Lukacs and Brecht

Lukacs and Brecht

Lukacs and Brecht

Lukacs and Brecht

Synopsis

David Pike traces the evolution of interrelated political and literary theoretical currents in the Soviet Union from the early 1930s to the late 1940s and places the writings of Georg Lukacs and Bertolt Brecht within that context. Lukacs' ideas are examined in order to define the derivative nature of his political stance and to ascertain its influence upon the formation of his aesthetic. Pike then explores the cause of Brecht's clash with German and Soviet Stalinists over their decreed aesthetic principles before dealing with his political outlook and its correspondence with standard Soviet assumptions.

The link between the two men lies in their practice of viewing reality through the prism of a rigid political dogma. This persistent inclination led to theorietical rationalizations that were incapable of acknowledging the evolving pattern of Stalinist atrocities or that classified these atrocities as historical necessity, and it likewise distorted each man's view of fascism.

An additional dimension to this fascination with an exclusive political dogma is that Brecht's tendency to indulge in the Stalinist mystique was not tempered in the least by his Western European or American experience. In fact, his perceptions of Western democracy only drove him further away from any acceptance or appreciation of traditional democratic values. Lukacs, by contrast, chose Soviet exile. There he had little chance to pursue insights into political or aesthetic theory which were meaningfully independent of the dogmas emerging around him. Ironically, Lukacs drifted so far in the opposite direction that he helped work out doctrinal ideas characteristic of fully developed Stalinism.

Pike examines another set of parallels and divergences in the realm of aesthetic theory. Whereas Lukacs literary ideas were never incompatible with the political dogma of Stalinism, the political orthodoxy that Brecht shared with Lukacs contributed to an entirely different aesthetic theory and literary practice, one differing radically from Lukacs' views and from the socialist realism of the Soviet cultural establishment.

Originally published in 1985.

Excerpt

The demands made by the German Communist party (KPD) upon its intellectuals underwent a sweeping revision during the bolshevization of the party in the twenties. the kpd had no compelling reason any more to call upon the intellectuals for theoretical analyses of current events because ideology and its translation into political action was no longer the preponderant issue by the end of the decade. Policies having increasingly little to do with pristine doctrine were prescribed to the kpd by the Communist International in accordance with Soviet state interests as Stalin defined them, and the German Communists now counted upon their intellectuals to come up with the ideological rationalization for these largely imposed political programs. Theoretical discussion and inner-party criticism degenerated largely into haggling over comparatively irrelevant doctrinal fine points already so constricted by calcified obsessions with "right" and "left" deviations that meaningful debate was out of the question. Conflicts and scandals within the party went on, but this kind of discord, though those involved invariably couched their arguments in doctrinal terms, often arose only because select political functionaries had already been marked as targets after having lost a behind- the-scenes fight over some strategical-tactical issue. To add to the confusion, disagreements of this sort were often so snarled in private animosities that it was impossible to tell quarrels based on genuine policy differences from controversies originating in personal feuds and rivalries.

In this entire process, most of the party's original intellectuals lost any hope of influencing policy based on their notion of correct theory. Now they were expected to slip into a new role as apologists responsible for thinking up the ideological phrases legitimizing the current line. in the face of this challenge to the qualities that made them intellectuals in the first . . .

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