Franz Borkenau, the son of a civil servant, was born in Vienna, Austria, on 15th December, 1900. While attending the University of Leipzig he developed an interest in Marxism and joined the German Communist Party (KPD).
In 1924, Borkenau moved to Berlin and for a while he served as an official of Comintern. However, he became disillusioned with the way Joseph Stalin treated dissidents and in 1929 he resigned from the KPD.
Borkenau remained a socialist and worked as a researcher for the Institute for Social Research and became associated with what became known as the Frankfurt School. In 1933, the half-Jewish Borkenau fled from Nazi Germany and lived for a time in Paris. Over the next few years Borkenau was involved in organizing support for the Neu Beginnen underground group, which was working for the overthrow of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government.
Borkenau went to observe the Spanish Civil War and reached Barcelona on August 1936. He larer recalled: "Very few of these armed proletarians wore the new dark-blue pretty militia uniforms. They sat on the benches or walked the pavement of the Ramblas, their rifles over the right shoulder, and often their girls on the left arm... The fact that all these armed men walked about, marched, and drove in their ordinary clothes made the thing only more impressive as a display of the power of the factory workers."
Borkenau met John Cornford who joined the Worker's Party (POUM) army and the two men decided to travel to the front-line together. Cornford was later killed near Lopera on about 27th December 1936. After visiting Valencia and Madrid he returned to Germany.
In January 1937 Borkenau returned to Spain. On his second visit he became critical of the behaviour of Soviet agents in the country. He wrote: "It must be explained, in order to make intelligible the attitude of the communist police, that Trotskyism is an obsession with the communists in Spain. As to real Trotskyism, as embodied in one section of the POUM, it definitely does not deserve the attention it gets, being quite a minor element of Spanish political life. Were it only for the real forces of the Trotskyists, the best thing for the communists to do would certainly be not to talk about them, as nobody else would pay any attention to this small and congenitally sectarian group." Borkenau was denounced as a supporter of Leon Trotsky and was arrested by the Communist Party (PCE).
After his release, Borkenau wrote his highly acclaimed book, The Spanish Cockpit (1937). This was followed by The New German Empire (1939). In the book he argued that Adolf Hitler was intent upon world conquest. Borkenau claimed that the German propaganda campaign for the former African colonies was a "stepping stone to something else". Borkenau argued that the main German target in Africa was South Africa.
In 1947, Borkenau returned to West Germany to work as a professor at the University of Marburg. In June 1950, Borkenau joined forces with John Dewey, Arthur Koestler, Arthur Schlesinger, Bertrand Russell, Ignazio Silone, James Burnham, Hugh Trevor-Roper, Raymond Aron, Alfred Ayer, Benedetto Croce, James T. Farrell, Richard Löwenthal, Melvin J. Lasky and Sidney Hook to established the Congress for Cultural Freedom. It was later revealed that the organisation was funded by the CIA.
Franz Borkenau died of a heart-attack on 22nd May 1957.