The Red Millionaire

A Political Biography of Willy Münzenberg, Moscow’s Secret Propaganda Tsar in the West

Sean McMeekin

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December 11, 2003
416 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
14 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300098471
Cloth

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A committed Communist and a tireless con-man, Lenin’s friend and the Soviet Union’s most persuasive myth-maker, Willy Münzenberg changed the course of European history

Willy Münzenberg—an Old Bolshevik who was also a self-promoting tycoon—became one of the most influential Communist operatives in Europe between the World Wars. He created a variety of front groups that recruited well-known political and cultural figures to work on behalf of the Soviet Union and its causes, and he ran an international media empire that churned out enormous amounts of propaganda and raised money for Communist concerns. Sean McMeekin tells Münzenberg’s extraordinary story, arguing persuasively that his financial chicanery and cynical propaganda efforts weakened the non-Communist left, enraged the right, and helped feed a cycle that culminated in Nazism. Drawing extensively on recently opened Moscow archives, McMeekin describes how Münzenberg parlayed his friendship with Lenin into a personal fortune and how Münzenberg’s mysterious financial manipulations outraged Social Democrats and lent rhetorical ammunition to the Nazis. His book sheds new light on Comintern finances, propaganda strategy, the use of front organizations to infiltrate non-Communist circles, and the breakdown of democracy in the Weimar Republic. It is also an engrossing tale of a Communist con man whose name once aroused fear, loathing, and admiration around the world.

Sean McMeekin is assistant professor of international relations and a founding faculty member of the Centre for Russian Studies at Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey.

“An impressive piece of work, clearly the most detailed and thorough account of the life and machinations of an important Communist functionary.”—Harvey Klehr, coauthor of The Secret World of American Communism and The Soviet World of American Communism

“[A] major contribution to our understanding of what the Soviet Union under Stalin was all about.”—Stephen Goode, Insight

“McMeekin has produced a narrative that should endure as the definitive account. His style is more literary than academic, a plus when dealing with so flamboyant and bizarre a protagonist. . . . The details assembled by Mr. McMeekin are so amazing and extensive that a reviewer is seriously challenged in finding a place to start unraveling Munzenberg’s dizzying life.”—Stephen Schwartz, New York Sun

“An interesting political biography and an important contribution to our understanding of international communism and one of its most charismatic figures.”—Phillip Knightley, Oldie

“[A] splendid new book.”—R.J. Stove, The American Conservative

“A meticulous account. . . . Fluently written and unafraid of making judgements: its careful marshalling of evidence from multiple sources is impressive, and helps us understand a complex, picaresque tale that has in places the pace of an espionage thriller.”—A.J. Sherman, Times Literary Supplement

“With Sean McMeekin’s well-written, extremely well-researched and heavily footnoted volume, an important chapter in Soviet history has been illuminated. . . . The Red Millionaire is one book that would be of interest to any reader seeking to understand the tragedy that befell us in Sept. 1939. . . . McMeekin’s book is an important history of how intellectuals who were willingly harnessed to a propaganda genius contributed to the rise of two totalitarian states and the bloody aftermath.”—Arnold Beichman, Washington Times

"Meticulously researched and stylishly written."—Sheldon Anderson, American Historical Review

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