Saturday, August 10, 2019

Mocking Hitlerism (2012)

Theatre Review from the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, written in 1941 and first staged in 1958 was recently revived at the Chichester Theatre with a mesmerising performance by Henry Goodman as Ui.

Brecht’s play is an extended metaphor for the rise to power of Hitler with the aim that ‘the great political criminals must be completely stripped bare and exposed to ridicule,’ and to show that it was ‘resistible’. The crisis in capitalism, the support of industrial capitalism, and the failure of bourgeois liberal democracy contributed to the rise to power of the Nazis.

Brecht recasts Hitler’s rise in terms of a small-time gangster’s takeover of the greengrocery trade in Chicago (Germany), and all the major figures are featured: Dogsborough (President Hindenburg) and Hitler’s henchmen Giri, Givola, and Roma (Goering, Goebbels, and Roehm). The Warehouse Fire of scene 7 is the Reichstag Fire; a St Valentine’s Day Massacre in scene 11 is the 1934 ‘Night of the Long Knives’; and the Dock Aid Scandal of scenes 1-4 is the real-life ‘Osthilfeskandal’ (East Aid scandal).

East Aid was the ‘Weimar’ Republic’s financial support programme to heavily mortgaged Junker estates in East Prussia. This was at the same time as stringent economic and deflationary policies, 30% unemployment, and the DANAT bank collapse.  The East Aid became a major scandal in January 1933 when it was discovered the Junkers had spent the money on luxuries and weakened the position of President Hindenburg, which in turn led to pressure from the capitalist class to appoint Hitler as Chancellor.

In 1927, Baron Von Oldenburg-Januschau, a friend and neighbour of Hindenburg, got up a subscription from industrial capitalists to buy the President the highly indebted former family estate of Neudeck (the country house of Dogsborough in scene 4).  To avoid inheritance taxes, the estate was put in the name of son and heir, Colonel Oskar Von Hindenburg.  This scandal came to light at the same time as East Aid.

These scandals prompt Ui in scene 4 to declaim: ‘Say, that’s corrupt!’

Brecht shows the capitalist class helping Hitler come to power (‘in den sattle heben’ – lifting Hitler into the saddle).  Hitler courted the capitalists in his 1932 speech to the Industry Club in Düsseldorf.  The Nazis offered the capitalist class reforms to capitalism by crushing organised trade unions and ‘Bolshevism’, developing economic autarky, and rearmament as a prelude to the search for ‘lebensraum’ and markets and raw materials for the capitalist class.  

Brecht’s aesthetics and Epic Theatre were influenced by Karl Korsch who emphasised Marxism as heir to Hegel. Brecht referred to Korsch as ‘my Marxist Teacher’.

There is a powerful speech in scene 9 directed at the Nazis: ‘Help! Help! Don’t run away. Who’ll testify? They gun us down like rabbits. Won’t anybody help? You murderers! Fiend! Monster! Shit! You’d make an honest piece of shit cry out…’

In the epilogue Brecht warns: ‘though the bastard is dead, the bitch that bore him is again in heat.’
Steve Clayton

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