The Decision (play)  

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The Decision (Template:Lang), frequently translated as The Measures Taken, is a Lehrstück and agitprop cantata by the twentieth-century German dramatist Bertolt Brecht. Created in collaboration with composer Hanns Eisler and director Slatan Dudow, it consists of eight sections in prose and unrhymed, free verse, with six major songs. A note to the text by all three collaborators describes it as an "attempt to use a didactic piece to make familiar an attitude of positive intervention."


Four agitators from Moscow return from a successful mission in China and are congratulated for their efforts by a central committee (called The Control Chorus.) The four agitators, however, inform the committee that during their mission they were forced to kill a young comrade for their mission to succeed. They ask for judgment from the committee on their actions. The committee withholds its verdict until after the four agitators re-enact the events that led to the young comrade's death.

The four agitators tell of how they were sent on a mission to educate and help organize the workers in China. At a party house (the last before they reach the frontiers of China) they meet an enthusiastic young comrade, who offers to join them as their guide. The agitators must hide their identities because educating and organizing the workers in China is illegal. The director of the party house (the last before the frontier) helps the four agitators and the young comrade in the obliteration of their true identities. They all put on masks in order to appear as Chinese. They are told to keep concealed that they are communist. Their mission must remain a secret. Should they be discovered, the authorities will attack the organization and the entire movement; not merely the lives of the four agitators and the young comrade will be put in danger. The agitators and the young comrade all agree to these conditions.

However, once in China, the sights of injustice and oppression enrages the young comrade and he is not able to contain his passion, immediately acting to correct the wrongs he sees around him. He shows no discretion in teaching the oppressed how to help themselves and has no tact when dealing with small-time oppressors to help the greater good of the revolution. As a result, he eventually exposes himself and the four agitators by ripping off his mask and proclaiming the teachings of the party. When he does this, he puts the entire mission and movement in danger. He is identified, unmasked, just as riots break out and a revolutionary uprising among the workers is beginning. The authorities are now in pursuit of the young comrade and his friends. Still shouting out against the party, the young comrade is struck in the head by one of the agitators and they carry him as far away as they could, to the nearby lime pits. There, the agitators debate on what to do with him.

If they help him to escape they will be unable to help the uprising, and escape is near impossible from their current position anyway. If he is left behind and caught, his mere identity will unwittingly betray the movement. The four agitators realize that "he must vanish, and vanish completely/ For we can neither take him with us nor leave him." To save the movement, they conclude that their only solution is for the young comrade to die and be thrown in the lime pits where he will be burned and become unrecognizable. They ask him for his consent to this. The young comrade agrees to his fate in the interest of revolutionizing the world and in the interest of communism. He asks the four agitators to help him with his death. They shoot him and throw his body into the lime pit.

The central committee (The Control Chorus), to whom the four agitators have been telling their story, agree with their actions and reassures them that they have made the correct decision. "You've helped to disseminate / Marxism's teachings and the / ABC of Communism," they assure the four agitators. They also mark the sacrifice and cost that the wider success entailed: "At the same time your report shows how much / Is needed if our world is to be altered."

Note: The "ABC of Communism" is a reference to the popular book by Nikolai Bukharin.


The most common translation for the title, Template:Lang, in English is The Measures Taken. The only translation titled The Decision is by John Willett.

The first known published English-language translation of Template:Lang is the inaccurate and libelous version of the cantata, titled The Rule [or Doctrine]. This version of the text was made specifically for the House Un-American Activities Committee for use when interrogating both Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler. The text is derived from the Eisler score published by Universal Edition and was made by Elizabeth Hanunian on September 18, 1947. The full translation is available in the Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books book: Thirty Years of Treason (New York, 2002) edited by Eric Bentley. [Note: First published by The Viking Press, Inc. in 1971.]

Eric Bentley himself made two published translations of Template:Lang, both as The Measures Taken. The two different translations corresponded to two different German versions of the text. The first appeared in the Bentley edited collection of plays The Modern Theatre volume 6 (New York, 1960.) The second was published in a Grove Press collection of Brecht plays The Jewish Wife and Other Short Plays (New York, 1967.) Bentley also made verse translations to be sung for selected pieces from Template:Lang as sheet music to directly correspond to the Eisler score in The Brecht-Eisler Songbook, published by Oak Publications (New York, 1967.)

Carl R. Mueller translated Template:Lang as The Measures Taken in the Brecht collection The Measures Taken and Other Lehrstücke edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, first published by Methuen (London, 1977) and later by Arcade Publishing (New York, 2001.)

John Willett translated Template:Lang as The Decision specifically to fit the Eisler score. This translation was published by Methuen Drama in Brecht's Collected Plays: Three (London, 1998.)

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Decision (play)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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