October 18, 2018

The Communist State of East Germany (the DDR or Deutsche Demokratische Republik) is now long gone but much about it is instructive

Below is a DDR propaganda video set to the words of the old DDR national anthem.  It gives you some impression of what the DDR was like at its best.

You may, incidentally get some impression of why some Germans from both East and West say that the old DDR anthem was much better than the current Federal anthem.  The ideals expressed are certainly in general commendable.

Was the DDR a Prussian State?

Many observers have noticed that the most strident oposition in Germany to third-world immigration (under the rubric of "refugees") comes from the formerly Communist East. The anti-immigrant AfD party has most of its strength in the old East, though it recently got a good showing in the Bavarian state elections too. 

One can contrive explanations for that readily enough:  1). The West has a long history of Muslim Gastarbeiter from Turkey so is more relaxed about Muslims generally. 2). The Easterners had a gutful of political correctness under the Communists so no longer respect it.

Both those explanations undoubtedly have some force but I suspact that there is an elephant abroad in Germany that no-one is seeing:  The fact that the old East contained what was left of  historical Prussia.  And the Eastern regime was not shy about that.  They deliberately portrayed themselves as heirs to Prussia in an attempt to legitimate their regime to the East German people.

Note that the old East German national anthem (above) had quite a lot of militaristic touches and even the references to peace do not dilute that.  Hitler used similar appeals. The video is in fact strongly reminiscent of Hitler's propaganda.

And one does need to know something about the traditional place of Prussia in the German lands.  Have a look at the postwar map of Germany before the recent reunification.  Prussia was historically in the Northeast and that is where the old East Germany was.

And in the German lands, there are strong cultural differences that mirror geography.  To be a little crude about it, the North had the soldiers and the South had the culture.  And Prussians were arguably the world's best soldiers.  The battles fought under Prussian generals are studied in staff colleges worldwide to this day.  And that great Bible of Prussian warfare, Vom Kriege by Carl von Clausewitz still attracts some awe, even though its author left it unfinished.

So there is no doubt that being Prussian implies a militaristic and nationalistic heritage -- and that seems to me to be a pretty good explanation of East German contempt for the dregs from the Middle East and elsewhere that have been foisted on them -- JR.

UPDATE: In the original German, many of the words of the anthem could easily be direct quotes from Nazi propaganda.

Und der Zukunft zugewandt,

Deutschland, einig Vaterland.

Schlagen wir des Volkes Feind.

Deutsche Jugend, bestes Streben
Uns'res Volks in dir vereint,

I will dig out the Nazi parallels if anyone doubts them

As a further evocation of historic Prussia see the video below. It is the Chilean army marching to the strains of Preussens Gloria, probably the most famous Prussian military march. The Chilean army adopted Prussian practice, uniforms etc. before WWI and have retained it all ever since. Note General Pinochet in the reviewing stand.

East Germany had some attractions

The DDR is now long gone. In the day, East Germans could receive West German TV programs so were acutely aware that the capitalistic West Germans were much richer than they were.  So they envied that and wanted the opportunity to move to the West. But the famous wall between East and West prevented that. So when the Gorbachev reforms in Russia allowed it, thousands of them breached the wall, leading to the downfall of the East German regime and a peaceful takeover of the Eastern lands by the West Germans in 1990.

Easterners had not generally foreseen any negative consequences of reunion but some soon emerged. In particular, the businesses and industries of the East were not remotely competitive with their Western counterparts and rapidly went broke.  This led to very high levels of unemployment and economic depression generally in the East and there very soon emerged among some people "Ostalgie" -- a longing for the old Communist regime, a longing that continues among some to this day

What Easterners miss from the old regime was stability, particularly stability of employment, but they also missed the orderly and predictable availability of goods and services as well.  You didn't have to compete for anything.  All was provided, albeit at a low level. So there was a brotherly feeling among Easterners and that is missed by some too.

So is there any chance of reviving at least some of that system? Almost certainly not.  The system was kept calm and stable through coercion. Individualism was discouraged under what was to an extent a benign despotism. One of the State governments in the East might one day attempt some approximation to it but the federal government would not put up with too much of that. The German Basic Law (constitution) would also impose limits.

Nonetheless, it is clear that some of the aspects of extreme socialism were and are appreciated by some people. The entire developed world does have a degree of socialism (welfare measures etc.) so there is clearly something basic in the appeal of socialism. 

And it is perfectly obvious where that appeal resides.  It is encoded into us by our evolutionary past. As we see in primitive societies to this day, caveman life was heavily into sharing.  If one member of the tribe had managed to catch a juicy animal, he would share it with the whole of the tribe.  In the absence of refrigeration, it would not keep anyway and by sharing his kill he would be entitled to a share of all the kills made by all tribe members.  And common defence was also practiced.  If members of another tribe staged a raid to kidnap one of your women, the whole tribe would rise up to defend the desirable dame.

So there is a sense in which we are all born socialists, which accounts for the virtual ubiquity of some socialist practices in human societies.  The great discovery of 18th and 19th century Britain, however, was that individualism was also beneficial -- particularly for generating wealth.  Money talked and it talked loudly.  Britain did have its socialist system (Workhouses, poorhouses, church schools etc) but they left plenty of room for individual enterprise.  And the rest is history, as they say.  In the developing, mostly European, world of the 19th century, Britain became the model and socialism took a back seat to individual enterprise because of its obvious advantages

But socialism is deep rooted and the 20th century saw it roar back -- with extreme socialism in Russia, Germany and China.  And in the rest of the world there were all sorts of restrictions on business and welfare states also emerged.  In Britain only Mrs Thatcher gave socialism a black eye and Mr Trump is working in that direction too.

So an obvious question is whether capitalism can deliver some of the things that socialists like.  The extensive welfare provisions already in existence already go some way towards that but is there more that we can do without wrecking our successful economic model.

East Germany gives us the clue.  The one thing that "Ossis" particularly liked was stability, the absence of change.  In particular they liked economic stability -- confidence that you would have a job tomorrow and that the job is easy to do.

That is in fact a thoroughly conservative wish.  Stability and an absence of change are good conservative values.  So where have we gone wrong?  Why did it take a Communist state to put conservative values into practice?  The answer is that all of life is a tradeoff.  Only feminists think you can have it all. And we have traded too much for economic liberty.  East Germany was poorer but more secure and relaxed and that tradeoff suited many people.

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