Academic journal article German Quarterly

The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR

Article excerpt

Ross, Corey. The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR. London: Arnold; New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. x + 221 pp. $19.95 paperback.

Modeled on Ian Kershaw's analysis of the Nazi Dictatorship, Corey Ross's eminently useful overview of the issues and debates that have developed in the evolving historiography of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) provides a welcome frame of reference in the midst of the post-1989 explosion of writing on the now-vanished East Germany. Unlike Kershaw, who could draw on forty years of historical post-mortems for his work on the Third Reich, Ross has tackled a project with much less historiographical continuity and is keenly aware of this limitation, rather humbly warning readers that this book endeavors only to present a glimpse into the process whereby "a relatively new historiographical field begins to congeal" (vii).

The book is divided into eight chapters. Framed by introductory and concluding chapters that quite explicitly seek to anchor the discussion of an East German past in the politics of a (unified) German present, six thematic chapters explore topics that Ross has chosen to illustrate his sense of the key debates in the field: the GDR as dictatorship, state and society in East Germany, the East German economy, opposition and dissent, the end of the GDR, and a chapter on the GDR in German history. Each chapter bears the stamp of Ross's renunciation of forced neutrality: (following Kershaw's model) a discussion of the various interpretations that historians have thus far offered on the topic is followed by a second section in which Ross offers his evaluations of those efforts. With the notes appearing admirably at the bottom of the page, the ebb and flow of the scholarly debates that Ross unpacks remain readily accessible to the reader.

If the massive amount of historiographical material at times seems overwhelming, this feeling is eased by Ross's ability to distill critical ideas into clear prose, especially in the chapter conclusions. Here, his evaluations at times produce remarkably productive syntheses, as in his decision to situate AIf Ludtke's concept of "disaffected loyalty" within Jeffrey Kopstein's description of a "politics of economic decline" (125) as a way of describing the dynamic power of individual actions that transcend easy characterization as opposition or compliance. …

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