DOUBLE LIVES by Stephen Koch


Espionage and the War of Ideas
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 An often fascinating--if sometimes aggravating--history that explores how the Soviet Union tried to shape Western cultural opinion in the 1920's and 1930's. Koch (Writing/Columbia; The Bachelors' Bride, 1986, etc.) uses the story of the relatively obscure Communist propaganda master Willi MÅnzenberg as ``an Ariadne's thread through much in twentieth-century politics.'' MÅnzenberg--a German publisher and politician who operated largely in France (where he died mysteriously in 1940)--headed a huge media consortium of newspapers, magazines, and film companies, covertly financed by the USSR, that guided Western fellow travelers and propaganda fronts. Luminaries targeted as agents of influence--many of whom enlisted in the service of anti-Fascism--included those who broke quickly with this apparatus (John Dos Passos, AndrÇ Gide); the more easily hoodwinked (Ernest Hemingway, Romaine Rolland, AndrÇ Malraux); and diehard believers (Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, Lincoln Steffens, Bertolt Brecht). MÅnzenberg's phrase for his network- -``Innocents' Clubs''--only begins to hint at the cynicism of the Soviet regime that exploited it. According to Koch, Stalin used the anti-Fascist movement as a cover while he and Hitler made arrangements through their secret services to crush domestic enemies. But the trouble with this grand conspiracy theory is that much of it rests on speculation--particularly when Koch discusses how MÅnzenberg's right-hand man, Otto Katz, spun a web of espionage that ensnared Bloomsbury's John Strachey, the notorious Cambridge spy ring, and, in America, Whittaker Chambers and his friends Alger Hiss and Noel Field. Here, Koch resorts to words like ``must have,'' ``probably,'' and ``almost certainly,'' indicating that his hunches will be borne out by the opening of Eastern European and Soviet archives. Koch rightly claims that those who led ``double lives'' are crucial to ``the moral life of this century''--but his work rests on too much guesswork, as well as on invective against mostly idealistic, if deluded, 30's liberals.

Pub Date: Jan. 24th, 1994
ISBN: 0-02-918730-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1993