On the Birth Centenary of Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht and Socialist Realism

Jakup Mato,
Rinush Idrizi,
Vangjush Ziko,
Anastas Kapurani


Brecht is among the distinguished representatives of socialist realist art. As a creator, he is many-sided: poet, dramatist, director, critic and publicist.

He was born on 10 February, 1898 in Augsburg in Bavaria, Germany. His childhood and early youth were passed in years of tempestuous events filled with drama -- events which were historic not only for Germany, but for the whole of Europe and humanity. It was at this time that there occurred the profound crisis of the capitalist world of the beginning of our century, together with the politico-historical events linked with it which led to the outbreak of the First World War with all its destructive consequences.

These tragic events left their mark on the young Brecht and powerfully influenced the formation of his character. We see the young Brecht incline towards progressive ideas, towards concern for and defence of the destiny of the common man -- evidence of the early formation in him of democratic and patriotic ideas. This was reflected in his first poems, written from the age of sixteen. These poems have an anti-militarist spirit and are permeated by the leitmotiv of struggle against the War.

After completing secondary school in the city of his birth, during the years 1917-1921 he went to Munich to continue higher studies in the fields of medicine and the natural sciences. He completed these studies only after an interval since, during the years of the First World War, he was mobilized and in 1918 served in a military hospital. After this, he devoted himself entirely to literature and art.

During these years, until 1924, he produced his first poetical works and wrote his first plays, which became well-known.

The creative individuality of Brecht appeared and ripened relatively quickly. Even in his first works there appeared that rich and many-sided creativity which he would bring to the art of socialist realism. From Brecht's memories we are made aware of the vivid impressions which the War left on him. He saw that it was simple people who paid the price of war. Now these people returned once again to their former life -- back to the same intolerable state of pitiless capitalist exploitation. Brecht began to stand closer to the workers, took part in their progressive circles. Thus, through untiring research, he consciously assimilated their guiding ideology, a proletarian world outlook. This determined the direction of his life as artist and as citizen. Likewise, this liberated him from isolation, from anarchist protestation and gloomy artistic expression manifested in the expressionist art which influenced him for a time and which was expressed in part of his early poetry.

In 1924 Brecht went to Berlin and stayed until 1933. Here he worked as a dramatist, attached to the Deutsches Theatre. At the same time he created a group of well-known collaborators.

The period of his sojourn in Berlin was very important for Brecht's life. Here he deepened his knowledge of Marxism, of the proletarian world outlook. He followed and studied at close hand the life of the working class, its powerful movements and, in general, the pulse of current events.

In 1928 he attended the workers' Marxist school. Now his life was inseparable from his life as active worker for the cause of the working class. He had become fully formed as a Marxist.

From this period dates much of his more mature poetry. In these years, too, he wrote and staged some of his major plays, in which important social questions, motivated by contemporary events, were raised. In particular, he drew attention to the need for class vigilance against the danger of the war which the Nazis were preparing. On the eve of the Nazi dictatorship, he raised the alarm in the play 'Round Heads and Peaked Heads', which was the first exposure of the National Socialists (the members of Hitler's party).

In 1933 the Nazis came to power. Among the first to bear the marks of fascist barbarism was Brecht. His books were burned, the doors of the Deutsches Theatre were closed. The Nazis deprived him of German nationality, and a difficult period of exile began for Brecht. During the years 1933-1941 he wandered in Austria, Switzerland, France and the Scandinavian countries, staying longest in Denmark. After this he went to the USA and remained there until 1947.

The sixteen-year period away from his homeland was not for Brecht a withdrawal from the front of struggle. His exile was a politically active exile. He was in the front rank of the Anti-Fascist Front. He remained faithful to the cause of the working class, into which he threw all his ardour, all his creative energies, and all his rich political activity.

To this period belong his most powerful poetry, his greatest plays, his theoretical thought on the art of socialist realism. With the iron logic of the militant artist, he penetrated deep into the mechanism of capitalist society and demonstrated the roots of fascism. At the same time, he predicted its inevitable end.

In 1947 Brecht left the USA and returned to Europe. He stayed in Zurich in Switzerland for more than a year, occupying himself principally with the elaboration and systematization of his theoretical thinking on art and, in particular, with drama and the theatre. He collected these ideas in one of his principal theoretical works, 'Little Organum for the Theatre'.

In 1949 he returned to the German Democratic Republic and settled finally in East Berlin. Here, near the former Deutsches Theatre where he had worked under the direction of Reinhardt, Brecht founded the Berliner Ensemble. During these years and after, he was engaged mainly in putting his plays on the stage, in organizing a number of tours of the GDR and other countries with his Berliner Ensemble company, in delivering a series of theoretical lectures on socialist realist art, and in writing his last play 'The Days of the Commune'.

After a turbulent life full of fruitful effort, Brecht died on 14 August 1956.

The bourgeoisie cursed Brecht in life, and maintained a cynical silence on his death. And this was natural. It saw in Brecht its mortal enemy. And the bourgeoisie of his native city was no exception to this.

But in his Augsburg an unknown hand (understood to be that of a worker) has written on a simple plaque near the house where Brecht lived and worked:

And this indicates that Brecht has taken his place in the heart of the workers.


Brecht's literary creativity is distinguished by poetry, plays and his critical thought on the art of socialist realism.

Brecht's poetry, with its broad and comprehensive social content, is a rich and faithful chronicle of his time. It covers great social events over thirty years, including the First and Second World Wars, and comprises more than 1,500 poems, collected by him in several volumes.

In the poetical chronicle of Brecht one finds the simple man with a life filled with troubles, one finds the exploitation of the capitalist system, but one also finds the fighter for the new life, the worker, the peasant, the soldier in the trenches of world-wide slaughter, the heartless gentlemen of capital, the fascists, the wounds of human life, interrupted love, the beautiful dream of a new life, the mother, the child, eminent leaders of the working class, the Anti-Fascist Front, the Party, the revolution.

At the centre of this picture Brecht places the worker. Everything is seen in close connection with him. Everything is explained on the basis of the interests of the worker, of his class outlook. The author makes this the centre of powerful, rich and vivid poetic generalizations. This comprises the epic element of his poetry.

The wide richness of this stirring historico-social material took form and passed through a sensitive, subtle spirit, which sang -- and wept when the occasion demanded -- with deep inspiration.

It is precisely this synthesis of lyrical and epic elements which determines the characteristics of Brecht's poems -- their spirit, content and poetical organization.

Brecht lived close to the dramatic events of his time. In this process his Marxist world outlook also took form and matured:

('To Posterity')

This life demanded from Brecht sacrifice and effort. And he faced them with the clear conscience of the communist flower-grower. The poet proclaims this openly in his poem 'The Exile of the Poets':

His conscientious anguish over the life and death events of the time determined also the spirit of Brecht's Poetry. This he says, without any ambiguity, in the poem 'A Bad Time for Poetry':

Brecht had a clear vision, given to him by his Marxist world outlook, on the working class and its Communist Party, on the broad Anti-Fascist Front, on the future of the working class and the working masses under socialism.

In his poem 'In Praise of the Work of the Party', he says:

With sensitive lyricism Brecht has written, in his poem 'In Praise of Illegal Work', about the necessity and importance of the illegal work of the Party.

Among the principal preoccupations of the Brechtian lyrical hero is, as the poet expressed more than once, the organization of the 'United Front' to defeat fascism. This is one of the central themes of his poetry. The poet leaps up in joyous enthusiasm when he sees the Anti-Fascist United Front gain its first victories over the fascist hordes and his voice becomes one with 'the song of the machines'. From this period and in this joyful spirit is one of his most mature poems. 'The Sixteen-Year-Old Seamstress Emma Ries before the Magistrate':

In a conversational tone, in ten lines, with a warmth which flows from the depths of the soul, the poet presents with rare realism the conscientious heroism of the simple people of the working class, so young in years but so mature in thought.

The poet greeted with indescribable enthusiasm the great victory of the Anti-Fascist Front over Hitler fascism. He injected this great joy into a number of deeply felt poems written on this theme.

Brecht's poems have their special features also in the form of their organization and construction. In his poetry we find a great variety of poetical techniques, which give it particular expressiveness.

Although in its form the poetry of Brecht embodies new levels of artistic expression, this was for Brecht not an end in itself.

Brecht successfully makes use of the political grotesque. This is realized by the persistent repetition of the same word or line, even of whole verses. There are cases where the whole poem is built on the basis of the grotesque, as in the short poem 'Children's Crusade'. His grotesque has clear social thought. This is given to it by its summing-up, by the resolution of the poem, in the final two lines.

What is observed clearly in Brecht's poetry is its vital truth.

The stirring events of the time, with their broad and many-sided significance, are presented in his poetry with rare simplicity. But it is a particular poetical simplicity and concreteness. It has nothing in common with banality, with oversimplification of the truth, with its distortion.

Brecht remained faithful to his principle on art, which appears clearly in the poem 'Hymn to Communism', where, amongst other things, he says:

The simplicity of his poetical expression is embodied in artistic detail, around which is spun the fable or poetic thought. And this detail stands out in its simplicity and truthfulness. Brecht attained this with great effort, entering into the very core of a social phenomenon.

Among the poems which are distinguished for their epic truthfulness, but also for their simplicity of expression, is 'The Invincible Inscription', in which Brecht portrays the immortality of the ideas of Lenin. The artistic detail here is developed through an escalation of hyperbole, which is as fresh as it is majestic in its character. The social content of his poetic thought is presented in the last line of the resolution of the poem, where the socialist soldier says in derision to the prison guards: 'Now break down our wall too!'

The language of his poems also serves the function of clarity of expression. The linguistic fund of Brecht's poetry includes many words and phrases drawn from popular speech. Brecht also daringly inserts into his poems many words of the political lexicon, which reflect well the spirit of the time.

Rallying to the defence of poets who write about the oppression of the fighters for the new, Brecht directed himself to them:

And his poetry, like his literary legacy as a whole, took this happy path.


In the art of socialist realism, Brecht left a valuable legacy also as dramatist. Indeed, his talent in this field stands out with such a special power that criticism, drama and the contemporary realist theatre cannot be understood without the experience and fruitful influence of the Brechtian drama and theatre.

His thirty-year life as dramatist is filled with strenuous efforts and persistent researches. In other words, his plays matured hand-in-hand with the formation and full ripening of his Marxist-Leninist world outlook. Therefore, to follow the ascending path of his drama, it is necessary for it to be seen within a definite periodicity.

In the plays written during 1918-1933, Brecht tends towards important topical problems. His observation rests on the contradictory nature of the class relations of capitalist society and, within them, the author strives to describe the life of the simple man. As his principal artistic manner, he makes use of historical parables. As the point of reference for his dramatic activity, around which he creates the plot, he takes a definite event in the course of social history. Through this he gives voice to, actualizes, the significant events of contemporary society.

Along this line, his first successful play of this period is 'Drums in the Night'. The play was staged in Munich in 1922 and received with interest. At the centre of the play are the events of the revolution of 1919 in Germany. The author's aim is to show that violent historical events cannot be understood except in relation to the interests of definite social classes. The clash of interests of historically irreconcilable classes leads to the breakdown of the social relations of the time. And at the centre of this, he who pays is the simple, exploited man.

With this play there also began new artistic means of expression in the staging of the author's plays (the placard, the projected image, to attract the attention of the spectator, etc.), which were to be deepened in his later plays and which are indissolubly linked with the name of Brecht.

Despite its healthy content, this play and other plays of this period, particularly 'The Life of Edward the Second of England', 'The Threepenny Opera', 'Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny', are not completely free of a certain naturalist stratification in the treatment of social problems, of undefined social protest and challenge, of anarchist content.

The play which concludes this period as 'Round Heads and Peaked Heads', written in 1933. It is the first play of his to make an open exposure of National Socialism. With this play the second period of his dramatic creativity opens.

This period (1933-1948) is that of his political exile, after the coming to power of Hitler's fascist dictatorship. It is the period of the full flowering of his talent as a dramatist. During this time, and especially during the years 1937-1941, he wrote his greatest works. Among these we must note especially: 'Senora Carrar's Rifles' (1937), 'Fear and Misery in the Third Reich' (1938), 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' (1941), 'Mother Courage and her Children' (1941), 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle', 'The Life of Galileo' (1943). 'The Days of the Commune' (1948), etc.

In these plays the author presents a broad epic reflection of momentous events of the periods of the First and Second World War. With profound realism and from a clear class angle of view, given to him by his communist world outlook, the author penetrates the core of the many-sided class relations of the contemporary historic-social framework.

The plays of this time, whether taken separately or all together, complete the picture which the author presents about the many-sided and contradictory events of that time.

The dramatic action of 'Senora Carrar's Rifles' is based on the bloody events of the Spanish War. The play's story is compact and spare, with few characters. The dramatic action is concerned on making clear the futility of Senora Carrar's insistent question: 'What sense is there in fighting?'. Through spare lines linked together with artistic mastery, the author weaves the central conflict, vital and convincing in its nature (the killing of Senora Carrar's son). The resolution recalls the rising of the sun after the storm: 'To the Front!' (the last words of Senora Carrar). Thus, simply and convincingly, the author develops a very important idea: at a time of class storms, for the simple man neutrality is not only virtually impossible, but also politically blameworthy.

This idea is developed further by the author in the play 'Fear and Misery in the Third Reich'. The play is constructed on the basis of twenty-four scenes, each a little play in itself within the play as a whole. This is in no way a formalist whim: fragmented, the dramatic action allows the author to penetrate to the essential core of the structure and superstructure of the Third Reich, to depict its historico-social framework. Consequently, the dramatic action is cut up to bring together its fundamental line of thought: National Socialism represents the most savage dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, the peak of reaction against the dignity of man, against the family, against life.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

This play was written in 1941, at the time when Hitler's dictatorship was at the peak of its fascist barbarity. The author's aim is to explain the mechanism of the coming to power of the Hitlerian dictatorship. so the events of the play contain within them the historico-social conditions which gave birth to, reared and brought to power this barbarous regime.

Fascism is in the nature of capitalism and is born from capitalist property relations. This is, succinctly, the mechanism presented by the author for the coming to power of fascism.

This he evolves subtly in the play through a fable set in the midst of the severe crisis of the capitalist world of the years 1929-1932. The cauliflower trust is severely hit by this crisis and seeks to escape its grip by obtaining a credit from the state. The representative of the bourgeois state, Dogsborough, is at first dubious: will his own pocket gain by this help?

This introduction comprises the exposition of the play. The picture presented in the introduction is tightly drawn. The crisis has accentuated all the contradictions of capitalist society. Each capitalist seeks to save himself. One of the representatives of the trust says: 'Everybody is leaving the sinking ship, abusing and cursing it. Friend becomes enemy'. In this way the basis of bourgeois morality, 'Everyone for himself, God for all', is shown in all its fury. The capitalists of the cauliflower trust (the bourgeoisie), to survive the crisis, favour the most shameful methods of exploitation, throw off every mask, in order to preserve their profits intact. Now they wish that their tool, the bourgeois state, should support them by the same methods. One of the owners of the trust says: 'We pay taxes regularly to the city, why should it not pull us out of the mud by means of a credit?'

The author concentrates the dramatic action in the highest circles of bourgeois society, within definite class relations. In this sphere are: the owners of the cauliflower trust (the bourgeoisie), Dogsborough (the existing bourgeois state), Ui (fascism) -- all in their relations with the little people of the town, with simple man, with the worker.

The crisis has brought capitalist rivalry to a head. The more powerful dictate and the weaker suffer economically.

In full agreement with the owners of the trust, Ui offers his services to Dogsborough. When the latter hesitates, Ui says: 'I will dig your grave!'. This is not a simple threat, but a dearly-held aim of Ui' to seize the reins of bourgeois power. And now the road to that is open. Under the pressure of the trust, Dogsborough is obliged to make concessions and become the guarantor of Ui's honesty!

Although the worker is not present as a character in this play, he is present in his activity, as the first and principal participant in the class battle against capitalist exploitation and fascist terror. This fact clarifies the social relations which the drama portrays, and brings out their class content. This is seen clearly when Ui says: 'You are a worker, so you must work. But if a strike is called and you cease to work, then you are no longer a worker but a dangerous element, and I shall intervene!'

The composition of the play is woven with subtle artistic mastery. Its story is compact and with a clear historico-social basis. The dramatic narrative flows freely, because it is constructed with vivid truthfulness. Nothing has been added by the author from outside. He has mastered the inner logic of events, the dialectic of their development. The dramatic narrative proceeds through an escalating tension, which is brought to the conflicts naturally and in a convincing manner. The resolution of the conflicts is accompanied by profound thoughts about contemporary society and the relations between people; at the same time, the conflicts are linked in their content, and the resolution of one conflict lays the ground for another and leads towards the final resolution of the play.

The author's language also has a function in the truthfulness of the play. It is simple, without complications, and with striking figurations. In economical language the author brings to life the characters (especially the central character, Arturo Ui) and the social environment. He uses with great success contrast and, especially, profound sarcasm.

The writer breaks up the dramatic narrative to great effect, comparing it with contemporary events.

Throughout this play Brecht replies to the question: 'Who will put a stop to this madness?' It is not difficult to understand what the author has written about in this play. He portrays events from the outlook of the working class and, above all, speaks to its ear and eye. And although he does not say so openly, he lets it be clearly understood that the social force which will confront and come to grips with fascism is, in the first place, the working class.

As in all Brecht's creativity, so in this play too, along with deep knowledge of historical reality, the author clearly urges one to action, to change, to revolution.

The work has a powerful topical ring. Arturo Ui (fascism), whose figure is given fine artistic embodiment by the pen of Brecht, is not a phenomenon which belongs simply to history. It still lives on in bourgeois and revisionist countries, ready to be brought back on to the stage of history when the bourgeoisie calls upon it.

The Importance of Brecht's Work

At the time when Brecht began to write and to think about the art of socialist realism, socialist realism had already been born and had been embodied in the works of the great socialist realists Gorky and Mayakovsky. So, for Brecht, the ideology which guided his art and his activity as a creative citizen, the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, had already passed its first successful world test. Under the leadership of the Party of Lenin, the working class had established its power in the Soviet Union and now, under the leadership of Stalin, was marching forward on the socialist road. So it must be said about Brecht that the cause to which he dedicated his art was no longer a dream but a living reality, a historical fact, for which he sacrificed himself fully consciously.

Brecht was a son of his time. He lived and fought in a definite society, in definite historico-social conditions. He penetrated this society in the content of his works. They are artistic chronicles of this society, of its most acute problems, seen under the light of the Marxist world outlook. Consequently, he brought to the art of socialist realism his own original voice.

The work of Brecht is better understood if his critical thought on the art and literature of socialist realism is borne in mind.

Brecht did not reach his communist convictions about the art of the working class by accident, but by taking part with determination in the hard class struggle of the society of the time, according to his militant motto: 'Fight in writing!'. His art and thought became what they were when he linked them with the cause of the working class and placed them at its service.

The Marxist world outlook gave Brecht a correct understanding of, and a clear orientation towards, the classes and social relations of his time, the origin of fascism and its significance for the future of society when the working class would be master of the country.

In his critical thought, Brecht was concerned with some of the principal questions of socialist realist art. This was the concrete expression of his conscious participation in the class conflicts of the time. Conditions had matured, and the working class of his country sought to have its spokesmen, its artists, express the content of its class struggle in a new art. And this art could be nothing but that of socialist realism.

Brecht had a correct understanding of the new social function of this art and of the mission of the socialist writer. This art could not speak the truth in general about society and people, without being directed to someone. He spoke the truth before 'all those for whom this state of affairs (that is to say, capitalist exploitation) was a completely intolerable reality'.

From these progressive positions, Brecht deepened further his views on forms of expression and their relation with content. For Brecht, the new socialist content permitted the most diverse forms of expression; indeed he regarded the search for these as indispensable. To this he remained faithful in all his literary work -- in his poetry, in his plays and also in the theatre itself. And to this he brought his own original research.

Bourgeois and revisionist critics deliberately attempt to denigrate Brecht, to undervalue his literary legacy in seeking out the new in form. They assess the latter merely as 'formalist experiments', detached from the militant content of his literary works, from their clear, partisan social message.

But for Brecht form was not an end in itself. He never valued form apart from content. This he expressed many times in his critical thought and demonstrated in his literary work.

But Brecht linked the source of his thoughts and feelings with the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge, and he bequeathed a valuable literary legacy. His literary work has a powerful topical sound, because it expresses with truthfulness the interests of the working class, to which he remained faithful all his life.

From: 'Foreign Literature', Part Two, Ilford, 1987, Translated from the Albanian by W.B. Bland.

From the Brecht Oeuvre

What Has Happened?

The industrialist is having his aeroplane serviced.
The priest is wondering what he said in his sermon eight weeks ago
   about tithes.
The generals are putting on civvies and looking like bank clerks.
Public officials are getting friendly.
The policeman points out the way to the man in the cloth cap.
The landlord comes to see whether the water supply is working.
The journalists write the word People with capital letters.
The singers sing at the opera for nothing.
Ships' captains check the food in the crew's galley,
Car owners get in beside their chauffeurs.
Doctors sue the insurance companies.
Scholars show their discoveries and hide their decorations.
Farmers deliver potatoes to the barracks.
The revolution has won its first battle:
That's what has happened.

Not What Was Meant

When the Academy of Arts demanded freedom
Of artistic expression from narrow-minded bureaucrats
There was a howl and a clamour in its immediate vicinity
But roaring above everything
Came a deafening thunder of applause
From beyond the Sector boundary.
Freedom! it roared. Freedom for the artists!
Freedom all round! Freedom for all!
Freedom for the exploiters! Freedom for the warmongers!
Freedom for the Ruhr cartels! Freedom for Hitler's generals!
Softly, my dear fellows...
The Judas kiss for the artists follows
Hard on the Judas kiss for the workers.
The arsonist with his bottle of petrol
Sneaks up grinning to
The Academy of Arts.
But it was not to embrace him, just
To knock the bottle out of his dirty hand that
We asked for elbow room.
Even the narrowest minds
In which peace is harboured
Are more welcome to the arts than the art lover

Who is also a lover of the art of war.

[On the Death of Stalin]

The oppressed of the five parts of the earth, those who have already freed themselves and all those who fight for world peace must have missed a heartbeat, when they heard that Stalin is dead. He was the embodiment of their hopes. But the spiritual and material weapons he created are there and so is the teaching, to make new ones.

April 1953

The Solution

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

[On 17th June, 1953]

The demonstrations of 17th June showed the discontent of a considerable section of Berlin's workforce with a series of failed economic measures.

Organised fascist elements tried to misuse this discontent for their own bloody means.

For many hours Berlin stood on the verge of a third world war.

Only the quick and definite intervention of the Soviet troops is to be thanked for thwarting the attempts.

It was obvious that the intervention of Soviet troops was in no way against the demonstrations of the workers. It was most apparently exclusively aimed against the attempts to spark off a new global fire.

It is now up to each one to help the government to weed out the mistakes which caused the discontent and without doubt, endangered our great social achievements.

On the morning of 17th June, as it became clear that the demonstrations of the workers will be misused for war-like aims, I expressed my solidarity with the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. I hope now that the provocateurs have been isolated and their network destroyed, I hope that the workers who demonstrated their genuine discontent are not placed on the same level as the provocateurs and the much required expression of mistakes committed in every direction is not disturbed.

To the students of the workers'
and peasants' faculty

So there you sit. And how much blood was shed
That you might sit there. Do such stories bore you?
Well, don't forget that others sat before you
who later sat on people. Keep your head!
Your science will be valueless, you'll find
And learning will be sterile, if inviting
Unless you pledge your intellect to fighting
Against all enemies of all mankind.
Never forget that men like you got hurt
That you might sit here, not the other lot.
And now don't shut your eyes, and don't desert
But learn to learn, and try to learn for what.

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