Beatrix Bouvier: Ausgeschaltet. Sozialdemokraten in der sowjetischen Besatzungszone und in der DDR 1945-1993, 365 S., Dietz, Bonn 1996 (Forschunginstitut der Friedich-Ebert Stiftung: Reihe Politik und Gesellschaftsgeschichte, Band 45).

"Those who forget history," the American philosopher George Santayana famously said, "are condemned to repeat it." But "too often," as the American historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has pointed out, "it is those who can remember the past who are condemned to repeat it." In the history of the German left, Schlesinger, more than Santayana, gets to the heart of the tragedy. In the Weimar Republic, the memory of recent fratricide between SPD and KPD mitigated against cooperation, even at the moment of National Socialist seizure of power. But in post-war East Germany, it was precisely the history of the German left's inability to cooperate that the KPD exploited and that drew Social Democrats into making compromises with a party and a state that was essentially dictatorial, and, as such, inimical to the best Social Democratic traditions. Beatrix Bouvier's Ausgeschaltet takes as its motto a note Wilhelm Pieck made in exile in Moscow: "Einheit ist die Frage der SPD--sie wird dadurch ausgeschaltet"(p.11). An extended commentary on this note, her book constitutes a serious, scholarly account of the process that led Social Democrats to be drawn into the Socialist Unity Party and then, step by step, to be marginalized. Drawing on a wealth of archival material that first became available after the dissolution of the GDR as well as on interviews with contemporaries, she has provided a well-written, rigorous analysis that will serve as the starting point for future work in this field. The author focuses less on leading Social Democratic politicians than she does on functionaries of the middle and lower levels, people who would have been involved in local and district politics, but who were sufficiently engaged in party work to have wide spread, "horizontal," communication networks with other functionaries throughout East Germany. She then traces two related phenomena: 1.) the marginalization of Social Democrats, which she sees as occurring gradually and in stages; and 2.) the lingering importance of Social Democratic traditions, especially in various forms of resistance and opposition, culminating in the June Uprising. The result is a sophisticated, if traditional, history of the SPD (until 1946 and longer in East Berlin), thereafter of the Social Democrats in the SED, and then of the lasting influence of the Social Democratic tradition. On the first two histories, Bouvier sheds a great deal of light. On the tradition, she sheds warmth as well, which leads, in places, to special pleading for the role of Social Democratic tradition in the opposition to the East German dictatorship. The book is divided according to political markers: the forced unification of the KPD and SPD, the role of Social Democrats in leading positions of the SED, the transition to a "party of a new type," and the Communist struggle against Social Democrats and their ideology, which culminated in the show trials of 1950. These chapters, roughly speaking, address the process of marginalization. Here Bouvier provides a balanced analysis of the myriad factors that contributed to the SPD's marginalization, from its own decentralized organization in the months after the end of the war; to the repressive measures of the occupying power; to the infiltration and spying of the MfS; to the debilitating effects of arrests and, in some cases, deportations; to Social Democratic self-deceit (for those who stayed and tried to work within the system); and, not to be underestimated, the allure of power at any price. Bouvier convincingly shows the extent to which by 1950/51, Social Democrats had successfully been purged not only from leading district positions, but also from such Social Democratic strongholds as local cooperatives; and she demonstrates this to have been a gradual process that started well before the Stalinization of the Party in 1948. Roughly speaking, the second part of the book (chapters five through seven) focuses more on the resistance of Social Democrats, either those who worked in underground groups, or with the Ostbüro, or those who played an important role in local contexts during the Uprising of June 17. Throughout, Bouvier deftly narrates particular instances of opposition (both in terms of local history and in terms of individual biography) with general reflections. She is also particularly interested in demonstrating that the tradition of Social Democracy (which encompasses openness, trade unionism, and commitment to democratic values) stayed with many of those who, up until 1953 and in some cases beyond, resisted the totalitarian dynamic of SED rule. Here one might query her analysis. The values she ascribes to Social Democracy were also shared by people whose politics harkened back to other political traditions, in particular to variations of liberalism and--in the few Catholic areas--the Catholic Center. The general point has particular relevance for specific arguments. Thus, for example, Bouvier sees Bitterfeld on 17 June 1953 as an example of the revitalization of Social Democratic traditions, in part because there were a small number of older Social Democrats involved in the strike committee, in part because of the call for democratic reforms, which she places in the context of Social Democratic tradition. Yet in the industrial areas around Halle generally, and in Bitterfeld particularly, Liberals, as much as Social Democrats, were important in the post war reconstruction (in the city of Bitterfeld, Liberals, not the SED, won local elections in 1946). To single out individual instances of Social Democrats involved in the Uprising does not, as yet, constitute a compelling argument for the importance of Social Democracy to June 17. Second, Bouvier underestimates the significance of demographic rupture in East Germany between 1930 and 1948, a rupture sufficiently severe so that any interpretation that emphasizes continuity must come to terms with it. Bouvier often acknowledges the problem, but does not allow it to significantly affect her analysis. Thus, for example, she explains that as a result of the uprising, 22,700 SED members (and 4000 candidates) were expelled from the party in 1953. Of these, 1400 had been in the KPD before 1933, 1800 in the SPD. She deduces from these numbers (as well as from the number of resignations, which totaled 4800, with 240 pre-1933 KPD members, 500 SPD) "ein Protestverhalten von 'alten' Sozialdemokraten"(p.311). Perhaps she is correct with respect to those Social Democrats who did leave. But surely what is significant here is the high number of people (23,500 out of a total of 26,700) who did not belong to either KPD or SPD before 1933. Bouvier makes a strong argument for continuity; but she does not, to this reviewer's mind, address this demographic problem with sufficient acuity. These problems stem in part from her perspective (which is the history of a particular political party), in part from her archival sources (she has consulted relevant archives in Berlin and Bonn, but not Dresden, Leipzig, and Merseburg), and in part from a paucity of serious local studies from which she might have drawn. Whether such local studies would support Bouvier's emphasis on the continuity of Social Democratic traditions remains an open question. Yet Bouvier has performed a great service by providing an intelligent, engaged, initial synthesis that will set the agenda for subsequent inquiry.

 

Vanderbilt University, Helmut Walser Smith

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