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"To the Base – against Self-Satisfaction": Erwin Strittmatter’s Contribution to the Discussion at the Bitterfeld Conference [Excerpt] (April 24, 1959)

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Against Indecisiveness

Among other things, it was said that the term “revisionism” did not belong in the working plan of a mass organization like the Writers’ League. Or: one had to explain and analyze the term precisely, for one could not expect that writers who are not in the party would know what revisionism is.

Are our writers that backward? Don’t they read the controversies in our daily papers? Don’t they live in our world? If not, then they cannot write for our world, either.

Perhaps a few of our older comrade writers do not like those passages in our working plan that note insistently that writers must by all means establish relationships with the workers and their enterprises, indeed, that they should work there from time to time. Such discomfort would be understandable. They lived through a lot and surely still have a large stock of experiences – for example, from the history of the workers’ movement – that the youth urgently need to know about. Thus one should not ask anything unreasonable of them. One should let them write in peace. Yet, there is one thing I believe that one can demand of them: they, especially, should help us inspire the younger writers; they should tell the young writers that they can find their material for a literature that is close to the people only if they have a good relationship to the working day of our Republic.

I’ve done an overview of the works that the writers have embarked upon, and this overview shows the following: among the 109 literary works by writers in the Republic, 69 deal with current topics, 16 with historical matters, ten with the Second World War, seven with the fortunes of the workers’ movement, and seven with the problem of West Germany.

Among the Berlin writers, the planned works are as follows: of 70 planned works, 39 are devoted to current topics, six to historical matters, seven to themes about the Second World War, 13 to the history of the workers’ movement, and six to the problems of West Germany. I am already hearing your responses to what I have just said: “He tells us about administrative goings-on, and now he is doing something similar.” To make sure you are right, I’ll also add the percentage numbers:

In the Republic, the treatment of current issues is 62.7%, in Berlin, 55.5; by contrast, in 1958 the share of contemporary literature was 42%. Calm yourselves, please! I am well aware that the percentage figures about the intended works and work plans of our writers are of little value. These plans have to be brought to fruition first. But even then, it is doubtful whether every work meets the standards, especially the standards of quality. That is why the figures I have given are incomplete indicators.

Among the writers of the Republic who are dealing with contemporary issues, we find the following names: Max Zimmering, Armin Müller, Hasso Grabner, Benno Voelkner, Herbert Jobst, Herbert A. W. Kasten, Regina Hastedt, Martha Nawrath, Martin Viertel, and so on.

In Berlin: Willi Bredel, Elfriede Brüning, Walter Gorrish, Egel-Wiens, Heinz Kahlau, Jo Schulz, Ludwig Turek, Otto Gotsche, Gustav von Wangenheim, Alex Wedding, Hedda Zinner, Erwin Strittmatter, and so on and so forth.

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