The Red Millionaire: A Political Biography of Willi Münzenberg, Moscow’s Secret Propaganda Tsar in the West, 1917-1940
Sean McMeekin

The Red Millionaire: A Political Biography of Willi Münzenberg, Moscow’s Secret Propaganda Tsar in the West, 1917-1940

A committed communist and a tireless con man, Lenin's friend and the Soviet Union's most persuasive myth-maker, Willy Munzenberg changed the course of European history.

Willy Munzenberg - 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 Munzenberg's story, arguing 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 Munzenberg parlayed his friendship with Lenin into a personal fortune and how Munzenberg's mysterious financial manipulations outraged social democrats and lent rhetorical ammunition to the Nazis. His book sheds 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.

Book Details:

  • Author: Sean McMeekin
  • Published Year: 2004
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: Yale

Sean McMeekin

Sean McMeekin was born in Idaho, raised in Rochester NY, and educated at Stanford and UC Berkeley. He has been fascinated by modern history ever since playing Winston Churchill in a school reenactment of the Yalta Conference at age 15, and Joseph McCarthy in an even more outlandish reenactment of the Army-McCarthy hearings at age 17, which involved camcorders and double agents in the Russian Club. He pursued this interest into several dozen European and American archives, as far east as Moscow, before settling down to teach at Koç University in Turkey, where the weather is bet...
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Book Reviews

  • "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