Its denunciatory usage has been twofold: first, to tar the East German regime with the same brush as the horrifically brutal years of 'high Stalinism' in the Soviet Union; and second, to suggest that the roots of communist terror could be traced as far back as the writings of Marx himself, especially in his ideas about the preferability of monocratic over pluralistic structures of political rule. Useful inroads are Sheila Fitzpatrick ed. Trotsky, Verratene Revolution orig. Die Geschichte der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone Berlin, Ever since the s, Trotskyites have considered Stalinism nothing less than a 'betrayal of socialism'.
After the collapse of the GDR it has been argued that forty years of East German Stalinism represented 'not a "flawed attempt", not a "false model" of socialism, but rather its grave-digger'. But the concept nonetheless has been used analytically by scholars working on the GDR to delineate a specific phenomenon or certain hangovers of a particular phase in the development of communist regimes with a greater degree of specificity than broader theories of 'totalitarianism' allow.
Arguably the foremost scholar to adopt a clearly defined concept of 'Stalinism' as a fundamental prop to his interpretation of the GDR is Hermann Weber.
Because Weber's definition can by and large be regarded as the standard among most scholars working on the GDR,24 it suffices to confine ourselves to it here. In his pioneering overviews of East German history, Weber uses the term 'Stalinism' in both a specific and general sense: on the one hand, to denote the specific phenomena of arbitrary rule and the personality cult; and on the other, to refer to the more general 'societal-political system' that developed under Stalin.
First with Stalin's death in , and especially after Kruschev's denunciation of Stalin's excesses at the Soviet party's twentieth congress in , efforts were made Contd indignation over the mismanagement and irresponsibility of the "gerontocracy" around Honecker.
Stalinism is degenerating into a label for GDR history. Aufstieg, Untergang und Wiederkehr neuer Gesellschaftsordnungen Cologne, However: the basis of the terror regime, the concentration of power in the hands of the hegemonic party, survived by and large unscathed— In spite of visible signs of modernization in many areas, the socio-political system of Stalinism or of neo-Stalinism remained untouched in the GDR. The two concepts are not irreconcilable. The issue of whether to approach the GDR as an instance of 'Stalinism' versus 'totalitarianism' is not like the question of employing general theories of fascism or totalitarianism to the Third Reich, where proponents of the former by and large reject the latter as a useful heuristic device, and vice versa.
Nonetheless, the very use of this term instead of 'totalitarianism' does imply that the GDR is better approached as a specifically communist dictatorship and that it is more fruitfully compared to and categorized with other communist regimes than with the broader category of 'totalitarian' dictatorships of both Left and Right.
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Weber himself is rather sceptical about the heuristic value of 'totalitarian' theories. Although he considers the GDR 'absolutely a totalitarian dictatorship', he contends that 'the concept or theory of totalitarianism is of little use to the historian for understanding this dictatorship', above all for capturing the dynamics of stabilization and internal political change over time, as well as the grounds and forms of opposition and dissidence. The GDR as 'modern dictatorship'? Not everyone, however, has been advocating more specific frames of reference for the GDR. Among some scholars the solution to the problems of applying the concept of totalitarianism to the history of the GDR has run in Contd the militarization and regimentation of all spheres of life, the lack of basic human rights, a dogmatic ideology Marxism-Leninism , strict central economic planning, stark social differences including the establishment of a new privileged bureaucracy, and the total subordination of the unions and other 'mass organizations' to the ruling party.
Geschichte, Situation, Perspektiven Cologne, , pp. His definition of Stalinism can also be found in H. Even in the version of this work, Weber uses the concept 'Stalinism' as the 'central term for the characterization of the SED dictatorship'. IX, pp. The GDR as dictatorship 29 quite the opposite direction.http://pierreducalvet.ca/239236.php
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If the advantage of 'Stalinism' as an analytical tool lies in its greater specificity when referring to communist regimes, the disadvantage of course lies in its preclusion of other axes of comparison. If, however, the problem of the 'totalitarian' concept lies in its inability to capture significant changes in the nature of the regime over the forty years of its history - especially if applied to the s and s - and in the associations it has with the far more brutal Third Reich and Soviet Union under Stalin, then perhaps a better solution than retreating into ever greater specificity would be to use an even more general, but less politically loaded term.
This is certainly the rationale behind the notion of 'modern dictatorship', which has enjoyed considerable popularity after , especially among social historians interested in comparative history. Suggested by Jurgen Kocka as an alternative shorthand description of the East German regime, it represents a more 'neutral' and broadly applicable concept than totalitarian theory.
The term is intended to refer only to certain kinds of dictatorships of the twentieth century characterized by bureaucratic administration, modern means of control and mobilization propaganda, surveillance by a state security system , a mass party with claims to absolute political power as both ruler and means of rule, and a binding, all-encompassing ideology.
At the heart of the concept is the 'modern' form of dictatorial authority in the age of the 'masses', above all its pseudo-plebiscitary nature which distinguishes it from both previous forms of 'dictatorial' rule as well as other twentieth-century military dictatorships or more traditional monarchical systems. Under this definition, the GDR was clearly a 'modern dictatorship' along with all the other Soviet-style communist regimes as well as the Third Reich and fascist Italy.
Moreover, unlike totalitarianism, with its association of brutality and radicalism, 'modern dictatorship' can be more or less appropriately used for the GDR over the whole of its history, including its rather stagnant final decade. Regardless of the original intentions behind the term, it does raise the question of the GDR's 'modernity' more generally and has been used as a springboard for analysing the issues involved. Kocka ed.
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Kocka, 'Ein deutscher Sonderweg. Arbeit, Lebenslauf und soziale Differenzierung', pp. Versuch einer strukturellen Bestimmung', Kolner Zeitschrift fur Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 43 , pp. Compared to the Third Reich or other Soviet satellite states, the GDR's oft-cited level of gender equality, high degree of industrialization, emphasis on technology and science and high degree of secularization seem relatively modern. But when considered alongside the Federal Republic and other 'Western' societies the GDR appears relatively unmodern, even antimodern, in view of the weak tertiary sector of employment, the low degree of mass consumption and technical innovation, and most importantly the 'primacy of polities' over all basic economic, political and social institutions.
When viewed through the lens of 'modernization', the picture of the GDR that emerges is therefore contradictory and ambivalent - hardly surprising given the excessively normative character of the modernization theory underlying the concept of 'modern dictatorship'.
As Kocka himself has put it, 'a comparison of historical modernity seldom leads to simple results, but rather more often to conclusions along the lines of "on the one hand As Peter Bender has put it: The GDR was not just a 'Stasi'-state, it was also a country in which - in many areas at least - people simply tried to lead normal lives— It was not just a gigantic education- and stultification-machine, but also a country in which culture thrived.
The GDR destroyed many people and drove almost five million sic! The term 'education dictatorship' Erziehungsdiktatur , for instance, has been suggested to highlight the paternalistic nature of the regime's attempts to educate its citizens, especially young people, to identify with socialist ideals and the East German state.
Jarausch, 'Care and Coercion', p. See D. Wierling, 'Die Jugend als innerer Feind. The party leaders knew what was best, taught East Germans how to think, and treated opposition as 'Unerzogenheit', or bad upbringing, that needed to be remedied. An East German lawyer and founder member of the civil rights organization 'Neues Forum', Henrich sought to renew what he called the 'enterprise of Enlightenment': people's 'self-realization through our own actions' which the SED's denial of individual rights for East German 'citizens' had stymied.
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Gunter Grass, for instance, has spoken of the GDR as a 'commodious dictatorship' and Konrad Jarausch has offered the very useful notion of a 'welfare dictatorship' that suggests not only a trade-off, but a more profound conceptual link between the dynamics of state support and civic impotence in the GDR. But this recourse to a more specific terminology - which I broadly support in view of the rather abstract level of debate so far - certainly does not mean that overarching categorization is impossible or undesirable. Indeed, the degree of uniqueness of the specific features of the GDR which these labels highlight can ultimately only be established by implicit or explicit comparison with other regimes, for which more generally applicable concepts are necessary.
We therefore need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the various concepts as vehicles for explaining and contextualizing the dictatorial system in the GDR.
Contd in H. Kaelble et al eds , Sozialgeschichte der DDR, pp. Vom Versagen des real existierenden Sozialismus Frankfurt, Jarausch, 'Realer Sozialismus als Fursorgediktatur. In spite of the continued deployment of the concept by some scholars and the revival of its popularity after , a variety of criticisms have been advanced against the designation of the GDR as an instance of 'totalitarianism'.
These range from arguments that it is a fundamentally flawed concept with little heuristic value in and of itself to doubts about its applicability to the particular case of the GDR regardless of its usefulness - and however limited this might be - for understanding other dictatorial regimes. Of these two general categories, I find the latter argument more convincing.
Certainly this was the official position of East German scholarship before , which dismissed the totalitarianism 'doctrine' as nothing other than a 'basic component of bourgeois ideology'. Kritik einer Grundkomponente burgerlicher Ideologie Berlin, It is worth noting that Lozek, along with a few other 'critical Marxist' scholars, has quite radically revised his views on this in the s. Zur Problematik eines politischen Begriffs Munich, , pp.
The GDR as dictatorship 33 A more substantial objection is that the totalitarianism concept conflates the form or structure of ruling systems with their content. As a result, the specific ideology and aims of these regimes ultimately humanitarian in the case of communism and wholly inhumane in the case of Nazism and the consequences of these differences are obscured. There are, in my view, both unconvincing and credible aspects to this objection.
Rather unconvincing is the notion that communism and Nazism can be considered fundamentally different because of their different aims and intentions. Form and content cannot be hermetically separated from each other; the former certainly says something about the latter and the techniques of rule show some striking similarities.
In addition, comparing the brutal reality of one regime with the humane intentions of another is obviously methodologically flawed. However, the objection that ideological differences did play a significant role in the development of these systems is quite justified. It is simply not the case that 'the ideological differences that undoubtedly existed Whereas National Socialism was a quintessentially charismatic and 'emotional' movement, East German communism was relatively 'rational' and 'pseudo-scientific', indeed overly so insofar as it believed that the Party could control everything centrally.