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Power and Society in the GDR, 1961-1979

Power and Society in the GDR, 1961-1979: The 'Normalisation of Rule'?

edited by Mary Fulbrook
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Power and Society in the GDR, 1961-1979
    Book Description:

    The communist German Democratic Republic, founded in 1949 in the Soviet-occupied zone of post-war Germany is, for many people, epitomized by the Berlin Wall; Soviet tanks and surveillance by the secret security police, the Stasi, appear to be central. But is this really all there is to the GDR¹s history? How did people come to terms with their situation and make new lives behind the Wall? When the social history of the GDR in the 1960s and 1970s is explored, new patterns become evident. A fragile stability emerged in a period characterized by 'consumer socialism', international recognition and detente. Growing participation in the micro-structures of power, and conformity to the unwritten rules of an increasingly predictable system, suggest increasing accommodation to dominant norms and conceptions of socialist 'normality'. By exploring the ways in which lower-level functionaries and people at the grass roots contributed to the formation and transformation of the GDR ­ from industry and agriculture, through popular sport and cultural life, to the passage of generations and varieties of social experience ­ the contributors collectively develop a more complex approach to the history of East Germany.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-913-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Chapter 1 The Concept of ‘Normalisation’ and the GDR in Comparative Perspective
    (pp. 1-30)
    Mary Fulbrook

    The German Democratic Republic was a forcibly imposed state, founded in the context of a divided post-war society. And it was founded in not just any post-war society: it was founded on the ruins of Hitler’s Third Reich, among a people who had, in their millions, supported Hitler’s crusade against Bolshevism. The battles between Nazis and Communists of preceding decades continued, in altered forms, in the mutual dislike and distrust between ‘ordinary Germans’ and the new Communist regime. Only a small minority of Germans crawling out of hiding, being released from Nazi concentration camps, or returning to the Soviet zone...

  5. Part I Normalisation as Stabilisation and Routinisation?: Systemic Parameters and the Roles of Functionaries

    • Chapter 2 ‘Aggression in Felt Slippers’: Normalisation and the Ideological Struggle in the Context of Détente and Ostpolitik
      (pp. 33-51)
      Merrilyn Thomas

      The GDR existed in diplomatic isolation for much of the period that is the subject of this book. Although it was recognised by the Soviet Union and other members of the Soviet bloc together with a handful of non-aligned countries, it was not until 1973 that the East German state was given official recognition by Britain. The USA followed suit in 1974. Throughout the 1960s, the North American Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies, under pressure from West Germany, continued to practise their public policy of ostracising the GDR. At the same time, however, and contrary to appearances, the process of accepting...

    • Chapter 3 Economic Politics and Company Culture: The Problem of Routinisation
      (pp. 52-75)
      Jeannette Madarász

      After the building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961, the situation in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) changed. East Germans of all political and social opinions were confronted with circumstances beyond their control, circumstances that had a massive impact on their personal and working lives. People had to adjust to these changed circumstances; they realised this quickly and adapted without much ado. Processes of adaptation could last a lifetime and led to ever-finer nuances of behaviour. Social norms emerged based both on traditional expectations and the socialist values propagated by the East German communist party, the SED. They affected...

    • Chapter 4 Rural Functionaries and the Transmission of Agricultural Policy: The Case of Bezirk Erfurt from the 1960s to the 1970s
      (pp. 76-101)
      George Last

      With the completion of the campaign for full collectivisation in April 1960, an administrative milestone had been reached. Beyond the paperwork however, the situation was by no means so clear cut. The rural communities of the GDR were fraught with discord and many farmers continued to reject the agricultural collectives, refusing to take part in collective work, and in some cases abandoning their farms and fleeing the GDR altogether. Over subsequent years—particularly with the construction of the Wall in August 1961—the rural population then responded to the end of private farming (on more than a minute scale) by...

    • Chapter 5 The ‘Societalisation’ of the State: Sport for the Masses and Popular Music in the GDR
      (pp. 102-129)
      Dan Wilton

      The two areas that form the main subjects of this chapter—sport and popular music—undoubtedly played a significant role in the lives of the bulk of the East German populace, either in terms of active participation or more passive reception. The GDR was both envied and aroused considerable suspicion for its international sporting successes, which, from the 1970s, verged on the predictable, earning the state the label of ‘Sporting Wonderland’. But apart from the images of testosterone-filled shot-putters (with which the western observer is most likely to be familiar), there was widespread activity in sporting practice at the lower-levels:...

    • Chapter 6 Communication and Compromise: The Prerequisites for Cultural Participation
      (pp. 130-150)
      Esther von Richthofen

      Throughout the forty-year history of the GDR, the SED aimed to fill people’s free time with ideologically sound and intellectually stimulating cultural activities. First, in mass organisations such as theKulturbundand in factories, GDR citizens were encouraged to apply themselves to the pursuit of a particular artistic or cultural endeavour by joining a cultural circle. The party leadership pledged to provide such circles for any officially sanctioned artistic activity or hobby, which meant that, theoretically, no individual had to pursue a cultural interest outside the state-organised cultural network. Secondly, state institutions, like cultural houses, and mass organisations, such as...

    • Chapter 7 Learning the Rules: Local Activists and the Heimat
      (pp. 151-178)
      Jan Palmowski

      The question of ‘Heimat’ (roughly translatable as ‘homeland’ or home territory, with connotations of a sense of emotional ‘belonging’) is significant for any consideration of popular culture in the GDR. From the late 1950s, it acquired its own, significant role within socialist ideology, as the lynchpin between socialism and patriotism. Through the ‘socialist Heimat’, individuals would feel at home wherever they contributed to its transformation, irrespective of place of birth. And, by having a share in the Heimat and its transformation, they would learn to love the fatherland, the GDR.¹ This paved the way for the state’s self-representations through Heimat...

  6. Part II Normalisation as Internalisation?: Conformity, ‘Normality’, and ‘Playing The Rules’

    • Chapter 8 Practices of Survival—Ways of Appropriating ‘The Rules’: Reconsidering Approaches to the History of the GDR
      (pp. 181-193)
      Alf Lüdtke

      The study of domination revolves around socio-political structures and processes. For decades, this polarity provided a firm basis for research on societal relations and transformations. Yet, efforts to relate both anew and to explore ‘structuration’ (Anthony Giddens, William H. Sewell) have broken new ground in their emphasis on the processual limits of stability in the realms of the social.¹ Still, even such refined versions of asystemic viewalso claim calculability for their results. The limits of this assumption became only too obvious when ‘actually existing socialism’ was overthrown and imploded in 1989/90, betraying all assumptions about its coherence and...

    • Chapter 9 The GDR—A Normal Country in the Centre of Europe
      (pp. 194-203)
      Ina Merkel

      In view of the fact that a woman, who before 1989 belonged to the academic elite of East Germany in 2005, became chancellor of a united Germany, it is high time to ask whether current interpretations of the GDR, which move between the extremes of scandalising and exoticising, are still adequate for explaining such a phenomenon. While her father’s position as a minister of religion may fit into the concept of the GDR as a ‘niche society’, the brilliant career of the parson’s daughter does not. Angela Merkel finished secondary school with the Abitur (school leaving exams equivalent to British...

    • Chapter 10 How Do the 1929ers and the 1949ers Differ?
      (pp. 204-219)
      Dorothee Wierling

      The following remarks are based primarily on two major research projects. The first one was conducted in the year 1987, together with Lutz Niethammer and Alexander von Plato, as an oral history project with the birth cohorts of 1900 to 1930. At the time, we interviewed around 150 people, many of whom were born in the second half of the 1920s. The authorities at that time perceived this age group as one which gave proof of the GDR as a success story, while we gave this interpretation a rather different twist.¹ After the fall of the Wall, I began to...

    • Chapter 11 Producing the ‘Socialist Personality’? Socialisation, Education, and the Emergence of New Patterns of Behaviour
      (pp. 220-252)
      Angela Brock

      This essay focuses on the ways in which two decades of socialisation in the education system of the GDR left their mark on young people growing up there from the late 1950s to the late 1970s.¹ It centres on the enigmatic concept of an ‘all-round developed socialist personality’, the ubiquitous formula of the SED used to describe its supreme aim and ideal: a new kind of human being endowed with impeccable traits of character on whose ardent socialist convictions rest the fate and future of socialist society.

      What makes a personality in the first place? No man is an island,...

    • Chapter 12 1977: The GDR’s Most Normal Year?
      (pp. 253-277)
      Mark Allinson

      By any criteria, 1977 was a year of routines for the GDR. The year’s only unusual characteristic was the absence of almost any unusual events, both within domestic affairs and in the GDR’s foreign relations. Indeed, 1977 marks something of a halfway point between the end of the cycle of events that established the GDR’s new status in the international sphere and, arguably, the start of the sequence of internal events that contributed to the state’s eventual dissolution. The early 1970s had seen the emergence of Willy Brandt’sOstpolitikand its implementation, with the GDR’s consequent establishment of diplomatic relations...

    • Chapter 13 ‘Normalisation’ in the GDR in Retrospect: East German Perspectives on Their Own Lives
      (pp. 278-320)
      Mary Fulbrook

      What is subjectively perceived as ‘normal’, or indeed as ‘good’ and ‘desirable’, varies markedly among people of different social, political, cultural, and generational groups. And patterns of subjective perception do not always map neatly onto the ‘external’ history of a state; perhaps least of all in the case of the GDR, which in terms of political history—divided, occupied, walled in—was far from conforming to generally current western conceptions of the ‘normality’ of a modern sovereign state. How did and do East Germans view their own lives in retrospect?

      The evidence of a survey carried out in 2005, fifteen...

  7. List of Contributors
    (pp. 321-324)
  8. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 325-334)
  9. Index
    (pp. 335-340)