Lecture #17 - November 5, 1979 - 49:00 min (mp3)
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Mosse now turns to Berthold Brecht. Brecht’s play “The Young Comrade” was an attack upon all the intellectuals Mosse has recently discussed: The Young Comrade-who could be Eisner, Bloch or Lukacs-is shot in the end because he wanted to do what is human, not scientific: he wanted an immediate revolution. He refused to compromise with tactics and thereby spoils the revolution. He has to be shot because he was in the way of reality, which is scientific, which is in accord with the Kautsky analysis of the situation. The Young Comrade believed in feeling when it is in fact the science Kautsky talked about that is needed. By rejecting small injustices, he helps great injustice. In the play, history has an impersonal course. As in all of Brecht’s work, only the impersonal forces of scientific socialism count. Revulsion against injustice is not the right reason to become a socialist: only the knowledge of the scientific workings of socialism-as in Leninism-Stalinism- are valid. In Brecht’s plays, people are types; he consciously avoids character portrayal. He suggested crude solutions, solutions that were meant to be crude. Mosse quips that “Brecht was a failure; otherwise he would never have lasted” i.e. he would have been eliminated. Mosse does not share the widespread admiration for Brecht; he finds him boring to the extreme. Brecht was never able to get out of naturalism. His and all other Marxists’ cultural efforts tended to be naturalistic. In fact, Minna Kautsky (Karl’s mother) wrote one of the most popular naturalist novels. It gives a good description of proletarian life, but it is artificial and schematic, a love story set in a proletarian milieu.
The Hegelian synthesis (which people like Lukacs tried) was increasingly denied. When it came to workers’ culture-to the gap between the intellectuals and what the workers actually read- popular Darwinism replaced Marx. From the beginning of workers’ culture, popularizations of Darwin were widespread. In the calendar sent out by the Socialist Party, evolution is a happy progression within the temple of nature; injustice would eventually be abolished. The most popular book of early Socialism was written by August Bebel. “Women under Socialism” (1883) was the most widely read non-fiction book before, and possibly after, WWI (the most popular work of fiction was Minna Kautsky’s). The book blurs natural and historical evolution. Change was an internal part of human history because it was a part of the animal world. It had to improve. This was to give workers the certainty that Socialism was simply another stage in the history of the earth. Under capitalism, the class struggle inhibits natural selection (an idea usually associated with Social Darwinism), while potentiality for excellence would get to the top if natural evolution was allowed to work. (Mosse remarks that workers, too, were a part of bourgeois society; there was no other culture to adopt. If the bourgeoisie was interested in Darwinism, so were the workers.) Socialism would be part of the temple of nature. It would be replaced by an Arcadia, a classless society, the end of industrialism that workers rightly hated. The image of the Socialist utopia that spread throughout Europe originated not in Marx and Engels, but in Bebel’s “Women and Socialism.” The complete equality that was implied here was also one between men and women. It would, just like the bourgeois utopia, remove the nervousness of the age and safeguard the family.
To summarize: Bebel mixed Marxism and a sentimental, not a scientific, theory of Darwinian evolution. With the abolishment of capitalism, the road would be free. Mosse claims that one cannot have popular culture without a Cinderella story. Socialism was connected with the standard utopia of innocence and nature. Workers’ plays were by and large written from above. Brecht’s were a continuation of didactic workers’ plays, based on the doctrine of surplus value. Significantly, many of these plays have a sort of historical analysis. Workers were put not only into evolution, but also into a historical dimension. Workers’ culture was based on bourgeois culture; bourgeois pop-culture and popular art was adapted to fit the quest for excellence in the class struggle. One part of workers’ culture was mass culture. The Socialist leadership, however, was afraid of these kinds of cultural products; they wanted to educate. Therefore, they did not like workers’ mass organizations, such as singing or sports associations: They only favored cyclists because they were good at election time. Though workers’ mass culture was split from that of the bourgeoisie, it was not different: how could you do gymnastics differently? Workers did not define themselves by going to party meetings, but by going to the Red Football Club. The first Socialist football clubs split from the bourgeois ones because they had a kind of fellowship in the factory: Some became professionalized by the 1930s. Sports could be combined with national education; the Socialist, of course, tried the same with Socialist education. Workers’ culture has the same features as the culture of everybody else, though with Socialist symbols. The result was that no real Marxist culture ever came about, only a certain subculture of “red Cinderellas” instead of “bourgeois Cinderellas”.