‘Strange whim of the people’—writes Heinrich Heine—‘to ask for its own history from the poet, instead of the historian’. But the ‘people’ is right, and its whim is anything but extravagant. If Plato says that
Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you find the names of kings.
Was it the kings who dragged the masses on?
. . . Where did they go, the night the Chinese wall was finished,
Only literature, and more than any other literary genre, the novel, can give an answer to these Questions of a worker-reader, which Brecht posed in a celebrated poem.
If literature is the true historiography of humanity, and the one to which alone in the long run ‘the people’ gives its trust, nobody should be surprised at the pressures to which it is subjected, nor at the suspicious interest with which it is viewed by those who govern. But this is an interest which never goes to the literature in itself, but to what ideologically minded observers call ‘sectarianism’, ‘factiousness’, ‘partisanship’.
There is no impartial historiography, and thus no impartial literature either. Only the word does not have the same meaning irrespective of the object to which it refers. In a scientific work on the history of the communist party in the Soviet Union, however honest the author may be, one can tell from the first page how to judge it in the matter of partisanship. It is not the same for a novel about a communist builder.
What in philosophical language is called the objective historical content is not in any sense the product of the writer’s personal opinions and individual class interests. This manifest truth cannot be driven into the heads of the literary supervisors, and no quotation from Engels serves to detach them from the naïve belief that an author can reveal himself completely, under interrogation, like a political candidate, and that a novel can be judged like a thesis. This belief shows the triumph of that vulgar marxism which theoretically is by now refuted everywhere, but which in practice actually remains prevalent.
The aesthetic of vulgar marxism is far from attaching importance to Hegel. On the contrary, it has always ignored him. It rather protects a certain fossil literature in the style of the 19th century; whereas its theoretical conceptions are derived from the 18th. Thus, the complacent moralism with which it classifies aesthetic phenomena into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, into ‘healthy’ and sick’, into ‘optimistic’ and ‘pessimistic’, into ‘decadent’ and ‘positive’, together with a procedure so anti-dialectical as to separate accurately the form from the content, these features defeat any aesthetic which there has ever been, not excluding that of the middle ages. They belong to the realm of stupidity, which is outside time.