Bending Spines

Bending Spines: The Propagandas of Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic

Randall L. Bytwerk
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    Bending Spines
    Book Description:

    Why do totalitarian propaganda such as those created in Nazi Germany and the former German Democratic Republic initially succeed, and why do they ultimately fail? Outside observers often make two serious mistakes when they interpret the propaganda of this time. First, they assume the propaganda worked largely because they were supported by a police state, that people cheered Hitler and Honecker because they feared the consequences of not doing so. Second, they assume that propaganda really succeeded in persuading most of the citizenry that the Nuremberg rallies were a reflection of how most Germans thought, or that most East Germans were convinced Marxist-Leninists. Subsequently, World War II Allies feared that rooting out Nazism would be a very difficult task. No leading scholar or politician in the West expected East Germany to collapse nearly as rapidly as it did. Effective propaganda depends on a full range of persuasive methods, from the gentlest suggestion to overt violence, which the dictatorships of the twentieth century understood well.In many ways, modern totalitarian movements present worldviews that are religious in nature. Nazism and Marxism-Leninism presented themselves as explanations for all of life-culture, morality, science, history, and recreation. They provided people with reasons for accepting the status quo.Bending Spinesexamines the full range of persuasive techniques used by Nazi Germany and the German Democratic Republic, and concludes that both systems failed in part because they expected more of their propaganda than it was able to deliver.

    eISBN: 978-0-87013-899-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Terms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    A pastor who lived through the Third Reich described his meetings with Nazi officials in a way that illuminates life in totalitarian societies: “[O]ne would be pushed further, step by step, until he had crossed over the line, without noticing that his spine was being bent millimeter by millimeter.”¹ The Nazis he met with knew that persuasion is a gradual process with many methods.

    Just after Nikita Khrushchev’s famous speech that revealed some of Stalin’s depravity, Johannes R. Becher, author of the GDR’s national anthem and minister of culture, wrote a poem that remained unpublished until 2000. It was titled...

  6. 1 Secular Faiths
    (pp. 11-40)

    At the last congress of the GDR writers’ association in 1987, Jürgen Kucyzinski, the perennial tolerated troublemaker of the GDR, wished for a socialist equivalent of prayer: “I have looked in vain for a substitute for prayer that could remind us, despite all the troubles we have and the barriers we encounter each day, or at least each week, of the greatness of socialism. . . . How do we remind ourselves once or twice a day of what is really important, of the things that influence our lives every day?”¹ In 1940 Joseph Goebbels asked a related question in...

  7. 2 Doctrines
    (pp. 41-56)

    Although National Socialism and Marxism-Leninism were quasi-religious worldviews with absolute claims to truth, they developed significantly different theoretical approaches to propaganda. Nazism was not fond of theory at all. Convoluted academic books were written on various aspects of Nazi ideology during the Third Reich, but Nazism’s leaders were not very interested in them. Although Nazism claimed to be founded on the eternal laws of nature, its leaders put their confidence more in faith and steadfast will than in scholarly elaboration, whereas Marxism-Leninism produced enormous numbers of academic treatises on every topic and expected that some would be of interest and...

  8. 3 Hierarchies
    (pp. 57-70)

    On 30 March 1945 Joseph Goebbels was complaining to Adolf Hitler about ineffective propaganda produced by Otto Dietrich and Robert Ley.¹ Goebbels never quite succeeded in persuading Hitler to grant him the full authority he craved. Unlike the GDR’s propaganda, which had clear lines of authority, Nazi propaganda displayed organizational confusion. Party and state were intertwined in bewildering ways, with half a dozen or more leading Nazis struggling for influence. I begin with a survey of their respective and overlapping jurisdictions, then turn to the clearer structure of GDR propaganda.

    Control over the Third Reich’s propaganda was divided between party...

  9. 4 Evangelists
    (pp. 71-88)

    Both the Nazis and the GDR developed substantial central propaganda bureaucracies that determined the general content of propaganda. These bureaucracies alone could never have maintained thorough systems of control. To do that, both systems depended on large numbers of propagandists at lower levels to carry out their activities. Participating in the system implicated larger numbers of citizens, increasing their commitment to the system (or at least making it more awkward for them to express critical attitudes) and simultaneously provided large numbers of people to make propaganda.

    Propagandists were the evangelists of and for the new society. As true believers, they...

  10. 5 Maps of Reality
    (pp. 89-108)

    Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin, lover and adviser to Empress Catherine the Great, had a problem in 1787. The empress was to tour an area into which he had sunk considerable sums of her money with limited results. After careful preparation, Potemkin presented Catherine with a facade of success, though he did not build the literal Potemkin villages of legend. The empress left convinced of his abilities. He was an early propagandist. His successors, with the resources of modern media, have surpassed his achievement, persuading whole nations of things that were not so.

    The media in totalitarian societies have catechetical functions. Their...

  11. 6 Arts and Entertainment
    (pp. 109-130)

    People may attend to the news, no matter how influenced it is by propaganda, from an understandable desire to make sense of the world around them. The popular arts are different. Their popularity is influenced by matters of taste, style, and personal preference. Moreover, there are other options for leisure than popular arts. The Third Reich and the GDR learned that heavy propaganda made unpopular radio, film, television, and literature. Both systems therefore sought to use the arts in ways that served propaganda without alienating the audience.

    “No people lives longer than the evidence of its culture,” Hitler proclaimed at...

  12. 7 Public and Private Life
    (pp. 131-154)

    Bending spines takes steady pressure in every area of life. Jacques Ellul observes: “Propaganda tries to surround man by all possible routes, in the realm of feelings as well as ideas, by playing on his will or on his needs, through his conscious and his unconscious, assailing him in both his private and his public life.”¹ I have earlier discussed the quasi-religious nature of claims made on all aspects of life. Both the National Socialist and GDR systems took power knowing that they would never win over the whole of the population. They wanted conviction but settled for outward assent...

  13. 8 The Failure of Propaganda
    (pp. 155-170)

    The propagandas of the Third Reich and the GDR failed. Both had as their goal better and lasting worlds populated by new kinds of human beings. The Third Reich survived twelve years, the GDR forty. Both collapsed absolutely, the Third Reich by military force, the GDR through a gradual decline that became suddenly evident when its citizens realized their leaders were no longer prepared to maintain their rule by the bullet. Neither system, despite talk of eternal values and scientific laws, produced adherents who were eager to restore them after they were gone. Nazism’s latter-day followers are ordinarily unpleasant crackpots....

  14. Notes
    (pp. 171-204)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 205-222)
  16. Index
    (pp. 223-228)