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Divided Loyalties: East German Writers and the Politics of German Division, 1945-1953.

Divided Loyalties: East German Writers and the Politics of German Division 1945-1953. By PETER DAVIES. (MHRA Texts and Dissertations, 49; Bithell Series of Dissertations, 24) Leeds: Maney. 2000. vi + 277 pp. 30 [pounds sterling].

Peter Davies's intelligent and sensitive study, based on his Manchester University dissertation of 1997, is a welcome antidote to post-1989 Western triumphalism. Drawing on the numerous collections of documents and archives which have appeared since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany, especially the edition of Wilhelm Pieck's Aufzeichnungen zur Deutschlandpolitik 1945-1953 by Rolf Badstubner and Wilfried Loth (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1994), he demonstrates convincingly that the conventional notion of 'Stalinism' and the monolithic conception of Stalin as an all-powerful dictator are unreliable abbreviations of much more complex processes. Within the Soviet leadership there were various factions with various agendas, and this was reflected within the SED. The permanent division of Germany was by no means a historical inevitability: Stalin himself was for various reasons reluctant to cement it. The situation was characterized by paradox: by placing themselves in a position in which they could be accused of aligning themselves with policies in the West, those who favoured unification played into the hands of those who wished the SBZ/GDR to be integrated into the Soviet bloc; conversely, Western pro-unification apologists, whose conception of an all-powerful Stalin was the mirror image of the personality cult in the East, were simultaneously cementing division.

These paradoxes and contradictions are reflected in controversies within the East German Deutsche Akademie der Kunste, on which Davies focuses the second part of his study. He shows how those, such as Johannes R. Becher, who most passionately believed in the unity of German culture were gradually forced, not only by events but by the logic of their own beliefs, into the identification of German culture with the existence of the GDR itself and therefore into supporting steps initiated by the opposing faction which were to lead to division and Sovietization. He examines three 'case studies' in particular: the fate of the journal Sinn und Form under its editor Peter Huchel, the critical debate over Brecht's Das Verhor des Lukullus, and the orchestrated protests over Hanns Eisler's Faustus. In all three cases he shows how those who defended the objects of the attacks from the proponents of division were all the time playing into the hands of the latter. This he attributes to the Marxist mentality, whose dialectics was always willing to concede some sort of Socialist legitimacy to what was in fact a ruthless regime. There are parallels to be drawn here with the position of the intellectuals in the later years of the GDR. One point which emerges very clearly is the sheer psychological complexity of the individuals involved, who therefore cannot simply be 'condemned' for their actions or failure to act.

Davies suggests that it was this readiness to make concessions, based partly on bad conscience, which allowed the division of Germany to go ahead. Becher, Brecht, and Eisler, not to mention others such as Arnold Zweig, would have had the authority and the influence to change the course of history had they been more determined to do so. The events of 17 June 1953 demonstrated the regime's fundamental weakness and the extent of the opportunity which was missed. For not only the term 'Stalinism' is questionable; the issue of 'Geist' vs. 'Macht' was never one of simple polarities. Davies has two major strengths: his familiarity with the post-Soviet debate in Russia and his ability to draw on the skills of the political scientist to illuminate aspects of Kulturpolitik as cultural historians are seldom able to do. It is unfortunate that in the process of turning the typescript into a book so many words have been run together, others redundantly hyphenated.

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Author:Reid, J.H.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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