Désinformation: Retour sur l’Affaire Sacco-Vanzetti (Looking back on Comintern’s most successful lying-for-the truth operation)

Vous nous avez déjà fait le coup avec Sacco et Vanzetti et il a réussi. Cette fois, il ne réussira pas. Vous rappelez-vous Nuremberg et votre théorie de la responsabilité collective. Eh bien ! C’est à vous aujourd’hui qu’il faut l’appliquer. Vous êtes collectivement responsables de la mort des Rosenberg, les uns pour avoir provoqué ce meurtre, les autres pour l’avoir laissé commettre. Jean-Paul Sartre (« Les animaux malades de la rage », Libération, 22 juin 1953)
The purpose was « to Stalinize the glamor culture, while simultaneously giving the apparatus a cash cow capable of producing a large, untraceable supply of much-needed American hard currency to finance various operations around the world. (…) You do not endorse Stalin. You do not call yourself a communist. You do not declare your love for the regime. You do not call on people to support the Soviets. Ever. Under any circumstances. You claim to be an independent-minded idealist. You don’t understand politics, but you think the little guy is getting a lousy break. You believe in open-mindedness. You are shocked, frightened by what is going on right here in our own country. You are frightened by the racism, by the oppression of the working man. You think that the Russians are trying a great human experiment, and you hope it works. You believe in peace. You yearn for international understanding. You hate fascism. You think the capitalist system is corrupt. You say it over and over again and you say nothing, nothing more. Stephen Koch

Pour en terminer avec le mythe Sacco-Vanzetti, il nous faut bien sûr revenir sur le magistral travail de l’historien américain Stephen Koch qui a le mérite de l’inscrire dans la perspective plus générale de l’appareil de propagande stalinien. Notamment dans son livre de 1994 sur le Komintern (Double lives*) où, s’appuyant sur des archives soviétiques récemment ouvertes, il évoque l’étonnant parcours d’une de ses grandes figures (nécessairement cachée!), le propagandiste allemand Willi Münzenbuger.

Chef d’orchestre invisible d’une campagne de manipulation sans précédent (du milieu des années 20, le système Münzenberg se perpétua même au-delà de sa mort jusqu’aux années 60), la liste est longue de ceux que ses services réussirent à « recruter », au moins comme « compagnons de route ». Hemingway, Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Bertold Brecht, Thomas Mann, les deux André, Gide et Malraux, rien de moins en fait que le gotha de l’intelligentsia occidentale. Sans parler des Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Heinrich Mann, Romain Rolland, Aragaon et sa muse russe Elsa Triolet, etc.

Et ce justement… à partir de l’Affaire Sacco et Vanzetti, cette magistrale opération de « mensonge au service de la vérité » dont le Komintern se fera par la suite une spécialité:

Extraits :

Around 1925, the Comintern entrusted Münzenberg and his propaganda machine with a little-known but large role in giving shape and political function to the Communist Party of the United States as it was to be under Stalin. At that time, the American party, that congregation of the militant naïve, home and battleground for John Reed and Louise Bryant, needed to be re-assembled. It had been left in a shattered state by its late-Leninist internal struggles combined with devastating police action inflicted on it by what later became the FBI.


For the world proletariat of 1925, the leading counter-myth to the myth of revolution was, by far, the idea of America. That vision—the notion of the melting pot, the Golden Door, the Land of Opportunity— is what held the real political attention of the International. To the Bolsheviks, this was the true American menace. And in 1925, the task of the American party was to counteract it.

So Münzenberg’s first 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.

To this end, Münzenberg surveyed his options, in search of a cause that would disgrace America in the eyes of the proletarian foreign-born. He found it in the obscure case of two anarchist immigrants who’d got themselves into some very bad trouble: Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.


Together with the Dreyfus case, this is perhaps the most famous legal struggle in the whole history of modern propaganda and injustice. It seemed at first incredible to me that this epochal case could have been manipulated at such a distance, and so cynically.

And indeed the origins of the Sacco–Vanzetti case are far more complex than that. Yet in one sense the Sacco–Vanzetti campaign does turn out to have been “Münzenberg’s idea.” It was indeed at Münzenberg’s instigation that Communist propaganda networks worldwide took up the plight of the two Boston immigrants and made it the centerpiece of a vast new anti-American operation—just as a little later it was Willi’s executive decision to turn the Scottsboro Boys into prime martyrs for the International. The Comintern and Willi’s organization were the ones who transformed a case of troubled local injustice into a worldwide cause célèbre.

In that effort, however, the Communists latched onto the Sacco–Vanzetti case as latecomers and opportunists. Sacco and Vanzetti were not themselves Communists, and theirs was not, at first, a Communist struggle. The two Italians were anarchists, and so their political myth was shaped during the early 1920s by anarchists, guided especially by that doyen of Italo-American radicalism, Carlo Tresca.

By the mid-1920s, however, the political sponsorship of the case decisively changed. In 1926, the American Communist Party stood directionless and in disarray, very much in need of a new motivating spirit and a new task. At the same time, the International was demanding its anti-American cause. The Soviet propagandists decided to satisfy both these needs at once. In 1926, speaking to his colleagues in the WIR, Münzenberg announced it was their task, as propagandists, to rescue the American party and supply its new direction. And so it was: the first task of a revived American party was to seize and hold the Sacco–Vanzetti case for its own, while around the world the Comintern turned it into the preoccupying moral issue of the era. By 1928, Willi was cooly and quite correctly claiming credit for the Sacco– Vanzetti campaign, understood as a worldwide political moral mania, and among the highest triumphs of his apparatus.

Here is how it worked. Way back in 1920, two Italian immigrants, both militant anarchists, were arrested and charged with stealing the payroll of a Braintree, Massachusetts, shoe factory and murdering its paymaster and his guard. In 1921, they were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death.

The two men belonged to a small anarchist cell of Italian immigrants like themselves. When the pair was arrested, this group immediately formed a defense committee. Naïvely convinced that the two would get off, they proposed creating “great publicity for the anarchist movement.”

But Sacco and Vanzetti did not get off. Nor did their case advance the anarchist cause; its later co-option by the Communists was used to betray and undermine American anarchism. The Defense Committee was right about one thing: These two men’s condemnation offered the basis for a political vision.

That vision in its anarchist incarnation was the creation of one man above all: an eccentric Westerner, one of the grand lawyers of the American left, a brilliant but more flaky Clarence Darrow named Fred Moore, recommended to the Defense Committee by Carlo Tresca.


Moore invented the case. He set out to rescue his clients with any and every maneuver a fertile legal mind could conceive, convinced they were lost without the pressure of outraged world opinion. To this end, long before Münzenberg knew anything about the case, he single-handedly created the political argument of Sacco and Vanzetti: that they were powerless, despised, radical immigrants being subjected to judicial murder by a smug, chauvinist, puritanical, nativist, red-scared New England establishment. In promoting this defense, Moore was unscrupulous, ingenious, indefatigable, driven. Of his passion and sincerity there can be no doubt. He was a man obsessed. And his belief in his clients’ innocence was quite genuine. At first.

Except unfortunately their innocence wasn’t quite genuine. Best evidence shows beyond all reasonable doubt that Sacco was in fact one of the Braintree gunmen and the murderer of the guard, whom he shot to death after the man had fallen to his hands and knees, begging for his life while struggling to reach his own revolver. Vanzetti may have been innocent of the Braintree holdup, though he probably knew or guessed Sacco’s guilt. He certainly had guilty knowledge of Sacco’s participation in an earlier robbery where no blood had been spilled.

In a way, the facts make the two men’s political solidarity all the more compelling. One word of the truth from either man—Sacco in ordinary decency; Vanzetti in ordinary self-protection—would have saved Vanzetti’s life. But it also would have demolished their cause in disgrazia. Bartolomeo Vanzetti laid down his life on the bloody altar not of justice but of propaganda. He died lying for the truth.

The murky integrity of this self-sacrifice gives Vanzetti—he was in every way the more interesting of the pair—a tremendously affecting dignity. It also sustained his stumbling, broken, justly famous eloquence. “If it had not been for this thing, I might have live out my life talking on street corners to scorning men. I might have die unknown, unmarked, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph.”

The little coterie of anarchists on the Defense Committee also knew the truth, and they too maintained the vow of silence for la causa. The last survivor, a man named Ideale Gambera, wrote a full account of the affair for disclosure by his son after his death. Gambera died in 1982, and his son released the documents to Francis Russell, a principal scholar of the case. It was the last word.

Somewhere along the way, Fred Moore seems to have stumbled onto the truth as well. There is no evidence that this in any way modified Moore’s passion for his clients’ defense, but in 1923, in the midst of a paranoid psychotic episode (he’d attempted suicide and was hospitalized), Sacco dismissed Moore in a violent incoherent rage. Taking his dismissal with dignity, Moore packed up, got into his car, and drove back west, selling knickknacks as he went to pay for his gasoline.

The case now began to die. The appeals dragged on, but the headline makers of the world had dropped the Massachusetts fishmonger and shoemaker. Then, in 1925, on orders of Münzenberg and the Comintern, an American branch of the Red Aid called the International Labor Defense, created in Chicago with James Cannon as its director, was set up to be the focus of organization for the new American Communism. Its first mission was to make the Sacco–Vanzetti case into a worldwide myth.

The campaign became a juggernaut, tenaciously co-ordinated from Berlin, vast and unrelenting. Now, once again, protest meetings gathered to shout and sob in the great squares. From all its outlets, organs of the Trust produced an unstanchable stream of attacks on the assassin viciousness of American justice, defending the innocence and holiness of the immigrant martyrs in Braintree. Around the world, heart-rending appeals for cash were staged to provide for Sacco and Vanzetti’s defense and “protection.” Children gave their pennies, workers donated wages, philanthropists opened their checkbooks.

The apparat’s fund-raising was, incidentally, an almost complete fraud. Sacco and Vanzetti and their Defense Committee saw next to none of the money raised in their names. Of the approximately half-million dollars raised in the United States, the Defense Committee received something like $6,000. Of large sums collected in mass protest meetings around the world, the Defense Committee saw precisely nothing.

Cannon seems to have understood that Sacco was guilty, and so Münzenberg very possibly also knew the truth. Not that anybody cared. 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?’”

Francis Russell, in his Sacco and Vanzetti: The Case Resolved (1986), describes the European demonstrations:

« Demonstrations took place that autumn in France and Italy, with lesser demonstrations in Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Scandinavia, and South America. A bomb exploded in the American embassy in Paris. Another was intercepted in the Lisbon consulate. Reds in Brest stoned the consulate there. American consuls in Mexico were threatened with death if Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. In Rome, thousands of workers marched on the American embassy demanding justice for their compatriots. »

Some of this agitation was anarchist inspired, some actually spontaneous, but most of it was directed by Communist leaders in Paris.


Felix Frankfurter, then a leading professor of law at Harvard and later one of this century’s great justices of the U.S. Supreme Court (…) was drawn into the affair by the dual force of his passion for justice and his concern for his wife.


When the condemned men’s last appeal was denied, the outraged Felix proceeded to write one of the most powerful polemics of his career, a denunciation of the case’s legal history, a brilliant exercise in controlled vituperation. The piece appeared in The Atlantic. It was more influential than any other factor in marshaling American non-radical opinion behind the pair, and it was even more influential in Europe. Münzenberg’s Berlin office arranged for it to be reprinted throughout the world, while in London H. G. Wells produced a flamboyant summary which promptly became the received British view.

What followed was orchestrated multinational mass hysteria.

August 22 was the night of the executions, and around them the apparat, poising itself for the outpouring of international grief, organized a vast international deathwatch. Francis Russell describes the event:

After the news flashed from Charleston that Sacco and Vanzetti had at last been executed, the reverberations were international. Demonstrations in American cities were duplicated and in many places exceeded all over Europe. In Paris the Communist daily Humanité printed an extra sheet on which was splashed the single block word “Assassinés!” Crowds surged down the Boulevard Sebastopol, ripping up lampposts and tossing them through plate glass windows. Protective tanks ringed the American embassy, and sixty policemen were injured when a mob tried to set up barricades there. Five thousand militants roamed the streets of Geneva the evening before the executions, overturning American cars, sacking shops selling American goods, gutting theaters showing American films. One of the greatest demonstrations in the history of the Weimar republic took place in Berlin; there were tumultuous demonstrations in Bremen and Wilhelmshaven and Hamburg, and a two hour torchlight parade in Stuttgart. During that turbulent week, half a dozen German demonstrators were killed. No one was killed in England, but on the night of the executions, a crowd gathered in front of Buckingham Palace and sang “The Red Flag.”

The night of the executions was marked by a vigil at Charleston Prison. Before this dour building an enormous crowd gathered in the dark. “I was never in that place before,” Porter wrote, “but I seem to remember that it was a great open space with the crowd massed back from a center the police worked constantly to keep clear. They were all mounted on fine horses and loaded with pistols and hand grenades and tear gas bombs.” The law in its generosity provides that the condemned are entitled to every minute of their last day. After having been granted this largess, Sacco and Vanzetti were led to the death chamber at midnight exactly. Sacco entered it first, at 12:11. Vanzetti followed at 12:20. By 12:27 both had been pronounced dead. Both men met their end with indescribable dignity.

So the American Communist Party was revived, in part, to function as a local instrument in a worldwide and remarkably successful effort to create a new anti-American myth, the support and development of which persisted for decades to come.

Lying for the truth:
Münzenberg & the Comintern

Stephen Koch

* Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas against the West, traduit en français en 1995 sous le titre: La fin de l’innocence : les intellectuels d’Occcident et la tentation stalinienne – 30 ans de guerre secrète

Voir aussi:

Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West.
book review by Ronald Rodosh
National Review, 1994

THE name Willi Munzenberg is familiar to readers of Arthur Koestler and Manes Sperber, writers whose chronicles of European and German Communism first told us of his work on behalf of the Comintern. But it has been the unique task of Stephen Koch, who was able to utilize material hidden until recently in the archives of the former Soviet Union, to tell us the whole story of how this remarkable Comintern operative fashioned a widespread network of agents–« Munzenberg’s men, » as Mr. Koch calls them–who created a propaganda apparatus that gained the allegiance of the most prominent writers, intellectuals, artists, and politicians in the major capitals of the Western world.

Indeed, the network Munzenberg fashioned went beyond merely creating Communist propaganda. Rather, it was at times indistinguishable from an espionage organization. Munzenberg’s chief operatives–the urbane Otto Katz, a Sudeten German born in Prague, and the « elegant but slightly seedy » Louis Gibarti, a Hungarian– were most likely not only Comintern agents, but NKVD cadre as well. And the task they accomplished went to the heart of what Stalin wanted to develop in the West: a legion of true believers who could be counted upon to justify the most egregiously brutal Soviet policies and practices. Their task, as Mr. Koch explains, was to propagate the idea that 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 mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility. »

In that task, Munzenberg succeeded all too well. With willing victims ranging from Lillian Heilman, Josephine Herbst, and Dorothy Parker in America, to Thomas and Heinrich Mann in Germany, to Elsa Triolet and Louis Aragon in Paris, Munzenberg’s agents, led by Katz and Gibarti, used the lure of « anti-fascism » to attract their prey, and a strong lure it was. At its center was the distinction these gullible intellectuals made between Communism and fascism. The former, they thought, derived from the Enlightenment, and hence they were incapable of discerning the evils stemming from a Marxist-Leninist state. « Protecting the progressive ideal, » Mr. Koch explains, « seemed to rest on denying or evading the manifest horrors that had sprung from their radical application. And within the needs of such a denial, Munzenberg and his heirs moved and found their element. »

Again, that element was « anti-fascism. » It is perhaps Mr. Koch’s signal contribution to reveal, in a complex and textured analysis, that in reality this anti-fascism was a complete illusion. From the very beginning Josef Stalin planned a secret working relationship with the Nazi Party and Hitler’s Germany. That pattern began, Mr. Koch shows us, with the real story of the Reichstag Fire trial in 1933 and the role played by Comintern leader Georgi Dimitrov. For decades, it has been part of the fiction of received history that the Nazis themselves burned down the Reichstag, blaming it on the Communists and subjecting the Bulgarian Dimitrov to a mock trial–in which Dimitrov, due to an outstanding performance and to world support, turned the tables on the Nazis and gained his acquittal.

The truth, until Mr. Koch’s discoveries, has lain buried in the vaults of the Comintern and, as one might have suspected, is much more complex and nuanced. Of course, the passions roused against fascism were quite genuine, and justified. Hence the « progressive » world was enthralled by Dimitrov’s unflinching and seemingly brave challenging of the Nazis from the Leipzig courtroom. What Mr. Koch tells us is that Dimitrov was brave for one reason alone: « He was in no danger and knew perfectly well there was nothing for him to fear. » In effect, the Nazis had rigged the trial in Dimitrov’s favor. It was all part of a covert operation organized jointly by the NKVD and the Gestapo, « through which he was assured of acquittal and a triumphant return to Russia at the end of what was a propaganda charade played out as a whole high drama of defiance. »

How could this be? Indeed, how could the totalitarian Nazi regime allow its courts to free the top Comintern leader, who supposedly was using their courtroom to expose the Nazis’ own perfidy? As is often the case with espionage, we here enter the wilderness of mirrors. Katz and Munzenberg had already created the world-famous Brown Book of Hitler Terror, which appeared simultaneously with the Leipzig trial, and which did so much to inform the Western world of the nature of German fascism. As Mr. Koch says, every informed person was aware of its contents, and the volume was a best-seller throughout the West. But close examination reveals the limits of its anti-fascism. Stalin’s real policy, as Mr. Koch writes, was « overt anti-fascism plus secret appeasement. » The Brown Book of Hitler Terror, despite its title, let Hitler off the hook. As did the Reichstag trial, and the Western response. Mr. Koch writes:

Hitler’s persecution of German Communism was almost certainly pursued in full collaboration with Stalin and the full knowledge and direct personal co-operation of the future head of the Communist International, using the Comintern’s « anti-fascism » as cover. Almost certainly, the acquittal of Georgi Dimitrov was the result of secret arrangements with the Nazis, and the founding scandal of the Soviet-sponsored anti-fascist movement, one of the leading forces in the moral life of this century, was created in direct collaboration with Hitler himself.

As Mr. Koch explains, this charade was really not as surprising as it may at first seem. The Brown Book, as it turns out, and the expose of the Nazis by Dimitrov, concentrated on the paramilitary Brown Shirts, or SA, a group Hitler had come to see as a major contender for power, and which he rightly saw as standing in the way of his own authority. Stalin, meanwhile, feared the SA’s ability to militarize Germany quickly, and he believed the stabilization of the new regime by Hitler would forward his own interests. Hitler and Stalin alike saw that the SA and its leader, Ernst Rohm, had to be prepared for slaughter, and Hitler thus allowed Dimitrov to use his courtroom pulpit, as Mr. Koch puts it, « to discredit the SA, prior to its elimination. »

In that effort, the propaganda apparatus of Munzenberg sprang into action. A « counter-trial » was held to much fanfare in London, and the gullible « progressives » in the West flocked to sign up for service in various Munzenberg fronts. And there were many.

It should be acknowledged here that the idea of a Dimitrov conspiracy orchestrated jointly by Hitler and Stalin seems preposterous on the face of it. Is the evidence that Mr. Koch has unearthed in the Comintern files confirmed elsewhere? Reviewing this book in The New York Times Book Review, Maurice Isserman states definitively that no historian has « ever stumbled across evidence of the Hitler-Stalin partnership of 1933. » In fact, that is not so. In Robert Tucker’s important biography, Stalin in Power: The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941 (1990), Mr. Tucker points out that, in seeking stability, Moscow saw that its « best bet, from Stalin’s point of view, was a diplomacy of accord with Germany. » Fearing a non-Communist socialist Germany should fascism be defeated, Stalin sought a Nazi takeover, which he thought would give him a better chance of cementing his power in Russia. Hence, as Mr. Tucker puts it, « Stalin abetted the Nazi victory, » by engaging in « a certain amount of collaboration. »

Mr. Tucker goes on to document precisely what Mr. Isserman denies: that in 1933, « Stalin signaled his interest in doing business with Berlin. » That cooperation included secret diplomacy carried out by Comintern head Karl Radek in October 1933. The policy continued into the late 1930s. And like Stephen Koch, Mr. Tucker refers to « the mask of anti-fascism, » and shows how Stalin used the Popular Front as cover for his purge against such actual anti-Nazi elements as Field Marshal Tukhachevsky. Among other historians, Walter Laqueur, in his own book on Stalin, notes that the documents used to frame Tukhachevsky were forged for Stalin by the Gestapo.

While Karl Radek orchestrated the policy in Moscow, Munzenberg’s men carried it out with zeal in the West. Munzenberg’s had his greatest success in the United States. Indeed, one of his most notable victories was his courting of the Hollywood liberal Left, with its writers, directors, and actors whose new-found wealth during the Great Depression led to pangs of guilt, and made them willing participants in Otto Katz’s legion of front groups. The key to success was the Popular Front, portrayed as a broad anti-fascist alliance.

As Mr. Koch writes, the Front was really Stalin’s mechanism for gathering support while he carried out the Great Terror at home. His followers in the West simply could not understand that the Front was conceived, as Mr. Koch writes, to be « what no decent person could turn against, in spite of the trials. » And so Willi Munzenberg devised the technique of zeroing in on the best of the adversary culture—the enlightened elite of the middle classes–using their sensibility and concern in service to the malign purposes of Stalin. It worked all too well. In England his men recruited the Cambridge spy network. In Washington, D.C., they formed the notorious Ware group, which infiltrated the ranks of the State Department and the Roosevelt Administration. Nor was the press ignored. In England Claud Cockburn’s influential newsletter The Week passed along to its readers the Comintern disinformation provided by Otto Katz. In New York, Katz was instrumental in forming the supposedly independent Left-liberal newspaper P.M., which Mr. Koch describes as a « classic Munzenberg-style daily. » (P.M. did employ a few prominent anti-Communists, but as cover for its generally pro-Soviet foreign-policy line.)

In Hollywood Katz touched the lives of Sinclair Lewis, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Donald Ogden Stewart, and scores of others of the Tinseltown nobility. Here were the beginnings of the molding of Hollywood on behalf of the « right » causes, something that has continued through our own day. The purpose was « to Stalinize the glamor culture, while simultaneously giving the apparatus a cash cow capable of producing a large, untraceable supply of much-needed American hard currency to finance various operations around the world. » And so Munzenberg’s agent Otto Katz charmed his way through Hollywood, appearing at functions and testifying falsely about his heroic struggle against the Nazis, and asking for checks at the end of each appearance. The main concern was support for Stalin, not resistance to Hitler. When the Nazi-Soviet Pact was finally announced, not one of the Hollywood set defected. Instead, they applauded the invasion of Poland and the Soviet attack on Finland, which Miss Hellman promptly described as « a pro-Nazi little republic. »

Mr. Koch presents a powerful challenge to the anti-fascist pretensions cherished by the Left from the Thirties to the Fifties. It has long been said that whatever Stalin’s own motives and policies, at least the anti-fascist crusade and the Popular Front were a genuine response by idealists to the betrayal of the Western heritage. And indeed, for some, they were that. But the same well-meaning idealists allowed themselves to be used as instruments in the campaign orchestrated by Stalin to consolidate his totalitarian regime, either as actual agents (Hiss, Field, Herbst, and others), or as apologists (Hellman, Parker, and other members of the literary elite). Anti-fascism, Mr. Koch writes, « was the most urgent moral cause of the 1930s » and it was « betrayed from within precisely by the Communists who most ardently claimed it as their own. » This should put to rest the claim made by the pro-Communist Left that they were fighting « the good fight. » It is not surprising that writers who, like Mr. Isserman, have sought to defend that claim, now turn fiercely against Mr. Koch’s findings.

The story that Stephen Koch tells, then, is not very pretty. Of course, it is a cliche that a revolution devours its own children. Katz was most likely involved in the murder of Munzenberg, who died, seemingly alone, in a woods in France in 1940. As for Katz, he was to meet his end in the Prague trials of 1952, accused of being a Western agent and convicted on the « evidence » of the American traitor and Soviet agent Noel Field, betrayed in fact by the very apparatus he had helped create in the Thirties and Forties. What Mr. Koch has shown us is nothing less than the complete involvement of the Soviet secret services in the intellectual life of the West from the years before World War II into the early Cold War. It was Willi Munzenberg in particular who shaped key operations directly for Stalin, from the Sacco-Vanzetti defense of the Twenties, to the peace movement of the Thirties. What appeared to be independent acts of protest, it turns out, were either run by Soviet intelligence from the start or taken over and orchestrated by it shortly thereafter. One hopes–given the new availability of files still to be opened and examined–that this superb effort will be but the first step toward a full understanding of what until now has been the hidden history of the twentieth century.

Mr. Radosh is Professor Emeritus of History at the City University of New York, and co-author, with Joyce Milton, of The Rosenberg File: A Search for the Truth.

One Response to Désinformation: Retour sur l’Affaire Sacco-Vanzetti (Looking back on Comintern’s most successful lying-for-the truth operation)

  1. jcdurbant dit :


    « The records of Hemingway’s relationship with the NKVD showed that a Soviet operative had recruited Hemingway ‘for our work on ideological grounds’ around December 1940, at a time when Stalin ruled the Soviet Union with an iron hand and was aligned with Hitler under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. »

    Nicholas Reynolds.



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