Justice in Luritz: Experiencing Socialist Law in East Germany

By Inga Markovits | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 4
PROPERTY

I will organize my search for justice in Lüritz by areas of law, just like an archeologist will rope off individual areas of his terrain before beginning with the digging, in order to make sure that none of the artifacts that may be buried in the ground will escape him. The corner where my own search should begin, I think, is property law. Socialism was focused, or maybe I should say fixated, on property in ways that remind me of Christianity’s preoccupation with sin. Without sin, no need for salvation. Without property, or without the kind of property that Capitalism had produced, no need for a social system that would undo its aberrations: the exploitation of those who owned nothing but their ability to work by those who owned the machinery to work with; the schizophrenic split of human beings into a self-possessed private and a public persona; a concept of freedom that, in Marx’s words, seemed to delineate “the elbow room of the individual Capitalist.” And just as the wordly law for Christians, in the words of Martin Luther, was meant “to keep sin in check,” the law under Socialism had the task of keeping its citizens’ possessive greed in check.

It’s not as if the war had not already wrought havoc on the distribution of property in Lüritz. But it had not changed the fact that this was still a smalltown, partially agrarian society in which property and order were close cousins. Ownership legitimated. Those who had lost everything hoped to regain it in the future. The tensions between the locals and the refugees in Lüritz were also tensions between people with and without property. In the beginning, Socialism’s attacks on property seemed to favor the refugees who had lost everything. In the end, Socialist law assaulted the rights and possibilities of all citizens in Lüritz to accumulate and use property according to their own abilities and plans.

The incursions came in waves: the expropriations of Nazis and war criminals (and of those who might fit that description) soon after the war had ended; the nationalization of the most important industries; the Land Reform that by early 1949 had seized more than three million hectares formerly belonging to the large estates of aristocracy and gentry, redistributing more than half that land among 210,000 Neubauern (“new farmers”) who each on average received a plot of eight hectares.3 The intrusions of the planning system made it increasingly more difficult for private enterprises to compete with the state economy. The criminal law became an important ally in the transformation of society and,

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