reasonable doubt.

The other "judges" were Maìtre Pierre Vermeylen of Belgium, George Branting of Sweden, Maìtre Vincent de Moro-Giafferi and Maìtre Gaston Bergery of France, Betsy Bakker-Nort of the Netherlands, Vald Hvidt of Denmark, and Arthur Garfield Hays of the United States.
The lawyers, except for Pritt, complained about the atmosphere in the “court room”, the pressure under which they were put by Münzenberg, the lack of evidence and the laughable testimony produced by friends of Willi wearing SA uniforms and masks.

For all of that, the counter-trial was a huge success. After a week’s deliberation it came to the conclusion it started with, that the fire had been initiated by Göring and carried out by SA officers, with Van der Lubbe, probably a homosexual lover of one or more of them, lined up as the fall guy. This was, astonishingly enough, accepted by all the bien pensants and many other well-meaning people.

Meanwhile, the real trial, in Leipzig was also a success for the Comintern. Dimitrov [pictured on the right], a superb speaker, dispensed with his defence lawyer and used the four month long trial to proclaim repeatedly his and his comrades’ innocence and the Nazis’ guilt as well as the guilt of all those who did not support the Communist line.

Van der Lubbe [pictured on the left], by now probably heavily drugged, drooling and giggling, continued to insist (in so far as he could insist anything) that he did it all by himself to call attention to the problems of the German workers.

On December 21 the trial came to an end. Van der Lubbe was found guilty and subsequently executed. The charges against the others were dismissed for lack of evidence, something that would not have happened under Stalin and did not happen at the counter-trial.

Ernst Togler was kept in “protective custody” until 1935, then released. He was purged from the KPD because of his surrender to the police, went abroad and worked in Belgium, returning later to work, according to him under duress, for the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda. He survived till the early sixties.

Dimitrov, Tanev and Popov returned to the Soviet Union in February 1934, almost exactly a year after the fire to a hero’s welcome.

Why were the charges dismissed? One theory is that the German courts were still sufficiently independent not to bow to pressure from the Nazi hierarchy. This is not impossible.

Another aspect of the story is the arrest of seven German airmen who were undergoing training secretly in the Soviet Union. They were released after the Bulgarians had been acquitted and sent back to the USSR. It is hard to dismiss the notion of some agreement there. Stephen Koch thinks that the agreement went deeper and the whole Leipzig trial was a put-up job, with both Hitler and Stalin seizing the opportunity they were presented with.

Back in the USSR Dimitrov became head of the Comintern and a fervent Stalinist, though Robert Conquest mentions in “The Great Terror” that he, unusually, tried to save some of his Bulgarian comrades during the purge and may, even, have succeeded with one.

Whether he tried to save his co-defendants is unclear but, in any case, he did not succeed. Both Popov and Tanev disappeared into the Gulag, with only the first of them emerging after many years.

Dimitrov eventually became the Prime Minister of Communist Bulgaria and died in 1949 while on holiday in the Soviet Union. Rumours of him having been poisoned or irradiated have persisted ever since. It is true that Stalin had been displeased with his secret negotiations with Tito.

And what of Münzenberg, the evil genius, the man who created the modern intellectual atmosphere, who unknown to most and working in the shadows, consolidated Western opinion about at least two crucial events?

Alas, he did not live long enough to see the network he had set up of front organizations, fellow travellers and agents of various kind achieving their biggest success of demonizing Senator Joseph McCarthy and all who were associated with him and turning the Communist agents he had tried to uncover into martyrs. That opinion, too, persists to this day, as witnessed by the completely untruthful “Good bye and good luck” made by George Clooney and despite the research of such people as Ronald Radosh, author of “Red Star Over Hollywood” and the Yale University series of published documents about American Communist activity. Another triumph for the real propaganda.

Willi, however, had no more triumphs after 1933 though he continued to weave his spider’s web for a while. From 1935 on he watched his various friends and comrades disappear into Stalin’s prisons to reappear in show trials. He was purged from the KPD and in 1938 he broke with Stalin.

He then spent two years talking to British and French agents, explaining to them the truth or as much of the truth as he was prepared to divulge about the Soviet Union and the Comintern. He also started making plans for another propaganda campaign some time in the future, a left-wing anti-Soviet one. Many of his ideas were taken up after the war by the organizations and publications that came out under the auspices of the Congress for Cultural Freedom but Willi did not live to see that either.

He did carry out one coup against Stalin. Soon after the Nazi-Soviet Pact he published the names of 40 German Communists who had been murdered in the Soviet prisons.

In early 1940 he was interned in France with all other German citizens. He had been advised to submit to that rather than try to escape by a couple of British agents he had been in touch with. Unfortunately, apart from the fact that Willi must have been watched by the NKVD, this was the period when the various British security services played unwilling host to a number of Soviet agents.

As the French surrender drew closer those in internment camps were either released or allowed to escape. Münzenberg headed off with a group southwards but reaching Montalon separated from the main group with three others, promising to return later.

None were seen again. One, Hartig, a supposed left-wing social-democrat, turned up later in Paris and worked with the Nazis. Two other young men, who had made enormous efforts to befriend Willi vanished.

This was June 21, the day of France’s surrender. In October of that year, a body was found in the woods nearby of a man who had been hanged but as the rope had snapped, he had fallen under the tree. The body was in a very bad state of decomposition but papers in his pocket showed that this was, indeed, the former propaganda chief of the Comintern.

Some people think of it as a suicide but most assume that the two young men were working for the NKVD who wanted Willi dead and who accomplished the crime, possibly with the help of the Gestapo.

In any case, what matters is the evil that he did and that lives on. Few people know the name of Willi Münzenberg of his henchman Otto Katz. Yet over several decades millions across the world have repeated “truths” and opinions that had been created for them by these two. Not many people believed Dr Göbbels’s “big lie” but too many still believe the medium lies that were piled up by the Comintern.

As I said at the beginning of this long discussion, in the first posting. That is propaganda.

12 comments

  1. John Barnes Says:
  2. A fascinating piece of history, but your general comments are very very pertinent. One of the more successful pieces of propaganda perpetrated in my lifetime was Guilty Men, encouraged by Lord Beaverbrook. It played a major part in the 1945 Labour victory, as Scott Kelly has shown. But it continues to influence apparently objective writing about the 1930s. Browsing the No 10 website it is instructive to come across the mis-statments about Stanley Baldwin. The Germans apparently began to rearm in 1936 and Baldwin refused to follow suit fearing pacifist opinion. I have protested, but no alteration. Leave aside the blatant error of dating German rearmament to 1936, The British Government, in which Baldwin was a major figure, responded with an alteration of policy, an investigation of what was needed and the first measures of rearmement in July 1934. One can argue whether they did enough, but not about the nature of the response. The Defence White paper of 1935 was intended to educate public opinion and by May 1935 the rearmement programme in the air had twice been stepped up. By 1936 there was a more balanced rearmament programme (planned in 1935). So where does the PM's website get its facts from? I could suspect the action as deliberate propaganda, but for the fact that many reference works make similar errors. I fear that despite the efforts of many historians, the myth about the 1935 election perpetrated by Guilty Men still rides supreme. At least the myths about the Reichstag fire are well and truly bust.

     
  3. Unfortunately, the myths about the Reichstag fire persist as well. However, you are right about the Guilty Men myth. It is high time to lay that to rest. The main reason, I suspect, it persists (apart from sheer laziness on the part of people who produce history textbooks and political websites) is not wanting to acknowledge that the Labour Party was creating endless difficulties and trying to stop rearmament in the thirties.

     
  4. There's a more current example of propaganda techniques here

     
  5. adams Says:
  6. I Think Churchill said at the time that "Guilty Men was writen by guiltier men."

     
  7. El Jigue Says:
  8. Does anybody know of referenced links of any of these characters to Fabio Grobart the supposed recruiter of Fidel Castro in 1948 and certainly the communist mastermind of Cuba.


    It seems that Otto Katz and Fabio Grobart were colleagues/rivals.



    El Jigue

     
  9. El Jigue,
    Thanks for that. I did not know about that possible Cuban link and shall try to find out more.

     
  10. El Jigue Says:
  11. Tory Historian:

    Thank you

    What I found puzzling was that Otto Katz was executed and yet Fabio Grobart was not.... During some of the 1930's and 1940; Grobart's bailwick Cuba infiltration was apparently under Katz's
    direction...

    El Jigue

     
  12. That may have something to do with geography. Katz was in Czechoslovakia where the Communists took power some years before Stalin's death and he with the others was close to hadn. Grobart was in Cuba, which was too far away and, in any case, the Communist revolution did not triumph till some years afterwards.

     
  13. Larry Daley Says:
  14. Tory Historian:

    Thank you. However, Fabio Grobart went back to the east bloc until Raul Castro and Guevara went to fetch him in 1959.

    From my paper in progress: "Grobart’s blunders were at least partially responsible for the outlawing of the Cuban Communist Party in 1948, and resulted in his deportation that same time or smuggled out on a Soviet vessel in 1950. CIA 1961 (accessed 9-11-06) Cuban developments Current Intelligence Weekly Review, 9 November 1960. Abstract: Pages:0003 Pub Date: 11/9/1960 Release Date 6/2/1998 Case Number: CSI-1998-00005 CIA Electronic Reading Room http://www.foia.cia.gov “…Blacked out...including Abraham (Fabio L.D.) Grobart, a 55-year old veteran of the International Communist movement, lived in Cuba between 1924 and 1950…(as) Top Soviet Agent in the Caribbean area In 1950 smuggled out of Cuba on a Soviet Vessel and since then has presumable been in Prague or Moscow.”

    BTW it struck me as amusing that Fabio of course refers to stealthy tactics, but Grobart means gravedigger, in Serbian,and also I believe in Russian

    Now I having a copy of Grobart's writing:

    Grobart, Fabio 1978 Prólogo in: Mella, Julio Antonio, 1903-1929 Escritos revolucionarios Siglo Veintiuno SA. Mexico D.F. ISBN 9682303621 pp. 11-31 (dated Habana, 20 de julio de 1977)

    This can be compared to Castro's speeches, and perhaps it will reveal more on the relations between these two.

     
  15. El Jigue Says:
  16. Marlene Dietrich letters to Hemingway

    *Kansas City Star2007 (accessed 5-5-07) Flirting, writ large letters between Ernest Hemingway and Marlene Dietrich reveal volumes correspondence. The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) | Date: 4/8/2007 http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1Y1-105050824.html “Last Monday 30 letters from Hemingway to Dietrich were opened to the public. Dietrich's daughter, Maria Riva, had given them a few years ago to the JFK Library's Ernest Hemingway Collection, asking that they be kept under wraps until this year.”

    This is interesting because the father of Dietrich's (first?) daughter (Maria Rivas?) was Otto Katz a famous communist spy master:

    *Film Museum Berlin 2000 (accessed 5-5-07) Newsletter No.16 October, 27th 2000 http://www.marlene.com/news16.pdf.” …And then she became pregnant. …Marlene plainly told Otto [Katz] that he was the father of the child she bore on December 12, 1924.”

    *Cockburn Claud 2006 (accessed 3-29-07) Scenes from the Spanish Civil War. Counterpunch August 1, 2006 http://www.counterpunch.org/claud08012006.html “Otto Katz -- who was now internationally known as Andre Simon -- was a propagandist of genius. He had started his working life as cashier of a theater in Teplitz, where Marlene Dietrich worked at some very early age. Katz -- whether truthfully or untruthfully, I do not know -- always claimed to have been the first husband of Marlene Dietrich. I do know that whereas in every other connection you could call him a liar, hypocrite and ruffian of every description without his turning a hair, if you appeared to doubt this assertion about Marlene he would fly into a passion, white with rage. It is true that he made love to every good-looking woman he met and was a great deal more than averagely successful. He was a middle-sized man with a large, slightly cadaverous bead in which the skull bones were unusually prominent. He had large melancholy eyes, a smile of singular sweetness and an air of mystery -- a mystery into which he was prepared to induct you, you alone, because be loved and esteemed you so highly.”


    *“Tory Historian” 2007 (accessed 3-29-07) What is successful propaganda? - 2 The blog of the Conservative History Group and the Conservative History Journal Sunday, February 11, 2007 http://conservativehistory.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-is-successful-propaganda-2.html “The Brown Book” was probably written largely by Willi’s henchman and probably NKVD agent, the Czech Communist Otto Katz, who may well have been involved later on in Masaryk’s “defenestration”. Subsequently, the grateful Communist government of Czechoslovakia put him on trial together with Rudolf Slánský in the great show trial of 1952. (Incidentally, the trials of the tortured and pressurized accused were filmed and shown. Their self-abasement was made public at the time and later.) Katz, the ruthless manipulator and brilliant propaganda writer, was accused of Zionism and espionage, confessed to all his “crimes” and begged to be executed as he had no right to live. His masters obliged and he was hanged. As Stephen Koch, author of “Double Lives” and Sean McMeekin, author of “The Red Millionaire”, Münzenberg’s biography, argued “The Brown Book” so highly praised at the time and so valued by various historians, was largely a pack of lies. In fact, the lies were not really substantiated and only self-imposed hypnosis could have made all those writers and reviewers swoon with praise at the time.”

    This is a matter Hemingway surely must have known, and if he did not one can be sure that the FBI did.

     
  17. Rudolf Sieber is usually listed as Maria Riva's father. I am not sure Otto Katz's own account can be taken as gospel truth.

     
  18. El Jigue Says:
  19. Tory Historian:

    Interesting point, since
    after all we are dealing with Otto Katz and the murky world of espionage. However, if you have accessed the site listed:

    "*Film Museum Berlin 2000 (accessed 5-5-07) Newsletter No.16 October, 27th 2000 http://www.marlene.com/news16.pdf.” …And then she became pregnant. …Marlene plainly told Otto [Katz] that he was the father of the child she bore on December 12, 1924.”
    "

    It is at least plausable that Katz for once was telling the truth, after all
    such diddling with movie actress was common in the Hollywood circumstance Katz found himself in see for example:

    Cockburn Claud 2006 (accessed 3-29-07) Scenes from the Spanish Civil War. Counterpunch August 1, 2006 http://www.counterpunch.org/claud08012006.html “Otto Katz -- who was now internationally known as Andre Simon -- was a propagandist of genius. He had started his working life as cashier of a theater in Teplitz, where Marlene Dietrich worked at some very early age. Katz -- whether truthfully or untruthfully, I do not know -- always claimed to have been the first husband of Marlene Dietrich. I do know that whereas in every other connection you could call him a liar, hypocrite and ruffian of every description without his turning a hair, if you appeared to doubt this assertion about Marlene he would fly into a passion, white with rage. It is true that he made love to every good-looking woman he met and was a great deal more than averagely successful. He was a middle-sized man with a large, slightly cadaverous bead in which the skull bones were unusually prominent. He had large melancholy eyes, a smile of singular sweetness and an air of mystery -- a mystery into which he was prepared to induct you, you alone, because be loved and esteemed you so highly.”

    In your judgment how authoritative is the Film Museum of Berlin?

     
Powered by Blogger.

Followers

Labels

Counters




Blog Archive