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25/01/2008

Karl Radek on Fallada (1934)

In this excerpts, communist leader Karl Radek gave his view on “fascism and litterature” and try to disclose wether Hans Fallada, this “very talented German writer” can be labelled as fascist or not. See below for the answer!
Full transcription can be found at Marxists Internet archive (error excepted, there is no translation in French available on the web so far).
Alain C. (jan 2008)

 



Soviet Writers Congress 1934
Karl Radek
Contemporary World Literature and
the Tasks of Proletarian Art
[excerpts]

 



Speech: delivered in August 1934.
Source: Gorky, Radek, Bukharin, Zhdanov and others, Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934, pp.73-182, Lawrence & Wishart, 1977;
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2004;
Transcribed by: Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive.

 



[….]
5. Fascism and Literature
We, the Congress of Soviet Writers, stretch out the hand of brotherhood to all writers who are on the Way to us, however far from us they may be as yet, if only we see in them the will and the desire to help the working class in its struggle, to help the Soviet Union. We tell them: The best help you can render us is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the working class in your own countries, with its revolutionary minority, ready to struggle against all those dangers which have banished the sleep from your eyes, which have dispelled your aesthetic quiet. Writers who do not grasp this fact will inevitably land up in the camp of fascism, and it is therefore of supreme importance that we and you should jointly consider the question: What does fascism mean for literature? Our revolutionary writers have a great task before them – that of studying, fully and specifically, the fate of literature under the rule of fascism. Occupied as we are with the political struggle first and foremost, we have not devoted enough time and attention to this task; nevertheless, the history of the fate of literature under the fascist sceptre constitutes the very gravest warning, the “writing on the wall” for all writers.
Writers should ask themselves – and should answer the question – what does fascism mean for culture, for literature? I will not here recount the history of the attitude taken by Italian and German fascism to the fundamental problems of science, or demonstrate the, mystical and irrational aspect, the medieval aspect of fascism. I will deal only with the question of its attitude to literature – You will remember how all world literature set up a howl when it learned of the views on literature held by the Marxists, by the Bolsheviks, who assert that literature is a social weapon, that it expresses the struggle of classes. To the aesthetes, to the representatives of world literature, this seemed a monstrous invention of the Bolsheviks. Our conception of writers who ought to serve the cause of the oppressed classes in their struggle seemed to these aesthetes to he a blasphemous abasement of literature from the intellectual heights of art to the post of handmaiden of history. The fascists, as represented by their theoreticians and leaders of art, say: “There can be no literature standing aloof from the struggle. Either you go with us or against us. If you side with us, then write from the viewpoint of our philosophy; and if you do not side with us, then your place is in the concentration camp.” Göbbels has said this hundreds of times. Rosenherg has proclaimed this hundreds of times.
There is a very talented German writer, Hans Fallada, whose book, Little Man, What Now?, is well-known in our country. Hans Fallada splendidly portrays the sufferings of the masses in bourgeois society, shows how they are duped by the representatives of capitalism, by the representatives of bourgeois democracy. He has depicted the Social-Democrats, the fascists.. But many have found it difficult to determine whether he is for the fascists or against them. The chief figure in his book is an honest little office worker whom the crisis has thrown out on the street, a man who can only just keep body – and soul – together and has no strength left to fight.
Hans Fallada has now written a new novel, Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frisst. The hero of this novel is a “fallen” petty bourgeois who has landed in jail and served a sentence of five years. He tries to get on his feet again, to live like an honest citizen, but the bureaucratic bourgeois machine of capitalism drags him back to prison. And when this hero finally lands up once again in jail, he feels as though he had returned to his own mother. Now he has a sentence of fifteen years before him, but there is no more need for him to struggle ...
This is a very talented book, but a hopeless one. It appeared when Hitler had already come to power. In his foreword Hans Fallada writes that the picture he has drawn refers to the past, that the fascists will create new conditions. He decided in this way to save both the book and himself, pretending that he was speaking only of the past.
But how did the fascists answer this? The Berlin Börsenzeitung published a fulminating article of the following content:
“We know that Hans Fallada did not write this book against us. Let him just try! But whom did he defend in this book? He wrote it in defence of failures, of those whom history has ground to powder. He awakens pity for those who must be removed from life in order to leave room for Storm Troopers with muscles and revolvers in their hands.”
Fascism, which betrays the interests of the petty bourgeoisie, knows that when people read this book, showing as it does how capitalism has. ground the petty bourgeoisie to powder under the democratic system, they will say: “Under the fascists it’s not better but worse.” And the fascists. demand of the writer: “You draw us a picture showing how under fascism everybody is advancing, developing and prospering. Don’t you dare to awaken pity for those whom capitalism grinds to powder.”
We do not know what the little man, Hans Fallada, will say, what his fate will be now, where he will hide. Fascism tells him: “There are no neutral zones. Write as we demand, or you will be destroyed.” The passages quoted above from
Bernard Shaw ’s two plays are no exception. They represent only. a more striking expression of the fact that criticism of capitalist civilization, criticism of bourgeois democracy, may become at one and the same time the first step in the artist’s evolution towards revolutionary socialism and also the first step in his evolution towards fascism. It is sufficient to mention such literary productions as Reger’s Union der festen Hand, the novels of von Salomon – to choose some examples from German literature – or to mention those works of French literature which expose parliamentary corruption, in order to see that the point at issue is the dilemma of the writer between the revolutionary solution of the crisis of capitalism and the fascist pseudo-solution of this crisis. It is sufficient to mention that Fallada’s books have given rise to a regular discussion as to whether they are revolutionary or fascist.
This happened at a time when fascism had already been ruling in Italy for nearly ten years, at a time when the fascist and semi-fascist governments in several countries had already disclosed the true face of fascism for all who wished to see it. And in all these novels the bridge leading to fascism was failure to appraise the role of the proletariat, reluctance to observe the beginning of its revolutionary struggle. Criticism of the results of capitalist culture has served in the past and, in the case of many petty-bourgeois writers, is still serving today as the springboard to fascism. This may happen in two ways: either the writer cherishes the illusion that fascism will effect the purification of modern civilization, that it represents a cruel medicine but still a medicine; or he may hold that there is no power which can stop the victory of fascism. Highly characteristic in this respect is the answer given by the well-known French writer, Céline, author of the much discussed novel, Journey to the End of the Night.
Céline has painted a frightful picture, not only of present-day France, but of the whole contemporary world. He looked into the abyss of war. He looked into the cesspool of colonial politics. He turned his gaze upon American “prosperity.” He penned a dismal description of the French petty bourgeoisie.
In the whole world the only human character whom he could find was a prostitute. And after all this, in answer to a questionnaire from a magazine regarding the danger of fascism, he said:
“Dictatorship? Why not! It would be good to have a look at.... Defence against fascism? You are jesting, mademoiselle! You were not in the war – this can be felt, you know, from such questions.. When a military man takes command, mademoiselle, resistance is impossible. One does not resist a dinosaur, mademoiselle. It croaks of itself, and we together with it, in its belly, mademoiselle, in its belly.”
To one who entertains such an opinion of the strength of fascism and the inevitability of its victory, struggle against it is impossible, submission unavoidable. Then the question of whether the writer, in the belly of victorious fascism, will earn his bread by blacking boots, or whether he will adapt himself to it and begin to seek. a justification for the inevitable, i.e., to serve it, is a question of secondary importance. […]