A: Bertolt Brecht (with Margarete Steffin) W: 1948–9 Pf: 1956, Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) Pb: 1957 Tr: 1971 G: Drama in 14 scenes; German prose S: Paris and Versailles, 1871 C: 42m, 12f, 2 childrenThe rise and fall of the Paris Commune, established in the aftermath of France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1, is observed and debated by a motley group in and near a Montmartre café. A bourgeois complains that the war has destroyed opportunity for profit, while the workers and intellectuals are more concerned with oppression from their own authorities. When President Alphonse Thiers and his right-wing National Assembly at Versailles attempt to disarm the Paris National Guard, the Men in the Street resist. In March 1871 they take over the Hôtel de Ville, setting up a provisional government of Socialists and left-wing republicans. Inspired by the rhetoric of a new communal ideology (‘We is much more than you and I!’), the Communards are weakened by their leaders' refusal to contemplate violence in the defence of their vulnerable democracy, urged by the young radical Raoul Rigault. Eventually in May, backed by the Prussian victor Otto von Bismarck, Versailles troops march on Paris. While the Men in the Street bravely die on the barricades, the bourgeoisie and aristocrats applaud from the walls of Versailles. They congratulate Thiers: ‘You have restored Paris to its rightful master, France.’ In Paris 20,000 are massacred.
A: Bertolt Brecht (with Margarete Steffin) W: 1948–9 Pf: 1956, Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz) Pb: 1957 Tr: 1971 G: Drama in 14 scenes; German prose S: Paris and Versailles, 1871 C: 42m, 12f, 2 children
This play, a critical response to Nordahl Grieg's The Defeat (1937), was the last to be (almost) completed by Brecht and performed posthumously as the first original production at the Berliner Ensemble. It traces the bold attempt to establish the first socialist government in history and argues that its demise was due to a dangerous reluctance to use violence to defend the revolution. Clearly, parallels were intended with the young German Democratic Republic, and the play's message could sadly justify oppression by the Communist regime.