Progress, Not Politics”

The Muted Revolution: East Germany’s Challenge to Russia and the West

by Welles Hangen
Knopf, 231 pp., $5.95

Today’s copy of Neues Deutschland, punctually delivered across the Wall to a foreigner in West Berlin, contains as usual all the news dull enough to print. “Trades Unions: competition for final products. Fifteenth Party Congress of Fraternal Icelandic Party: Greetings Telegram from the Central Committee. Convince by Teaching: Teach Convincingly.” The main story describes the final day of the Writers’ Congress (“Writers: Co-moulders of Socialist Life”) and the closing speech by Professor Hager, member of the Politburo and secretary of the Central Committee. He spoke of the writer’s role as planner and manager in the building of socialism, “as co-moulder, not as mere observer or visionary warner. It can be no part of the function of the socialist writer only to ask questions of society and uncover contradictions and problems without hinting at the path of development in the spirit of the decisions of the Party and the government…” He ended with a quotation from Johannes Becher: “our political freedom is to be seen in the degree of agreement we bring to the great historical demands of our time. Freedom is agreement. Only through agreement to such recognized historical necessities can we become profound and genuine personalities and win true freedom of the personality.”

Earnest, strict, conformist, worthy, and infinitely long-winded, the public life of the German Democratic Republic drives ahead along a road as hard and straight as one of those Prussian chaussées paved for a hundred miles with small black cubes of basalt. Decisions taken in full unanimity succeed each other with the regularity of the wayside trees. The years of uncertainty, tyranny, and dissent lie far behind, like the dangerous and colorful labyrinth of a city’s outskirts. We are out in open country now, traveling without deviation to right or left, but traveling fast.

The time of inner conflict and confusion within the Party and State is over. As Mr. Hangen writes, “the time of troubles in Ulbricht’s own party was over by early 1958.” The crisis of the state and the economy was closed in 1961, with the closing of the open Berlin border and the building of the Wall. In the past five years, East Germany has made itself the most prosperous industrial economy in the socialist camp, and the fifth or sixth most powerful industrial nation in the world. The population, increasingly resigned to a political situation it sees no way to change, now appreciates a fair standard of living comparable to that of a Western European country in the middle Fifties. There is sensitive pride in what has been achieved, a settled confidence that more is to come. East Germany has consolidated.

Mr. Hangen does not like East Germany, but he recognizes that it has gained enormously in authenticity since the Wall. The West German official term, the “Soviet Zone of Occupation,” was never accurate. Now it is an active nuisance.

The DDR is a major variable in the German equation rather than a minor constant, to be added …

This article is available to Online Edition and Print Premium subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.