Friday, February 13, 2009

Socialist Hell

from I Bertolt Brecht, Act I, Scene 4:
"Weihnachtslegend," by Bertolt Brecht:
On this holy Christmas night/ We poor folk sit in this dim light
Huddled in our tiny shack/ While wind blows in through every crack.
Come to us our dear Lord and see:/ How badly we have need of Thee.
In a circle now we sit/ Like lost souls cast into the pit
The snow falls cold upon our skin/ The snow is freely coming in
Come, snow, with soft and silent grace: / Like us, in heaven you have no place.
We're brewing brandy as you see/ To warm us in our misery
As we add a bit of yeast/ We hear outside some big fat beast
Come, beast, inside, come quickly pray: / Beasts too have no warm place to stay.
Let's throw our coats into the fire/ For warmth is what we most desire
Burn the roofbeam too my friends/ We might not freeze before night ends.
Enter wind, and be our guest: / For you too have no where to rest.
[As the song ends, sounds of wind are heard from the loudspeakers. As the scene progresses, these sounds become more intense and violent.] . . .

VG: [Interrupting. From this point on, VG's speech and the news report are presented simultaneously, with VG intermittently shouting down the others.] I see what you're trying to do. You can't fool me. I'm not impressed. "What is to be done," wasn't that Tolstoy? Echoed by Lenin? Then trashed by Stalin? The "Wretched of the Earth," yes I know all about them. The most subtle temptation of all, the grand illusion that one can save the world. Sorry, I'm not tempted. [pause -- the news report continues]

It's been tried, hasn't it? What a delusion, what a disaster! Bloody revolutions were fought, one after the other. So many killed, maimed, tortured, sentenced to hard labor, slave labor. And for what? [pause]

Rejected by the very people they thought they were saving. Because those very people became their slaves. The saviors became the tormentors. Finally, it seems, they no longer cared any more about those people, no longer even saw them, all they thought about was themselves, their privileges, their power and ultimately, their own hides, which had to be preserved at any cost. [pause]

The road to Hell is paved by good intentions. The best intentions. Leading to the worst possible results. [pause]

There is a specter haunting Europe, yes. The specter of Communism. The specter of Bertolt Brecht. Because you are both dead! [pause] Over! [pause] Kaput! [pause]

Hey, I'm an artist! I know that to you it's a dirty word, "art." You wanted to make your plays into educational experiences, NOT artistic ones. I know all about that, don't think I don't. The Epic theater, yes, verfremdung, estrangement, the "alienation effect," so the audience would resist the hypnotic effect of theatrical "art", NOT get involved, see behind the illusion to "come to terms" with the world as a human construction, learn how "external conditions" produce what the Bourgeois call "nature." To make the audience "think" for itself. What a joke! And all the time you were pulling their strings, manipulating them, getting them to salivate on cue, yes. You sacrificed your great poetic gift to make simple minded propaganda for Stalin and his ilk, so that's what you want ME to do? [pause]

You know, I marched, I protested, I rioted, I even sabotaged -- almost. We all did, back in the Sixties. Some put their lives on the line. I pushed the envelope pretty far, you know, pretty far. Lost my job over it, threw away my career. Gladly. I didn't want a career anyhow, just wanted -- needed -- art. [pause]

You're dead, a spook, you can't do anything anymore but try to get to me, so I can take your place, carry on your mission. Why? It's over, it's failed, forget it, it's no longer new. [pause]

I refuse to politicize my art. I know how that sounds, in the "postmodern" age, which never ceases to remind us that EVERYTHING is politics, that we can't escape it. Fine. Good. I don't care. I insist on doing things my way, I insist on the freedom to be irresponsible, to question EVERYTHING, NOT just "external conditions" but internal ones as well, I'm proud to be an artist, NOT ashamed. If that's an elitist attitude, so be it, I don't care!

S: What a marvelous thing. Capitalism. The "new economy." The "new world order."

VG: My God! This is unbearable. I can't stand to hear it. How can people be expected to live like that? What is to be done? What is to be done? What is to be done?

T: Well, what do YOU think should be done? Can such a human catastrophe be dealt with simply by permitting "free speech," holding "free elections"? Aren't stronger measures required, don't such conditions cry out for such measures, despite everything you say?

BB: Did Communism really fail? And if so, what about that which has taken its place? The "former Soviet Union," what does that amount to now?

T: Compare Russia and China. One has cast Communism aside, the other still embraces it. Where would you rather live?

VG: I wouldn't last two days in Communist China. I'd say the wrong thing and be arrested. Or deported. Or murdered.

BB: And what would you choose to say, my friend?

VG: I don't know. I'd think of something.

S: Look at Russia, the way things are now. Or look at India, now there's a lesson in "Democracy" for you. China and India. Before Communism, both were so much alike. Class. Caste. Pariahs. Untouchables. Poverty on a scale unimaginable to us, horrible exploitation, human misery on a scale we can hardly contemplate.

BB: Now India is a "Democracy." China is not. China has changed. India has not. India is a disaster area. China is thriving, it's people have decent housing, health care, education, they are poor, certainly, but not starving, not desperate, not degraded not exploited. And Russia now, since its "democratization," is becoming another India.

VG: Of course the Chinese people are exploited. By the state. Which controls every detail of their lives. Over which the people have not the slightest influence. Of course they're starving, many at least are starving, or on the edge of starvation. There's just too many people, not enough resources, the commissars can't deal with it, but they want us to think they can, so they put on a happy face. What phoneys.

T: The "commissars" as you call them take responsibility for the well being of the people, which is more than I can say for the government of your United States, where simple human needs, like health care, or even a neighborhood shop in which to buy food, are left at the mercy of "market forces". Even in a poor country like Cuba, the government does the best it can to provide for the basic needs of its people.

VG: Well, if Castro is doing such a great job for "the people," and they love him so much, why can't he trust them enough to hold free elections?

S: Elections in Cuba would be controlled by American money, any thinking person knows that. Castro would lose, and so would Cuba, which would become like Russia is now -- corrupted and degraded -- exploited by the Robber Barons.


T: Look, if you really want to do something, you can. You can contribute to a fund that's been set up to help the poorest of the poor in the Phillipines. You can write a check.

VG: Well, OK, this sounds like a good cause. I can give you some cash, sure. [digs into his pocket]

S: And you can sign this petition, on behalf of working people all over the world, a pledge to help in the fight against exploitation . . .

VG: A petition? What do you mean? Let me see it. [she hands it to him] No. I'd rather not sign. Leave my name out of it, OK? I don't want my name mentioned.

[All freeze. Voices are heard over the loudspeaker system, presenting a news report, an interview (from a report broadcast originally on PBS).]

:Interviewer: I am here with Pavel Voshanov, formerly press secretary of Boris Yeltsin. Mr. Voshanov, when we met a few months ago, you said that in many ways Russia has ended up just where it began. Can you describe those ways to me?

(to be continued . . . )

No comments:

Post a Comment

Add to Technorati Favorites