Bertolt Brecht | A lesson in sabotage

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A lesson in sabotage
Modifying a machine

After the machine so that it won’t work without you
So far improve it that you alone are good enough for it
Give it a secret fault that you alone can repair
Yes, alter it so that any other man will destroy it
If the works it without you
That’s what we call: modifying a machine.

Modify your machine, saboteur!

 

 

 

A lesson in sabotage
Sabotage, mother of the factory

Just as a mother knows what she has given birth to
Wakes in the night at the baby’s slightest cry
Knows his needs and lays him whimpering on her breast
Just so sabotage knows the factory and its needs.
When you want bread she finds bread.
When you want rid of the overseer she rids you of him.
When you demand satisfaction she gets satisfaction.
The tall grey mother is here there and everywhere.
Without her agreement all goes amiss. The machines at a standstill.
Try as you will they can’t be got going again.
A thing’s done and nobody did it. Everyone looks for a fault.
And nobody finds one. Loud regret and a secret glee.
War is no war unless the tall grey mother desires it.
She it is pushes the trucks onto tracks where they don’t belong.
The ships that she sails on never arrive.
After a couple of weeks—there are cracks in the roads she builds.
The shells she loads the guns with fail to explode.
Not being a loudmouth, she can’t be arrested.
Never refusing work, she can’t be dismissed.
By doing her job she achieves what she wants.
She is the paid wet nurse who does not deny her breast to a stranger’s child
But there is no milk in her breast.
She is the patient worker whose hand lets go of the shovel.
She is the innocent misfortune, the unavoidable mistake
The forgivable error, the subordinate doing her best and failing.

 

 

 

A lesson in sabotage
The destruction of the machine by sabotage:
just assembly work

A nightmare to the entrepreneur: the machine at a standstill.
It is to him like the dead horse that drew the cart with the milk-cans
But under the lash collapsed and will never
Get to its feet again: now who will drag the cans?
Like a sunken ship on the seabed
That the fish swim through and never pay for a ticket.
Like the ruins of a castle that nobody wants to visit.
A heap of old iron and in the account book
A hefty sum to the debit.
The worker, however, was only doing his job:
He makes, he unmakes, modifies, reassembles . . .

 

 

 

Carefully I test . . .

Carefully I test
My plan, it is
Good enough, it is
Unrealizable.

 

 

 

And there came our comrade Liebknecht . . .

And there came our comrade Liebknecht
Walked before the people here
And they murdered comrade Liebknecht
But the day when we’ll be free was drawing near.

 

 

 

And I saw how they lied . . .

And I saw how they lied
And that they were believed
And how they told the truth
And were laughed at.
And when they were not laughed at
They were hunted down.

But, said they, if this world of ours
Is so arranged that in it
Only wickedness and meanness
Are recompensed, then
Surely it must be changed?
And I said: let us think more of this.

 

 

 

Tirelessly the Thinker praises . . .

Tirelessly the Thinker praises
Comrade Lenin because seeing
The possibility of a great new order of things
He went to the market, haggling
And corrupted the corruptible
For the right to speak
And holds up to contempt
Those who arrive with clean hands
That are empty and to the question what
Have they protected answer: only themselves.

 

 

 

What are these people like?

What are these people like?
Their teachers set them on horseback
Slapped the cruppers
Three out of five were seen again
And these were taught to walk in a mincing fashion
To shoot at playing cards and to empty
Countless barrels of drink. Into their heads
Came swear words and the times table up to ten. Thus prepared
They were let loose on cattle and women and placed under the rule of money.
The weather on the steppes and the cunning of the merchants
Saw to everything else.

What happened to these people?
Their teachers sat them down before a book
That dealt with a book and that was
Dealt with by other books. They were taught
To read with their fingers between the pages, often to leaf back
To pay their debts as an example to those in hock to the usurers
To shake their heads, to lament whilst adding up
To buy only from bankrupts, to hate
Ad to support their own kind
To eat only certain foods and
To invent systems in which a piece of paper
Means fifty houses.

 

 

 

What are tanks?

What are tanks?
The prison cells
Full of prisoners
Are put on wheels
And called tanks
And sent against the enemy.

 

 

 

On the poor man’s early labour . . .

On the poor man’s early labour
On the rich lie long in bed.
Must the working poor go hungry
While the shirking rich get fed?

 

 

 

 

from
THE COLLECTED POEMS OF
BERTOLT BRECHT
TRANSLATED AND EDITED BY
TOM KUHN AND DAVID CONSTANTINE
LIVERIGHT PUBLISHING CORPORATION
A DIVISION OF W. W. NORTON & COMPANY
2019

 

 

 

 

 

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