The Politics of Communist Biography: Alfred Kantorowicz and the Spanish Civil War

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After the German communist author Alfred Kantorowicz's break with communism in 1957, he was lionised by his supporters as an icon of humanism and antifascism, and vilified by his former allies as a turncoat and traitor. In his autobiographical writings, Kantorowicz portrayed himself as a victim of Stalinism, who had always been opposed to the authoritarian and repressive aspects of communism. Again and again he returned to his time in the International Brigades as a way of illustrating both his commitment to antifascism, and the betrayal of grassroots communism by the party leadership. But contemporary records reveal a more ambiguous picture: not only was Kantorowicz a long-time functionary, he was also more involved in the repressive aspects of communism than he later cared to admit. This article argues that, like many ex-communist biographies of the Cold War, Kantorowicz's memoirs are shot through with retrospective self-justification. Given his post-1957 loathing for communism, he needed to explain why he had joined the party in the first place, and why he had remained an active member for 25 years. By organising his life around the dichotomies of footsoliders and functionaries, antifascism and Stalinism, and censorship and truth, Kantorowicz was able to avoid discussing his own culpability as a communist functionary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)536 - 562
Number of pages27
JournalGerman History
Volume22 (4)
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2004

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Sage

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