Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR, 1949-1989

Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR, 1949-1989

Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR, 1949-1989

Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR, 1949-1989


Founded on the ruins of Hitler's defeated Third Reich, and lacking any intrinsic legitimacy, the German Democratic Republic nevertheless became the most stable and successful state in the Soviet bloc. Yet in the "gentle revolution" of 1989 it collapsed with startling speed. How can this extraordinary story of political stability followed by sudden implosion be explained? With the opening of the East German archives, it is at last possible to look inside the apparently impregnable dictatorship. Mary Fulbrook provides a compelling interpretation of structures of power and patterns of popular opinion within the GDR. This absorbing study explores the ways in which the tentacles of the all-pervading state captured East German society in the grip of Stasi, party, and mass organizations, and analyzes the emergence in the 1980s of oppositional cultures under the ambivalent shelter of a Protestant Church which had come to terms with the communist state. In combining careful archival research with broader theoretical and historical interpretation, Anatomy of a Dictatorship makes a major contribution to debates on recent German history and the character of contemporary Germany.


Writing a book about the GDR at this time has not been easy. I first conceived the idea for this book in the early 1980s, when--as many historians took a delight in warning me--there was too little material to do more than hypothesize. Then came an entirely unexpected reversal of the situation: with the fall of the Wall and the opening of the abundant documentation of the East German archives, there is now almost too much material to do more than hypothesize.

With truly Prussian zeal and efficiency, the East German communists observed, collected, and collated the most extraordinary mountains of information in the interests of having total overview, total control, in a state where there was no open forum for gauging patterns of public opinion. As a result--and despite a number of problems of interpretation--there are fascinating sediments of unexpectedly rich material for the historian to explore. It will take decades of detailed archival research before the historiography of the GDR begins to attain the well-defined contours of debate which characterize earlier periods of German history.

It is not only the sheer quantity of archival residues which challenges the contemporary historian of the GDR. In a post-dictatorial society, and under the peculiar circumstances of social, economic, and political restructuring under the essentially benevolent but nevertheless quasi-colonial auspices of the West, any confrontation with the East German past is inevitably politically charged, laden with moral overtones, and coloured. by implicit or explicit comparisons with the Third Reich. Who should be castigated for having sustained a dictatorship, whether through appeasement in the West, or acquiescence, complicity, or active support in the East? Who should be designated as 'oppressor', who as 'hero' or 'victim'? Who should reap the rewards of the new opportunities after 1990, and who condemned to remain the perpetual losers of history, under whatever system they happen to live? Given the betrayals of trust and friendship in the past, whom can one now trust? How should one live? Such are the--intrinsically existential as well as 'purely' historical--preoccupations swirling around in popular and political debates in Germany today.

This book is intended as a sober and to some extent provisional contribution to the analysis of the inner life and workings--the domestic anatomy--of the East German dictatorship. It seeks to understand, in their . . .

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