I am a Communist, not an Idiot

1. “The trouble with intellectuals is that what starts as feelings ends in a hangover.”

Bertolt Brecht to Edwin Piscator

2. When Walter Benjamin asked Brecht, who was fleeing the Nazis, if he’d take refuge in Moscow, Brecht is supposed to have replied: “I am a Communist, not an idiot.”

3. In 1945, just after he had retired from UCLA with a meager pension, Arnold Schoenberg applied for a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation. He was rejected.

H/t this essay by George Steiner.


  1. neffer February 15, 2015 at 6:53 pm | #

    While I have no expertise about Brecht, I do recall that he ended up living in East Germany. I cannot imagine a sane person – other than an idiot – voluntarily moving there. So, perhaps he lost his mind, later in life.

    • s. wallerstein February 15, 2015 at 8:57 pm | #


      You’d be surprised. Chilean exiles from the Pinochet dictatorship went to East Germany and some of them liked it. They had good, free quality healthcare. dentist and other social benefits, which people value a lot, especially if they don’t have money enough to pay for them in capitalist society.

      • realthog February 15, 2015 at 11:26 pm | #

        Good point.

      • Byju V February 15, 2015 at 11:42 pm | #


    • J. Otto Pohl February 16, 2015 at 6:56 am | #

      The DDR had a considerably higher material standard of living than the USSR. Also while the Stasi was repressive it was orders of magnitude less so than Stalin’s NKVD. In short the DDR was authoritarian, but did not suffer from the extreme shortages and mass brutality of the USSR especially during the 1930s.

  2. Chris February 15, 2015 at 10:06 pm | #

    “Sane” and “not an idiot” do not mean “person with the same value system as me”

  3. realthog February 15, 2015 at 11:28 pm | #

    That Schoenberg datum is a blinder. It’s like the Decca exec telling the Beatles that four-groups were out.

  4. uh...clem February 16, 2015 at 1:35 am | #

    I’m pretty sure that Brecht went to E. Germany (Berlin) mainly because the state offered him a theatre of his own with full artistic control. And they must have thought it was a feather in their cap. But, then, his theatre fell victim to the cold war in terms of popular acceptance in the west. After all, Berlin was the home of the avant garde during the Weimar Republic and reached heights of artistic expression which the Paris of that time could only dream of. Alas, Berlin.

  5. BillR February 16, 2015 at 9:36 am | #

    Brecht led a comfortable existence in East Germany. He had a convertible, vacationed in neighboring countries (Switzerland) and could have left had he wanted to. ‘The Solution’ was written in response to the uprising of 1952, although I don’t think it was published in his lifetime:

    After the uprising of the 17th June
    The Secretary of the Writers Union
    Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
    Stating that the people
    Had forfeited the confidence of the government
    And could win it back only
    By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
    In that case for the government
    To dissolve the people
    And elect another?

    • uh...clem February 16, 2015 at 8:00 pm | #

      In a jab at some other “idiots” (those in his own Communist movement) Brecht (as “Mr. Keuner”) asks, “I’ve noticed that we put many people off our teaching because we have an answer to everything. Could we not, in the interests of propaganda, draw up a list of the questions that appear to us as completely unresolved?” His irony here is palpable, even moreso than the idea above of the state dissolving the people and electing another.

Leave a Reply