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Writing the truth: Bertholt Brecht’s five difficulties

[Ed note:  Bertholt Brecht was a playright and poet. He originally created this list of difficulties that a writer would face in telling the truth, for an essay contest.  This is the summary that accompanied the final version, published in 1935 in the context of rising Fascism.]

Anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He or she must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons. These are formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also for those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil liberty prevails

First, recognize this truth

The great truth of our time is that our continent is giving way to barbarism because private ownership of the means of production is maintained by violence. Merely to recognize this truth is not sufficient, but should it not be recognized, no other truth of importance can be discovered.

What is required of a writer asked to write the truth?

Of what use is it to write something courageous which shows that the condition into which we are falling is barbarous (which is true) if it is not clear why we are falling into this condition? We must say that torture is used in order to preserve property relations. To be sure, when we say this we lose a great many friends who are against torture only because they think property relations can be upheld without torture, which is untrue.

We must tell the truth about the barbarous conditions in our country in order that the thing should be done which will put an end to them—the thing, namely, which will change property relations.

Furthermore, we must tell this truth to those who suffer most from existing property relations and who have the greatest interest in their being changed—the workers and those whom we can induce to be their allies because they too have really no control of the means of production even if they do share in the profits.

The five difficulties

There are five difficulties with writing the truth that must be overcome at one and the same time:

We cannot discover the truth about barbarous conditions without thinking of those who suffer from them; we cannot proceed unless we shake off every trace of cowardice; when we seek to discern the true state of affairs in regard to those who are ready to use the knowledge we give them, we must also consider the necessity of offering them the truth in such a manner that it will be a weapon in their hands. Finally, at the same time we must write the truth so cunningly that the enemy will not discover and hinder our offer of the truth.

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