Willi Münzenberg

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Willi Münzenberg

Wilhelm "Willi" Münzenberg (14 August 1889, Erfurt, Germany – June 1940, Saint-Marcellin, France) was a Jewish Communist. Münzenberg was the first head of the Young Communist International, affiliated with the Comintern. He was a leading propagandist for the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and Communism more generally during the Weimar Republic, but later grew disenchanted with the Soviet Union due to Joseph Stalin's Great Purge of the 1930s. Condemned by Stalin to be purged and arrested for treason, Münzenberg left the KPD and in Paris became a leader of the German émigré anti-fascism and anti-Stalinist community, until forced to flee the National Socialist advance into France in 1940. Arrested and imprisoned by the Daladier government in France, he escaped prison camp only to be found dead a few months later in a forest near the commune of Saint-Marcellin, France. He has been argued to have been murdered by Stalinists or by National Socialists.

Before his falling out with Stalin, in order to broaden the Comintern's influence, Münzenberg created numerous front organizations that he termed "Innocents' Clubs". These front groups, such the Friends of Soviet Russia, the World League Against Imperialism, and the International Worker's Relief Fund, were superficially devoted to causes such as famine relief, anti-imperialism, or peace, but Münzenberg created them to enlist the support of liberals and moderate socialists in defending the Bolshevik revolution. As he told a fellow Comintern member, "These people have the belief they are actually doing this themselves. This belief must be preserved at any price."

The front organizations, in turn, helped fund the acquisition of the Münzenberg Trust, a collection of small newspapers, publishing houses, movie houses, and theatres in locations around the world. Münzenberg, referred to by some as the "Red Millionaire", used the businesses to pay for a limousine and an elegantly furnished apartment for himself.

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