Bert Brecht: Minstrel of the GPU

Ozleft ozleft at
Thu Aug 14 09:26:01 MDT 2003

New on Ozleft

Bert Brecht, the minstrel of the GPU, by Ruth Fischer


By Bob Gould

The 75th anniversary of the first performance of Bertolt Brecht's The
Threepenny Opera occurred recently. Over the past few years there have been
several major critical biographies of Brecht, and studies of his
relationship with his female artistic collaborators.

There is no question that Brecht was one of the two or three most
influential playwrights of the 20th century, and his artistic influence has
been generally progressive. Nevertheless, his work includes a hard Stalinist
aspect, which, for instance in the 1970s, made a kind of romantic Stalinism
acceptable to some intellectuals and students.

The play Ruth Fischer discusses below is better known in English as The
Measures Taken, and is still in print in the comprehensive Methuen library
of Brecht plays.

Fischer's book, Stalin and German Communism, is of great historical
interest, particularly to people who may have followed the discussion of the
notion of Zinovievism on the Marxmail list.

Fischer was a witness to the complex and contradictory development of German
Communism, the Comintern and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from
the early 1920s through to the total Stalinisation at the end of the 1920s.
Her book is obviously a primary source for discussion of the phenomenon of
Zinovievism, taken up more recently by Louis Proyect and others. (See The
Comintern and the German Communist Party )

The book's obvious weakness is that it is written, to some extent, in
self-justification, and by the time Fischer wrote it her experiences had
shifted her to a literate anti-communism. The experiences of Fischer and
others like her, however, must be considered in their historical context. A
very large number of German Communists perished at the hands of Stalin or

For instance, Heinz Neumann, one of the protagonists in Fischer's book, was
killed in the Soviet Union. His wife, Marguerite Buber-Neumann, the niece of
the well-known philosopher Martin Buber, was first imprisoned in Stalin's
gulag and then handed over to Hitler along with 300 other opposition German
socialists and communists as a result of the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1940.

Marguerite Buber survived Dachau concentration camp and lived to write a
rather sobering autobiography, including her experiences under two
dictators. It gives pause for thought that the 300 German Communists (at
least the non-Jewish ones among them) handed over to Hitler turned out to be
the lucky ones. They were locked up in non-extermination camps such as
Dachau. The Nazis didn't have a policy of total extermination of "Aryan"
Communists, just their locking up and so-called Nazi re-education.

By way of contrast, the hundreds of thousands of Russian Communists and the
thousands of non-Russian Communists had an enormously high rate of execution
and death from privation. The survival rate of German Communists in Hitler's
camps was higher, which is a macabre and sobering fact.

Another member of this group was Arthur Koestler's Austrian Communist
scientist relative, Alex Weissberg, who was arrested and imprisoned in 1936
in the USSR and only released after a very widely publicised campaign by
Koestler in 1952.

The shift of surviving German Communists such as Ruth Fischer to the right
in the post-war period has to be considered against the disastrous backdrop
of the time.


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