Bertolt Brecht - his Poetry & Period - his Politics & Person
In the mid- and late 1920's, Brecht's intolerance for injustice and poverty grew, and he began to study communism, at times with Karl Korsch, the Marxist theoretician. What follows here are several poems that testify to his new political faith. His plays and writings found ready acceptance in the Soviet Union, where he had ethusiastic friends, who were later very helpful to him.
Click title for German translation
In Praise of the Dialectic
Today, injustice marches along with an assured footfall.
The suppressors are arranging themselves for a reign of ten thousand years.
Might and main secures it all: The way things are is the way they will stay.
No voice resounds except for the voice of the rulers.
And in the markets exploitation says out loud: I’m just getting started.
But among the suppressed nowadays many are saying,
What we want, will never work.
Those who are alive, never say, never!
What looks secure is not secure.
It will not remain what it is.
When the rulers have spoken,
Those who are ruled will speak.
Who dares to say: never?
Whose fault is it if suppression remains? Ours.
Who gets the credit if it is shattered?
Again it is we.
Let those fight, who are totally lost!
He who has recognized his condition, how can he be held back?
For the conquered of today are the victors of tomorrow,
And in place of never, we’ll say: today!
(1930, 1931) ?
Karl Korsch (1886-1961)
Click title for German original
THE RUG WEAVERS OF KUJAN-BULAK HONOR LENIN
Comrade Lenin has been often and amply
Honored. There are busts and statues of him,
Cities and children named after him,
Speeches held in many languages
There have been gatherings and demonstrations
From Shanghai to Chicago in Lenin’s honor.
But the rug weavers of Kujan-Bulak a small town
In southern Turkestan, honored him thusly:
Twenty rug weavers there arose from their humble looms
At evening. Shaken with fever.
Fever is about: the train station
Is filled with the buzzing of mosquitos, a thick cloud
That lifts from the swamp in back of the old camel cemetery
But the railroad, which brings water
And smoke every two weeks and smoke, one day
Brings the news that
The day of honoring Comrade Lenin is immanent.
And the people of Kujan Bulak decide
Poor people, rug weavers
That for Comrade Lenin in their town, too
A plaster bust will be erected
But when the money was collected for the bust
They all stand shaking with fever and pay
Their hard earned kopeks with flying hands
And the Red Army soldier Stepa Gamalew, who
Is counting carefully and watching exactly,
Sees the willingness to honor Lenin and is happy,
But he sees the trembling hands
And he suddenly makes the suggestion
To buy petroleum and pour it over the swamp
Behind the camel cemetery
From which the mosquitos come, which produce the fever,
Thus to combat the fever in Kujan Bulak, but indeed
To the honor the dead but
Not to be forgotten
They decided to do so. On the day of the honoring ceremony, they
Carried their dented pails out, filled with black petroleum
One after the other
And poured them into the swamp.
Thus they helped each other by honoring Lenin and
Honored him, by helping each other, and had indeed
We have heard how the people of Kujan-Bulak
Honored Lenin. When in the evening
The petroleum had been bought and poured over the swamp
A man stood up in the gathering and requested
That a plaque be put up in the train station
With the report of this happening, describing
Precisely how the plan had been changed and the exchange of
The bust of Lenin for the fever-destroying barrel of petroleum.
And all this in the name of Lenin.
And they did this as well
And mounted the plaque.
(end of 1929, beginning of 1930)
Click title for German original
Many years ago...
Many years ago, while poring over an explanation of the Chicago wheat futures market,
I suddenly understood how they managed the world's grain,
And at the same moment could not comprehend it, and put the book down;
I knew right off, that here I had come across something evil.
I had no bitterness in me, and it was not the injustice that shocked me,
Only the idea that they could not get away with what they're doing suddenly filled my being.
Those men, I saw clearly, lived from the harm they did,
Instead of doing something useful.
These were circumstances, I saw then, that could only be sustained by crime,
Because they were bad for most people:
Every further accomplishment of reason, every invention or discovery
Could only lead to ever greater misery.
Those thoughts or ones similar occurred to me at that moment,
Far from anger or sorrow as I put the book down
With its description of the grain and stock markets of Chicago.
Great travail and troubles
Were waiting for me in the wings.
Click on title for German original
The Revolution was finished and done
When up stepped the great Napoleon:
It was the citizens made him their emperor
Because they were now the overlords.
His very top general was a barkeep's lad,
And the soldiers' pay was not too bad,
And his overwhelming artillery
Created new space for industry.
But when the people of Europe made him stop,
They found their own Princes still on top:
The Really Big Guys got away with the take:
The Big Boy was bad, but they took the cake.
Note: After Napoleon’s defeat, which took a combined international effort, widely supported by all classes of Europe, who contributed their resources and their lives, the royalty of Germany and Russia and other kingdoms reasserted their control. Reforms that much of the population desired did not come about.