ON WRITING AND POLITICS 1967-1983
The passions of a social-democrat artist: a baker's dozen essays and speeches voicing Grass's sober, doggedly honest political humanism. As always, Grass gets right down to business. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he tells the Belgrade Writers Conference (1969), "I'm against revolution. . . I detest the sacrifices that always have to be made in its name." Speaking in Athens during the reign of the colonels (1972), he condemns their suppression of democracy, and rehearses his own painful case: At the end of WW II Grass was a 17-year-old Hitler youth, who had just missed being called up, "too young to participate in the crimes of National Socialism, but old enough to have been shaped by their consequences." Belatedly discovering the horrors of the Holocaust, in his native Danzig and elsewhere, he continues to wrestle with his guilt (as in "What Shall We Tell Our Children?"). In this, he attacks the cowardice, the murderous bureaucracy, and demented utopianism of the Nazis and all subsequent dictatorships, right and left, in the First, Second, and Third Worlds. In "Superpower Backyards" (1982) he angrily compares Nicaragua to Poland--though without simply equating the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. In "Kafka and His Executors" (1978) he applies Kafka's "vision of totalitarian administration" to the Czechoslovakian regime and Germany, East and West. In "Erfurt 1970 and 1891" (1970) he looks back over the history of socialist revisionism and hails the sanity and decency of the much decried (by Marxists) Eduard Bernstein. Grass seems to have no illusions. In "The Destruction of Mankind Has Begun" (1982) he accepts the grim findings of the Club of Rome reports, and says that he writes, not out of hope, but "because I can't help it." This collection of occasional pieces is a humble, workmanlike affair, of no great stylistic brilliance. But Grass's unblinking intelligence and moral power make it a more than respectable performance.