Where is the proletariat in Babylon Berlin?
Note: This article contains some plot spoilers for Season 4 of Babylon Berlin.
I just rewatched the Season 4 of Babylon Berlin. Dramatically it’s one of the best seasons yet, because one of the most basic tensions in the narrative arc is resolved; and some of the good guys (and girls) escape their doom … for now.
But I was left asking: where, in this drama, is the working class?
Nazism’s avowed raison d’etre was to crush the German labour movement and avenge the alleged “stab in the back” delivered by the November 1918 revolution.
A combined total of 13 million working class voters remained loyal and active supporters of either the social-democratic SPD or communist KPD during the last four years of the Weimar Republic. Amid a deep economic crisis it was fear of socialism — or as Wilhelm Reich put it “fear of freedom” — that triggered the fascist radicalisation of middle-class voters.
When Hitler campaigned on the slogan “End It Now!” he meant the democratic system which had politically empowered the working class.
So it’s weird not to see dramatised the thing that’s driving the fear.
For sure, we get communists: Dr Völcker (above), the KPD activist imprisoned for her role in the Blutmai uprising in Season 1; Malu Seegers, the KPD-aligned daughter of a right-wing general; and the lawyer Hans Litten, a real-life historical figure who put Hitler in the dock over SA violence in 1931. And we get the SPD in the form of the Berlin police chief Albert Grzesinski, another real-life figure, plus a walk-on part for the former prison governor, Rosa Helfers, also identified as an SPD supporter.
But we never really see the organised working class. In Season 4 we see families whose missing children turn out to be the victims of a shadowy, reactionary group. But they are depicted as helpless slum-dwellers, with no obvious relationship to factory work or self-organisation.