In the twenties of the last century, new media companies entered the German market. They are called Neuer Deutscher Verlag, Universum Bücherei, Weltfilm or Prometheus / Meshrabpom. They bring out books and films, they secure their sales and rentals. Newspapers and Magazines are published; i.e. `Sowjetrussland im Bild`, `Hammer und Sichel`, `Der rote Aufbau` `ArbeiterIllustrierteZeitung` (AIZ), `Berlin am Morgen`, Welt am Abend`, `Eulenspiegel` and `Der Arbeiterfotograf. They were initiated and founded by Willi Münzenberg, Secretary General of Workers International Relief (WIR) also known as Internationale Arbeiter-Hilfe (IAH) in German. They recognize the rapid development of mass communication, rely on technical innovation and see themselves as a means of political (proletarian) agitation and propaganda.
They place themselves in direct competition with the dominant bourgeois newspaper and book publishers as well as the emerging and growing film companies. They are not only a challenge to the ascending fascist movement and its press, but also a competition for the publishers of the SPD and KPD as well as smaller other left-wing publishers. They gain market share, attract a wide variety of authors and allies, shape a new proletarian aesthetic with their design, create their own distribution network, publish advertisements, import films or provide matinees for their readers. They are closely linked to the work of the WIR. In their environment, new organizations emerge. As “Münzenberg Group” they are denounced from the right and suspected from the left in terms of distribution, content, design and effect. In 1933, all publishers, magazines, newspapers and other organizations of the Workers International Relief in Germany are banned.
“Use Photography as Weapon!” “Conquer the Film!” “Take Newspapers, use Scissors!”
Under these titles three prizes for artistic competitions in the categories of photo, film and collage are announced by the MÜNZENBERG FORUM BERLIN since 2016. Their names are a reference to the media companies mentioned. A reference to the tradition of information, enlightenment and artistic design that has been shaped by them with the help of photography, moving images and image-text montage.
Use Photography as Weapon!
The title goes back to a movement co-founded by the AIZ in 1927 – the Association of the Arbeiter-Fotografen (working class photographers). In the spring of 1929, the AIZ report on the forthcoming congress stated: “The world is not only beautiful, the world is shrouded in shadow for most of its inhabitants, their lives are care and hardship, opposition and struggle…We do not make a newspaper for fun and money, and the Arbeiter-Fotografen did not organize themselves to make better pictures of a grandmother …the photographic apparatus in the hands of the worker (is) a powerful weapon in the struggle for the enlightenment of the masses.” This is where the call `use photo as a weapon` originates. WILLI MÜNZENBERG and BABETTE GROSS, MÜNZENBERG’s partner and publisher of the NEUEN DEUTSCHEN VERLAGS, also sat on the board of the association.
Conquer the Film!
In the spring of 1925, MÜNZENBERG published an article of the same name. The focus is on his demand to develop the new medium of moving images for political work.“The revolutionary workers‘ movement therefore has the greatest interest in paying close attention to this all-important problem and seeking ways and means to put this effective, vibrant means of propaganda and agitation into their service.”
As early as 1921, when the IAH (WIR), as „Help for Soviet Russia“, emerged against hunger, MÜNZENBERG relied on moving images for education and mobilization. In the following years it is about giving films from Soviet Russia the chance to premiere in Germany (e.g. `Battleship Potemkin` from Eisenstein) and developing their own proletarian film culture.
Prometheus / Meshrabpom is founded.Their peak, which coincides with the economic failure in Germany at the same time, is achieved with the production of the sound film `Kuhle Wampe oder wem gehört die Welt` in cooperation with BRECHT and EISLER. Prometheus goes bankrupt and the film must be completed by another company. Meshrabpom persists until its dissolution in 1936 in the Soviet Union.
Take Newspapers, use Scissors!
In the summer of 1929, the continuous work of John HEARTFIELD for the Neue Deutsche Verlag begins. `Deutschland, Deutschland über alles …` with texts by Kurt TUCHOLSKY in his design and with his pictures is being published. Parallel to this begins his work for the AIZ. In the period following his montages and collages become their trademark until the end of their publication run in Prague exile 1938. HEARTFIELD belongs since 1916 with George GROSZ, and later in 1920 with Raoul HAUSMANN, Hanna HÖCH, Rudolf SCHLICHTER and Johannes BAADER to the artists who, as Dadaists, develop the montage of photos and texts as their political and artistic means of expression. The Malik Verlag under Wieland HERZFELDE gives them publicity. Already since their beginnings in 1924, the AIZ has been using image and text montage as a means of its design, thereby linking it to DaDa. With this aesthetics they attain attention. They deconstruct images, reassemble contexts and acquire an ever-growing number of readers.
Who can participate?
Those who worked for the aforementioned media companies almost 100 years ago, publishing or editing their texts, images and films, were young people, at that time between twenty and mid-thirties. They came from the generation that had been burned on the battlefields of the First World War. They put their hopes on the October Revolution and the new state of Soviet Russia. They experienced the November Revolution, its defeat and the subsequent restoration of German nationalism and militarism as well as the emerging fascism. They broke with traditional art forms, destroyed concepts of art, and turned to the masses, hitherto excluded from bourgeois art, as their recipients. They were censored, banned and prosecuted. They created groundbreaking historical-cultural and artistic reference patterns whose dissemination was abruptly stopped by the establishment of fascism in Germany.
What is our goal?
Without texts, pictures, films, collages, art books, matinees and theatrical performances – in short without their multimedia undertakings, the Workers International Relief, which spread across all continents in the twenties, would not have developed into the largest multinational solidarity organization of the first half of the 20th century. It created a language that was understood worldwide.
Anyone who, like the MÜNZENBERG FORUM BERLIN at FMP1 today, deals with the history of this organization and its initiator, Willi MÜNZENBERG, and seeks approaches to solving today’s social contradictions, can not ignore the authors, photographers, filmmakers, actors, artists and other protagonists.
In their artistic engagement they must setout in search of the potential of change inherent to the factual circumstances.
This is the idea behind the art competition held by MÜNZENBERG FORUM BERLIN.