Anatoly Lunacharsky 1932
Written: 22 March 1932 (corrected script of a report read on March 22, 1932 at the House of the Unions at an evening dedicated to the centenary of Goethe’s death.
First published: 1932 in Literary Heritage, volume 4-6
Source: Lunacharsky Archive
Translated by: Anton P.
The development of capitalism in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries, the rise of the bourgeoisie, the invasion of the world historical arena by this new class with a clear desire to take power into its own hands caused a number of phenomena not only of economic and political, but also of cultural and ideological nature.
England was the first to embark on the path of bourgeois development. In England, earlier than in other countries, there was a grandiose social explosion. And this era put forward in it a number of brilliant, brilliant researchers and poets – Bacon, Shakespeare, Milton, Hobbes and other thinkers, who reached unusually radical forms of crushing all the foundations of the previous society. A little later, France, in the footsteps of England, entered the same road and, preparing its Great Revolution, put forward a galaxy of amazing people whom the bourgeoisie could be proud of if it had not later renounced the best that was in their teaching. Here we see Voltaire’s corroding mockery, and the grandiose heart-warming, romantic rebellion of Rousseau against all the foundations of civilization and class order in the field of feelings, and a group of encyclopedists who, shaking with crushing blows the entire building of the old culture, laid the foundation for a new world outlook and a new society, recognized as “rational” and “normal”.
But if in England and France of the epoch of the bourgeois revolution there was no shortage of thinkers and poets, then the center of the movement of the bourgeoisie still belonged to politicians-practitioners. In these countries we have a “plebeian”, in the words of Marx, manner of completing the movement of the bourgeoisie: the heads of the kings were chopped off, the old aristocracy was dispersed, the internal boundaries between estates and principalities were erased, the laws were changed and the foundations of bourgeois democracy were laid with tremendous determination and consistency.
A wave of counter-revolution later tried to destroy what had been won, but nevertheless deep traces of the first bourgeois conquests remained, and the entire character of the further development of Europe depended on these grandiose events.
Things were different in Germany. In his remarkable book on the history of German philosophy and religion, Heine was the first to note this peculiarity with extraordinary sensitivity.
By the time a young bourgeois culture was rapidly developing in the West, Germany already had a certain stratum of the bourgeoisie and a group of bourgeois intellectuals who could not remain alien to what was being done outside Germany. But it was still a backward country. The German bourgeoisie did not have any significant masses who could support their leaders. And Heine notes with amazing insight that in Germany, deprived from the very beginning of the opportunity to act practically, the process of sublimation begins. Social activity, which is not expressed in action, is refracted into fantasy, into artistic images that are transmitted in music, books and paintings, into wonderful patterns of all kinds of ideological positions. This, too, is the creation of bourgeois culture, this also lays the foundation for the struggle against the old order, against old ideas, but this struggle is waged only with words, ideological weapons. German thinkers of that time were characterized by a distrust of immediate activity, of practical work as such. They are inclined to understand the very essence of the world, to understand the very essence of man in an idealistic way – the work of fantasy, intense thought is especially dear to them, it is through it that they lived.
Can we conclude from this that if in Germany the young bourgeoisie turned out to be weaker and more disorganized than anywhere else, then in its own field, in the field of ideology, it scored irreproachably brilliant successes? No, the matter is not so simple; the point is not only that Germany turned out to be a country of “thinkers and poets” and not a country of fighters and action.
When I noted the idealism inherent in the self-consciousness of German thinkers, I pointed out a thing that was unhealthy from our point of view, from the point of view of the proletariat, but not only that: the ideologists of the German bourgeoisie could not develop freely in general, even in the area in which activities were available to them – even their artistic creations are infected with the spirit of a certain backwardness, remain captive to the order that existed in Germany and differed greatly from the order that existed in other Western European countries.
Engels, in his article The Position of Germany, writes about the German bourgeoisie: By uniting with the people, they could overthrow the old government and rebuild the empire, as the English middle classes did in part between 1640 and 1688. and as the French bourgeoisie did at that time. But the middle classes of Germany have never possessed such energy, never claimed such courage; they knew that Germany was only a dung heap, but they felt good in this mud, because they themselves were dung and felt themselves warm, surrounded by dung. And further: It was one rotting and decaying mass. Nobody felt good. Crafts, trade, industry and agriculture were reduced to the most insignificant proportions. Peasants, traders and artisans experienced a double oppression: a bloodthirsty government and a poor state of commerce. The nobility and princes found that their income, despite the fact that they squeezed everything from their subordinates, should not lag behind their growing expenses. Everything was bad, and general discontent prevailed in the country. There was no education, no means of influencing the minds of the masses, no freedom of the press, no public opinion, no significant trade with other countries; everywhere there is only abomination and selfishness; all the people were imbued with a low, servile, vile huckster’s spirit. Everything was rotten, hesitated, was about to collapse.
The only hope for better times was seen in literature. This shameful political and social era was at the same time the great era of German literature. Around 1750, all the great minds of Germany were born: the poets Goethe and Schiller, the philosophers Kant and Fichte, and twenty years later, the last great German metaphysician Hegel. Every remarkable work of this era is imbued with a spirit of protest, indignation against the entire German society of that time. Goethe wrote Goetz von Berlichingen, a dramatic eulogy to the memory of the revolutionary. Schiller wrote The Robbers praising the generous young man who has declared open war on the whole of society. But these were their youthful works. Over the years, they lost all hope. Goethe limited himself to the most daring satyrs, and Schiller would have fallen into despair if he had not found refuge in science, especially in the great history of ancient Greece and Rome. By them you can judge everyone else. Even the best and strongest minds of the people have lost all hope for the future of their country.
Here is a general description of the position of these great men, among whom Goethe was the greatest.
Lenin taught us that there are two paths to the development of capitalism: the American path of development is the most decisive path in which capitalism flourishes rapidly and is able to mobilize large masses, sweeping all the rot of the past from its path, and another path, which was fatal for Goethe. Lenin called the Prussian path – characterized by the fact that the pressure of the growing bourgeoisie cannot destroy the dirty dams of feudalism and seeps through them somehow, the bourgeoisie does not have the masses who are able to wage a civil war with those who hinder the development of society, and as a result leaders, even the best, even the most perspicacious, the noblest, are forced to compromise with the ruling class; the clergy and nobility remain at the head of society, while the bourgeoisie, content with individual concessions, adapts, supports them. Goethe can also be called a victim of this path. His immense fame testifies to the fact that he did not become a victim in the end.
We know what the mature bourgeoisie brought with it to mankind and what the overripe bourgeoisie brings with it now – there is little good in this. But at the beginning of the movement, the thinkers of the young bourgeoisie, as Engels correctly noted, sometimes even jumped beyond the boundaries of the interests of their class. It is in the interests of their class, wishing to attract the sympathy of huge masses to it, that they say that the cause for which they are fighting is the “people”, that the life of people in the old regime is the accumulation of stupidity, that history until this day was nonsense, but that it will be so until the primacy of reason is proclaimed, when everything begins to illuminate the mind, everything will change and all torment will go into the past. True, with its further development, the victorious bourgeoisie by no means fulfills the promises of its bold thinkers. It is not the thinkers who come to the fore now, not poets or even politicians, but those who are the basis of the bourgeoisie – industrialists, merchants, and later bankers. They develop to astonishing limits the exact science and the technique, which is grandiose in scope, based on it. But at the same time, as Marx says, they unfold a cynical, naked mercantile spirit, they banish all traces of the past revolutionary romanticism, openly raise the question of a lord and, moving along the road of accumulating more and more wealth, ruthlessly trample human beings. The exploiting essence of the bourgeoisie is becoming more and more evident, and at the same time the antipode of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, is growing. The bourgeoisie is betraying its old ideals. It replaces the red banner with a pink one, then a pink one with an orange one, and finally comes to a black reaction. It goes farther and farther backwards and again stretches out its hand to the nobles and priests. Now these latter are not the gentlemen who enjoy the support of the bourgeoisie; now the bourgeoisie is the master, resorting to the support of the classes that have lost their primacy. But all this creates in the imperialist world approximately the same reactionary mishmash that we see at the beginning of capitalism, which develops along the Prussian path. Now these sufferings appear from the overmaturity of capitalism, and then their reason was its immaturity, the slow pace of its development, imposing a stamp of painful inhibition on the creativity and life of thinkers.
All the features of the beginning of the Prussian path of development of bourgeois society to the greatest extent affected Goethe. There was not a single thinker, not a single poet of that time who with such force experienced the young, creative bourgeois principle, the spring of a new class, like Goethe.
A brilliant illumination of Goethe’s personality in its internal contradiction was made by Engels in his article German Socialism in Verse and Prose: In his works, Goethe has a dual attitude towards the German society of his time. He is hostile to it; it is repugnant to him, and he tries to escape from it, as in “Iphigenia” and in general during the Italian journey; he rebelled against it, like Goetz, Prometheus and Faust, showered it with the bitter mockery of Mephistopheles. Or, on the contrary, he makes friends with it, makes peace with it, as in most of his “Tame Xenia” and in many prose works, glorifies it, as in “Masquerade”, protects it from the historical movement pressing on it, especially in all his works, where he talks about the French Revolution. The point is not that Goethe supposedly recognizes only certain aspects of German life, in contrast to other aspects that are hostile to him. Often this is only a manifestation of his various moods; there is a constant struggle between the genius poet, to whom the squalor of his environment inspired disgust, and the cautious son of a Frankfurt patrician, or a Weimar secret adviser, who sees himself compelled to conclude a truce with it and get used to it. So Goethe is now colossally great, now petty, now he is a recalcitrant, mocking genius despising the world, now a cautious, contented, narrow philistine. And Goethe was unable to overcome the German squalor; on the contrary, it conquers him; and this victory of misery (misere) over the greatest German is the best proof that it cannot be defeated “from within” at all. Goethe was too universal, too active in nature, too flesh to seek salvation from squalor in Schiller’s flight to the Kantian ideal; he was too shrewd not to see that this flight ultimately amounted to a substitution of grandiloquent squalor for flat squalor. His temperament, his strength, all his spiritual direction pushed him towards practical life, and the practical life that surrounded him was pitiful. Goethe was constantly confronted with this dilemma: to exist in a living environment that he had to despise and yet be chained to it as the only one in which he could act. The older he got, the more the mighty poet, de guerre lasse, receded before the minor Weimar minister. We do not reproach Goethe, as Boerne and Menzel do, for the fact that he was not liberal, but for the fact that at times he could be a philistine; we do not reproach him for the fact that he was not capable of enthusiasm in the name of German freedom, but for the fact that he sacrificed his aesthetic feeling to the philistine fear of every great modern historical movement; not for the fact that he was a courtier, but for the fact that at the time when Napoleon was cleaning the huge Augean stables of Germany, he could with solemn seriousness deal with the most insignificant deeds and menus plaisirs of the most insignificant German court. In general, we do not make reproaches either from a moral or from a party point of view, but perhaps only from an aesthetic and historical point of view; we do not measure Goethe on a moral, political or “human” scale. We cannot imagine Goethe here in connection with his entire era, with his literary predecessors and contemporaries in his development and in life. We therefore confine ourselves to stating a fact.
But if Goethe was so polluted both aesthetically and in everyday life and politically, if he was so immensely captured by prejudices, then should we not say to the bourgeoisie: Goethe is yours, we have nothing to do with him, bury him, as you wish – let the dead bury the dead, and Goethe belongs to your world, the world of the dead?
Engels did not look at Goethe that way; he not only unconditionally calls Goethe the greatest of Germans, but, since this article was written against Gruen, against the philistine praise of Goethe, Engels adds: If we considered Goethe only from one side, then this is exclusively the fault of Herr Gruen. He does not at all portray Goethe in terms of his greatness. He is in a hurry to slip past everything in which Goethe is really great and brilliant.
In various places Engels points directly to the greatest achievements of Goethe. For example, Engels, in his article The Position of England, speaking about Carlyle, simultaneously speaks about Goethe: Goethe was reluctant to deal with “God,” he says, from this word he felt uncomfortable; he felt at home only in the human, and this humanity, this liberation of art from the shackles of religion, is precisely the greatness of Goethe. In this respect, neither the ancients nor Shakespeare can compare with him. But this perfect humanity, this overcoming of religious dualism, can be grasped in all its historical significance only by those who are not alien to the other side of German national development – philosophy. What Goethe could only express directly, that is, in a certain sense “prophetically”, is now developed and proven in the latest German philosophy.
No, in no case can we say to the bourgeoisie: Goethe is yours. Goethe belongs not only to the bourgeoisie, he in some way belongs to us.
How did this man develop and what did he bring with him? Here, like a lighthouse, the characteristic given by Engels shines.
What is this Sturm und Drang of young Goethe? All who saw Goethe in a circle of agitated young people who were disgusted by the surrounding squalor, who no longer wanted to live in a stinking darkness, who wanted to reveal, perhaps, not entirely clear dreams and realize them in life, all those who saw Goethe in a circle of these people, they speak of him as a brilliant phenomenon among secondary phenomena. He was a man physically, morally and mentally gifted to such an extent that everyone who approached him noted his exclusivity and remained fascinated by him.
On behalf of his generation, which called itself the generation of geniuses, Goethe, a true genius, posed a gigantic task for himself and for others. This task was not political, but purely individual: to develop all the possibilities hidden in a person.
This is the criterion by which it is possible to compare different social systems, orders and structures. Marx says that the social system is higher, which makes it possible to maximize all the possibilities inherent in man. Marx understands this in the most democratic way: the possibilities inherent in every person are inherent in all of humanity. For Goethe, perhaps this thought had a more aristocratic connotation, but not so much as to make it completely distant from the one expressed by Marx.
At the time of his eagle youth, in all the fullness of his energy, Goethe says that nothing excites him more than the church chant Veni, Spiritus, creator (Come, creative spirit): I know that this is not an appeal to God, this is an appeal to a person and especially to that person who is gifted with creativity; a creatively gifted person is a leader, an organizer. And a little later, Goethe says:
Why did I yearn to find the way to go
If not to brothers afterwards to show?
Perhaps Goethe knew Kant’s definition of genius. For him, genius realizes everything as something natural, arising from his own individual essence, but what he realizes becomes an example and a law for others. We, possessing a Marxist analysis, can say that geniuses – deeply gifted people – form earlier than their class as a whole, what it needs, and their thoughts spread at lightning speed, become an instrument of self-knowledge of the masses. That was Marx, that was Lenin, and Goethe wanted to be that. But there was no class in Germany that could support him. Goethe felt very well that in the era preceding the French Revolution, the ideal was not destined to be realized, so that society would not interfere, but would help the development of a creatively perfect personality. He even has a presentiment that such outstanding personalities will certainly be defeated, will fall victims. He creates Prometheus, Mahomet and finally Werther – works that are, as it were, a recognition of the almost obsessive thought that there is no other way out of this catastrophe than death.
Everything in you sounds, and everything in you trembles,
And feelings are darkened, and it seems to you – you proceed and you don’t,
And everything around you is spinning in the night
And you are more and more in your inherent feeling
You embrace the whole world – then a person dies.
Death turns out to be enlightenment, death turns out to be the apotheosis. Why? What is this, mysticism? No, this is not mysticism. If from the greatest bourgeois poet Shakespeare, Goethe learned to a large extent such an understanding of life that it is not important to be happy, it is not important to be a winner, it is important to be great, it is important to live with such feelings, thoughts, to meet in life and create such events in it, oh which one could say: this is genuine life, full of activity, the greatest energy – then from another bourgeois thinker, from Spinoza, Goethe learned the knowledge of nature.
For Goethe, nature was everything, a single whole in which all parts are connected in some harmony. But more than Spinoza, Goethe had the idea that this “everything” is constantly being improved, that the processes that take place in the world make sense, because this matter, which has infinite possibilities and realizes them in its contradictory development through the action of separate parts on each other, constantly moves forward, to the better, to its highest development. This idea of development was generally at the heart of German idealism. And besides, Goethe assimilated matter as an unusually gifted artist; it was for him a combination of colors, sounds, smells, efficiency, pleasures, that is, it spoke to him through the unusually bright fabric of the most lively experiences. And he felt that being part of this whole was wonderful. He was perfectly aware that it is wild and ridiculous to oppose oneself as a part of the whole, one’s personality to this enormous light, this self-contained matter. But how to achieve this whole, how to break through to this whole through society, through that German society, which Engels spoke of as a rotting dung heap? It is impossible to break through, and Goethe is ready to admit the thought that there is no other gateway to nature as soon as death. In Ibsen’s Peer Gynt there is such an image: a man meets the Smelter, and the Smelter says: I collect buttons that have no loops and throw them back into the crucible, that is, people who are not needed for anything, death throws back into the flow of matter, because it is necessary to take into the alteration what has failed. And Goethe is a diamond button, and it has a magnificent loop, but there is nowhere to sew it; the caftan is useless. Therefore, despite the fact that it is not lower, but higher than reality, he longs for death. He himself did not die. He wrote only Werther – a thing that exposed the idea of death that shook the world and plunged many into the ranks of suicides. But Goethe himself remained at a dead end, at a crossroads, not knowing what to do.
And then the nobility in the person of Duke Karl-August of Saxe-Weimar offered Goethe an alliance. A lot of inaccurate and superficial things are said about this alliance. Meanwhile, this was the greatest event in the life of Goethe, and he thought for a long time before making this decision, that is, abandoning the role of the leader of the bourgeoisie. He knew that here he would have to grovel, to be in the position of a cheerleader, an entertainer, a maitre-d’hotel, to become the main clerk of his master, in essence, an ordinary one. When he went to the nobles, people like the republican thinker and poet Klopstock stopped shaking hands with him. Goethe foresaw this, but he did not know how else to live. A force bubbled in him that pushed him to creativity, to activity, to pleasure, and the nobility told him: come to us, we will make room, we will give you a place among us, you will be von Goethe, you will have money.
Goethe leaned towards this proposal, and here is his second downfall. The first downfall, which consisted in the fact that Goethe ceased to be a revolutionary-minded leader, was, in essence, fatal. For in what was then Germany the leaders lacked the masses. Now the question was posed, how to save your own life, to save it for the future? And this was done through the well-known self-sale to the ruling class of the nobility. And here the most terrible thing happened to Goethe, as Engels says, that one fine day he woke up in the arms of people like Gruen, that he allowed himself to be passed off as one of the main pillars of the reactionary philistine order of dark Germany.
Engels says about this: “History took revenge on Goethe for the fact that he renounced her every time he found himself face to face with her, but this revenge is not the yapping of Menzel nor the narrow polemic of Boerne. No,
Just as Titania in the land of fairy magic
Found Nick Bottom in her arms,
so one morning Goethe found Herr Gruen in his arms.”
And there were a colossal number of such Gruens and such liars.
Regarding Goethe’s alliance with the nobility, they say that this elevated Goethe, that from an agitated, unbalanced youth he came to real maturity. They call him happy, his destiny is ideal. And Goethe himself said about himself to Eckermann: They say that I am a happy person, but when I look back, I see an infinite number of renunciations, an infinite number of refusals from what I wanted. I see continuous work, and only occasionally is my path illuminated by a ray that resembles happiness. And so from the very beginning to the very end.
This was said by a man eighty years old, and he was speaking the truth, because these golden chains turned out to be heavy. From the very beginning, when Goethe arrives in Weimar, he makes a farce out of his own Werther for the sake of a new environment. He goes to Frau Stein literally in training, and Frau Stein pulls out of his wings all the feathers that seem to her insufficiently courtiers. She seeks to squeeze him into the framework of an ordinary courtier, and in this court life of Goethe, it must be said, shameful pages come across.
True, Goethe was incredibly exhausted and after a while was torn from Weimar. Almost without asking permission, he travels to Italy to get some fresh air.
A great man, a great burgher, who did not live in such a burgher society in which he could breathe freely, aspires to nature and society, but to the society of the past.
In Italy, Goethe finds the great remnants of Greece and the Renaissance of the great burgher eras, eras whose art skillfully portrays beautiful people, full of self-confidence, full of pagan passion and brought back to normal in the sense that their consciousness of their strength makes them calm and majestic.
Goethe creates an artificial world around him, but modern society buzzed his ears with reminders that he needed to return to Weimar. Goethe thinks of returning with disgust.
At this time, Goethe wrote his terrifying play Torquato Tasso. This play is not terrifying because its hero, an Italian poet, goes crazy. This play is terrifying in its intention, which consists in portraying a gifted, passionate, natural person, a real person who is brought closer to the court for talent, and he suddenly dares to consider himself not only a privileged jester, but a person equal to aristocrats and fall in love with one of the princesses. For this comes thunder and lightning, for this comes complete destruction, and moral destruction, because the princess also treats the poet’s love as if a monkey had proposed to her.
But this is not the main tragedy either. In this play there is Antonio, all of whose wisdom can be perfectly put into the words of the Russian proverb: “the cobbler should stick to his last.” And so Goethe comes to the conclusion that Antonio is a sage, that he is a bearer of real morality, and Torquato Tasso is a bearer of tragic guilt. He writes this in order to prove to himself: know, Goethe, your last, do not go where it is not necessary, do not go into the reformers of society, do not dream of putting things in your own way. You must know how to renounce: that is real wisdom.
And despite the fact that Goethe took the path of compromise, when he returned to Germany, almost everyone turned away from him. At court they hissed at him for leaving Weimar and thereby showing his contempt. The feminine Frau Stein writes first a novel, and then a play against Goethe, and Brandes, one of Goethe’s biographers, says that never did a jealous woman who hated her great lover write a book so slanderous and dirty. True, friendship with Schiller, another bourgeois genius, partly supported Goethe (this is not the place to talk about Schiller, although he had a certain meaning for Goethe).
From that time on, especially after the death of Schiller, Goethe covered himself with a cloak of majestic superiority, put on an Olympian mask on his face.
Goethe at this time is surprised: where is that eagle, that genius, which, like fire, soared upward? This majestic and calm man, whose muscles will not flinch? But this is also a deceiving mask. At this time, trembling all over, Goethe says: I cannot write a tragedy. It would drive me crazy! He hears Beethoven’s sonatas, he weeps in a darkened room and becomes almost Beethoven’s enemy. He says: If such music were performed by a large orchestra, it would destroy everything around it.
Engels says that the older Goethe got, the more he turned into a narrow Geheimrat. But Engels did not know some of the documents according to which we see the forces opposing this process. Even in the gray-haired Goethe, you can find out how much strength he buried in himself and how it sometimes bubbled in him.
Here’s what we can tell about it: after the expulsion of Napoleon, a reaction began, the princes sought to deprive the people of all those conquests which they claimed as a result of the liberation war.
Goethe was shocked by this sight, for which we now have direct indication. The physician Kieser tells of an evening on December 13, 1813, which he spent with Goethe: I came to him at six o’clock in the evening. I found him alone and unusually agitated, downright inflamed. I spent two hours with him and still did not understand him well. He unfolded broad political plans and asked for my participation; I was downright frightened of him. He seemed to me like a Chinese dragon. He was angry, powerful, roaring. His eyes were full of fire, his face was flushed, words were often lacking, and he replaced them with violent gestures.
But it is impossible to get from poor Kieser what these plans were. He only says that Goethe condemned the injustices accumulated over the centuries.
However, the next day, Goethe talked to a more advanced and intelligent man, Professor Luden. Apparently plans of active protest against the prepared reaction in view of their complete impracticability were not an option for Goethe. But this time we see what made Goethe so extremely excited: Maybe you think that the great ideas of freedom, the people, the fatherland are alien to me? These ideas are part of our being. Nobody can get away from them. But here you are talking about the awakening, about the rise of my German people. You claim that he will not allow the freedom that he bought so dearly, sacrificing his wealth and life, to be snatched from his hands. But did the German people wake up? The dream was too deep, and the first shake can not bring them to their senses. Don’t ask me anymore. The foreigners’ proclamations about us, I myself find excellent. Ah, ah, a horse, a horse – half a kingdom for a horse!
But they did not give him a horse. He was given half a kingdom, “half a grand duchy” was given, but he was not given a horse to lead some great political attacks. Goethe’s Napoleonophilia, however, was noticeable to everyone. He was quite clearly aware that Napoleon was not only an enemy of the fatherland, but that he was bringing with him a higher order. Ludendorff, the “Grand Marshal”, says that Goethe should be branded for not being a French-eater enough, but it is interesting that Madame Ludendorff published a book in which she claims that all great Germans were killed by Jews or Freemasons: in particular, Schiller was poisoned by the Freemason Goethe. This stupid and dirty book was sold in cultured Germany in thirty thousand copies. Already on this one can conclude that “righteous Germany” there is far from unconditional admiration for Goethe and shows a rather strange “critical” attitude towards him.
Of course, Goethe’s politics is the weakest side of his activity. Much closer to us is Goethe the philosopher, scientist and poet. But still, for the political characterization of Goethe, one more significant addition must be made.
By the end of his life, Goethe had already begun to notice the internal contradictions that the development of bourgeois society brings with it. He deeply loved work, loved technology, loved science. It was not these strengths of the bourgeoisie that repelled him; he was repelled by the mercantile spirit and the chaos that the bourgeoisie brought with it. Therefore, he tried to draw for himself a system in which the planned principle would triumph and where free and working people would be united in a labor union. This is reflected in the last part of the great dramatic poem Faust. These famous lines are very often quoted, but it is not superfluous to cite them again, for they show how Goethe goes beyond the borders of his century:
The last result of wisdom stamps it true:
He only earns his freedom and existence,
Who daily conquers them anew.
Thus here, by dangers girt, shall glide away
Of childhood, manhood, age, the vigorous day:
And such a throng I fain would see,–
Stand on free soil among a people free
Then dared I hail the Moment fleeing:
“Ah, still delay–thou art so fair!”
The traces cannot, ot mine earthly being,
In asons perish, –they are there!–
In proud fore-feeling of such lolty bliss,
I now enjoy the highest Moment–this!
Only the one who really creatively assists people, who does not yearn for peace, but fights for the victory of life in word and deed, who resists the forces that are trying to fetter them, only he can say that he has lived his life fruitfully.
So, Goethe the thinker and Goethe the poet are much closer to us and much more important than the politician. True, even in the field of socio-political work of Goethe, the progressive burgher-citizen always affects. Nevertheless, the revolt of the young bourgeoisie against the old world is felt much more strongly in the poetry and philosophy of Goethe.
The colossal power of his music, his images, comes from the youth of the class. As a rule, those who wake up to the creativity of the advanced class have a freshness of perception; they, like Adam, call everything with new names, they create their own language, they become a reservoir of everything that a renewed person can and should perceive. And Goethe says:
Love, hate, fear, tremble,
Shudder to the core
Life can embitter
But without this it would be rubbish.
Goethe’s strength, activity, vitality do honor to the bourgeoisie, which gave birth to this eagle’s youth, but on the other hand, Goethe’s life is dishonorable to the bourgeoisie insofar as it constrained and limited his youth, and since it could never and under no circumstances fulfill the program of this youth.
As a poet, Goethe also has the ability to express what he feels with extraordinary power in images. Speaking about this, he characteristically puts suffering in the first place among all experiences: If an ordinary person falls silent in grief, then some deity gave me the strength to tell all my sufferings.
For a long time we will understand Goethe’s work, because now the time has come to understand it for real.
Above are some wonderful quotes from Engels, where he appreciates the deeply revolutionary character of Goethe’s philosophical concept.
I want to end my article with one philosophical letter from Goethe. This is one of the brightest, deepest pages that have ever been written. I cannot but share the joy that has seized me more than once these days. I feel myself in happy unanimity with close and distant, serious, active researchers. They acknowledge and assert that something unsearchable must be accepted as a prerequisite and an assumption, but that then no boundary can be set for the researcher himself; And do I have to accept myself as an assumption and a prerequisite, although I never know how I actually work? Do I not study myself incessantly, never gaining an understanding of myself and others, and nevertheless boldly moving further and further? So it is with the world: let it lie before us beginningless and endless, let the distance be boundless, impenetrable near; but this is so, and yet – let them never determine how far and how deeply the human mind is able to penetrate into its secrets and into the secrets of the world.
In this sense, I propose to accept and interpret the following cheerful lines:
“Into the inside of nature-”
Oh you philistine!
“Penetrates no created spirit.”
Only may you not remind
Me and my kind of this word
Just don’t remember!
We think: place for place
We are inside.
“Happy he, to whom she
Only shows her exterior shell.”
Nature has neither kernel nor shell,
She is all at once.
You should above all test yourself,
If you are kernel or shell.
“Happy is the one to whom she only reveals the outer shell. I have been hearing this for sixty years, I scold, but I repeat myself thousands and thousands of times: she gives everything generously and willingly; nature has neither a kernel nor a shell, it is all at once; better test it well: you yourself are a kernel or a shell.” (The words in quotation marks are from a poem by the physiologist and poet Albrecht Haller).
It is clear what a philosophical mood, belief in knowledge, belief in an unlimited human mind is ours. As soon as the bourgeoisie begins to stop in its development, to decay, it departs from a realistic, creative and vigorous worldview.
We cannot fail to be analysts, to understand carefully and critically what the centuries of the past have left us, for they almost never give anything that would be acceptable to us in an integral form. The works of past cultures contain, along with the treasures, a lot of all kinds of rubbish that we must discard and separate. This is what we are doing now with Goethe. And we see that after that not only the best part remains of him, but also an essential part – that which was the most essential in Goethe himself.
They can also call Goethe an Olympian, stick all sorts of reactionary labels to Goethe’s forehead, but against them the voice of the proletariat is already rising, which is building a new world and which is arranging its own terrible judgment over the exploiting society and its culture.
Yes, the social revolution, which, as Marx said, may last for tens of years, is a terrible judgment, and not only because this revolution overthrows the enemies of the people in the social struggle, but because it is a judgment on the living and the dead.
Those who worked in former times, those prophets of our movement, who stood facing the rising sun that illuminate us now, are passing before the judgment of the proletariat, which is building a new life.
Before the court of the proletariat are representatives of other classes who have stepped over the boundaries of their class consciousness, created programs that this class could not fulfill and which another class is destined to fulfill.
As on the great fresco of Michelangelo stands the mighty figure of the proletarian, who overthrows what was considered great – here are the fragments of royal crowns, bankers’ gold, false laurels, etc., and on the other side those rise, the memory of which will not be erased for centuries.
This proletarian, political, cultural and artistic court addresses Goethe as follows: You must take off your gilded Saxe-Weimar livery, your mask of Olympic serenity must melt, because we know that beneath it lies a great man and a great sufferer. Leave what is imposed on you by the squalor of your time: you yourself know that from this you will only become better, much higher and much brighter. Enter eternity with those who contributed to the real rise of human society.
This is the meaning of the words of our teachers: the proletariat is the faithful heir of the great thinkers and great classical poets of young Germany, and among them, of the one who may be the greatest – Johann-Wolfgang Goethe.