Fascism: Is it Too Extreme a Label?

In examining two productions of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. A Parable Play.(1)  Bertolt Brecht wrote about the rise of Ui, which illustrated Hitler’s rise to power that was resistible –but was not, we see some elements related to today’s events.

The Berliner Ensemble housed the first in1959 and the second in 1995.

First Interpretation

After Brecht died in 1956, the directors who worked with Brecht, M. Wekwerth P. Palitzch produced the first Ui play in 1959 as a carney event, carnival music opening with a barker / hustler introducing a  “Great day let’s see the manikins” (wax figures) of the Hitler, Goering, Goebbels & Roma.  Brecht titled the play a parable.

The location/setting is the Chicago prohibition era gangsterism of A Capone and company that murders its opponents. Hitler is presented as an explosive angry man, and yet even when exhausted always moving to take power.  The play in 16 scenes begins when the gang muscles its way into the protection racket of small vegetable stores and from their finds ways to enter power by blackmailing Hindenburg, threatening the middle class dealers, uniting with the Junkers (ruling class) and on to Hindenburg appointing Ui (Hitler) as chancellor.

Brecht warned against making too much of the comic elements overriding the gangs horrific criminal activities that it uses to insinuate itself as head of the corrupt political-economic system. He suggested they first do a production of Fear and Misery of the Third Reich a collection of scenes describing the life of most Germans inside the country whose contribution to the expansion of the war machine was forced exploitation and extraction of their children as soldiers along with health and survival elements all to support the Greater Third Reich.

Despite the warning not to overdo the comedy, to ease the pain of remembering, the live video taping of performance and audience elicited much laughter and applause at the turns in the play performed by competent actors.

Second Interpretation

In  1995 playwright and director Heiner Mueller who had produced/directed a number of plays at the Ensemble and elsewhere, took up Arturo Ui again and created a much different presentation then the earlier production.

Before I had seen his production in Berlin, I met Mueller on his last visit to San Francisco at a chattering luncheon with other directors, I had one question:  “Why did you do Autor Ui in Germany? He said, “They needed it.”

The 1995 production opens to a dark stage center platform, the main actor Wuttke is seen in a frame white fog arises as the figure comes walking down to the stage floor on all fours like a hyena, the animal/man runs at the audience attacking the first row- then backs off, continues roaming around while the opening introduction is heard over a loud speaker. The animal figure with dangling red tongue becomes exhausted, panting away.  The figure is obviously to be Hitler, a total vicious beast.

Some reviewers interpreted the actor on all fours white gloves for front paws knuckles under, waddling loping around, declared it was a mad dog a German Shepherd, however this human-animal with an ugly grimace on the hunt, suggested a hyena, the animal that preys on other animals.  We are given a vicious dangerous Hitler.

After the introduction Wuttke stands up, the play continues and in each scene he is constantly stressed and enraged, ready to explode at any thing that disrupts his move to power. He will lie, weep, feel hurt, and apologize for those killed by his gang. He pleads to be understood, snaps into a screaming rage and is self-defacing and dominating.  Totally rancid figure.

I wondered what do we have here that appears to explain what fascism is about?

Following Hitler’s maneuvers as Brecht has shown in Fear and misery of the Third Reich – (scenes of repression and exploitation of the German people at home!)  That the Nazis depleted their own society to pay for the invasion of others killing off communists, labor leaders, Jews, Slavs anybody anyone opposing their march to 1000 years of Nazism.

Their program had two major murderous constituents one predation and exploitation of their own people connected to the expanded conquering of all those other countries. Invade where possible destroy where necessary take over France if useful, invade the Soviet Union and get bogged down where Napoleon also got bogged down.  Stalin’s Generals were able to jam the war right into the center of the militarized Nazi Armies back to Berlin.  In that dirty war it took the lives of 27 million Russians to eventually overwhelm the Wehrmacht.

The manpower was made up of the children of the German people. A people who were exploited yet who devoted there lives benefits, health, and work to the imperialist war

The Nazi’s two actions might be considered contradictory exploiting your own people while running over, dominating and killing as many others as possible

This is then one way to describe fascism. It was contradictory and yet successful in playing at being both rational and irrational.

In the rush to make jokes about the Trump administration there has been an easy extreme epithet to throw at the target – fascist!  I had resisted the extreme label due to its use as something unusual in US history the worst ever in order to claim its pop up as a freak event. However, the pandemic does function as another extreme event its like poring oil on an existing fire –a devastation that reveals the mechanisms of the systems mal-functions.

The gabbling gang at the White House has added a few tricks, turns and orders of the day that may complete the similarity between what the Nazis visited upon their people.  Careful, it’s not an exact replication with arm bands and military uniforms – rather a replay of the barbarism with a human face as in the era of the Reagan movie.

The constituents 

By ordering the meat factories to re-open before controlling the pandemic, all reliant on immigrant, some undocumented, poor workers, yet essential to the profits of the industry, underpaid at eight dollars an hour, now forced to return to their dangerous and now infectious jobs, to the crowding, speeding up of the cutting line, few protective devices, masks, inadequate distancing, hand washing, lack of proper toilet facilities and medical care.

By Executive command, working under those conditions, their contracting the virus in large numbers becomes inevitable. Already, more factories have reopened, ignoring the protests from the union that represents them and the mostly foreign work force that needs the jobs both to survive and send money back home.

At the same time ICE continues to arrest undocumented workers, shipping them out, further depleting the work force, or increasing dangers to their health by putting them in detention centers, proven hot spot for corona virus.

The expulsion contradicts the order to open the plants forcing workers to work under conditions dangerous to all—including the people who eat the food.

Shouldn’t the undocumented be safe from ICE because they have become essential labor for the meat industry?

The Nazi’s did the same with their own people and other nationals. The German people were deprived of all sorts of necessities to support the war effort! That’s the subject of the Fear and Misery of the Third Reich. 

In the US, these contradictions don’t contradict each other; they exploit the poorly paid of the working class in both ways. It makes sense to one day arrest an exile then two days later force those still here to work under conditions that guarantee they will be infected with a virus that may kill them. Throw away people.

Corporations use the cheap labor and Homeland Security does the damage internally while the US military launches covert or overt wars to damage other countries as climate change is denied adding to military devastation.

Not by chance or accident is this double program a replica of Home Land Security in the Nazi period under a similar title: Die Stunde von der Heimat, (The Hour of the Homeland) policing and devastating its citizens as Nazi armies roamed over Europe.

Trump’s gang has clarified what we now have in the USA: a palimpsest of 20th century fascism. (2)

In the 60s and 70s, there was a call to bring the war home! The meaning from the left was recreate within the US what others were receiving at Washington’s hands. Now observe the right wing has adopted the slogan; we have a war on the people inside the Empire replicating the war against all on the outside.

Not the end of history just the end of simplistic contradictions.


1) Bertolt Brecht, Collected Plays Vol. 6 The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui A Parable Play. Collaborator M. Steffin. Trans. Ralph Manheim: Vintage N.Y. 1976.

2) It’s also possible in the US context to consider gangsterism as a variation of fascism.

3) Thanks to Jeffrey Blankfort and David Oberweiser for clarifications.

R.G.Davis directed Brecht’s Exception and the Rule 1965 again in Australia 1972. Directed US premier of Brecht’s Turandot or Congress of Whitewashers 1969. Founded Epic West Center for the Study of Bertolt Brecht and Epic Theatre, in Berkeley 1975 -1980. Produced Messingkauf Dialogues Directed by Carl Weber at Epic West.