Dictatorship as Experience

Dictatorship as Experience: Towards a Socio-Cultural History of the GDR

Edited by Konrad H. Jarausch
Translated by Eve Duffy
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 402
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qd328
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  • Book Info
    Dictatorship as Experience
    Book Description:

    A decade after the collapse of communism, this volume presents a historical reflection on the perplexing nature of the East German dictatorship. In contrast to most political rhetoric, it seeks to establish a middle ground between totalitarianism theory, stressing the repressive features of the SED-regime, and apologetics of the socialist experiment, emphasizing the normality of daily lives. The book transcends the polarization of public debate by stressing the tensions and contradictions within the East German system that combined both aspects by using dictatorial means to achieve its emancipatory aims. By analyzing a range of political, social, cultural, and chronological topics, the contributors sketch a differentiated picture of the GDR which emphasizes both its repressive and its welfare features. The sixteen original essays, especially written for this volume by historians from both east and west Germany, represent the cutting edge of current research and suggest new theoretical perspectives. They explore political, social, and cultural mechanisms of control as well as analyze their limits and discuss the mixture of dynamism and stagnation that was typical of the GDR.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-479-3
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-x)
    Konrad H. Jarausch
  4. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    • BEYOND UNIFORMITY: THE CHALLENGE OF HISTORICIZING THE GDR
      (pp. 3-14)
      Konrad H. Jarausch

      Though public interest in the GDR may be starting to wane, scholarly concern is, if anything, still increasing a decade after the collapse of the second German dictatorship. The parliamentary commission of inquiry into the SED state has wound up its debates by creating a foundation for former Eastern dissidents.¹ In the 1998 election campaign, CDU posters portraying the historic handshake between Pieck and Grotewohl so as to tarnish the current cooperation between SPD and PDS have frightened fewer voters than four years before. Nonetheless, dissertations on the defunct GDR are multiplying so quickly that a Mannheim survey of the...

  6. The Theoretical Problem of Dictatorship
    • CHAPTER 1 THE GDR: A SPECIAL KIND OF MODERN DICTATORSHIP
      (pp. 17-26)
      Jürgen Kocka

      A decade after the demise of the GDR regime, scholars cannot agree on how best to categorize it in historical or sociological terms. While few would argue that the GDR was a lawful, legitimate state, or aRechtsstaat, many feel that the polemical termUnrechtsstaat, “unlawful,” illegitimate state is too restrictive and distorts the true nature of the system. Most would even agree with the claim that the GDR should be considered a dictatorship. But what kind of dictatorship was it? Numerous adjectives have been suggested, such as totalitarian, modern, state socialist, communist, Stalinist, or post-Stalinist – and yet no consensus...

    • CHAPTER 2 MODERNIZATION AND MODERNIZATION BLOCKAGES IN GDR SOCIETY
      (pp. 27-46)
      Detlef Pollack

      The question whether, and to what extent, the GDR can be described as a homogeneous society with a classless social structure is controversial in social scientific research. Sigrid Meuschel answers it basically in the affirmative, with some reservations.¹ She treats the GDR as a classless, uniform society, designed to be egalitarian, neither distinguished according to property nor according to performance and income.² To a large extent it lacked independent institutions and regulating mechanisms, even if this was not completely the case. In the GDR there was neither a free market nor a legal system, neither a general public nor a...

    • CHAPTER 3 CARE AND COERCION: THE GDR AS WELFARE DICTATORSHIP
      (pp. 47-70)
      Konrad H. Jarausch

      Public and scholarly debate about the nature of the GDR regime has revolved around a few, often contradictory terms. The SED regime has been called many things, depending on one’s interests or point of view. Most frequently the regime’s critics have considered it anUnrechtsstaat, or a fundamentally illegitimate regime. Its apologists like to see it as an experiment, that – despite the good intentions of its founders – somehow went awry. Those commentators desiring to inject more objectivity into the discussion have relied on more neutral terms, such as “modern dictatorship,” in their analyses.¹ The emotional charge associated with different approaches...

  7. Mechanisms of Political Repression
    • CHAPTER 4 FROM DISMANTLING TO CURRENCY REFORM: EXTERNAL ORIGINS OF THE DICTATORSHIP, 1943–1948
      (pp. 73-90)
      Jochen Laufer

      “As far as one can tell from current developments, it is becoming increasingly clear that economics and politics, and indeed the very way of life in the Russian zone are quickly approaching the Soviet model.” Offered by a pessimistic commentator of the East German scene as early as a few weeks after the end of the Second World War,¹ this assessment of trends in the Eastern zone reflects the dramatic transformations experienced by East German society in the postwar period. What was the role of the Soviet Union in this development? In the past few years scholars such as Wilfried...

    • CHAPTER 5 FOREIGN INFLUENCES ON THE DICTATORIAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE GDR, 1949–1955
      (pp. 91-108)
      Michael Lemke

      GDR scholars have not yet adequately examined the extent to which the East German dictatorship was influenced by external factors, nor have they fully explored the role which such factors played in the formation of the regime, or their influence on society and the state in general. Instead, in both more general works describing conditions in the GDR, and more specific studies focusing on the definition and particular nature of East German rule, scholarship has addressed endogenous, rather than exogenous factors. While some authors have raised the question of theimplantednature of the GDR dictatorship, the issue has not...

    • CHAPTER 6 REPRESSION AND TOLERANCE AS METHODS OF RULE IN COMMUNIST SOCIETIES
      (pp. 109-122)
      Mario Keßler and Thomas Klein

      Can one draw conclusions about the logic of communist societies by considering changes in such systems’ methods of rule, particularly their specific blend of repression and tolerance? Both authors of the following article do not wish to underestimate the significance of such analyses. Yet we believe that they cannot suffice to explain how communist societies actually function. Neither totalitarian theories nor theories that distinguish different types of government can do such systems justice. And yet it is important to differentiate carefully between the various methods of rule which they employ. In this short essay we analyze two such methods, and...

  8. Means of Social Control
    • CHAPTER 7 CREATING STATE SOCIALIST GOVERNANCE: THE CASE OF THE DEUTSCHE VOLKSPOLIZEI
      (pp. 125-142)
      Thomas Lindenberger

      In order to understand the political system of the GDR, one cannot limit the field of research to those activities which correspond directly to the programmatic imperatives and orders of the power center. To find out to what extent and how society was practically “run” according to the party program and the decisions taken by the Politbüro, one should also look at the informal side of power, and in particular at relations on the micro-level of society. One must stress the interactive dimension of all processes of domination, its quality as social practice.¹

      It is important to focus not only...

    • CHAPTER 8 FOOD SUPPLY IN A PLANNED ECONOMY: SED NUTRITION POLICY BETWEEN CRISIS RESPONSE AND POPULAR NEEDS
      (pp. 143-162)
      Burghard Ciesla and Patrice G. Poutrus

      Supplying the GDR population with food was always a key issue for the SED leadership. It was clear to East German rulers from the very beginning that the GDR system would have no mid-range or long-term stability unless the populace was provided with adequate food and experienced constant improvements in the standard of living. Since the founding of the GDR in 1949, two tasks were therefore central to SED food policies: meeting consumer demands and supplying those needs from domestic production. The theoretical considerations behind this twofold goal were as follows: the projected collectivization of agriculture would result in overproduction,...

    • CHAPTER 9 THE MYTH OF FEMALE EMANCIPATION: CONTRADICTIONS IN WOMEN’S LIVES
      (pp. 163-176)
      Leonore Ansorg and Renate Hürtgen

      This article will try to link the issue of female emancipation in the GDR to the question of whether East German society can be characterized as a “modern dictatorship.” While examining the supposed or actual emancipation of women in East Germany, as well as women’s own understanding of this process, we will not explicitly engage in a discussion of the term “modern dictatorship.” Instead, we would like to ascertain how and in which manner the ambivalent features of “modern dictatorship” were reflected in women’s work. To put it differently: by describing processes and understandings of female emancipation in the GDR,...

    • CHAPTER 10 THE SOCIALIST GLASS CEILING: LIMITS TO FEMALE CAREERS
      (pp. 177-192)
      Dagmar Langenhan and Sabine Roß

      This 1979 statement of Ingeburg Lange, head of the Division for Women in the Central Committee of the SED and the GDR’s most prominent “woman’s representative” demonstrates (albeit indirectly) how elusive legal and social equality were for East German women. When she was speaking in 1979, both goals had already been officially achieved for some time. Not only did party and state organs take credit for the accomplishment in official proclamations, but the majority of GDR women also believed in the reality of those claims. As such, they constituted an essential element in the selflegitimization of the GDR state.

      This...

  9. Cultural Dimensions of Domination
    • CHAPTER 11 DICTATORSHIP AS DISCOURSE: CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES ON SED LEGITIMACY
      (pp. 195-212)
      Martin Sabrow

      The further the former East German state slips into the past, the more difficult it is to understand how the GDR system could function, noted one of Germany’s leading weekly magazines seven years after German reunification.² paradoxically, the more information we have about the SED dictatorship – its techniques of power, its economic system, and social structure – the less we seem to understand how it could continue to exist for over forty years. The state’s ideological rhetoric, its Manichean patterns of thought, and the ritual acts that shaped the daily lives of its citizens all appear hopelessly foreign to us, even...

    • CHAPTER 12 THE FETTERED MEDIA: CONTROLLING PUBLIC DEBATE
      (pp. 213-240)
      Simone Barck, Christoph Classen and Thomas Heimann

      Twentieth century dictatorships have been distinguished by the manner in which they can avail themselves of the technical and cultural potential of methods of mass persuasion. Using modern media, they perpetuate their rule and instrumentalize and establish hegemony through institutionalized ideologies. Societies of the “Soviet type,”¹ such as the GDR, generally fit this description. During the GDR’s existence, the SED party and the state apparatus utilized traditional and modern forms of mass media and their institutional, substantive, and argumentative forms of control to secure and further their power. The media’s potentially stabilizing effects are obvious, and have been remarked upon...

    • CHAPTER 13 CRITICISM AND CENSORSHIP: NEGOTIATING CABARET PERFORMANCE AND BOOK PRODUCTION
      (pp. 241-264)
      Sylvia Klötzer and Siegfried Lokatis

      In the cabaret sketch “Little Moritz and the Press”¹ we meet a young trainee on his first day on the job in a newspaper office. The news comes in over the wire that “Sicily has drifted away from Italy and is now stranded on the western coast of England.” In the paper the next day, no mention is made of the event. Instead, the headlines read, “Harvest Saved.” “Notice,” the chief editor says to the astonished young man, “our newspaper’s task is not to inform our citizens, but to confuse our class enemies.”

      This skit about censorship never appeared on...

    • CHAPTER 14 THE PIVOTAL CADRES: LEADERSHIP STYLES AND SELF-IMAGES OF GDR-ELITES
      (pp. 265-282)
      Arnd Bauerkämper and Jürgen Danyel

      Franz Dahlem’s description of the new type of SED functionary in 1946 illuminates the contradictions inherent within the self-images and leadership styles of the GDR’s leading “cadres.” In their self-perceptions, East German party and state leaders vacillated between an egalitarian habitus that corresponded to the divisions within society, and an elite image that drew upon Leninist understandings of the party as a revolutionary “avant-garde” serving as the vanguard of the working classes. Marx and Engels had demanded that the proletariat be led by a centralized leadership which would provide them with the unity and power they otherwise lacked. Proceeding from...

  10. Temporal Transformations
    • CHAPTER 15 STAGNATION OR CHANGE? TRANSFORMATIONS OF THE WORKPLACE IN THE GDR
      (pp. 285-306)
      Peter Hübner

      One of the most contested questions about the nature of the “first German workers’ and peasants’ state” concerns the characterization of the SED regime as a “modern dictatorship.”¹ Questions about the relative “modernity” of the regime help to locate the dictatorship within a specific historical context, while also problematizing the applicability and usefulness of modernization theory in general.² With its normative, structural approach, a modernization perspective makes a strong case for comparative studies, particularly those that address structural innovations and their internal consequences. Such a comparison should not only consider the differences between pluralist democracy and dictatorship, or compare the...

    • CHAPTER 16 THE HITLER YOUTH GENERATION IN THE GDR: INSECURITIES, AMBITIONS AND DILEMMAS
      (pp. 307-324)
      Dorothee Wierling

      The label of “the reconstruction generation”¹ in the GDR refers mainly to the age group of those born in the 1920s. The older cohorts were too compromised by their affiliation with National Socialism, and lost most of their influence on public life in the Soviet Zone, apart from a small group of loyal communists returning from Soviet exile that comprised the “activists of the first hour.” But those born in the twenties were young enough to be forgiven and old enough to be prepared for the new society, or to take over responsibility on the local level. They had experienced...

    • CHAPTER 17 REFORMING SOCIALISM? THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD FROM ULBRICHT TO HONECKER DURING THE 1960ѕ
      (pp. 325-340)
      Monika Kaiser

      An examination of the political landscape of East Germany in the 1960s reveals various distinct, and in part opposing, tendencies. These contradictions not only resulted from the changing structures of Eastern bloc politics, but also reflect tensions between two competing groups within the SED elite. Although they shared some basic beliefs and assumptions, these two factions differed considerably in questions of detail. Both constantly had to reach a consensus between themselves on the one hand and with the political interests of the Soviets on the other. Internally, these challenges centered on the question of whether in light of the evident...

    • CHAPTER 18 MOBILITY AND BLOCKAGE DURING THE 1970ѕ
      (pp. 341-360)
      Ralph Jessen

      All modern societies are characterized to some degree by the tension between the promise of equality and the reality of social inequality. Which forms and what degree of inequality are considered legitimate within a particular society have varied greatly throughout history. While the West German market society of the 1990s accepts disparities based on private property, professional qualifications or employment, it views as problematic attempts to limit opportunity according to sex, ethnicity, or religious beliefs. In the GDR, the relationship between claims to legitimacy and promises of equality was much closer. The SED dictatorship based its rule on an ideology...

  11. Postscript
    • CHAPTER 19 RETHINKING THE SECOND GERMAN DICTATORSHIP
      (pp. 363-372)
      Christoph Kleßmann

      It is one of the ironies of GDR history that its final chapter has been preserved in popular memory as theWendeor “course change.” Seeking to imply that the SED regime could be reformed and improved, Egon Krenz, the youngest member of a rather fossilized Politburo, coined this term to designate his pragmatic reform-communism. That one of the newest representatives of the Old Guard could shape the consciousness of his former subjects so permanently needs some explanation, especially since the expressionWende, borrowed from the world of sailors and surfers, generally refers to a shift in direction, but not...

  12. SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 373-378)
  13. NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 379-382)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 383-388)