Wolfgang Leonhard, apostate and Weltburger

It’s a late tribute, but a much needed and fully deserved one. I didn’t know that Wolfgang Leonhard, this paradigmatic apostate, a Marxist heretic and a real Weltburger, passed away more than a year ago. Mea culpa. He was a great scholar and a fantastic teacher. His name came into my mind this evening thinking of Timothy Snyder and Marci Shore. They do now at Yale what Wolfgang Leonhard did in the1970s and 80s. Anne Applebaum and Jacob Weissberg were his students. Both told me how much his lectures inspired their own thoughts.

Wolfgang Leonhard

His memoir (“Die Revolution entläßt ihre Kinder”) remains one of the best books ever written about growing up within the emigre German community in the USSR. He returned to Germany in the spring of 1945, together with other German communists, including Markus (Mischa ) Wolf. One became the chief of the GDR foreign intelligence, the other defected via Yugoslavia and broke with Bolshevism.

Another book, “Three Faces of Marxism: The Political Concepts of Soviet Ideology, Maoism, and Humanist Marxism” (New York, Paragon Books, 1979), is one of the best interpretations of Marxist revisionism and the search for dialectical humanism in the aftermath of Stalin’s death.

He knew Yugoslav Marxism better than anyone else. Altogether, a superb scholar and an electrifying professor. One of the most lucid Sovietologists. With his death, at the age of 93, in 2014 and Robert Conquest’s in 2015, a cycle of intellectual history gets closer to the end. Blessed be his memory!


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