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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

This volume presents to an English-speaking public some of the recent, increasingly sophisticated work on the GDR, conducted at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung. Growing out of the Forschungsschwerpunkt Zeithistorische Studien, this Center for Research on Contemporary History was founded in 1996, partly as a home for scholars of the former GDR Academy of Sciences whose projects had been evaluated positively and partly as a spur to interdisciplinary innovation in the humanities and social sciences within the united Germany. Initially the institute proved highly controversial, since East German dissidents and West German Cold Warriors claimed that historians who had been active in the previous regime ought to be barred on moral and scholarly grounds, while Eastern postcommunists and Western radicals resented its probing analyses of the flaws in "real existing socialism" (see also Mary Fulbrook, New Historikerstreit, Missed Opportunity, or New Beginning? German History 12 [ 1994 ]: 203-7). Under its founding director Jürgen Kocka and his successor Christoph Kleßman as well as myself, the ZZF has tried hard to develop an intermediary line of interpretation that would analyze the dictatorial character of the GDR comparatively, but at the same time acknowledge some of the normalcy of daily lives in the SED state.

The essays in this collection originated in a conference on "The GDR -- A Modern Dictatorship?" held in Potsdam during early December of 1997 (see Anette Weinke, Eine moderne Diktatur? Jahrestagung des ZZF Deutschland Archiv 31 [ 1998 ]: 461-64). To advance the theoretical discussion beyond the totalitarianism paradigm M. Rainer Lepsius contributed a preview of his study of the GDR bureaucracy, Juan Linz commented on "post-totalitarianism . . ."

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