The short play “Der Parteitag” (The Party Convention) by Peter Hacks begins with one of the first words I remember learning after I moved to West Germany. The word? Genossen. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a believer in hate – but I hate that word. It’s like the word Auspuff. When said, no matter what it is supposed to mean, it just sounds stupid.
Thinking about Genosse takes me back to a time prior to moving to Germany in 1989. As an American, my association with Germany is/was unavoidable due to my German born mother (she’s no longer a German citizen) and a few Prussian relatives with hearts of gold. Needless to say, my curiosity was always high regarding Germany and Europe. Quickly after moving here, though, my curiosity was dampened. The European Union was in full motion, communism was dying, people had positive bank accounts and vacation time and pseudo-laissez-faire politics ruled everything. With that said, I was/am a non-believer in the European Union experiment (it will never succeed), socialism/welfare is as bad as communism, and the only thing Europe has to offer the world, other than money, is its past and some seriously hot, promiscuously feminist, emancipated women. Thank goodness that a great deal of my personal interest lies in the reading and writing of plays, eh.
Since I’m on the subject of moi…
As a young fellow curious about culture, history, languages and unshaven German girls, I thought it appropriate to visit the east Germany. During a summer visit to West Germany in 1986 I made arrangements to go to the other side. Remember, in order to see anything outside of east Berlin you had to have something like a host and/or sponsor. Luckily I knew someone in the west who knew someone in the east and one thing lead to another and I eventually got my papers and crossed Check-Point-Charlie and beyond. Tickled to death, I suddenly found myself among (real?) communists. I had no idea they could be such fun. What a blast we had! I traveled all around east Berlin, of course, and then went to places like Sanssouci and the Spreewald forest. As a good western tourist I bought cheaply printed versions of The Communist Manifesto for all my friends back home. Oh, and I laughed the first time I had to wipe my ass with crumpled-up newspaper. Subsequently I wanted to visit the east every time I visited the west. But before I could do that, that damn wall fell. I will always equate the falling of the Berlin wall with: the party is over.
The meaning of comrade.
The word Genosse means “comrade”. The word comrade means something like “friends” – I think. Where I come from the word had/has various associations. You know, communism, Brezhnev, Fidel Castro, dysfunction, etc., etc. Since I was never known for being a social butterfly or having many friends, the word comrade was useful as I tried to play the The American Dream game. At the height of the Ronald Regan assault on Evil Empires, I would joke around as any anti-authority American would and call people comrade. Comrade may mean friends but it has nothing to do with making them.
Fun in America included complaining about it. But there is no place in America where such complaints can be heard. In America you either go with the flow or make your own little Microsoft. There is no convergence of extremes. There is no shared road. Life in America was/is nothing but a measurement stick of externally determined, move the goal-post to suit the outcome of the game, dead dreams. One can only ask how such a place won the cold war. It must have something to do with humor as much as never used precision weaponry.
Rebellion and bad mouthing your country.
I’m not ashamed to admit that while cursing the American system in my youth I was also spitefully waving a Cuban flag. Seriously. If I had to make a list of people I’d like to meet, Fidel Castro would be on that list. But don’t misunderstand. I hate “communism”. I don’t hate it because of the Soviet Union, the GDR, Cuba or even China. I hate communism because anything humans try to collectively organize – as history has shown – fails. So the only real thing to do in a world where the collective tries to run everything (ironically it doesn’t matter if the collective is capitalist or communist) is to rebel against it. For me, that’s what Fidel was all about. To hell with his communist-dictating bullshit. Fidel Castro was/is nothing but a big whiny baby that successfully told papa-bear to go shove it. I think that’s cool.
The great thing I remember about communism is that you could easily make fun of it and still have fun in it. Forget all that Stasi krapp or KGB nonsense. If the commies knew how to do anything it was do nothing and having fun at it. I always wondered why the American way of life couldn’t be as tolerant. Let’s face it, if anything has come out of the fight between opposing political ideologies of the 20th century then it must be that the winner doesn’t just take ALL but he also thinks a bit to high of himself.
Stage Direction: Enter Peter Hacks from radical stage left.
After reading Der Parteitag – and Hacks reminding me of some of the things I rebelled against when I was young – I couldn’t help but ask when and where Peter Hacks wrote it. Even though the play farcically portrays a system that he obviously wishes to scorn, it does so in a way that makes you (me?) ask: Could he have come up with a better plot? How about a few more intriguing characters? Or how about a little change of scenery?
Well, if he did all that then it wouldn’t be a Dramolette, would it?
So here are a few guesses regarding the questions I have about this play based on my (limited) experience with communists. Mr. Hacks either wrote Der Parteitag while angered out of his mind from bureaucracy or he wrote it while contemplating how things – political or not – never change. At the least, he does a pretty good job of continuing the tradition of making fun of the dunces that called themselves communists – and in reality were nothing but a bunch of under-achieving thugs.
The main characters in this play are not just die-heard communists but also (aghast!) women-comrades. What could a man intend to say in a politically motivated play that borders on the absurd while portraying communist leaders as women? Was Hacks going through a kind of Lysistrata phase? Your guess is as good mine. Hacks goes so far as to intellectually over-indulge while trying to strive for new ideological and/or literary heights. I think. For example: one of the issues to be discussed at The Party Convention deal with the two competing political platforms. One of the platforms has to be chosen in order to lead the party into the future. Does he name one of the platforms “right” and the other “left”? No. He calls one “Sozialvisionäre Wiedergeburt“. He calls the other “Pragmatischen Utopismus”. That is, Social Visionary Reincarnation or Pragmatic Utopianism. Ugh.
Is it me or do others when they hear such things feel Marx turning in his grave?
And it doesn’t stop there. I caught myself laughing as I read that a political party (according to Hacks) doesn’t require two wings to fly. Such an assumption reminded me of the current political system in the United States where capitalism is definitely a one winged beast – that simply never had a wall that could be brought down. (That’s right. It only builds tall buildings that can be brought down.) But I didn’t only think of my beloved United Mistakes while reading this cute little play. Hacks also made me think about how life really is in this (west) German golden cage that to me is the last bastion of communism in the west.
At this stage in my quest to get to know Peter Hacks I’m not sure if he was/is a writer of the absurd. But this play smells dearly of absurdity. I may be wrong but my guess is he wrote this play after the fall of the Berlin wall, which also could mean that he wrote with a unique kind of compulsive skill. It is the skill of writing what one truly thinks but doing so in disguise. Who knows, maybe this is a kind of a theatrical stream of consciousness thing – even though I’m not sure if that actually exists.
Unfortunately, the book in which this play is published doesn’t give any information regarding its time-line. I’m not sure I want to research it either. The idea that Hacks wrote such a short but meaningful play about humanities most interesting failed experiment is good enough for me. It puts him on my bookshelf with Vaclav Havel and Milan Kundera. Hacks is not just portraying the downfall of communism but something that transcends political ideology. As I was reading the play for the second time I kept imagining superimposing early 21st century capitalism in the text. It would probably work without any rewriting. I think that’s a pretty cool achievement.