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Psychology as Secret Weapon

by Manfred Wekwerth Monday, Jun. 06, 2011 at 2:03 PM

To brighten the present, one colors the past black. Brecht protested against falsifying the real course of history by making rogues of individual figures. Gaddafi nationalized the oil that Americans claim, expropriated banks and parts of big industry, organized free health care and cut unemployment.


By Manfred Wekwerth

{This article published in: Ossietsky 10/2011 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Today I understand better why Brecht did not think much of psychology with regard to theater and politics. He called it a cheap secret weapon. Still today I hear his cry: “That is psychologizing!” In Richard the Third, an actor wrinkled his face and spoke with a tormented voice before he began his initial monologue. Asked why he did that, he replied: “He is a rogue who came into the world with a hunchback and a clubfoot and now takes revenge on the healthy world with murder and manslaughter.”

The “healthy” world in Richard’s time was a complete chaos with murder and manslaughter on the political agenda. The other figures in the play had even more skeletons in their cupboards. “Psychologizing” suppressed a whole cruel epoch of English history (Marx called it “original accumulation”) and made a single person into a hateful rogue who perverted everything. Richard III in reality was one of the most popular, reform-minded kings of English history. What Brecht criticized so vehemently in the totally confused actor as “psychologizing” was not only a common offense of the actor but a widespread method in politics which Shakespeare did not escape. To brighten the present, one colors the past black. The crimes of the new ruling house, the Tudors, Shakespeare’s sponsors, should be forgotten. Therefore Richard’s predecessor had to appear so dirty that the prevailing darkness of the present could seem brighter. Richard was made the epitome of the rogue. Without great expense, he came to be regarded as the main culprit in the atrocities of the War of the Roses with the secret weapon of psychologizing.

Brecht’s cry “That is psychologizing!” was not a mere stage direction. It was a protest against the method of falsifying the real course of history by “making rogues” of individual figures.

On a train I recently saw a fellow-passenger with a “Bild” newspaper, a textbook for the systematic lack of education. On the front page was a gigantic picture of a rogue who seemed to be a portrayal of Richard III. The abyss of hostility to the world only appeared to the trained eye. In big letters one read this was t6he tyrant “who butchered his people.” It was Gaddafi.


For weeks our NATO allies bombed Libyan cities as though the international law that prohibits intervention in the internal affairs of other states and above all aggressive offensive war never existed. The German monopoly press seems uninterested in the number of deaths and wounded. Hundreds of thousands of refugees is not a theme. Billions in damages are details that we do not want to be troubled about. Something higher is involved. Mass murder or genocidal violence is always humanitarian against “rogue states.”

Bild-editors obviously know what Gaddafi’s real crimes are. He nationalized the oil that Americans claim, expropriated the banks and parts of big industry, abolished the education monopoly, organized free health care, reduced unemployment and created the highest living standards for North Africa conditions. Still one atrocious deed can be ascribed to him. He was one of the highly regarded guests at European government courts and even financed the last election contest for the eternally joking Sarkozy who was at an end.

Clearly this Gaddafi who corrupted all prices, not only the price of oil through the Libyan example, had to be removed. One learns from Shakespeare and his “cheap secret weapon” as Brecht termed “psychologizing” that polemicizing against the real achievements of this man would be life-threatening. A new Richard must be invented with the distortion of his face and voice to banish all the merits of the real King Richard and to ascribe all roguishness to the rogue Richard. He is the cause of all horrors of this world. The costs of psychologizing are trifling; the effect is enormous.

The woman next to me on the S-train read the Bild… No great explanations are needed. “The poor Libyan people must be liberated from him!” Then she folded the Bild and contentedly exited the train.


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