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2008, [= Reihe Hochschulschriften, Bd. 26], 368 S., ISBN 978-3-89626-642-2, 49,80 EUR
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Dr. Axel Fair-Schulz is an Assistant Professor of Modern European History at the State University of New York in Potsdam, USA, with specific research interests in Intellectual History, Cultural Transfers, and the History of Political Refugees. His most recent publications include The Impact of Swiss Exile on the Writer Stephan Hermlin, a book chapter on the history and significance of the Kuczynski family library, as well as on the former Institute for Economic History in East Berlin. Fair-Schulz was born in Freiberg, Saxony and has lived in the United States as well as Canada since 1989.
This book grew out of a Ph.D. dissertation defended under the direction of Prof. Georg Iggers at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Its aim is to explore the impact of a specific generation of critical Marxist intellectuals of bildungsbürgerlich extraction on the society and culture of the former German Democratic Republic in terms of three case studies: the economic historian Jürgen Kuczynski, the journalist Hermann Budzislawski and the writer Stephan Hermlin.
Introduction: East Germany and its Neo-Humanist Marxists 11
Statement of Problem 11
Historiographic Review and Methodology:
The GDR, its Public Sphere, and the Role of Intellectuals 15
Organization of Chapters 52
"Bourgeois Marxists" in a Worker’s State: An Oxymoron? 57
Dual Identities: Features and Contingencies 57
Jewishness and Bildung 64
Stalinist and Post-Stalinist Party Discipline 72
Pre-Modern State and the Public Sphere 73
The Legacy 80
Bürgerlich Marxism Incarnate: Jürgen Kuczynski 81
The Making of a bildungsbürgerlich Communist 87
A Heterodox Believer in an Orthodox Party 107
JK as a Marxist Scholar:
Between Academic Autonomy and Polemics 117
Large Scale Scholarly Projects 123
Jahrbuch für Wirtschaftsgeschichte 151
The Ten Volume History of the Social Sciences
and Humanities 154
Jürgen Kuczynski: Between Scholarship and Aesthetics 171
Kuczynski’s vision of the Aesthetic:
Between Theoretical Reflection and Practical Application 172
Between Goethe and Lenin: Jürgen Kuczynski’s
Politics of Culture 174
Dialogical Monologue? 206
Stephan Hermlin: the GDR’s spätbürgerlich Writer 217
Background: Searching for the Bridge Between Geist
(Intellect) and Macht (Power) 220
Hermlin’s Literary Works: Fusing the Aesthetic,
the Ideological, and the (Auto) Biographic 223
The Outsider 239
Catalyst and Mediator 257
Hermann Budzislawski and the Weltbühne Circle 275
Hermann Budzislawski: Background and
Formative Experiences 277
Die Weltbühne 287
The Weltbühne Without Buzislawski 309
East Germany and the Weltbühne 312
The GDR’s Weltbühne – New Authors 317
Wolfgang Harich’s Background and Aesthetic Project 317
Wolfgang Harich and the Weltbühne 322
Karl Friedrich Kaul: Background 325
Kaul and the Weltbühne 331
Hermann Budzislawski Returns to the Weltbühne 332
Conclusion: The GDR "Weltbühne:"
Between Neo-Humanist Marxism and Loyalty
to the SED Regime 334
Primary Sources 347
Conference Proceedings 347
Primary Source Books, Articles, Archival Records 350
Secondary Sources 358
Introduction: East Germany and its Neo-Humanist Marxists
Statement of Problem
There has been, and still is, considerable debate about the nature of the former Socialist countries within the Soviet sphere of influence in Central and Eastern Europe, including the German Democratic Republic (GDR). One of the overarching questions focuses on to what extent the GDR’s mixture of utopian egalitarian ideals and repressive measures resulted in a conformist society, completely devoid of any diversity. Did the Communist regime succeed in constructing and maintaining a society of centralized control over all aspects of political, social, economic, and the cultural realms? The conventional view is that within East Germany both state and society were identical – with near complete control over every aspect of life. Recent scholarly literature has nuanced and complicated this image, including the question of whether the GDR had any kind of public sphere or public intellectuals, who have been a prominent feature of Western societies since the Enlightenment. If there was some sort of public sphere in the GDR, what kinds of discussions took place, instigated by what sort of people? To what extent were their discussions and debates contained within the parameters of the regime, and to what extent did they run into and/or push the boundaries of what was officially permissible within the GDR?
This dissertation examines a particular group of East German intellectuals, whom I term neo-humanist Marxists. They joined the Communist movement at a time when it was at the very centre of the ideological and political debates of the early twentieth century and stayed with it – even after it was thoroughly discredited by most people in both West and East. I focus on the role of a few key Marxist intellectuals of German bürgerlich or bourgeois middle to upper-middle class heritage, who belonged to the generation born between 1900 and 1920 and opted to live in East Germany after World War II, seeing it as the better German state – despite doubts and misgivings about the gap between that state’s emancipatory ideals and its repressive realities. These bürgerlich Marxists struggled to add their unique mixture of utopianism and humanism to East Germany’s socialist project, advocating diverse methodological positions, intellectual independence, and public debate – albeit within the parameters of Marxism-Leninism. What amounted to a performance of scholarly and artistic pluralism indeed counteracted conformist pressures in East German society, mediating between that which was officially condoned and the alternative of both personal and cultural expression. In addition to their loyalties to the Communist cause, they were also attached to a specifically German tradition of the Bildungsbürgertum, as an educated middle class practicing a neo-humanist Bildung (self-cultivation).
I am interested in the dynamics of this select group of intellectuals’ conformity, accommodation, and – albeit limited – dissent within the context of socialist East Germany (1949–1990). In order to do this, I have opted to examine three bildungsbürgerlich Marxists in more detail. This amounts neither to a group biography nor a mere accumulation of biographical sketches. Instead, I use a biographical lens for the illumination of the dynamics of this group of East German intellectuals, in order to understand their ideological, intellectual, and cultural positioning within the GDR. My study focuses on how the economic historian Jürgen Kuczynski, the writer Stephan Hermlin, and the journalist Hermann Budzislawski struggled to reconcile their bildungsbürgerlich cultural background with a Marxist-Leninist outlook and an unwavering commitment to the GDR, while playing a role in subverting the regime’s attempts to construct a uniform socialist culture. They - partly intentionally and partly inadvertently – added to the pressures that undermined and eventually imploded the regime they had hoped to reform and humanize. As dissatisfaction with the regime coalesced around the written works and personae of Kuczynski and Hermlin, they also became loci of social communication far beyond their own milieu. This was less the case with Budzislawski, who died in 1978 and thus did not see the final decade of the GDR and its rapidly eroding internal legitimacy. Buzislawski, however, provides an important window into one of the GDR’s premier bildungsbürgerlich journals, Die Weltbühne, which he headed as editor-in-chief. While being loyal to the regime, the journal offered a much more sophisticated and witty alternative to the frequent and dour pronouncements of party officials. By effecting intellectual, artistic, and journalistic feats of pluralism via more open debate, as well as through cosmopolitan affects, associations, and connections, East Germany’s bildungsbürgerlich Marxists simultaneously stabilized and destabilized East Germany. On the one hand, their efforts were directed toward helping East Germany fulfill its promise as the natural home of the most progressive traditions in German history. On the other, they drew attention to the contrived and artificial nature of the Communist regime, thus de-naturalizing and de-legitimizing it.
I argue that several of the GDR’s bildungsbürgerlich Marxists, especially my dramatis personae, consciously and unconsciously engaged in what I characterize as "loyal subversion." The adjective "loyal" aptly expresses their lasting commitment to the GDR and its SED regime. Nevertheless their attempt to reconcile certain select elements of bildungsbürgerlich neo-humanism with Marxist-Leninist party discipline produced a vision of what socialist East Germany could and should be that, at times, clashed with the regime’s agenda. This prompts the question of why the regime allowed any degree of leeway for this aspiring group. It is important to consider that while the East German Communist Party attempted to construct its socialist society, it became necessary to maintain and court a circle, albeit small, of more freethinking scholars, artists, and writers, because of their expertise and, not least of all, because of the international prestige they imparted to East Germany. This prestige was especially important in the context of their competitive cold war proximity to the Federal Republic of Germany. Kuczynski, Hermlin, and Budzislawski belonged to those intellectuals who had embraced the Communist movement in the hope that it would defend and build upon the ideals, principles, and values of humanism and social justice. The primary responsibility for two World Wars and, in particular, the horrors of Nazism served to disqualify the traditional German elites from determining the fate of post-war Germany. Thus after these catastrophic experiences, Kuczynski, Hermlin, and Budzislawski regarded the Communist regime as the only way to rebuild society. Ironically, their strong commitment to the tenets of neo-humanism led them into confrontations with a regime that denied intellectual freedom.
It is important to differentiate bildungsbürgerlich Marxists, who gravitated toward one or another form of loyal subversion, from open dissidents (Marxist and post-Marxist alike). The SED regime had had internal critics since its inception after the end of the Nazi state. Liberal communists like Kuczynski, Hermlin, and Budzislawski belonged to this rather internally diverse group. Yet unlike other independently minded Marxists (such as the philosopher Wolfgang Harich, the publicist Walter Janka, the chemist Robert Havemann, or environmentalist Rudolf Bahro) – who all paid for their dissent from the regime with prison sentences or lengthy house arrests – my major case studies were careful to "balance" their dissent with loyalty and thus maintain their positions of respective power and influence. Various critical Marxists (such as the philosophers Leo Kofler and Ernst Bloch or the literary scholar Hans Mayer) left the GDR for West Germany, while others decided to write "for the drawer," to be published one day under better circumstances. The economist Fritz Behrens is a clear and tragic example of the latter strategy, given that the external and internal mechanisms of censorship robbed him of much of his energy and life’s purpose.
While there is an ever growing literature on the GDR in general, on dissidents within East Germany, as well as regarding public intellectuals, no detailed analysis of this particular, numerically small, but highly visible sub-group is available at this point. In this introduction, I will present and discuss my approach relative to current research on the German Democratic Republic, its brand of socialism, the role of intellectuals within it, and its public sphere(s) and/or lack thereof, working toward a synthesis. I will contextualize both my array of sources and reasons for selection, introduce my three case studies, and summarize the chapters of this dissertation.
Historiographic Review and Methodology:
Zygmunt Bauman notes the degree to which Marxism grew not merely out of but remained tied to "bourgeois" ways of thinking and being: "[t]o the ideal society envisaged in the ruling bourgeois utopia, socialism offered a genuine alternative; but one which instead of dismissing casually the alleged virtues of the former, carried its guiding ideas much further than their original preachers intended." My work – which examines the interaction between bildungsbürgerlich culture, Marxist Leninist views, and GDR society – is heavily indebted to several approaches. Regarding the interaction between bildungsbürgerlich neo-humanism, the Enlightenment legacy, and German Jewish culture, I both draw on and respond critically to Isaac Deutscher’s Non-Jewish Jews, as well as George Mosse’s German Jews Beyond Judaism. Mosse’s influential but controversial notion of a certain strata of assimilated and liberal German Jews having held onto the Enlightenment ideals of rational discourse (while most of German middle and upper middle class society became increasingly nationalistic, chauvinistic, and openly hostile to Enlightenment ideals) has been modified by Shulamit Volkov. Volkov, while maintaining much of Mosse’s approach, has added dimension and nuance to the scholarly understanding of the liberal German-Jewish Bildungsbürgertum. My dissertation probes whether and to what extent Deutscher, Mosse, and Volkov’s positions are valid and fruitful for understanding the background, motivations, and patterns of behaviour of East Germany’s bildungsbürgerlich Marxists. I argue that this is indeed the case – especially in terms of explaining how and why some bildungsbürgerlich Jews rejected the established bürgerlich mainstream in favour of more radical Marxist approaches. While most bürgerlich German Jews mirrored, to some extent, the trajectory of the mainstream German Bürgertum, a small but vocal group became increasingly ill at ease with the growing nationalism, anti-Semitism, and conservatism of the Bildungsbürgertum. Put off also by the aggressive kulturprotestantisch (cultural Protest) framing of the neo-humanist tradition, combined with its Staatsgläubigleit (strong support of and identification with the state as an embodiment of the highest ethical and rational qualities), they were at the same time attracted to the emphasis on self-directed cultural refinement and the near worship of science (Wissenschaftsgläubigkeit). Socialist, and by implication Communist, utopias are also centered on the idea of re-making the world in a more rational fashion, as Zygmunt Bauman reminds us. Thus some culturally but not politically bildungsbürgerlich individuals had embraced Marxist communism as the logical continuation of the neo-humanist project, which they viewed as being betrayed by mainstream bildungsbürgerlich culture.
The apparent failure of the synthesis between the Enlightenment ideals of rationality and ethical universalism on the one hand, and mainstream bildungsbürgerlich culture on the other, made the fledgling German Democratic Republic attractive, as a promising alternative. Jürgen Kuczynski poignantly articulated this sentiment when he reflected on the intellectual and cultural conditions that he encountered in defeated Germany, after his return from exile with the American Army. Invoking Lenin’s well-know scorn of Tsarist and even Bolshevik Russia’s "backwardness," Kuczynski diagnosed "something much worse: the halbgebildete Barbarei [pseudo-cultured barbarism]" of post-World War II Germany. For the people who became the GDR’s neo-humanist Marxists, what Dorothee Wierling called an Erziehungsdikatur (educational dictatorship) became an attractive prospect to reshape what was to become East Germany – into a more rational and egalitarian society for the ultimate purpose of creating a Communist utopian society. Wierling points to the high hopes of a generation of anti-Fascists and Communists (who were socialized during the Weimar Republic and the early years of the Nazi regime) regarding the possibilities of changing society through properly educating the population with Marxist-Leninist principles. Neo-humanist Marxists were drawn to this strong emphasis on education and the association with prominent pedagogical roles for artists and intellectuals in creating the socialist/communist utopia. This resonated with their bildungsbürgerlich sensibility toward the role and power of Bildung. They comfortably projected themselves into the roles of educators and mentors, with the population at large as the to-be-educated segment of society. This became, of course, the heart of the conflict between bildungsbürgerlich Marxists and party bureaucrats – predominance in the educational process. The former yielded to the latter, on the basis of having internalized Communist party discipline as well as their pragmatic acceptance of who was in charge in the GDR. However, East Germany’s neo-humanist Marxists used their considerable experience, connections, and tactical acumen to position themselves as mediators – with the ability to reach segments of GDR society that the SED regime could not directly control.
Their deftly enunciated and visible presence within the overlap between the party’s bureaucratic project of "building socialism" and the bildungsbürgerlich Marxist vision speaks to a strongly paternalistic dimension. This begs the question of what sort of state East Germany actually was and whether it changed character over the four decades of its existence. One of the most well-known and influential concepts used in the West to analyze and understand Soviet-controlled societies has been totalitarianism. In retreat for several decades prior to the collapse of the GDR, this approach was reinvigorated by the largely unexpected end of real existierender Sozialismus (actually-existing socialism). Along with the myriad of new scholarly literature, not to mention the accompanying hosts of more openly polemic popular treatments, one of the key research institutions for GDR history is the Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung in Dresden. The institute’s mandate is to comparatively research the histories of Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism. It has been precisely the presumed connection between Communism and Nazism that made the concept of totalitarianism increasingly problematic to many scholars since the 1960’s and 1970’s. Its reinvigoration since 1989 has gone hand in hand with efforts to replace its more polemic and moralistic components with a more astute analytical framework.
The founding figures of the school of totalitarianism were Hannah Arendt, Carl Friedrich, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Despite some theoretical and practical disagreements among these three, with their various students and followers, totalitarianism rests on certain key assumptions. First and foremost, there is the notion of nearly or even absolutely total control on the part of the state over its citizens, who can be mobilized for whatever purpose the totalitarian state deems necessary. Eckard Jesse stands out as one of the most forceful and eloquent voices of the totalitarian approach, vis-à-vis the GDR. Jesse concluded that East Germany was directly totalitarian in the late 1940’s and 50’s and was supplanted in later decades by more authoritarian methods of rule. He discriminates between both modes of control, using the conventional distinction of totalitarianism (being characterized by the regime’s demand for mass mobilization and participation in its campaigns, initiatives, policies, and public rituals), with authoritarian rule requiring only outward conformity and acquiescence. Other scholars have focused on the continuity of what Jesse identified as a totalitarian strain in the GDR, extending it into the 1970’s and 80’s. A prominent example of this approach comes from the political scientist Klaus Schroeder, who, in addition to his focus on the overarching continuity of totalitarian methods throughout the existence of the GDR, argues that the SED regime was identical with both the state and East German society. To Schroeder, East Germany was a surveillance and late totalitarian welfare state. He argues that the GDR only collapsed due to the widening gap between the totalitarian regime and its "gefesselte und blockierte" (tied up and blocked) industrial state. In short, the GDR could not possibly compete with the dynamics of the capitalist-dominated world economy. To Schroeder the chief character trait of totalitarian regimes, including the GDR, is the utter inability to reform. Yet despite his somewhat certaintist conclusion, Schroeder ends his account with the following question. Why, at the end, did the Communist rulers reject the only available means (force and violence) to potentially safeguard their power? There is now an impressive body of literature addressing this particular issue. I will engage the most important works later in my historiographic overview.
An interesting alternative to Schroeder’s focus on deterministic structures within the GDR has been put forward by several scholars. Offering a more multifaceted approach to the inner workings and developments of the SED party itself, Andreas Malycha has argued that following the end of World War II there were several different options and pathways for development within the Soviet zone of occupation. The ultimate outcome – meaning the transfer of a late-Stalinist and post-Stalinist Soviet model to the GDR – was not predetermined. Yet Malycha shares, in essence, Schroeder’s conclusion that for most of the GDR’s existence, beginning in 1952 and 1953, the SED was a Stalinized party with near total control over its membership, as well as the East German state and society. Despite some variations, Malycha asserts, the Soviet model was copied in the GDR as well, although open terror was replaced (especially since Stalin’s death in 1953), with a more sophisticated form of rule and control. The question of whether East Germany merely copied the Soviet model or developed a more independent path to building socialism has been treated by a myriad of articles, book chapters, and monographs, particularly since the end of the GDR. One can distinguish two schools of thought here: one focuses more on the dominance of Soviet policy and structures, while the other emphasizes the degree of Eigenständigkeit (relative independence). Recently, there have been efforts to work toward a synthesis. A good example of this approach is Stefan Creuzberger, who argues that indeed Soviet-imposed structures and policy priorities were paramount. He states that
[a]lthough the SED inhabited a privileged position within the party system of the SBZ [Soviet Zone of Occupation], it could only act and explore leverage within the framework of the occupying power and was thus merely an object of Soviet politics.
Yet Creuzberger also warns against categorizing the SED as nothing more than the passive tool of the Soviets. On the contrary, the SED sought to manipulate the Soviet-imposed structures for its own purposes. Creuzberger’s work, while articulating the dual nature of the SED (both as a tool of the Soviets and a force with its own tactical and strategic dynamics), does not fully archive its aspired synthesis. Michael Lemke argues along a similar line, while being very sensitive to how the concept of Sovietization has been burdened by differing and contested historical meanings – especially as conditioned by Cold War rhetoric. Lemke asserts that the notion of Sovietization, if freed from its more polemic components, is a useful analytical category for understanding the complex and multi-faceted process of the transfer of Soviet structures upon the conditions in East Germany. Monika Kaiser, in her contribution to the same volume, supports the same conclusion with a considerable amount of empirical evidence. She, too, concludes that the Soviet Union continued to decide all fundamental questions, during and beyond the process of transforming East Germany from the Soviet Zone of Occupation into the GDR – while the SED regime had some leverage on the actual implementation of these policies.
Jürgen Kocka has approached the GDR as being within the dynamic of firm incorporation into the Soviet-led socialist system, on the one hand, and alternately as having developed its own form of "modern dictatorship." He explicitly delineates his approach from that of Schoeder’s (the GDR as the "late totalitarian patriarchal and surveillance state"), while also rejecting the notion of East Germany as a "Sovietized" society. Kocka’s alternative is the concept of modern dictatorship, which purposely carries less overtly polemic or ideological baggage than the notion of totalitarianism. His stated objective has been to frame, more effectively and analytically, the "GDR as a modern dictatorship of the communist type, and whose history can be seen as a transition from a totalitarian to a post-totalitarian stage (or whose history was marked by a decline in the degree to which it was totalitarian)." In response, Kocka has been criticized for merely substituting the name "totalitarianism" with the notion of a "modern dictatorship," without conceptually delineating his concept from the former. Indeed, Kocka himself readily acknowledges the limitations of his conceptual approach.
If the choice of the term ‘modern dictatorship’ can be adequately defended, it must be conceded that the concept cannot bear too much of an interpretive load. Classifying the GDR as a modern dictatorship does not communicate much about the nature of the regime.
Kocka, of course, is acutely interested in the nature of the SED regime. Elsewhere, he more explicitly carved out the notion of the GDR as a durchherrschte Gesellschaft, a "thoroughly ruled society." Kocka argues that the SED regime reached out to control all aspects and spheres of GDR society, seeking to dominate all interactions within their realm. Yet, Kocka ends his essay by reminding us of the ultimate gap between the objectives of the regime and its practical limitations. He asserts that, indeed, life in East Germany was dominated by dictatorship but that it cannot be reduced to this. In everyday life, there were "factual boundaries" to the "thoroughly-ruled society." Kocka’s perspective coincides with Alf Lüdtke’s approach. The latter also differentiates between the regime’s objectives and its permanent inability to fully implement those ambitions – therefore rejecting the usefulness of totalitarianism as an analytical frame. Lüdtke’s earlier notion of Eigen-Sinn, or dynamic of self-directedness (originally developed in response to understanding socio-cultural processes during the decades of Imperial Germany, the Weimar Republic, through to the Nazi era), has become of great relevance to a more gradated understanding of the GDR as well. Thomas Lindenberger has pioneered the application of Eigen-Sinn to the complexities of East Germany, and his approach is mirrored by a significant amount of contemporary scholarship on this subject matter.
The totalitarian approach, as well as the notion of East Germany as a "Sovietized" society, underemphasizes how and why the SED regime – despite all of its will and effort – ultimately failed to fully implement its goals of total control of both state and society. Lüdtke and Kocka’s alternative concept of "thoroughly ruled society," on the other hand, points to the gap between the totalitarian ambitions and the Eigen-Sinn of what the regime sought to dominate.
In addition, I find the notion of Eigen-Sinn attractive to understanding the GDR’s bildungsbürgerlich Marxists, for it illuminates how a specific group of people interacted with state policy, in particular in the realms of scholarship, art, and journalism. They did not start out seeking confrontation with the SED regime, with whose goals they largely identified. At different instances, their agenda and actions either coincided or collided with the regime. Kuczynski, Hermlin, and Budzislawski inhabited a unique position between the centre and the periphery of East German society. Their bildungsbürgerlich Marxism unfolded a particular dynamic of Eigen-Sinn within GDR society that simultaneously supported and undermined the regime. The categories of "supporting" and "undermining" ought not be seen as polar opposites. Instead, as the concept of Eigen-Sinn implies, they came together in a dynamic totality of individual reactions and interactions. This dissertation challenges the often-asserted polarization of the regime’s power, on the one hand, and resistance on the part of particular groups and individuals in society, on the other. Thus, the appeal of Bildung to Kuczynski, Hermlin, and Budzislawski is, to my understanding, not to be explained in a dichotomized fashion – as an act of resistance against an ever more intrusive state or a linear affirmation of the regime’s policies and objectives. Rather, the concept of Bildung proved attractive to this group of intellectuals by reflecting and magnifying their individualistic vision of Marxism-Leninism and its role in East German society. Its Eigen-Sinn contained the ambivalence of their situations and predicaments, mixing loyalty with loyal subversion in ways that the regime could not possibly have anticipated.
Not all historians who conceptualize the GDR as a society marked by the SED’s efforts to further its intrusion into ever more aspects of society see this process exclusively in terms of a confrontational or polarized encounter between state power and society at large. Richard Bessel and Ralph Jessen exemplify this when they observed that the regime transformed its mode of power and control from a confrontational to a more penetrative modus. As a result, growing numbers of East Germans became simultaneously incorporated into the state apparatus and its countless auxiliary organizations, while also remaining part of the "thoroughly ruled society."
Given the abundance of interpretive works on the character of the East German state in general, more specifically its relationship to the SED regime, as well as society at large, there is less material on the role of bildungsbürgerlich culture within the GDR. In general, studies dealing with this subject matter focus on a strong dichotomy between the remnants of bildungsbürgerlich elements, on the one hand, and an assailing socialist state on the other. Christoph Kleβmann’s study is symptomatic, focusing primarily on two bildungsbürgerlich sub-groups, namely physicians and Protestant ministers. Kleβmann considers both groups to be the core of the German Bildungsbürgertum. The SED regime had attempted to assimilate this group, trying to dissolve it within the "workers’ and farmers’ state." Kleβmann emphasizes that the regime opposed bildungsbürgerlich professionals as an "ideological class enemy, while simultenously looking at them as economically necessary allies." East Germany temporarily needed to accommodate bildungsbürgerlich experts, due to the lack of an alternative socialist, intellectual elite in the early decades of the GDR’s existence. Anna-Sabine Ernst arrives at a similar conclusion vis à vis the long resilience of physicians’ commitment to bildungsbürgerlich culture. The regime’s efforts toward a "socialist" medical profession in many ways constituted a continuation of bildungsbürgerlich traits, in particular the commitment to high professional standards and expertise, as well as the ever-growing role of state regulation. The latter was an integral part of the continental-European tradition, and thus the conditions within the GDR did not constitute a break with this tradition – rather a heightened continuation.
Ralph Jessen offers a somewhat different perspective, by focusing on university instructors, often considered another pillar of bildungsbürgerlich culture and habitus. While being aware of the many ties connecting the GDR’s "socialist" professoriate to the nineteenth century German Bildungsbürger, he nevertheless stresses a different and more disconcerting continuity – namely to Nazi Germany. He states that the model of
university teachers in the SED state was not a Communist construct. On the contrary, it reflects a surprising amount of continuity beyond the divide of 1945. This was, of course, not [as much] the continuity to the classical 19th century professional model, but to its modified version of the Nazi dictatorship.
Jessen hinges his sense of continuity on the fact that both the East German and Nazi models of university professionals derived from the classical nineteenth century model. Pre-existing, illiberal, and classical bildungsbürgerlich traditions were heightened and instrumentalized for the Nazi and SED regimes’ own purposes. However neither could radically remake the professional ethos or identity of the professoriate, without potentially losing too much expertise. Somewhat in passing, Jessen reminds us not to neglect the innovative elements of the SED’s higher education policies. Yet in its entirety, the GDR’s construction of the university teachers’ profession was "not a totalitarian new construction, but rested on a mixture of different traditions, Soviet imports, dictatorial infringements and remnants of social autonomy, without which GDR society remains incomprehensible.
Elsewhere, Jessen focuses on the relative stability of the bildungsbürgerlich, socio-cultural continuity of the East German professoriate until well into the 1960’s. Confronted with too many academic openings (in the aftermath of the Nazi regime and World War II), stern competition with the much larger and more prosperous West German system of higher education, and the lack of an indigenous "socialist" academic establishment, the GDR found itself forced to temporarily accommodate intellectuals, who were politically loyal to the state but of strong bildungsbürgerlich background and disposition. Exceedingly high incomes, when compared with the average East German, as well as a whole set of other privileges were designed to bind those bürgerlich experts to the SED regime. In return, bildungsbürgerlich university teachers skilfully used their familiarity with the canon of neo-humanist education and cultivation as strategies to keep mere party loyalists out of the hallowed halls of higher education. Jessen fleshes out these points and arguments out in great detail in his monograph on university teachers during the first two decades of the GDR’s existence. He distinguishes between three main groups in the founding generation of GDR university teachers. Firstly, there was the old-style generation of professors, which is further sub-divided into traditional mainstream Bildungsbürger: there were those invited by the SED regime from West German universities and colleges, former NSDAP members who were "rehabilitated"(and thus allowed to continue teaching and researching), and those professors taken right after the end of World War II by the Soviets for special tasks and research in the Soviet Union. The second major group that Jessen identifies is what he terms "those with dual citizenship" – in both the party and their field of expertise. These were, in essence, what the SED regime needed most after the end of the Nazi regime: scholars as committed to socialism, communist ideals, and the SED regime as to excellence in their chosen fields. Representatives of this group came largely from the humanities and the social sciences, were either sympathizers or members of the German Communist Party already prior to the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, were in their identities – due to their social origins – educationally, professionally, and in habitus bildungsbürgerlich; this combined with "a strong Jewish component, albeit more in terms of socio-cultural background than explicit religious commitment." In addition, the majority in this group were, under previous regimes, excluded from conventional university careers. Thus they were thus outsiders in academia and, as such, were "more intellectuals" than scholars, with a considerable number not having been awarded their second doctorate, the Habilitation, prior to their appointments to professorships in the early GDR. Yet despite their, at times, formal or technical shortcomings, these "dual citizens in party and field of expertise" succeeded within the academic context quite swiftly, due not merely to their unquestionable intelligence but also to their cultural capital, which resonated positively with the traditional and still powerful pre-socialist scholarly establishment. Jessen succinctly summarizes this: they "thought in a left-wing fashion and lived bürgerlich – all the way to the [classical] musical entertainment evenings … And even in the iconography of the autobiographical self-images, the bürgerlich scholarly ideal is very present."
Jessen’s third major category deals with those having come from "the ‘universities of class struggle.’" Its members were loyal Communists who frequently lacked the most basic academic qualifications. They came predominantly from the industrial proletariat and, as such, suffered – despite their new powerful positions within the GDR – much derision from their bürgerlich colleagues. In contrast, the academic "dual citizens" were able to compensate for "their academically incomplete background through cultural competence and familiarity with the [bildungsbürgerlich] milieu."
I find Jessen’s approach toward those with "dual citizenship in party and scholarly field" very appealing. It captures the central features of my focus group of bildungsbürgerlich Marxists (in particular their experience of bildungsbürgerlich socialization) while elucidating their unyielding commitment to the Communist movement. My project expands Jessen’s focus on professorial Marxist Bildungsbürger, by including the writer Stephan Hermlin and the hybrid personality Hermann Budzislawski, a journalist-turned-professor-turned-journalist. In addition, Jessen’s further differentiation, within the category of "dual citizenry," parallels my own efforts to come to terms with the innate complexity of bildungsbürgerlich Marxists. Jessen argues that this group eventually sub-divided into three smaller groups. There were those who resolved the tension between loyalty to the party and loyalty to the canons and procedures of scholarship by eventually listing toward the party. There was also the group who responded to their conflict of divided loyalties by openly breaking out of Marxist-Leninist conceptual confines, which sooner rather then later cost them their positions and influence. Thus, in the words of Jessen, "conformists and non-conformists alike eventually stopped being ‘dual citizens.’" What remained was the third group: numerically small and lastingly controversial. They fit neither the labels of "conformist" nor "non-conformist" but carved out their own trajectory of accommodation and – albeit always loyal – subversion.
Peter Hübner speaks more explicitly to the GDR’s conflict – of building a genuine "workers’ and farmers’ state" with new socialist" elites and the peculiar love-hate-relationship of the SED regime to bildungsbürgerlich culture. He notes that, while the SED regime sought to replace the old elites with a more egalitarian model, its own functionaries frequently copied certain cultural postures and habitus:
[o]ne thus could encounter leading functionaries, who in quasi-feudal fashion pursued their hunting privileges, as well as experts for [socialist] planning, who absorbed the gestures of the international managerial elite, followed by party ideologues who emulated the attitudes of bürgerlich Gelehrsamkeit [learning and cultivation].
Thus East Germany’s home-grown elites showed their innate respect for the habitus of the previous elites, in particular the Bildungsbürgertum; after all, the SED regime’s socialist project was, to some extent, framed as the logical and far more consistent continuation of bildungsbürgerlich cultural and aesthetic accomplishments. Yet, the very visible lack of innate familiarity with bildungsbürgerlich assumptions created considerably resentment, on the part of the party leadership, which was by and large of proletarian and lower-middle class origin. These resentments frequently translated into outspoken anti-intellectualism – given that intellectuals, including Marxist intellectuals, were seen by party functionaries as being rather bürgerlich in their cultural identity. One can only imagine how Fritz Behrens’ often-quoted sigh of anticipation irritated party functionaries, when he, in his role as dean of the college of social sciences at the University of Leipzig in the late 1940’s, exclaimed " Now only one thing can help us: we need a bunch of Jewish emigrees from America." Behrens was, of course, referring to this idiosyncratic group of "dual citizens in party and field," whether their actual place of exile from the Nazi regime was in the U.S. (Hermann Budzislawski), Great Britain (Jürgen Kuczynski) or France and Switzerland (as in the case of Stephan Hermlin).
The debate’s shifting boundaries – regarding the role of the (neo-) classical heritage for the GDR’s official sense of identity and cultural mission – have been addressed with two particular volumes. Their respective titles convey a deeply German notion of neo-humanist cultivation condensed to the euphemism of Weimarer Klassik, referring of course to the cluster of writers, poets, composers, painters, and scholars around Johann Wolfgang con Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller at the small German court of Weimar between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Each constitutes a collection of essays dealing with how the image of "Weimar Classicsim" had been invoked, framed, and instrumentalized by either the Ulbricht regime of the late 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, or the Honecker regime of the 1970’s and 80’s. Simultaneously – and of great interest to my study – the essays also probe whether and to what extent this staple of the bildunsgbürgerlich diet was used by the GDR’s intellectuals to carve out, maintain, and/or expand some degree of cultural autonomy from the party. The thrust of both volumes suggests that the near-worship of the, however instrumentalized, legacy of German classical literature and cultivation was most pronounced during the Ulbricht era, when the GDR’s sense of utopian vision coincided with a need to represent everything that was "good, true, and beautiful." Party leader Honecker and his circle of confidants and advisors were, in contrast, less inclined toward socio-cultural experimentation, opting instead for a more pragmatic model of "socialist consumerism," which was doomed to ultimate failure, given the GDR’s growing technological and productivity gap with West Germany. Thus, the dialectic between growing consumerist demands in the population at large and the declining un-official as well as official enthusiasm for the GDR’s original utopian socialist project created a vicious circle, eventually leading to the state’s implosion.
Whether there really was such a noticeable decline in the role and stature of "Weimar classicism" in the late GDR is debatable. Lothar Ehrlich, Gunther Mai, and Ingeborg Cleve are certainly correct in pointing to differences in how the various generations of GDR intellectuals identified with that subject matter. They assert, in the introduction of their second volume, that while the GDR’s founding generation of intellectuals fully identified with the cultural mission of "Weimar Classicism," the next generation began to counter the official and increasingly ritualistic homage to this tradition with more differentiated efforts to "soften up" the dogmatic claims to ideological supremacy by party functionaries. The third generation of GDR intellectuals rejected all previous efforts as pathetic "slave language" and instead developed its own subculture, explicitly in contrast to the SED regime and its fading socialist project. The relative decline of "Weimar Classicism", as politically and ritualistically charged by the regime, coincided not merely with a decline in the legitimizing function of this tradition for the regime but also opened up venues for expanded discussion and debate – within this previously tightly controlled sphere. Bernd Leistner offers a somewhat different emphasis than Ehrlich, Mai, and Cleve, in the introduction to their second volume. While essentially maintaining the conventional categorization of GDR intellectuals into three separate generations, Leitsner focuses on how their efforts – toward a more critical reading of "Weimar classism" – actually unfolded – not during the Ulricht but the Honecker years. Inadvertently, he also points to the difficulties of clearly delineating the generations; something that is fairly straightforward in terms of birth years but becomes convoluted in terms of conceptual concerns. The playwright Ulrich Plenzdorf is frequently cited as an example of the second generation of GDR intellectuals. He was born in 1934 and, as such, is an ideal representative of this generation, with its formative aesthestic, political, and ideological experiences in the post-war world of early East Germany. His acclaimed Neue Leiden des jungen W. is an intriguing attempt to critique the narrowness and lethargy of the GDR’s socialist project. What Plenzdorf, and others associated with this wave, offers in terms of new perspectives is the interest not just in the late and very neo-classical Goethe but also in the young Goethe and his contemporaries, especially Friedrich von Hölderlin, Jean Paul, Heinrich von Kleist, and E.T.A Hoffmann. These literary figures had been previously excluded from, or relegated to the periphery of, the GDR’s official pantheon of cultural icons, given their complex aesthetic and philosophical positions, psychological trauma, and explicit pessimism – that was labelled "decadent" by the regime’s cultural, "socialist realist" traditionalists. Leistner aptly invokes Christa Wolf, who, belonging to the same second generation of GDR intellectuals as Plenzdorf, has reflected on her intensified interest in the fore-mentioned Heinrich von Kleist and his, as well as Goethe’s, contemporary Karoline von Günderrode. Wolf’s fascination piqued largely after the expulsion of the then critical Communist song-writer Wolfgang Biermann from East Germany in 1976. That was a watershed event for many East German intellectuals – particularly of the second generation – who then began to lose hope for any tangible renewal of the East German system. Wolf states explicitly how she was drawn to the biographies of Kleist and Günderrode, to their growing sense of despair, which drove both eventually to suicide. Wolf envisions their suicides not as individualistic psychological events but as the disappointed hopes of the Restoration period that followed the enthusiasm of the Enlightenment and the whirlwind of the Napoleonic wars. Part of the second generation, like Wolf, the GDR writer Günter de Bruyn reflects similar sentiments. He regarded the Early Romantic contemporaries of Goethe as aesthetic windows into a period of "transition, departures, and disappointments. This is much more relevant to my generation than the more rigid than the later nineteenth century." Therefore the disappointed hopes of East Germany’s socialist project especially drove leading representatives of this second generation of GDR intellectuals into a more critical and potentially subversive engagement with "Weimar Classicism."
Nevertheless Leistner complicates the generational breakdown of discursive modes, vis à vis "Weimar Classicism," inasmuch as he includes prominently the cases of Anna Seghers and Stephan Hermlin. Both belong to the founding generation of GDR intellectuals, having been born in 1900 and 1915 respectively. Segher’s short story Die Reisebegegnung ("The Travel Encounter") as well as Hermlin’s Hölderlin play Scardanelli very notably subverted the rigid, dogmatic, and official reading of "Weimar Classicism" within the GDR, which had only permitted a hagiographic treatment of Goethe and Schiller as the spiritual "predecessors of socialist structures" in the GDR. I argue more explicitly what Leistner suggests implicitly – that the generational model of GDR intellectuals, while useful in delineating certain clusters of concerns, sensibility, and positions within the overall socialist project, should not be applied too rigidly. Instead, the first and second generations of GDR intellectuals are far more entangled than previously assumed. Hermlin, Kuczynski, and to a lesser degree Budzislawski succeeded in playing significant roles in the aesthetic, philosophic and historical debates – even during the second half of the GDR’s existence.