Bertolt Brecht's Communist Writings: The Poetry and Politics of Disillusion

Asked why he chose to return to the Soviet sector of Germany following the War, Bertolt Brecht retedly explained, "I feel like a etor with just enough penicllin to cure one person of syphilis. Shall se it on the evil old lecher. . or pregnant young prostitute?" hat trenchant disenchantment! was he simply humoring his stern friends?

The only possible answer cannot definitive, but it is satisfactory: play's the thing. And now, at t, the plays are there (seven of m, at least) handsomely colted in one volume, edited an induced by Eric Bentley. Admirers the German playwright can stop nplaining that no substantial collection of Brecht is available in Eng, and begin whimpering about price of the existing one. Things always getting better.

r. Bentley's introductory mater is quite illuminating, and happi quite specific in treating the en plays offered. Because of his sonal friendship with the playght, he has had to circumvent dangers resulting from close tification. Narrowly avoiding a ipy tone in places, Bentley suc is presenting a feeling for Brecht's personality, and the result fortunate proportion of biogracal detail and critical comment

is particularly good that Brecht being read in this country, as tley observes, "because the Afnt Society is satisfied with it".

working playwright, Brecht's was for detail, and his goal, to lenge the accepted:

serve each one you set eyes pon.

serve strangers as if they were amiliar

d your friends as if they were strangers.

ting, philosophy, music, acting, s, poetry... each aspect of the natic universe he used as a wea to show that the world as it is, n't be the world that it is. ve all he concentrated on the ence, whom he conditioned to uate rationally what he was set forth on stage.

e great obscenity of politics decelerated Brecht's impact upmodern theater, and yet few seri critics, East or West, deplore fact that the playwright stooped elf in Marxist philosophy. For, ily, Answers in Brecht's plays second place to Questions, and ctical training provided him with a needed technique for ironically confronting reality. The intense study of Marxism which he undertook in the late 20's, imparted an intellectual discipline to his outlook and to his style.

So strong had his awareness of human self-abasement been, so deep had his bitterness run, that only the theory of inevitable social progress offered him a real alternative to nihilistic despair. This entrance to Marxist belief is illuminating when contrasted with the conversion of other leftist intellectuals of the period, many of whom saw in Socialism an outlet for idealistic views of human potential. Howard Fast, for example, upon leaving the Communist party in 1956, denounced it in a book called The Naked God. The title succinctly sums up Fast's attitude of worship, hic communism of illusion, an attitude obverse to Brecht's communism of disillusion.

For Brecht was an atheist who believed not in the truth, but in probability. In contrast to the agnostic, he did not doubt for the sake of doubting; he weighed alternative courses of action for the sake of choosing one, and he chose Communism not because it struck him as infallible, but because he saw it as the most likely instrument of anti-Fascism and social justice. Thus, in a poetic attack on revisionism, he wrote:


Do not follow the right road without us

Without us it is

The worst of all

Don't cut yourself off

We may go wrong, and you may be right, so

Don't cut yourself off.

The old savagery of In the Swamp and A Man's a Man was channeled into new streams as the Marxist discipline influenced his style. The violent attack on human nature in general was deflected toward a criticism of class-structured society, and he began to set forth the clash upon which all humor is based as a reflection of the planet's dialectical twisting. He urged:

Hungry man, grab that book: It's a weapon!

Get ready to take over!

But Brecht's Communism was uncceptable to the Communist critics, and his satire of capitalist society lacked applicability within the Soviet Union, where audiences were confronted with entirely different sets of problems. Unforgiven on the left for his bourgeois origins and preoccupations, this son of a wealthy Bavarian paper manufacturer was simultaneously feared on the right. A self-made Marxist, Brecht was left an ideological orphan. Why?