Commentary Magazine

German Diary

Frankfurt am Main, May: Goethe's native city for the past five months has been the locale of the long-delayed Auschwitz trial, and since February this has been capped by the regular performance at the local municipal theater of Hochhuth's The Deputy (here known, of course, as Der Stellvertreter). The city has a long liberal tradition, a Social Democratic administration, and one of the best universities in the country (founded by the Mertons, originally a Jewish clan but eventually assimilated, by way of intermarriage, into the nobility). After 1933, the Merton Strasse commemorating the family's connection with the University had its name changed, but this is now forgotten. Frankfurt is proud of the Mertons. It is even proud of its Jews in general. The local daily, the Frankfurter Allgemeine, is only a shadow of the great pre-Hitler organ of liberalism, the Frankfurter Zeitung, whose contributors included practically the whole intellectual Establishment; but such as it is, it is still the country's leading newspaper and a dignified journal by any standards. It is no longer quite so liberal, nor so intellectual, but it maintains a creditable level. When Hochhuth's drama was first performed in Berlin, on that now famous 21st of February 1963, the Frankfurt paper's theatrical critic jumped into the breach with an enthusiasm that doubtless helped to prepare the ground for the play's attentive reception on the banks of the river Main. As for the Frankfurter Hefte, the monthly organ of the Catholic intelligentsia, it is clearly modeled on such French journals as Esprit and Témoignage Chrétien, which for years have given pain to the bien-pensants: its politics are resolutely Christian-Socialist, and it even prints contributions from professed Marxists.

For all this sophistication, it does not take the visitor long to discover that Frankfurt is very much part of the new postwar Germany which has arisen on the ruins of the Third Reich. It is basically a conservative and conformist society, with a few tolerated outlets for the left-wing intelligentsia: chiefly in the field of literature. The Social Democrats, though the official Opposition at the Federal level, are in fact part of the Establishment, which explains both why German politics are dull (there is no real Opposition) and why they have become respectable (extremism of any kind is frowned upon). Frankfurt is peculiar only in having burst its ancient boundaries and acquired a new glitter, along with a traffic density unsurpassed even in the Ruhr. It used to be agreeably patrician and leisurely, though as far back as 1800 Goethe complained about the noise and the crowds (there were then about 20,000 inhabitants, which he thought was far too much). In the early decades of the present century it was already a great commercial center, but of the pre-industrial kind. The local patriciate (many of them Jews), clung to free trade and classical liberalism longer than the bulk of the German bourgeoisie. Hence, in part, the peculiar flavor of the old Frankfurter Zeitung: the famous daily founded by Leopold Sonnemann was perhaps the nearest thing Germany has ever had to a paper like the Manchester Guardian. In recent decades the city has swelled (to about 800,000), become a center of the chemical industry, and acquired the customary external signs of modernity: noise, neon lights, heavy motor traffic, and functional architecture. At one time pleasantly bourgeois, leisured, and agreeable to the stroller, it is now indistinguishable from any other German conurbation. One can still sit in an open-air restaurant over a bottle of wine, but then on the Continent this style of existence is almost part of the climate. What Frankfurt has lost is something more subtle, and probably connected with the departure of that section of its inhabitants whose fate during the Hitler years is now the subject of the two aforementioned public spectacles: the Auschwitz trial and The Deputy.

It may seem odd to mention both in the same breath, but in Frankfurt this is constantly done. It is part of the ritual of expurgation to which the intellectuals have subjected both themselves and that part of the younger generation whom they can reach: chiefly a minority of students. By common consent, it is these youngsters on whom the hope of a better Germany rests. Their elders are past praying for. Not that many of them were actively engaged in the activities which have now set the cumbersome legal machinery in motion against a few surviving Nazi functionaries; but their general attitude since the war has been a resolute attempt to forget all about it. In Frankfurt this is made difficult by the fact that the Jews once formed so important a section of the middle class, but that is now a matter for the history books. The few survivors have what the Germans call Seltenheitswert—they are rarities, and prized accordingly, at any rate in principle. A considerable fuss is also made over the handful of former exiles who have returned from abroad. They include some noted scholars, and in their case pride and relief at their return is added to the theme of Denkmalsschutz (protection of ancient monuments) from which, in the ironical local phrase, Jews are supposed to benefit collectively.

All these subterranean factors come together in the reporting of the Auschwitz trial, which has been dragging its slow length along since December, much to the irritation of the local citizens who resent the choice of locale. Why Frankfurt of all places? The simple answer is, because the Generalstaatsanwalt of the Land of Hesse, of which Frankfurt is the capital, is a determined man, and—like most of his colleagues in the Land administration—a Social Democrat. Being a kind of State Prosecutor (one has to remember that West Germany really does have a federal constitution, and a lot of functions devolve on the Laender), he was in a position to press for a trial, and after years of lengthy preparation, and the patient assembling of a mountain of evidence, Dr. Bauer and his staff were finally able to set the machinery in motion. The result so far has fallen somewhat short of a spiritual catharsis, even though the public galleries are crammed with young people who listen dumbfounded to a recital of horrors concerning which their school textbooks had given them only a very faint notion. For even in Social-Democratic Hesse—one of the Laender where an attempt has been made to weed out the old teachers and textbooks—the prevailing atmosphere does not encourage profound soul-searching. The local administration is decent and does its best, which is somewhat less than sensational. For the rest, its chief energies, as elsewhere, go into things like housing, public services, and politics tout court. The citizenry, swollen by hundreds of thousands of postwar expellees from the East, is fully occupied with its daily worries, and not inclined to cast its mind back to what it considers the distant past. This leaves the clergy, the professors, a few writers, and the students. When one talks of “public opinion,” one means this stratum, but it is pretty thin.

The press, of course, reports the trial, just as it reports the presentation of The Deputy. But thereby hangs a tale. In the 1920's, some years before the Weimar Republic collapsed, something important collapsed locally: the proud old Frankfurter Zeitung was sold by the heirs of Leopold Sonnemann to the chemical trust, the I.G. Farben. The transaction remained secret for a while, and the editors—mostly Jews and lifelong liberals—were kept on, save for one or two who had been unduly critical of corporate management. After 1933, of course, there had to be a purge, but for a few years the paper preserved a certain degree of independence; so did its owners, the I.G. Farben. During the war, the Farben empire expanded into the conquered countries along with the rest of German industry, took over a good deal of “Aryanized” Jewish property, and finally made a heavy investment in synthetic rubber plants at Auschwitz. There was a kind of “I.G. Auschwitz,” run of course by the SS, but in close cooperation with the Farben directorate. The investment in the end came to something like 700 million marks (175 million dollars), and about 35,000 Auschwitz camp inmates passed through the Buna synthetic rubber plant of whom some 25,000 died—the life expectancy of a Jewish inmate at “I.G. Auschwitz” being three to four months (in the outlying coal mines, according to the standard work on the subject, it was one month). Without going into details, it may be said that the chemical trust had a considerable stake in Auschwitz, though it does not follow that all its directors positively welcomed the “elimination of the unfit” in the neighboring extermination camps—after all, what they wanted was workers, not corpses. This peculiar industrial concentration camp was the subject of legal proceedings after the war, when a few survivors claimed compensation from Farben. In the current Frankfurt trial, this aspect of the matter does not occupy the center of the proceedings, and somehow the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has not made a great deal of it.


Frankfurt itself was heavily bombed during the war: notably the Old City (including the Goethe House, since restored). On the other hand, the great chemical works on the outskirts escaped virtually undamaged: either the Allied pilots found it easier to drop their bombs over the city center, or else they had instructions to leave the works alone. This last seems improbable, but there are people in Frankfurt who believe that the I.G. Farben had friends and protectors abroad who considered the plants important—more important than the Goethe House anyhow.

All this is part of the background to the trial, which itself is a queer affair: the dreariness of the endless proceedings, and the minor status of the accused contrasting sharply with the monstrosity of the crimes laid to their charge. Most of the defendants are small fry, though they include a few camp “doctors” who cheerfully dispatched thousands of inmates to what one hopes is a better world. About half are on bail, staying at the local hotels and mingling familiarly with the public when not called upon to attend the sessions. They face sentences ranging from a few years to life (there is no death penalty in the Bundesrepublik) and are clearly regarded as suitable scapegoats by the local citizens, who for the rest consider the trial something of a blot on their fair city. It is rarely mentioned in conversation, and then as one of those things belonging to that dim age before the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) supplied every fifth German with a car and an outsize sense of importance to match.

Still, Frankfurt is one of the better places. Its university has some first-rate people (who in private are cynical about their country) and a student body which seems rather more alive than most. Their attitudes compare favorably with those of Weimar days, when the majority of students were Nationalists or Nazis (a fact seldom grasped abroad, where it is still imagined that Hitler fell upon an unsuspecting country like some barbarian conqueror from the wild back-lands). Nowadays the official symbols and attitudes, from the black-red-gold republican emblem to the daily ritual of obeisance to democracy and the rule of law, really do correspond to popular sentiments.

Certainly this is true of the students, nine-tenths of whom come from middle-class or lower-middle-class homes. The prevailing tone is mildly left-of-center, with a preponderance of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats (in Hesse the latter are stronger, elsewhere they are more evenly balanced). There is a small left-wing Socialist minority to match the Nationalists on the right (Nazis and Communists are banned). In Frankfurt the left-wing student group goes in for criticism of the Social Democrats as being too tame, and for the rest takes a Platonic interest in what is locally known as Marxism: meaning the plays of Bertolt Brecht and the writings of Georg Lukács (the latter being unaccountably regarded as a “revisionist”—perhaps because in Hungary he is still in slight disfavor). The Social-Democratic student union is the bigger of the two and further to the Right, but some five hundred of its members turned up for an extra-curricular talk on Brecht by a professor who is himself a rather mild Social Democrat, and who took the occasion to present the playwright favorably, i.e., as the kind of Communist who never got on well with the Ulbricht regime. This last is strictly true: Brecht (perhaps the greatest cynic of all that generation) managed to combine his favored position in East Berlin with an Austrian passport (just in case), a Swiss bank account, and a contract with a West German publisher which effectively prevented the East Germans from censoring his output. As a result, his collected works are now coming out posthumously in both East and West.

Arrangements of this kind, and the easy cynicism with which they are accepted, tell one more about postwar Germany than any number of public statements. The country is, of course, frozen into fairly rigid attitudes by the political partition imposed upon it at Potsdam by the Allies. It has a frontier running through its middle, and now consists of two hostile states glaring at each other across a heavily guarded border. What is more, everyone now realizes that this state of affairs is likely to last for many years. At the intellectual level, the enforced departure from East Germany of some of the surviving Marxists of the old generation has deepened the gulf. At the same time, though, it has made Marxism fashionable in West Germany, as long as it is philosophical and non-political. The vogue of Brecht is part of this ambience, as is the spread of an academic jargon (not unfamiliar to Americans) which mingles Hegel and Marx with Kierkegaard and Heidegger in a new kind of literary-philosophical stew. Since this has now reached the reviewing sections of quite conservative and respectable journals, one may suppose that it has come to stay.


Hochhuth, of course, is another matter. At the age of thirty-three he is very much part of the postwar breakthrough. He is younger even than Grass, the most powerful talent among the newer prose writers and a kind of spiritual ally. The production of Der Stellvertreter in Frankfurt was something of a test of the city's liberalism: not a very serious one (since the Catholic minority is small and itself affected by the local climate of opinion), but still a test. By consensus, Frankfurt came through with flying colors. There were no hostile demonstrations, and even the local Catholic dignitaries did not voice more than qualified objections to the play. The statement they released for publication naturally defended the Pope, but it also called upon people to examine their consciences “at a time when the Auschwitz trial is taking place in our city.”

All this is rather tangential to the argument raging here as elsewhere over the intrinsic importance of the play as a work of art. Perhaps, with such a subject, one ought not to ask such questions. However, there is an area where the two overlap and it has been interesting to follow the discussion in the Frankfurter Hefte, a monthly rightly regarded as the organ of the Catholic Left (there is now such a thing—for the first time in the history of German Catholicism). Since Hochhuth himself is a Lutheran, it has been comparatively easy for Catholic critics to fault him on technical points, but the critic of the Frankfurter Hefte dug deeper. Writing in a Catholic periodical, he dismissed Hochhuth as an epigone of Schiller, the poet of “German idealism”; and his chief objection to the play was that, in over-stressing the role of the Pope, it did not take seriously enough the failure of the Church as an institution. It was the Church that failed, not Pius XII, and—in the opinion of the Frankfurter Hefte's critic—it failed because it had never, in the course of its long history, seriously tried to create a social environment responsive to those “moral values” whose guardianship it claimed. In crediting the Church in general, and the Vatican in particular, with an effective authority which it had never possessed, Hochhuth appears to this critic to have relapsed into the absurdities of Schiller: his Riccardo—like Schiller's Posa, who vainly tries to convert Philip of Spain to liberalism—is a lay figure, the lifeless construct of an undialectical schematism which reduces the real drama of the world and its Church to an illusory confrontation between a couple of individuals.

To which one might add that Hochhuth, like Schiller, comes out of the Lutheran tradition, as does the whole of “German idealism.” The Germans have always loved Schiller because he makes them feel better, and it is arguable that this has been a misfortune. Schiller's rhetoric, which underlies much of traditional German liberalism, rests upon the confrontation of our sordid world with a “beyond” of Platonic essences or “ideals.” He has the trick of making his hearers feel that they can enter this world by identifying themselves with the tragic fate of an exceptional individual. His heroes, moreover, by their sacrificial death actually succeed in elevating their contemporaries (including their hangmen) to their own moral level. Thus, too, Hochhuth's Pater Riccardo—a Schillerian liberal Protestant improbably dressed up as a Jesuit—atones for the inadequacy of the Pope. One can see why to a critic aware of the political record of German Catholicism this kind of escape seems both stale and dangerous. Schiller's celebrated pathos is indeed a marvelous rhetorical device for distracting people's attention from the real world and fixing it upon artificially isolated cases of conscience. Hochhuth is no Schiller—as a dramatist he is indeed hardly more than a talented amateur, a circumstance plainer to Germans than to foreigners—but he continues a tradition, which, on the whole, is not one that needs encouragement. The Germans are only too prone to the kind of transcendental idealism that offers people a refuge in a poetic realm of spiritual essences. It was to kick them out of this dream world that Brecht—in this respect a true revolutionary-invented his celebrated “alienation effect.”

None of which is to deny that The Deputy is a courageous attempt to remind this generation of Germans of what their parents did or tolerated. It is nonsense to say that it exonerates them by putting the blame on the Pope. No German who has seen the play performed, or has read it, imagines such a thing. The real trouble is that those who go to see it are in no need of it, and the others don't go.


Bonn, May: The “Federal village,” as the inhabitants call it, is only half an hour by train from Cologne: the true capital of the Rhineland, and a resplendent, though rather dull, monument to West Germany's prosperity. The closer one gets to the Ruhr—Duesseldorf is less than an hour's train ride—the more visible the glitter that is the outward mark of a permanent export boom. The German economy is not merely flourishing: it is bursting at the seams. Witness the mass of foreign workers—Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Turks—who mill about in the streets, many of them hardly able to speak a word of German. The natives are getting used to it. In Switzerland, they tell you, every sixth inhabitant—eight-hundred thousand people out of five million—is a foreigner on a seasonal contract: the Swiss no longer care to do the really hard work. Before long the West Germans may follow suit. Heavy industry in the Ruhr already operates on the basis of immigrant labor and is crying out for more.

Meanwhile the proportions of the boom are such that the average German is beginning to acquire privileges formerly reserved for a minority. Last year some ten million West Germans—one person out of five—took their vacations abroad, mostly by getting into a car and driving south. This may not sound extraordinary to Americans, but in Europe it represents a new way of life. So far it is confined to the six Common Market countries, plus Britain and Scandinavia. East of the “Iron Curtain,” things go on much as they did before the war. West Germans returning from a visit to their relatives in Ulbricht's Republic talk less about the regime and the Russians than about the sense of being plunged back into a past before everyone was motorized. To them, Eastern Europe is a sort of hinterland with cobbled roads, peasants, and 19th-century towns. Its way of life has been left behind. Communism? Something that may suit the Russians, and even this seems doubtful.

This sense of superiority and contentment has repercussions of an unexpected kind. For one thing, it undermines the urge for Wiedervereinigung (reunification) which is supposed to dominate popular thinking and feeling in Germany. The visitor finds little sign of it. The political atmosphere is anyhow unfavorable to illusions on this score, but now one begins to sense a tendency to shrug the whole thing off—which, however, does not yet appear in public statements. It is tacitly accepted that reunion is not for tomorrow, that indeed it may not come for decades. One hears it said—in private anyhow—that it must be left to “history”: an oblique way of acknowledging that nothing much can be done about it. Maybe official Bonn was never very keen on reunion in the first place, but this tone is new.

At the same time, it does no good to overlook the fact that a lot of ordinary people feel resentful about the Western Allies, and by extension about the whole concept of NATO. For many years they were told that reunion was sure to come as soon as the West was ready to talk to the Russians in the only language they understood. Later it was explained that somehow a deal was in the offing which would enable the Kremlin to liquidate its East German investment without too much loss of face. Still later it was hinted that Bonn might take up the matter directly with Moscow, as soon as Khrushchev was in a reasonable frame of mind and willing to receive an official visit from the German Chancellor. By now it is more or less conceded that none of these notions ever had much substance. The result is general disgruntlement and a tendency to blame NATO for leading the Germans up the garden path—as though there had not been plenty of warnings.


At the political level—which in Bonn embraces everyone who counts for something—this stalemate translates itself into constant nagging at Gerhard Schroeder, the Foreign Minister, who in virtue of his office is held responsible for the failures of West German diplomacy. When one digs below the surface, one discovers that Schroeder is unpopular with a section of his party for reasons that have little to do with his (and Erhard's) predictable failure to enlist Washington in the cause of Wiedervereinigung. In the first place he is a Protestant, and the ruling Christian-Democratic party is a coalition of Catholics and conservative Lutherans in which “balancing the ticket” has reached the level of a fine art. Next, he irritates some of his small-town colleagues by his grand bourgeois airs and his evident desire to look and sound like an Anglo-American statesman of the better sort; with this goes a suspicion that his heart may really be in NATO instead of in national reunion. Lastly, he has been cool to the French, and this is resented by Adenauer's followers and by that section of Rhineland Catholicism (represented by an influential weekly, the Rheinischer Merkur) which is strongly “European” and anxious to keep in close touch with Paris. This is a Christian-Democratic rather than a Gaullist attitude. The so-called “German Gaullists” are a small group on the right wing who in practice differ from their French opposite numbers in that they envisage a Franco-German military bloc in which the Bundesrepublik would ultimately play the leading role. That is not exactly what the French want; it is also unlikely to come about for other reasons.

West Germany, for all its economic weight, has little political influence in Europe, let alone elsewhere in the world. Why this should be so is no great mystery to anyone who samples the air of Bonn for even a short while. The Bundesrepublik is a provincial country which lacks the first requirement of a real world power: a political elite. It does not even have a true capital, Bonn being something of a joke to its very inhabitants. It is still an open question whether Europe's true center is going to be Paris, or rather Brussels, where the Eurocrats foregather; but no one can seriously maintain that it is likely to be on the Rhine. Even within a purely Franco-German bloc the political leadership must come from Paris, if only because Germany is paralyzed by its national problem and its resulting dependence on American good will. De Gaulle can recognize China, plan a journey to Moscow, stir up the Latin Americans, and generally assert his independence from Washington. Erhard and Schroeder dare not take a step without consulting the White House, and the only reasonable initiative they could take on their own—recognition of the Oder-Neisse line—is ruled out by the state of German public opinion.

In practice, therefore, West German foreign policy—or what passes for such—reduces itself to the reiteration of meaningless slogans: national reunion “in peace and freedom,” better relations with Poland (but without recognizing the German-Polish frontier), loyalty to NATO (as though there were any choice), and hope that Britain may eventually “come into Europe.” This last sounds oddest of all to a visitor from London who knows how little interest in Europe there really is in Whitehall, and how determined public men of all shades of opinion are not to renounce a scrap of national sovereignty. A Labor government might conceivably make an exception in favor of the Swedes and the Danes, if something like a confederation with Scandinavia ever looked plausible; and there are a handful of Tories who would not mind teaming up with France on the basis of a joint Anglo-French “nuclear deterrent.” But then neither of these is much use to the Germans. If there are still German politicians and newspapermen who go on dreaming about “Britain coming into Europe,” it must be for reasons that have little to do with political calculation.

Von H., who combines an aristocratic family background with a left-wing past (he had to leave Germany in a hurry when Hitler rose to power) and considerable political experience, thinks none of this surprising. Over a bottle of wine in his house he talked with genial cynicism about his countrymen, from whom he now feels a trifle estranged, having spent many years abroad and mingled with both the cosmopolitan and the intellectual set (his wife was “non-Aryan”). Of people in leading positions here, he comes closest to saying—at least in private—that talk of German national reunion is hopeless and a joke in bad taste.

“You know how it is with us Germans: we always have to have a national concern (Anliegen) with which to bore and exasperate the rest of the world. Under the Kaiser it was the Navy and ‘our place in the sun’ which no one was trying to take away from us. Later it was the injustice of Versailles, ‘our colonies,’ and the ‘Polish Corridor’—that bit of territory awarded to Poland after 1919. Now it's Wiedervereinigung, and of course the Oder-Neisse line which we will never, never recognize. On top of all this, that ass Seebohm [Federal Minister of Transport and a former Nazi] talks in public about recovering the Sudetenland, and instead of being instantly fired he just gets a mild reprimand from Erhard, and everything goes on as before. In foreign affairs Germany has no political traditions. In the last century Bismarck seemed to have created one, but it only lasted for one generation. The system he built would have been adequate if his successors had stuck to Continental European politics, which they more or less understood; instead, they had to get themselves involved in world affairs and start aping the British. Ever since, they have staggered from one disaster to the next. The term Realpolitik was invented by a German professor, but the truth is the Germans have never been good at it. Fortunately we have now had this NATO straitjacket strapped on us. As long as it holds, we're reasonably safe. The important thing is that the Americans and the British must never relinquish their control. The only safe place for the Germans is inside an alliance, where they can be watched by the others and their criminal propensities can be kept down. That's why de Gaulle worries me. He is a great man and all that, but he has a bad effect on us. The Germans don't understand him. They don't even understand that he is aiming at an accommodation with the Russians. All they can see is that he wants his own bomb, and it encourages their worst tendencies. Fortunately it looks as though we shall go on being under American control—I shudder to think what might happen if we were not. As for that talk about liquidating Ulbricht and getting the lost provinces back, it has no relation to reality, but then the Germans always were like that. They have no political sense, and that's that.”

This kind of disillusioned talk—none of it in public, of course—goes with considerable pride in the country's recent economic performance. To have combined a permanent boom with almost stable prices is indeed a remarkable achievement, largely accounted for, it seems, by heavy investment in labor-saving equipment. Last year industrial output rose once more, although the labor force actually dropped by 2 per cent. In some of the modern “growth” industries the advance in productivity has been quite striking. The oil industry, for instance, stepped up its output per worker by 25 per cent last year, motors and chemicals by 12 per cent, etc. This kind of technological growth and the resulting rise in personal incomes serves to keep people's minds off the insoluble national problem. It also keeps the government reasonably popular. There are now confident forecasts that next year the voters will sweep the ruling coalition back into office. If that happens there may be trouble inside the Social Democratic party, now starved of federal power for many years and getting stale. But what can the Opposition do? Having cast its socialist program overboard long ago and rivaled the other parties in extolling the market economy, there isn't much further Right it can go. Berlin is no longer an issue, and in a straight choice between Erhard and Brandt, the floating voters are likely to plump for the architect of the Wirtschaftswunder.


Holland, May: From Amsterdam it is not far to one of those convenient spots where scholars, research workers, authors, editors, and assorted hangers-on are occasionally assembled to debate current affairs. In this case the agenda concerned recent changes in Eastern Europe, and one gathered that the sponsors were connected with one of the Common Market governments. The majority of the participants were Germans, though there was a fair sprinkling of refugees from East Europe, some of them scholars of distinction now living in the West. Notwithstanding the presence of an eminent German historian, and an eminent Catholic theologian of Polish extraction, it was not, to my mind, a wholly successful affair. Perhaps the trouble was that a number of outsiders had been invited, including some journalists who seemed puzzled by the proceedings. One could sympathize with them: here they were, hoping to be told what to think of the enemy and how to fight him, and instead what they got must have sounded to them like a seminar on the methodology of the social sciences.

The principal talk was delivered by Professor L. of West Berlin (his colleague, Professor R., a renowned Sovietologist, did not turn up, which probably saved a row). What he told the gathering amounted to saying that the cold war had entered a new phase, that it was no longer possible to think of Communism as a monolith, that the Eastern bloc was in a process of internal flux, and that some Western attitudes would have to be revised. So far, so good. Unfortunately—having apparently been infected with modish notions imported from abroad—he went on to suggest that the real difference between East and West is that “they” have a universal creed which they believe to be absolutely true, whereas “we” know that there is no such thing, that all truths are relative, and that freedom consists in not believing in any absolutes. At this point a low-brow in the audience inquired whether the NATO troops should be told that, in the event of war, they would be fighting for pragmatism. This was resented, but some of the participants could not help feeling that the low-brow had struck a tender spot. After all, notions like “pluralism” and “constant self-questioning” do not really impinge on what matters to ordinary people. Besides, if freedom is not an absolute, what is the good of talking about it?

The chairman, another German academic, tried to restore the balance by reminding the audience that Germans—unlike more fortunate people: the British, for example—were obliged by recent experience to search their hearts and minds about the worth of even their most cherished beliefs. This fell rather flat. After all, the Germans have always gone in for talk about fundamentals. What they have lacked is a simple, unquestioning commitment to a few basic decencies which ought not to be discussed at all. But one was told that this was a peculiarly British attitude unsuited to Continentals. “We must know where we stand in regard to basic principles.” Besides, German sociologists and historians had only just caught up with the great idea that “democratic pluralism” signifies “constant readiness to examine our own premises.” The implication was that, if one could only get the Communists to join in a debate on this ground, one could perhaps unhinge parts of their mental framework, and in general soften them up. It seems a weird hope. The real menace to Stalinist dogmatism in the East is Marxist revisionism, i.e., a different kind of socialism, not just talk about being open-minded. But academics are prone to imagine that all the world is a seminar. Professor L. himself is a moderate Social Democrat, a great admirer of Talcott Parsons, and a thoroughly nice person. For a Berliner, though, he seems oddly unconcerned with politics. It is all very well to tell an academic audience that what we need is not a counter-ideology but an open mind and a readiness to measure our society by our own standards. But how does one get this kind of message across to the people behind the Curtain?

Some of the other Berlin participants at the conference, incidentally, struck a somewhat despondent note about conditions in East Germany. That the Ulbricht regime cannot be got rid of by force is now generally accepted by intelligent Germans. What is new is the growing alarm at the thought that the regime may be striking roots in the population. At first blush this seems improbable. Ulbricht is surely unique among East European bosses in that his satrapy has no national character. He dare not behave like the Rumanians, who, in their own fashion are now giving Khrushchev the treatment Stalin once got from the Yugoslavs. East Germany is a prison-cage compared even with Czechoslovakia—until lately a good way behind in the “thaw”—and Ulbricht's personal subservience to the Kremlin is legendary. Try as he may, he cannot wriggle out of his satellite status, and by the same token he cannot afford any genuine de-Stalinization. The “Hungarian solution” (which was also the Polish solution, though Poland has now slipped back some distance) is beyond his reach.

And yet . . . what one is told by people who live in Berlin, and who keep in touch with the East zone, makes one wonder. Last month the “Socialist Unity Party” was able to assemble some 300,000 well-drilled youngsters from all over East Germany for a monster parade in East Berlin, apparently without fear that they would get out of hand. Some thousands of West German visitors were admitted, and there was no ban on conversation between them and the blue-shirted “Free German Youth.” And what was their impression? Chiefly that these youngsters talked quite freely, made fun of Ulbricht, but at the same time showed a naïve attachment to “our Republic”—not, they admitted, a paradise in most respects, but “our state” nonetheless. The West German correspondents all noted this ominous change of tone, and the Hamburg paper Die Zeit, after weeks of reportage all over the Eastern zone, spoke of the growth of a kind of Staatsbewusstsein (national consciousness) among the East Germans. Perhaps as a corollary, there has been a good deal of relaxation in minor matters, such as dress and amusements. By all accounts, the crowds who turned up at the Berlin rally did not look depressed. As the correspondent of Der Spiegel noted, the combination of “sun, sex, and socialism” had gone down well with these youngsters.

Moral? One ex-Communist to whom I talked was gloomy. Having himself broken with the regime years ago and “come in from the cold,” he now saw East Germany consolidating under the rule of a party which—whatever its public talk about “reunion”—had from the beginning been determined to create a state of its own: one in which Communist domination would never be effectively challenged. Now the gamble seems to be coming off. The young, who have grown up under this regime, don't exactly like its leaders, but they are beginning to display the famous German Staatsbewusstsein—loyalty to the state, combined with grumbling about minor matters. As this informant put it, “If Ulbricht can get these youngsters to look upon East Germany as their national state, he has won. Nothing else matters—not the economic troubles, which are anyhow overrated, or the discontent of the intellectuals. If the Communists can make a separate nation out of the East Germans, they can last forever. They could then even dispense with Soviet troops. That's why reunion must not be too long delayed. Time is working against it.” This is not what one hears in Bonn, but it is probably more realistic than the official view.


In a way it would be odd if Ulbricht got away with it. There is something peculiarly disagreeable about him, even taking into account that he belongs to the generation of Stalinist leaders who grew up as loyal followers of the Kremlin in the old hierarchical Comintern apparatus. Ulbricht has always been the least sympathetic of all prominent German Communists, past and present. At the same time he is undoubtedly effective and loyal to Moscow. His latest biographer, Carola Stern (herself a former member who escaped to the West over a decade ago) puts it down to the fact that the German Communists were thoroughly demoralized by the Nazi triumph in 1933 and the subsequent collapse of resistance to Hitler. The crowning touch was their inability to lend any effective help to Russia during the war. Self-hatred is an important component in the psychology of this generation of German Stalinist functionaries who spent the war years in Russia: that, plus hatred of their own countrymen for having followed Hitler. For years these people waited around in Moscow, disliked and despised and not treated too cordially by their colleagues from other countries (“Why don't you fight? You Germans are a disgrace to the whole Communist movement!”). Having at last got back, and got their foot firmly planted on the necks of their countrymen, they were and are in no mood to be “liberal.”

On the other hand, of course, they had the great advantage of ruling a people cowed by years of Nazi terrorism and traditionally prone to “follow orders.” One hears of old Nazis—mostly from the lower middle class, a stratum whose servility is legend even among Germans—who are now fanatically loyal members of the “Socialist Unity Party.” After all, the old anti-Western ideology only had to be given a different label . . . This constitutes a gloss on the often-heard claim that East Germany has been more thoroughly de-Nazified than the Bundesrepublik. In fact, there are plenty of old Nazis in office, but in the East they have been given more subordinate functions and compelled to undergo extensive brainwashing. Since many of them are quite happy with an official ideology and a license to hunt Staatsfeinde (enemies of the State), the conversion must have come fairly easy.


The real problem lies elsewhere. If the party wants to sell itself, and its “German Democratic Republic,” to the rising generation, it must create a new intelligentsia. With the pre-war intellectuals of middle-class origin, Ulbricht & Co. have failed. The endless series of purges has resulted in a state of affairs ludicrous even by East European standards: it is getting to be impossible to assemble a conference of “loyal” intellectuals because so many have dropped out, fallen silent, or decamped to the West. At a “literary conference” arranged by the Politburo last April (the locale being an electro-chemical plant specially decorated for the occasion), Ulbricht was obliged to address a gathering which even his most disciplined aides could hardly have viewed with pride: out of fifty-one presidium members, only nine could be described as writers, and they included not a single author of the first rank. Even some of the more prominent Communist old-timers—Anna Seghers, Ludwig Renn—had failed to turn up. In their absence, Ulbricht had to make do with his faithful functionaries, plus a number of “proletarian writers”—autodidacts commissioned to produce “socialist-realist” descriptions of life on the collective farm—and a few carefully selected specimens of the “loyal opposition”: young people belonging to the new ruling stratum who are given some latitude on condition of staying loyal to “our Republic.” This group—it includes a few genuine though minor talents—appears to be the party's new (or last) hope. At the conference Ulbricht went out of his way to hail this “young guard” as the wave of the future, having clearly decided to write the older group off as hopeless. From his standpoint this is probably a sound decision, since a generation brought up on the literature of the Weimar Republic could hardly be expected to be enthusiastic about the “German Democratic Republic” and its “worker and peasant” culture.

Insofar as East Germany has any intellectual life at all, it has been provided by two groups: the old pre-war Marxists, who came out of a still intact liberal bourgeois culture (and who have now been mostly silenced), and the “young guard” of loyal critics who belong to the new Establishment and reflect its inner tensions. This second group hopes for liberalization, reads the more fashionable “revisionist” Communist writers in Poland, Hungary, and Austria, and tries to get some encouragement from the sibylline utterances of George Lukács—now a firm supporter of Khrushchev and co-existence, just as down to 1953 he was a fire-breathing Stalinist. Lukács's latest pronouncements (reprinted in the Vienna Forum), by the way, show how far he lags behind “revisionists” of the younger generation, such as the Austrian Ernst Fischer. By comparison with them, he is not only dull, but dogmatic, and more than a little disingenuous as well. Age may be part of it (he is nearing eighty), but the real trouble is that thirty years of Stalinism have done their work. No one can be an official high priest that long and still keep all his faculties. The truly irritating thing about Lukács is his lack of candor and his habit of treating every twist in the official line as an occasion for self-congratulation. It is typical of his current manner that he interprets co-existence to mean a “serious” debate over the respective merits of “capitalism” and “socialism”! It would probably come as a surprise to him to hear that this terminology is not universally accepted. Why this aged and somewhat fly-blown prima donna is regularly treated as a prophet of co-existence, when in fact he offers no more than a sophisticated version of the standard Moscow article, is a minor mystery.

About the Author

Pin It on Pinterest