Johannes Robert Becher

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Becher, Johannes Robert


Born May 22, 1891, in Munich; died Oct. 11, 1958, in Berlin. German writer, art theoretician, and public figure.

The son of a court official, Becher studied at the universities of Munich, Jena, and Berlin. His first publication was a hymn to the memory of H. Kleist (1911). Becher’s poems and stories were published in the collection The Gentleness of One Spring in 1913. The novel Earth was published in 1912; the publicistic books De profundis Domine and Decay and Triumph were published in 1913 and 1914, respectively. At that time Becher’s creative work was clearly expres-sionistic.

Between 1914 and 1918, Becher became an active opponent of war and German militarism. In 1917 he joined the Independent Social Democratic Party, and in 1918 he joined the Spartacus League. Becher was a member of the Communist Party of Germany (CPG) from the time it was founded (1918). He greeted the October Revolution passionately in lyrical poems and publicistic articles. From the beginning of the 1920’s, Becher was a contributor to the central organ of the CPG, Rote Fahne (The Red Banner), a member of the Central Committee of the CPG, and a Communist Party deputy to the Reichstag. His narrative poem At Lenin’s Tomb (1924), the collection of poems The Corpse on the Throne (1925), and his journalistic novel Lewisit, or the Only Just War (1926) led to the legal prosecution of Becher on a charge of treason. An international campaign in defense of Becher was carried on by M. Gorky, H. Barbusse, and R. Rolland.

In 1927, Becher traveled to the USSR for the first time. In 1931 he published the narrative poem The Great Plan, which was devoted to socialist construction. After the establishment of a fascist dictatorship in Germany, Becher emigrated (1933); during 1935^5 he lived in the USSR. He was editor in chief of the German edition of the journal International Literature. In 1943, Becher participated in the founding of an antifascist national committee called Free Germany. Becher’s development during these years proceeded from expressionistic rhetoric to a revival of classical poetics and realism in the poetry collections The Seeker of Happiness and the Seven Sins (1938), Rebirth (1940), Germany Calls (1942), Thanks to Stalingrad (1943), the autobiographical novel Farewell (1940; Russian translation, 1942), and others.

After returning to his homeland in 1945, Becher was a statesman in the new, socialist Germany. He directed the Kulturbund and the journals Aufbau and Sinn und Form. In 1953 he was elected president of the Academy of Arts of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Beginning in 1956, Becher was minister of culture and a member of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. In 1952 he was awarded the International Lenin Prize for Strengthening Peace Between Nations.

Becher wrote the collections Return to the Homeland (1946), The People Wandering in the Darkness (1948), New German Folk Songs (1950), Happiness Is Approaching (1951), German Sonnets (1952), and Love Knows No Rest (1957). He is the author of the national anthem of the GDR. Becher’s articles on problems in the theory and history of art have been important for the development of Marxist aesthetics in the GDR and other countries. His articles include “ . . . Diary for 1950” (1951), “In Defense of Poetry” (1952; Russian translation, 1959), “A Poetic Profession of Faith” (1954), “The Power of Poetry” (1955), and “The Poetic Principle” (1957).


Gesammelte Werke, vols. 1–5, 7. Berlin, 1966–68.
Bekenntnisse, Entdeckungen, Variationen: Denkdichtung in Prosa. Berlin-Weimar, 1968.
In Russian translation:
Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1956.
Proshchanie. Moscow, 1958.
Birkan, P. Oruzhiem slova: Esteticheskie vzgliady i tvorchestvo I. Bekhera. Leningrad, 1959.
Fradkin, I. M. “Izmenchivyi i postoiannyi.” In I. M. Fradkin, Literatura novoi Germanii. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1961.
Pavlova, N. S. “Poeziia Bekhera 20–kh gg..” In Genezis sotsialisticheskogo realizma ν literaturakh stran Zapada. Moscow, 1965.
Turaev, S. V. “Bekher: Traditsiia i put’ k zrelosti.” In Khudozhestvennyi opyt literatur sotsialisticheskikh stran. Moscow, 1967.
Haase, H. Dichten und Denken. Halle an der Saale, 1966.
Hinckel, E. Gegenwart und Tradition: Renaissance und Klassik im Weltbild J. R. Bechers. Berlin, 1964. (Dissertation.)
Birr, E. Johannes R. Becher:Zum 10. Todestag am 11 Okt. Berlin, 1968.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Johannes R. Becher (1891-1958)--once a cultural monolith in the GDR and, by most accounts, a rather ruthless proponent of the doctrine of socialist realism-has become something of a persona non grata.
(2)/ "Hollenfahrt: Das Leben des Johannes R. Becher," MDR, November 24, 2016.
(4)/ Johannes R. Becher, An Europa: Neue Gedichte (Leipzig: Kurt Wolff, 1916), 65-76.
(9)/ Johannes R. Becher, Das neue Gedicht: Auswahl (1912-1918) (Leipzig: Insel, 1918), 135.
The second part offers a diachronic dimension to the project, tracing the development of five authors whose literary careers traverse the 1930-60 period and who hail from a range of ideologies and backgrounds:Gottfried Benn, Johannes R. Becher, Bertolt Brecht, Gunter Eich, and Peter Huchel.
Ever since the Berlin Wall came down, we have been waiting for a biography of the poet, playwright and dramatist Johannes R. Becher that was characterized neither by fawning East German hagiography nor by contemptuous West German dismissiveness.
He shows how those, such as Johannes R. Becher, who most passionately believed in the unity of German culture were gradually forced, not only by events but by the logic of their own beliefs, into the identification of German culture with the existence of the GDR itself and therefore into supporting steps initiated by the opposing faction which were to lead to division and Sovietization.
The Aufbau edition of Johannes R. Becher's complete works contains a number of translations of Soviet poetry which Becher made during the mid-1920s, once he had committed himself finally to the KPD.
See the editors afterword, Johannes R. Becher, Gesammelte Werke, ed.
(3) See Jens-Fietje Dwars, Abgrund des Widerspruchs: Das Leben des Johannes R. Becher (Berlin: Aufbau, 1998), pp.
(8) Michael Rohrwasser, 'Das rettende Russland: Erweckungserlebnisse des jungen Johannes R. Becher', in Deutschland und die Russische Revolution, ed.