What a parliament! If there is anything in it that can inspire respect it can only be Wilhelm I's enormous marble boots standing in the middle of the hall. The old soldier, from whom a constitution had been wrung with such difficulty in his time, stands there with a disapproving look and awaits the moment when he will be allowed to drive the chattering flocks of deputies out of this house. The members of parliament peacefully swarm around his celebrated jackboots, promenading singly and in couples exactly like girls on the boulevard. From time to time their carefree crowds are parted by an elderly functionary leading a few youths clad in thick woollen stockings and hobnailed boots who have come, sweating from this act of homage, to look over the House of the German People. Screwing up their school caps, the youths servilely and bashfully eye the oaken maidens with gilt navels that hold up the ceiling, the torrents of frock-coats and those most excellent old footmen who represent, like some lofty personage writing his memoirs, the only bearers of the old parliamentary traditions. Alas, no traces and no semblance of former grandeur! Not a single major figure who can attract even the respectful hatred of all parties. Not a single man distinguished for his personal integrity or for having a few decades of untarnished political gaming behind him. When old Bebel passed through this hall his enemies would stand up and even die- hard Prussian Junkers would clumsily raise themselves out of their swampy armchairs to acknowledge his clean name; today -- no one, not one face nor one name. There in the fog of tobacco smoke is the insignificant profile of Levi, a grey, reserved face that has been trained without stage make-up to endure the curiosity of people scrutinising it with their private thoughts about the treachery that he committed. Everything is from the past, members of previous ministries thrown into convulsions by public disgust, belching states men, yesterday's men retaining for all time the stains of an indelible filth on the tails of their deputies' outfits.
By and large it is easy to pick several basic types of parliamentary fauna out of the crowd. In the first place there are those who have already been put to use, occupying ministerial posts and managing to fill in their obscure names on some international form or on one of the tearful pleas addressed to the Entente. Here are the socialists renowned for shooting down workers and cabinet members who rook on the responsibility of plundering the gold reserves of the German republic -- in short, men who have been put into mass circulation.
The pattern on the back of the cards is well-known to every regular player. Never again when a cabinet is being formed will the hand of a great card-sharp pick them up and never again will he lay out Grand Coalitions on the table. The card that has once been taken out of a player's hand and thrown back in his face, a beaten and abused card, continues to live on as a back-bencher. But his great days are past. Scattered across the Reichstag's red carpet is a great multitude of these assorted played-out hands. They continue to vote but the younger enthusiasts who have not yet lost their political virginity reach forward for the political honours. Behind the backs of the old buccaneers passing by they recall with awe and envy the sums of the hand-outs the former had received, their imaginative betrayals and their dazzling scandals. A gallery of disgraced, crumpled physiognomies that had however managed to sip from the cup of sweet power in good rime. They, the naked among the naked, walk about with no sense of shame. Among these has-beens swarms of the more mobile, stupid and persistent gather: they are the rulers of tomorrow. A whole flight of them buzzes and clusters round Breitscheid who is surrounded by the flower of political camp-followers. Just very slightly like a black market but for the most part sweet-sounding, fragrant and well modulated. Here too the pride and the adornment of the Reichstag -- almost its only woman political correspondent, a tiny black miscarriage wrapped up in the sheet of an indecent little stock exchange bulletin-- is being put to pasture. The Rights walk about as if at the races. White gaiters, spangles of glass under their arched brews and the triangle of a handkerchief against the chest. In their half of the buffer, which is completely separate from the Democratic Party's feeding-trough, they pass up and down as if in a salon where there is no risk of encountering anything ignoble. However, right alongside the aristocratic, stiff, hideous, haughty genuinely Prussian ladies who have the habit of taking their five o'clock tea amid the fug of political tittle-tattle, treading on their furs and trailing withered tails like old lizards, there also roll in the plump banking and industrial patriots who are so fat and garrulous that the pages of the black Crusader News sticking out of the right-wing deputies' pockets ought to be bent round and the crosses on them, Christian-Fascist crosses, turned right round. Alas, these are now the money bags, and the luncheons they gorge during the intervals in the performance are more copious, nourishing and expensive than those that sustain the pedigree Junkers.
At the tables of the Social-Democratic Party there are sausages, coffee and anxieties. All the Reichstag's entrances and exits have been cordoned off. The police grab every passer-by by the scruff of the neck; in the doorways stand the most senior footmen, eunuchs of the political harem who, knowing the face of each one of its legal wives and each one of its favourite concubines, check with their own hands and let through the representatives of the people. Inside, by the newspaper kiosk, there stands a jolly, strapping fellow, the Berlin Chief of Police who pins his clear searching look on every deputy's face to try to detect the criminal element. Messrs. delegates put on an open honest face and rush past him about their business. Yet, in spite of all the precautions, the communists will suddenly create some scene. A completely absurd, panic-stricken fear that Remmele will suddenly burst in, cause an affray, toss a smoke bomb in and blow up the whole Reichstag. Remmele's name is repeated like an obsession. His appearance is awaited like a coup de theatre. It is chewed over, swallowed, belched up and swallowed once more. Yet were that Remmele to appear now with even a gramophone horn or the stone NCO to give a cough from his marble stump this parliament would disperse in shame. General Seeckt knows this too and so for the moment does not make the classic knee movement, a gesture described with such marvellous vividness in Voltaire's Candide.
The game of parliament has no relation to the fate of Germany and her revolution. History, like the huge statues standing by the fountain in front of the Reichstag, has long since turned its cast-iron backside upon it.
And so they plot, bargain and battle for power.
For power. Are you laughing, General Seeckt! Or isn't it so? Power has long since left that tall house; but the tiresome, relentless, indestructible swarms of politicking philistines still gather around the greasy marks left by previous deputies' unwashed hands on the pages of the constitution. Like flies. One black, screwed up, rejected slip of paper has been left behind yet they plaster it, crawl over it and buzz round it...
The debating chamber. Someone speaks. A burst of laughter. He is answered from the right. Prolonged, jubilant laughter. Cries from the left. Hollow cynical laughter. That is the opening performance at the German Reichstag, its great day.
Berlin is starving. In the street every day people who have fainted from exhaustion are being picked up on the trams and in the queues. Starving drivers drive the trams, starving motormen urge their trains on along the infernal corridors of the underground, starving men go off to work or roam without work for days and nights around the parks and the city's outlying areas.
Starvation hangs on the buses, shutting its eyes on the spinning staircase to the upper deck while advertisements, desolation and motor horns reel past like drunks. Starvation stands guard over Wertheim's majestic counters, taking in twenty thousand million a week when a pound of bread costs roughly ten thousand million. Starvation serves fussily and attentively in the hundreds of deserted department stores that are crammed with riches, golden in the light and as clean and as respectable as the international banks. That young miss on whose pointed triangle of a face there are only bluish recesses for eyes, a little powder and an obsequious smile, points like a hunting dog to some l0-dollar boots and a 30-dollar rug. While faint with hunger she is selling herself for a penny ha'penny at the old rate and yet she can calculate with a purely German thoroughness and at lightning speed the speculator's billions and trillions, enter them in the account in that exquisite handwriting possessed by this entire nation of highly literate people; as she waits for the next round of staff cuts, she resignedly undoes her shop assistant's overall but still without daring to detach that fawning hungry smile from her face.
The walls of the huge blocks that turn their bare backs to the windows of the trains flying past are painted with advertisements in which yesterday's accumulated surplus of production exclaims and exults, gulping down sweet grease from a tin of condensed milk while giant children with round, rosy cheeks like buttocks and happy blond smiles raise lamp-post-like bars of chocolate aloft over the city. But the real, living children have stopped going to school because of hunger: the mothers take them along and ask the teacher to let them go home if they start to feel bad during lessons. For how can a small child last through the classes if it has had nothing to eat either that morning or the night before?
In the last months infant mortality has made a sudden, high leap on the black charts of German statistics. Thick tubercular spittle clings to the life of such districts as Wedding, Riksdorf and Oberschöneweide, the seats of power of AEG electricity and the motor corporations, and the scenes of the most massive lock-outs conducted under artillery cover and of the first thousands-strong meetings where in these early October days so unlike ours, German workers are learning to sing the 'Internationale'. This late European autumn that so slowly wanes and so hesitantly freezes the clear Berlin nights has carried away thousands of workers' children. At no time since the war has lobar pneumonia eaten away so many lives, spitting and coughing themselves out drop by drop in the bread queues or whiling away the hours of fever, asphyxia and starvation in the never-ending strolls of unemployment.
Unemployed! Not for weeks, not for months but for a year or even more. And with it of course, the wife, the three or four children and all the hundred and one misfortunes that burst into a man's life when he is already down, worn out and torn to shreds; sickness, incapacity for work or some involuntary weakness at the crucial moment in the wild scramble for the chance piece of bread that turns up. But however crying their need, the lowest layers of petty-bourgeois, utterly ruined and deprived of all means of subsistence, still manage to bend and to try to adapt themselves and somehow overcome the 'hard times'. They economise and hoard the money that by tomorrow will have turned into a pile of rubbish, stinting themselves in every way if only to keep up the appearance of a poor, but decent, life of toil. Living in poverty, working for absolutely nothing and yet, as they clutch at the cashier's grills from which every three days a new derisory sum is spat out, sensing the soothing silence of a fireproof safe stuffed full of the boss's money between themselves and the threatening revolution. Ready for anything if only to avoid the social revolution. Hence that handful of dictators, those lengthy discussions in the newspapers about the true badge of a dictator and those portraits of high-cheekboned, large-muzzled generals of the Wilhelmine era. The petty bourgeois is still hoping that one of the marble idiots that stand with arms presented in the Siegesallee will come to deliver the German people from left-wing anarchy and right-wing putsches and economic ruination. Although such a desperation has set in amid Germany's fine, civilised, asphalt-carpeted cities that the soul of the little clerk, the office-worker and the public official is ready to go on all fours and howl like an animal, he or she will at the last minute go not on to the streets but to the cafe. Yes, to the cafe for a thimbleful of coffee in exchange for the financial left-overs of the whole week, to bemuse his swollen, healthy anger with a damp, reeling waltz, the gilt of little bow-legged baroque tables and the illusions of tobacco smoke, saccharine and courtesans' hats.
Every one of the most humble office-workers and even of the top-grade skilled workers invariably has his own furniture in his flat, gathered over a lifetime of rigorous economising and self-denial. Several soft armchairs, rugs with the Holy Scriptures on them, a winged angel, bunches of dried grasses and always a Vertiko, a sort of truncated cabinet, that altar to middle-class cosiness on which there stands the family portraits, a statuette that is indecent when viewed from below and the wedding bouquet under a bellglass. But until such time as the usurious policy of the bourgeoisie takes the Vertiko and the five padded-backed armchairs away and removes the heavy curtains that hang like huge velvet trousers from the windows, their owner will not go out on to the street nor abandon hope of that peaceful, bloodless overturn that for fifty years now the Social-Democratic Party has called for at the expense of the German proletariat.
But where there is no Vertiko there is no money or bread either, for in the real depths of the working class while the husband spends his unemployed hours walking the streets, the mother moves round one philanthropic institution after another. If she is pregnant in addition, the doctor will carefully examine her heavy tummy and an equally hungry but highly respectable nurse will enter the unborn child in the register of the poor, give it a number and inform her that in about two months' time it might be possible to get hold of milk for the infant at twenty-five per cent off the market price.
An unemployed man's wife who is pregnant now, in the winter of 1923, is a corpse.
She lies slumped on the chair, her belly sticking out from her dark, hungry, decaying body just as if a child's round head has been, for some reason, hidden in her lap under her dress. Even the philanthropic young lady is not quite at her ease at the sight of this living woman with her living and already visible child, both of whom will certainly no longer be living in a matter of three months, not having the slightest chance of lasting out this winter in a country where the unemployed receives sixty thousand million a week while a pound of bread cost eighty the day before yesterday, a hundred and sixty yesterday and tomorrow may soar to three hundred. She and her husband have been unemployed since last January, that is for ten whole months. This January, right at the coldest and most terrible time, he will stop receiving benefit altogether. And that's with four children.
"Why didn't your husband go and work during the summer and dig potatoes with the farmers?"
"He did, but injured his foot. He spent all summer in hospital with blood poisoning."
In such cases misfortune knows no bounds and no reasonable limit but tumbles in an absurdly hopeless heap on to the heads of those already weakened. She has tuberculosis without a doubt: noisy difficult breathing as if asleep.
"So where do you want to have it? At home or in the hospital?"
Wisely, the doctor for a while tries to dissuade her, tempting her with the cleanliness, warmth and food.
In the end with a quite unexpected and irresistible smile:
"Doctor, I want to die at home. I want my husband to see the child and wrap it up in the linen himself."
Another woman: two plaits like ears of rye around a young head, a white neck and a shawl tied across her full figure.
A jolly woman as clean and as strong as the hand-woven linen laid out to dry in the mountain sun of the Black Forest or Bavaria. Out of work for a year and two months. Her husband who brought her here is waiting in the hall. She wears a strikingly clean blouse washed in cold water without soap; large, healthy teeth keep flashing in her generous, cherry-lipped smile.
In reply to the question put by a yellowing sister furrowed with wrinkles like old-fashioned gothic handwriting, "What will you live on in the winter!" she says:
"I don't know. Either we'll pass out or everything'll change."
Two girls. Both unemployed. Both pregnant. One is swollen with the tears that accompany reproaches and hunger. The younger one, a frank-looking child indifferent to everything, is brought in by her tiny irate mother wearing a fancy hat and carrying a reticule. The sister purses her thin lips and wants to dose the door through to the waiting room to avoiding broadcasting the disgrace.
"Quatsch! (Rubbish!) There's no need. We're making workers not those that we'd like to see dead."
The most downtrodden German working woman supports her children, her ruined, plundered home and her pauperised, unemployed family with an inconceivable strength.
The whole family has been starving: it has been starving for months. But as long as there remains the least possibility, the baby will have a quarter of a bottle of milk and fifty grams of gruel. Living in one room are five or six people, two of whom have tuberculosis, but the baby that the mother takes for an examination every week without fail is immaculately clean and wrapped up in a clean piece of cloth. Only very gradually, over six months and when the family that has been holding it up on outstretched arms high above its own poverty, finally subsides into the morass of starvation, only then will the colour leave its face, its weakened bones protrude more sharply beneath its thin, greying skin and the doctor's fingers feel the soft, swollen and slowly closing skull under the light matted crop of hair. In each workers' hospital (and there are dozens of them) pointers record the unabating weight loss of thousands of working-class children every day. On these scales lies an entire proletarian generation, squealing, waggling their thin little legs in the air and twisting their weak toothless mouths from side to side; as they become ever lighter and ever paler they drain away amid sickly infants' tears and the yellow froth of starvation's diarrhoea. Germany's working class has not been and will not be defeated. But today, just as its forces are still being collected into a strong communist fist, the struggle against it is waged by the most contemptible means, that is, by striking above all at the future of the working class, its children. And here the German proletarian woman has risen to her full stature in their defence.
Very often a man just cannot stand the ravages of hunger, the screaming of unfed children, the starvation and the filth. Thousands of working women are abandoned by their husbands and lovers after a few months of unemployment. It is easy to spot in a crowd of others the woman who is pursuing the frantic struggle for survival at her own risk and peril by her peculiarly ashen face, the marks of a convulsed overstrain and her grimy bloodless head, shrunken into a fist-like shape. From her, and only from her, can the experienced eye tell whether unemployment started long ago or recently, and whether it has been interrupted by occasional earnings for two or three days or four to six hours. For the baby of the woman who has just started to go hungry and the baby whose little head flops to one side through weakness while the ominous ulcers that exhaustion brings have already appeared behind its ears, under its armpits and between its legs are identically clean, licked, laid out on pillows and covered up with their mother's warm shawl. In the end, though, you can get nowhere with just doctor's orders and painstaking care. They have to be fed and milk has to be bought. Medicines have to be ordered when the first sores appear on the baby's feeble body.
It begins with little trifles: scrofulous inflammations, a patch of moist skin that has to be disinfected and powdered. The sickness spreads and embraces the whole organism. Lying in nappies is a little old man of seven or eight months with an inflamed mouth, the bridge of his nose depressed, bowed legs and a pot belly. His excrement smells putrid.
That is the end of many months' heroic struggle. A freak instead of a strong, well-formed healthy baby.
Every one of the unemployed mothers who comes invariably to the hospital each week knows that sooner or later it must end like that. She knows this and yet nevertheless fights -- with all the technical means that science teaches for the fight against starvation and degeneration.
With all the forces of youth and love and all the grit and culture of the only working class in the world in whose ranks there are no illiterate men or illiterate mothers either.
When he has finished his examination of the child, the doctor turns to the mother: "Show me your breasts."
Under her dress there is not even a vest. But at the first touch warm white blood splashes from the high over-full nipple on to the papers and the doctor's glasses and apron.
The elephant pokes his trunk through the bars of the grille and for a few second looks at our Hilda with wise and hungry eyes. No, she's not going to give him anything!
That wisest of the wise goes off into the back of his cage rustling his dry skin white with age and flapping his ears despondently. The zoo is empty and cold and the animals are starving like the people. The elephant will die soon, that is obvious from its ribs and flaccid trunk. A complete skeleton, a complete zoological specimen of a wild beast that has spent a hundred years standing in the middle of a museum yet can still walk and eat a little hay. This specimen, which has yet to reach the moment of expiration, is still draped in the rustling folds of his old skin until the unveiling. Hilda is at first very scared and shuts her eyes. But after taking a peep, she asks: "Do tell me, does he have a face!" Then she touches the cold brass rail and feels quite secure when she knows that the mountain is sitting in a prison.
"Uncle, isn't he sweet!"
Some Russian emigres standing in front of the monkeyhouse offering empty matchboxes, pieces of litter and dog-ends to the clever old baboon. He is deeply annoyed; catching the sound of somebody's family squabble inside the pavilion he strains his ears with human curiosity and then runs off to join the scene, slamming the little door and presenting the bluish-purple part of his anatomy to our Russian fellow-countrymen.
"Let's move a bit quicker, Hilda, otherwise we'll be too late for the coffee house! Have you seen that creature?"
"Yes, but will you get me a piece of bread and butter?"
Hilda has never gone hungry. Her father is a top-grade skilled worker. Her mother makes stockings, jerseys and warm gloves on a knitting machine. Hers is one of those rare working-class families in which gravy, bread, potatoes, lard and coffee are never absent from the table. And as the whole planetary system of domestic worries, conversations, desires and fears revolve around a warm Stulle (sandwich) spread thickly with firm white margarine, sacks of potatoes hidden under the bed, and food hanging up or stowed away in the box room, so too has Hilda's soul been formed from nice fat sausages oozing lard; when this soul grows up she will have the strong glossy crupper of a carthorse and the raw, nourishing smell of beer.
Hilda doesn't want to look at the ibis or any of the sceptical-looking long-feathered Egyptian birds that carry in outline, in every pleat of their grey plumage, the style and conventions of past millennia. The ibis struts up and down with the bald head and long nose of a wise old man wearing a cape but no trousers -- so long and bare are its legs. Suddenly ecstasy and utter delight: "Look, look, it's got feathers on its tail like Aunt Wilhelmina's hat! Aunt Wilhelmina came round to see mummy this morning to get a free cup of coffee. People are getting so cheeky these days!"
A snowy night. By the Brandenburg Gate a snowy wind slices low across the asphalt like a sickle. The Tiergarten lies in deep shadow, looking like a dark wind-tossed sea. Parked by the empty pavements, as if alongside a quay, are lines of motor cars with their wet headlamps gleaming.
At half past five there is a Communist Party demonstration. Along Unter den Linden march the unemployed, musical instruments clanking in bags on their backs, cold inflamed ears sticking out from under caps, jacket collars turned up and wide bare gaps down their chests. The wind whistles in their faces. In the dark side-streets police rip down the little posters chat for one day had plastered all Berlin. In the side-streets they hit out with rubber truncheons and break up the marches and then police officers are carried out of the crowd with fractured faces. On this blizzard-swept evening the ten thousand workers who flooded the Lustgarten and Unter den Linden as far as Friedrichstrasse greeted an armoured car with laughter whereas the police could not muster the courage to fire a single shot on the communist demonstration. That evening Hilda's mother is darning stockings under the lamp in the warm. Hilda is eating bread and lard and when she is quite full she rinses her satisfied tummy with water.
"Hilda," says mother, "sing the Internationale to us." Hilda sings the Internationale, then a song about a Christmas tree and then a favourite medley of psalms.
"Hilda," says her mother, "tell us how good children greet their uncle on his name-day." Aunt Wilhelmina, the wife of an unemployed worker, nods enviously and lavishes heated praise.
"Hilda," I ask, "what would you like for Christmas? A doll, a picture book or a real live camel like in the zoo?"
"Oh, uncle, give me some liver sausage!"
"Nonsense," Hilda's mother is saying to Aunt Wilhelmina, "I don't believe now in any sort of demonstration. We need an armed uprising, a real revolution, not those street processions out there."
The coffee pot sputters very quietly on the stove while the raging wind rattles the shutters behind the windows and howls like a demon.
"No," says Hilda's mother, tapping the white oil-cloth with her darning needle, "the eleventh hour has struck. You'll no longer lure us out into the streets whatever the ringing phrases. We need a decisive battle, not a demonstration. For five years all we've done has been to walk up and down!"
Aunt Wilhelmina is undecided:
"My old man has gone out. Good heavens, what a horrible winter night!"
"Come along to our silver wedding party, Wilhelmina! We'll be celebrating. There'll be cheese pie, meat pie, egg salad, cold potatoes and apples. And black pudding though I did have to sell the machine."
"Ooh, mummy, black pudding! Will I get some?"
"Everything's getting dearer and life's becoming impossible. All the same you are a bit to blame yourself, Wilhelmina. Everything depends upon the woman. If she is prudent, frugal and thrifty the home will never completely collapse. You should look after your things, they need perpetual care. Take that small crockery cupboard or the bed for example. They are both twenty-five years old. But could you tell! Not in the least. You need only wipe the dust off the shelves every morning, be careful how you treat the lacquered legs and not sit too often on the soft furniture."
"Mummy, Auntie Wilhelmina's son has just stolen a lump of sugar from our blue sugar bowl!"
"The main thing is to bear your misfortune bravely, don't let yourself go to pieces and never in any event sell your furnishings. As long as your things are intact the family will still hold out. What's more you shouldn't fall for the government's provocations. Until we have a decisive battle, no stupidities like these demonstrations. A bit more patience, endurance and solidarity. We have to support each other. Take Uncle Kurt for example. He'd been out of work for over a year of course and the whole family had to live in summer chalets out of town. His poor Minna had been ailing for two years until in the end she died of cancer. You can see from their example how in the end so much depends upon the woman. Her household fell totally apart. Absolutely everything went to rack and ruin. Well, naturally we relatives chipped in and arranged a proper, decent funeral for her. We workers have to help each other. I lent the poor old boy my husband's old top-hat. Well, at least he was able to walk behind the coffin dressed properly!"
Little Hilda is asleep on the corner of the bed, wearing a little white frock and white slippers and with a half-eaten piece of egg pie lying in her lap. This is pure enjoyment for Hilda: run round a bit, play a bit, eat her fill and then whistle blissfully through her little pink nose while the splendid pink bow on the top of her head quietly slips down on to Uncle Franz's shoulder. The silver wedding party went off really well. And what presents! Soap, margarine, flowers and two pounds of butter. The relatives clubbed together and presented them with six table sets and six teaspoons. The sewing-machine had had to be sold and the little boys smashed one of the vases with dry grasses that stood on the ledge under the mirror. But, for all that, the whole block knew that Hilda's mother was celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of her marriage really well and the whole street would be talking about it.
"The unions have folded up, of course. What do they still exist for, where do they get their funds from? From the boss, the industrialist. But we've outwitted our company, haven't we? And those gentlemen, they imagine that former trade union officials will really uphold their interests just for the couple of billion the management has doled out to them in their hardship."
Little Hilda's uncle gives a sly wink.
"Oh, no, you can't buy off those chaps! They may collect their salary from the capitalists but they are helping us, not them. We're closer to them: for heaven's sake, we've worked together for thirty years and we know each other. They'll win us those goldbased wages, don't you worry."
One of little Hilda's aunts is the widow of a communist killed last year. She could not give them anything so instead did the washing-up all evening at her wealthy relatives' home. She dries her hands that are red from the hot water and, taking her apron off, stands at the kitchen table to drink her glass of coffee and eat up the last two remaining sandwiches; then she asks her nephew, who leads the family band (guitar, violin and mandolin):
"Play me 'You fell a victim'."
In the back room the older folk had put out the light and by the reflection of a street light sung over and again the songs of their youth, in raucous unco-ordinated voices 'The Waltz of the Moon and 'The Rose in the Glade'; now though there is just silence and the clink of coffee cups. But here, in the front room that is usually let to a lodger, the younger people press closely to each other, dancing their one-step to the speeded-up rhythm of the tragic funeral march of the revolution. Tiny Hilda is asleep. She is dreaming of margarine and Aunt Wilhelmina hiding a raisin-and-apple pie under her apron. 9 November in a Working-Class District The anniversary of the November revolution. A vast, half-empty, cavern-like hall. Several hundred unusually oppressed, taciturn and motionless workers--members of the Social-Democratic Party.
On the platform with a ghastly clarity, gold inscriptions on red linen. Much more like lines of verse -- on the model of those pious proverbs that decorate tavern walls, greetings cards or a bridegrooms' braces.
"Long live the International!" Which one is not said.
"Down with the Tyranny of Capital!"
"Liberty and Labour!"
No one looks, no one believes. Behind those stained holy banners, the red calico that mirrors the colour of fresh blood, and those offensive and innocuous excerpts from the Holy Scriptures, none of which has ever marched into battle at the head of the revolutionary proletariat, stand the five years of a vile and dissapated bourgeois republic that has shot down and sucked dry the workers of Germany under the cover of defused, emasculated revolutionary phrases.
The round, jauntily upturned lid of a beer-mug cannot be seen on a single table. Only here and there wisps of tobacco smoke melt into the damp grey cold. Workers have stopped drinking and smoking long ago. A piece of dry bread pulled furtively out of the pocket -- that is enough to make the occasion.
They have come to this cheerless anniversary with their wives and children. Looking like despondent emigrants sitting on a quayside in the forlorn hope of a passage. The husbands are chatting with their wives; the children, downcast and instinctively bored, cuddle up to their mothers.
Meanwhile the fascists have planned their coup for that very day, 9 November. Widespread demonstrations have been proposed for the following morning with, possibly, street battles, mass shootings of workers and pogroms -- in short, a White coup. This wretched November celebration may turn out to be the last meeting between the rulers of the Social-Democratic Party and the masses on which they lean for support and whose interests they are pledged to defend -- the last encounter between the governing bureaucratic top brass and the proletariat against which the Whites have promised to unleash their thugs within twenty-four hours. But what did this 'workers' party' consider it necessary to tell workers on the eve of the putsch? Did it give them arms? A worked out plan of struggle? Assembly points, passwords, military and political leadership? What would it have cost to organise revolutionary defence in a city inundated with hundreds of thousands of unemployed, an entire army of women thrown out on to the streets, the disabled to whom the government pays a paltry benefit and finally the droves of organised workers more than twenty thousand of whom are already condemned to death by starvation? Surely what else but a call for mobilisation and uprising could possibly be issued at this meeting by the party that styles itself a workers' and socialist party and has only just been kicked ignominiously out of the government by a soldier's boot?
The assembled people awaited the party's representative unusually agitated, and greeted him in absolute silence with the unspoken question: just what shall we do now?
He had arrived: a refined party intellectual, a sceptic and a sneerer, a member of the group that forms the left wing of the SPD (not one right social democrat had plucked up the courage to address any one of the numerous meetings that day). He spoke eloquently and at length for about two hours in all. What about? It is hard to recall. Not a word about the Whites at any rate. Not a sound about the coup planned for the next day. About the threat to the proletariat in such a coup, how to prevent it, how to organise defence, avoid provocations and a bloodbath -- nothing. A smooth, clean-shaven parliamentary tract.
A few whining phrases about how the celebration had turned out not to be a cheerful one that day and that Germany had in fact no cause to rejoice on 9 November. Bread was getting dearer and unemployment growing, wicked generals were scheming against the republic and the peasants did not want to exchange their good harvest for fake slips of paper smeared with printing ink on one side only.
By now a completely funereal silence in the hall. Such cold hostility, despair and confusion gusted into the deputy's face that he decided to sprinkle the end of his speech with a few idealistic conclusions and then straight away disperse to its homes this demoralised proletariat that would in several hours' time have to encounter the Reichswehr's machine-guns, artillery and bayonets with its bare hands, without faith in itself nor even a right to such a faith.
Oh, what an ecstatic philosophical breeze that Doctor of Laws could all of a sudden waft through the cold, hungry vigilant meeting! A cheap, miserable yet seductive hope that can fool no one and never yet has defended anyone but none the less crawls into a proletarian heart like a louse on to the table only to be squashed by the iron fingernail of bourgeois dictatorship. And yet that traitor of a party rotting alive on the shoulders of the proletariat and poisoning it with its sugary ptomaine gets yet another chance to dodge the clear and simple fighting slogans of a break with the bourgeois government and for that hateful social revolution.
"We are beaten, unarmed, unemployed and robbed by our vile bourgeoisie. This celebration can rightly be called the funeral repast of the revolution. But, dear proletarians, don't get upset or angry: time, history and social destiny are on our side. The wheel of history cannot be turned back and therefore, in spite of our complete unreadiness for battle, the fascists will not triumph; go in peace and don't be afraid of Ludendorff. The guns are on his side but the logic of history is on ours. Good night and until we meet again -- not on the barricades but at the next jubilee which, with the aid of social providence, will turn out happier than today's."
That's the lot.
Then a choir of at least fifty to sixty people sings sentimental songs for an hour and a half; on the stage a fine company of workers, divided into two lines by the flapping coattails of a socialist sexton, peer through their glasses at the nice clean sheets of music and with zeal and fervour sing exultations of pastoral bliss and pure love.
"0, swallow!" a fit-looking broad-shouldered building worker leads off, his solid Adam's apple sticking painfully out over the sweaty stand-up collar. His voice sounds as if his boots are too tight.
"O, those flowers of May!" a platoon of joiners and stevedores responds tenderly from the left-hand choir. Their tight jackets rustle over their magnificent bulging muscles. Not a stammer or a wrong note. Clearly the men have been practising ensemble performance for at least two months despite hunger, unemployment, the howling of unfed children and the fascists' preparations for war. No, nothing can divert the SPD from peaceful cultural and educational exercises.
To follow -- a real madhouse. On to the stage they dragged the children of a whole working-class neighbourhood, a crowd of teenagers and a detachment of women and children. With the utmost thoroughness they gave themselves over to declaiming some sickeningly doleful play.
At a wave of the producer's baton hungry workers' children moan and weep before an audience of hungry workers:
And then men, women and children together:
"Brothers, we are dy-ing!"
In the hall tears and hysterical sobs from the women.
The crowd disperses in a weakened, irritated and helpless mood. Its healthy anger and enormous discontent, the arsenal of revolution, have been flushed down the sewer of a debilitating and depraved pseudo-art. Cunning those SPDers! Towards the end the very same choir that had heroically managed top C performs, among other lyrical songs, the Internationale. This is to foster the impression in the proletariat that this music is not indissolubly linked to revolutionary action and that its drums do not have to sound out only amid blood and powder-smoke.
No, that dangerous battle-cry must be tamed in advance and cooped up into the general hen-run of songs so that on the day of war, before the assault, it will not stir the proletarian's ear nor unfurl over his head like a fresh banner flapping in the wind.
Another SPD meeting. Hertz, a Reichstag member, attempts to speak. The workers prevent him as far as they can. On the side of the Reichstag member: the chairman's bell, statistics, history, political economy and logic. On the side of the workers: piercing catcalls, unemployment, hunger and a healthy social instinct. Hertz considers that over the last five years the SPD has made certain mistakes but that they are not worth talking about now. The audience on the other hand wishes to talk about nothing but these mistakes and dozens of notes sent up to Dr Hertz put it in black and white: "The SPD is a stinking corpse which it is high time to bury." When the Reichstag member shows by his look that he cannot read out what has been written down it is repeated to him aloud.
The platform do not want to give a communist the right to answer.
The workers vote solidly for him and the communist speaks for forty minutes with the chairman's permission and for another forty despite his ruling against. Then deputy Hertz surfacing somehow through the noise, stamping and heckling, makes a frantic effort, suddenly takes a grip, and is triumphantly afloat.
He has found allies and names names that turn the workers into pillars of salt.
"Any resistance to the Whites is useless. (Whistling). For the five years that Social Democracy has sat down with them in the government it has attempted to uphold the interests of workers. (The noise rises. ) Social Democracy did what it could but the Black Hundred ministers pressured Stresemann and Ebert so much that these unfortunate comrades could hardly refuse a huge monthly subsidy to Kahr's White Guard government in Bavaria. (Abuse for the speaker.) Lenin ... (A deep silence; Hertz can take a breath). Lenin proved that Germany does not exist as a self-sufficient political and economic entity. Her fate is linked with the revolution or reaction in France, Belgium, Britain and Italy. Basing ourselves upon Lenin's view we can safely state that the possibility of social revolution in Germany at the present moment is absolutely excluded.. ."
Dr Hertz is seen to be still speaking for his mouth is moving. But his words can no longer be heard.