Bertolt Brecht
(1898-1956)

German Marxist playwright and poet. Began writing when he was young, he didn't become a Marxist until 1926, eight years after he completed his first full-length play. For the next thirty years his plays and poetry would be permeated with a critical, revolutionary spirit, and a firm understanding and support of class struggle. Forced into exile in 1933 due to the rise of the Nazis to power, Brecht continued to agitate, through his plays, against the Nazi regime, and fascism in general. He remained committed to Marxism till his death.




Plays
Dansen (1939): 15 pages
How Much is Your Iron? (1939), 15 pages: Both plays were written just before the formal outbreak of WWII, when Brecht was shortly in exile in Denmark and Sweden. They are both allegorical plays warning against the myth of neutrality and non-intervention in the face of nazi militarism. Both are calls to action and resistance to fascism, and emphasized that fascists will sign as many treaties as they see fit, but they look on them simply as pieces of paper they will discard at will whenever it suits their interests.

Fear and Misery of the Third Reich (1938): 91 pages, one of Brecht's earlier anti-fascist plays, it is also one the best and most well known. It consists of 24 small, unrelated scenes which show the barbarity and inhumanity of fascism, and explains the real meaning of what fascism is, and why it needs to be fought.

He Said Yes, He Said No (1930): 15 pages, a short didactic play against the unthinking adoption/following of customs, and an argument for rational thought.

Life of Galileo (1939): 112 pages, a play that deals with Galileo's life, as is obvious, but more than that it is a plea for freedom of thought and intellectual creation and an attack on narrow-mindedness, it also deals with the necessity of popularizing new ideas among the broad masses, and not writing solely for the intelligentsia. According to Isaac Deutscher, in the third volume of his biography of Trotsky: “He [Brecht] had been in some sympathy with Trotskyism and was shaken by the purges; but he could not bring himself to break with Stalinism. He surrendered to it with a load of doubt on his mind, as the capitulators in Russia had done; and he expressed his and their predicament in Galileo Galilei. It was through the prism of the Bolshevik experience that he saw Galileo going down on his knees before the Inquisition and doing this from an 'historical necessity,' because of the people's spiritual and political immaturity. The Galileo of his drama is Zinoviev, or Bukharin or Rakovsky dressed up in historical costume. He is haunted by the 'fruitless' martyrdom of Giordano Bruno; that terrible example causes him to surrender to the Inquisition, just as Trotsky's fate caused so many communists to surrender to Stalin. And Brecht's famous duologue: 'Happy in the country that produces such a hero' and 'Unhappy in the people that needs such a hero' epitomizes clearly enough the problem of Trotsky and Stalinist Russia rather than Galileo's quandary in Renaissance Italy.”

Lux in Tenebris (1919): 18 pages, a one act play about prostitution. Brecht mocks and satirizes bourgeois hypocrisy in regards to prostitution, i.e., the bourgeoisie are the biggest public critics of prostitution, and use the most moralizing and idiotic arguments against it, while at the same time being the ones who run brothels, and who have always been the main “clients” of prostitution.

Mother Courage and Her Children (1939): 84 pages, a cry against the brutality and inhumanity of war, militarism, warmongering, and a condemnation of those, like mother 'courage' who seek to profit from bloodbaths and massacres.

Mr Puntilla and His Man Matti (1940): 96 pages, about relations between the working class and the bourgeois. A comedic play, Brecht uses the personality of Puntilla (he is one way when drunk, and completely different when sober) to mock the idiocies, arrogance, and petty discrimination of the bourgeois towards the lower classes, and he makes clear that the bourgeois always put themselves above others, and act superior, rude, and demeaning, and cannot be anything but enemies of the working class. The play also makes the point that normal people, and those who want to fight for them and stand by their side, should realize that no real friendship or positive relationship is ever going to develop between them and any normal upper bourgeois, and that they shouldn't want that either unless they want to be treated like servants. Brecht also makes that point that those in inferior positions should never expect to get good treatment from their bosses, and the right aim should be a complete elimination of bosses and other pateralistic, controling positions.

Round Heads and Pointed Heads (1934): 114 pages, deals with the absurdity of discrimination, whether based on race, nationality, or religion, and how the ruling classes use discrimination and bigotry to reinforce their oppressive rule over the laboring masses, no matter what their origin.

Saint Joan of the Stockyards (1932): 101 pages, Brecht's modern take on the story of Joan d'Arc: in this play she is Joan Dark and lives in Chicago in the early 20th century, and fights against social/economic oppression instead of national oppression.

Schweyk in the Second World War (1943): 72 pages, a humorous adaption of Jaroslav Hasek's satirical book, with WWII replacing WWI and with the main point being resistance to fascism instead of opposition to militarism. Both, however, deal with a foreign oppressor in Czechoslovakia. In some ways a humorous, literary analogue to the movie Hangmen Also Die! produced in the same year, with a screenplay written by Brecht.

Senora Carrar's Rifles (1937): 30 pages, takes place during the Spanish Revolution, and presents theatrically the conflict between advocates of non-violence, and advocates of real change, and real struggle (i.e. advocates of armed resistance). Brecht is very effective, rhetorically and logically, in putting forward the argument for armed struggle, and also in condemning indifference as well as the stiffling influence of the clergy and it's moralizing hypocrisy and idiocy.

The Antigone (1947): 50 pages, Brecht's adaption of Sophocles famous play Antigone.

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (1944): 94 pages, based on an old Chinese fable, about who is more deserving of being a mother to a certain child, the one who has a purely formal claim to it in that they gave birth to it, or the person who deserves to be its mother and has loved and cared for it the way the first never had. A first approach to this subject by Brecht was a short story called “The Augsburg Chalk Circle.”

The Days of the Commune (1949): 74 pages, a theatrical depiction of the heroic Paris Commune, Brecht did a fantastic job of capturing the idealism and enthusiasm of the Paris Commune, as well as making clear the mistakes that it made which led to its destruction.

The Exception and the Rule (1930): 35 pages, an educational play demonstrating class differences and conflict, and showing that in no way can the working class and the bourgeoisie ever be reconciled: they are absolute enemies and the bourgeoisie will always win over the working class under capitalism since they are the ones who hold power and on whom governments are based.

The Good Person of Szechuan (1942): 105 pages, a theatrical parable, it makes the point that morality, honesty, virtue, etc, are determined mainly by the prevailing economic system (i.e. the prevailing economic system determines what is considered a "virtue"), it also points out that the integrity and righteousness of a person is determined by their place in that system: thus if they are an exploiter of human labor they are sure to be unprincipled and repulsive generally because their economic position dictates not only that they not care about suffering and exploitation, but that they cause it in the interests of accumulating wealth. On the other hand, the poor and the exploited by their very position as disadvantaged and oppressed have right on their sides and are much less likely to be hypocritical, brutal, greedy, etc.

The Horatians and the Curiatians (1934): 24 pages, a instructive play dealing with strategy and tactics, it is Brecht's interpretation of the story of the Horatii and the Curiatii, two groups of opposing male triplets: around 650 b.c., during a war between Rome and Alba Longa it was decided that the outcome of the war would be decided by a fight to the death between Rome's triplets (Horatii) and Alba Longa's (Curiatii).

The Measures Taken (1930): 34 pages, meant to be educational, it is a lesson in the right and wrong way to conduct agitation. It is also has a very powerful message of the type of sacrifice needed if you intend to seriously work for a socialist revolution, and the end of oppression. Although it may be short, which perhaps is more of a strength than anything else for this type of play, it is an excellent example of using “art” for explicit political agitation and education (in this case agitating for agitation and educating in the correct way to conduct this agitation).

The Mother (1931): 59 pages, a theatrical adaption of Maxim Gorky's The Mother.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (1941): 121 pages, written during Brecht's exile from nazi germany. It is an allegorical play that uses a gangster's (Arturo Ui's) rise to power as an allegory for the rise to power of Hitler. It is a very interesting play, in that it satirizes both Hitler, a mediocre if not completely incompetent person at everything he put his hand to before his final rise to power, and yet it explains his rise to power in a simple, very understandable way. All of the characters in the play have an equivalent to real-life people in germany, thus Old Dogsborough is von Hindenberg, Ernesto Romo is Ernest Rohm, Emanuele Giri is Hermann Goring, Giuseppe Givola is Joseph Goebbels, the Cauliflower Trust is the Junkers, Chicago is Germany, and Cicero is Austria.

The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeois (1933): 17 pages, a very humorous short play which deals with the hypocrisy and idiocy of the bourgeois and makes the point that for the bourgeois, virtues that get in the way of accumulating wealth are unforgivable sins.

The Trial of Joan of Arc (1952): 41 pages, a beautiful play about one of the most well known resistance figures of Europe, Joan of Arc. She is often portrayed as insane, which is not surprising since anyone who fights against imperialism is subject to demonization and dehumanization by the imperial country and it's local collaborators. In reality, Joan of Arc was an intelligent, brave, strong peasant girl, who began fighting against british imperialism and occupation when she was only sixteen. In the play you can see her intellect, and the court dialog is kept very close to or the same as what she actually said. Of course Brecht does add his own interpretation, especially in the street scenes and the end where Joan refuses to sell out and betray her people. Joan d'Arc was burnt alive at the age of nineteen as a result of her heroic resistance to british imperialism and occupation.

The Trial of Lucullus (1939): 27 pages, Roman General Lucullus is tried after his death by a lower class jury and judge. Makes the point that “glorious, noble war” as it is thought of by officers, means nothing but death and disfigurement for the lower classes.

The Tutor (1950): 55 pages, about the subservience of education to the demands and interests of the upper classes, using as a metaphor a german tutor to the nobility during the 1700's. As the main character points out at the beginning of the play, just as previously tutors, teachers, and professors were subservient to the nobility, now they are subservient to the bourgeois, and thus teach what the bourgeois want them to. It also shows how some students' opposition to the mainstream, and rebellion against authority, is easily overcome when they want a job as a teacher or professor: then they have no problem teaching what the ruling classes want them to and selling out. And if a teacher does rebel or go against the mainstream of things, the upper classes try to cut them down to size and make them miserable so that they submit and teach their students the nonsense that other teachers teach their students. Thus this play shows, in a somewhat comedic manner, the bankruptcy of formal education under capitalism, and shows the necessity of introducing edcation which is actually focused on enlightening and educating children and giving them a chance to develop their own interests and strengths and be able to pursue them without opposition.

The Visions of Simone Machard (1942): 61 pages, an anti-fascist play written after the occupation of France and dealing with the need for absolute resistance to the nazi occupiers, with no collaboration with them whatsoever. It also attacks the indifference and apathy with which the nazi invasion was initially greated.

 Turandot (1954): 67 pages, Brecht's final play, it explores the role of intellectuals in capitalist society, especially those who sell their intellect to the highest bidder and have no interests in opposing capitalism, but rather prefer to profit from it and live comfortable lives of uselessness white-washing the truth for capitalists. A satire, it is somewhat an adaption of Carlo Gozzi's comedic play of the same name.


Short Stories

Anecdotes of Mr Keuner

Caesar and his Legionary

Socrates Wounded

The Augsburg Chalk Circle

The Experiment

The Foolish Wife: an attack on the system of marriage, and how it has been at base an economic institution with little or no concern for the rights of women, and how it has built itself, not on mutual feelings of love and respect between two partners, but rather on an exploitative and callous economic base. At the same time the story celebrates true love between two people, which is beyond economic justifications, and which doesn't cease in the face of tragedy, but if anything becomes stronger.

The Heretic's Coat

The Job: a stark portrayal of what it means to have to work to live in a time of recession and mass unemployment. Brecht also criticizes the view that women can only perform so called "womens' work" or "feminine work," and makes the accurate point that anyone, man or woman can do any type of work, and act in any type of manner, and that the only thing that prevents this is the rampant sexism in society, and the societal conditioning of people into their "right" or "correct" roles, defined of course solely by their gender, and not by the special abilities or interests that they may have. This story also shows what a job means to a worker who has been unemployed for a long period of time, and the lengths to which they are willing to go to obtain one.

The Soldier of La Ciotat: about the absurdity of war, and how the producers of all things, the workers and the peasants, are the ones to suffer from it, and the ones expended by the oppressor classes during it.

The Unseemly Old Lady: based on his own grandmother, it is a comedic attack on bourgeois notions of "propriety" and the way they want the elderly to act.

Two Sons


Poems
Collected Poems (598p)
 
Questions From a Worker Who Reads