Robert Havemann (1910-1982)
Book essay written
by Dina Carini
Havemann (left) and dissidents in Wolf Biermann's apartment, Summer 1967
About the Author
Building World Socialism: Overcoming Nazism and Stalinism in the G.D.R.
At the end of World War II the Allies set about to cooperatively decide the fate of Germany, but the wartime coalition did not last, and East and West Germany developed in different directions. The Western allies led their zones toward rehabilitation by establishing democracy and capitalism, while the East took on satellite status of the Soviet Union under the umbrella of world socialism. Some East Germans welcomed the Soviets as liberators, later realizing the oppressive nature of Stalinism, which corrupted the world socialist movement. In his book Questions, Answers, Questions: From the Biography of a German Marxist, Robert Havemann, a convinced communist living in the German Democratic Republic, describes his imprisonment and several interrogations, bringing up many important issues facing post-war Germany. Havemann discusses how the German Democratic Republic dealt with its Nazi past and what the division of Germany meant to the people living in the G.D.R., and relates these implications to the role of Germany in the world socialist movement. Havemann expresses great hope in achieving true democratic socialism in the G.D.R. by overcoming Stalinism.
Havemann makes it very clear that he supports the German Democratic Republic and is a true socialist, despite his criticisms. Always being a true communist, Havemann declares, "I used to fight against the state. Today, for it" (140), demonstrating his loyalty to the new government. In fact, he feels that it will improve the state of the G.D.R. to practice open criticism and discuss different interpretations of Marxism. The problem, Havemann states, is the "transformation of Marxism as official opinion," (154) and the inability of the G.D.R. government to change, as he believes socialism is a revolutionary process, not just a state (129).
Havemann justifies Stalinism in the early Soviet Union, claiming that it was out of necessity to save Russia during dire need (51-52). However, Havemann does not think it is necessary to apply Stalinism anymore. Accordingly, Stalinism formed out of the policy of "socialism in one country," and was blind to peaceful coexistence since it had to compete directly with capitalism. To Havemann, trying to compete by the Western standards is producing goods, such as televisions and cars, "whose glittering sham makes people into even-more-complete slaves of consumer needs" (130). Havemann fears that Stalinist oppression distorts socialism, resembling Nazism in despotism, ruling along authoritarian lines and protecting itself with a secret police (151). He is also concerned over the global appearance of communism, and wishes to remove Stalinism as a propaganda weapon of the West (10).
Although Havemann never explicitly condones Stalinism in the G.D.R., he acknowledges that in the 1950's it was necessary to restrict liberties. He plainly states that the rule of state power over the people is wrong, but it is a social necessity, and the restriction of personal liberties is wrong, but it is sometimes a social necessity (152). Havemann considered the West a dangerous place for a weak socialist to visit, "because your consciousness, your class consciousness, is not yet strong enough to withstand it, your State, with paternal solicitude, does not allow you to travel, for your own good" (33). This restriction on the individual liberty to travel freely fits within Havemann’s definition of Stalinism (33), but he clearly states that it does not automatically mean that people are denied freedom.
It appears that Havemann struggles over the issue of obtaining freedom in a Stalinist society. On one hand, he suggests that anyone who acknowledges the necessity of Stalinism will keep their freedom (33). For example, by recognizing your own weakness to the Western glamour, an individual wouldn’t consider the state’s restriction on travel as an infringement upon their freedom. However, Havemann also admits that this kind of necessity "can be grasped only be those in whose hands [the government] lies. Only the rulers, through an ‘insight into the necessity,’ really feel free, not the ruled" (151-152). Havemann himself may not have realized this contradiction, but this suggests that in the end it is not possible for everyone to obtain freedom under Stalinism.
Like many other East Germans, Havemann believed that Stalin’s death in March 1953 would bring more change than it actually did. Instead there was an increase in work norms and tightening of policy, provoking the June uprisings in various East German cities (Marcuse, 01/26/2004). Havemann explains this as evidence that it is necessary to put industry completely in the hands of the workers, which "is a crucial prerequisite for the realization of socialism" (48). The capitalist structure of the Nazi era was replaced with a state monopoly, with industry not lying in the hands of the laborers. To Havemann, "workers felt they were as exploited as they had been under capitalism, indeed more," and so they took to the streets to salvage their rights (122). The workers’ strike to further the revolution resembled and fueled the counter-revolution, necessitating Stalinism to put down the real strike and the counter-revolution (121).
The 20th Congress of the Communist Parties in 1956 was of great significance to Havemann because it gave him great hope of dismantling Stalinism in the G.D.R. In the eyes of Havemann, Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin implied a greater tolerance for criticism since it admitted possible a changing conception of truth (20). This is significant in dealing with East Germany’s own Nazi past. According to Havemann, if Nazism was wrong and Stalinism is wrong, it could be possible that the present state of the G.D.R. is also wrong (20), meaning that open criticism is necessary to complete the revolutionary process of socialism. Unfortunately, Havemann feels that G.D.R. leader, Walter Ulbricht, grasped little essence and significance of the 20th Party Congress (93).
The Prague Spring demonstrated to Havemann that is was fully possible to overcome Stalinism. For eight months Alexander Dubcek instigated reforms in favor of the workers and led Czechoslovakia into free socialist democracy (194). Moscow became alarmed and sent in tanks, crushing the workers’ revolution, sparking disapproval from the majority of Warsaw Pact states who viewed the suppression as strengthening Stalinism (219). Google marcuse 133c to find where this has been published on the web. Havemann argues that the eventual invasion of Soviet tanks, although a huge disappointment, did not mean complete failure in Czechoslovakia, for they did not return to pre-January conditions and they realized and continued to practice many freedoms (229-230).
Havemann firmly believes that in the 1960's it was necessary to overcome Stalinism in the G.D.R. During an interrogation, Havemann discusses his beliefs regarding the Berlin Wall’s extent of success. The Stasi represented the official opinion that the wall stopped thousands of people a week from being enticed by the West, and Havemann, challenging official opinion, asks, "Don’t you believe that one could entice people to socialism? This will hardly be possible with the Wall" (71). Havemann clearly sees the damage of Stalinist oppression on the world socialist movement.
Havemann is very suspicious of former Nazis who miraculously changed into communists overnight. He complains that it is these people who retain high social positions, as "unconditional conformism was honored by a virtue by those in charge" (251-252), while he himself is interrogated by the state he helped to build. Havemann was always a devout communist and was imprisoned during the Nazi period for anti-fascist activity. At the time of Soviet liberation, Havemann emotionally describes taking over the penitentiary along with other inmates in order to hand it over peacefully to their liberators, "We embraced out liberators and led them inside" (80-81). Always being a true believer in socialism, Havemann felt excitement for German recovery to take Soviet direction.
Havemann places the blame for the division of Germany on the Allies for dismembering it in the first place, specifically, the fault of the Western Allies because they feared Soviet influence moving westward (252-253). Furthermore, he sees peaceful reunification impossible due to the attitudes of the West. Publishing the Hallstein Doctrine, the Federal Republic of Germany refused to recognize the G.D.R. as an official state, implying that the West was the exclusive voice of Germany (Marcuse, 02/06/2004). Havemann concludes that because the West will not recognize the G.D.R., it will want to annex the "illegal state," meaning war (253).
Havemann recognizes the contributions of capitalism to the rise of the living standard, but he clearly points out the cost at which it comes. Not only does he think that the rich Westerners have become spiritually and intellectually dumb, but their affluence causes more suffering, hunger, and death for the rest of the world, specifically the old colonies that the West sucked dry (199). Additionally, Havemann doubts the sincerity of American economic aid, claiming that the money does not go to help the people who are suffering, but it goes into building the political and economic power of the United States (200). The F.R.G. was clearly ahead of the G.D.R. in consumer goods (Marcuse, 02/02/04) , but Havemann argues that materialism was just another way to distract people from freedom. Havemann explains that it is ridiculous to provide cars for only a few families, when "it is much more a matter of meeting the travel and transportation needs of the population in the most effective way" (210).
Havemann harshly criticizes capitalism, especially the United States, claiming that the West only gives an illusion of freedom, while oppressing the people of "underdeveloped" countries and distracting people with material goods. Havemann draws clear connections between Nazi Germany and the United States, to the extent that they both have a "power philosophy," implying arrogance and desire to control the world (203). Havemann sarcastically points out that "the West--even in Vietnam--defends freedom against oppression, with napalm and fragmentation bombs" (194). The West defends capitalism with Stalinist actions and wins support using war. American "power philosophy" is demonstrated in Vietnam, where Havemann predicts that the United States will eventually realize their superior power is not enough to overcome national resistence (203).
In conclusion, Havemann despises, most of all, the "power philosophy" and accompanying oppression displayed in Nazism, in the West, and in Stalinism, and he wishes to rescue the German Democratic Republic from the path of self-destruction. Havemann makes it very clear that he supports the German Democratic Republic, but he can not condone its Stalinist tactics. Although Havemann believed it was necessary during dire need, he believes that Stalinism is no longer necessary to create true democratic socialism in the German Democratic Republic. Instead, Stalinism only distorts socialism and gives fuel to the anti-communist West. Accordingly, Stalinism must be overcome to give way to world revolution. Two events gave Havemann hope of de-Stalinization: the 20th Party Congress encouraged constructive governmental criticism, and the Prague Spring proved it was possible to destroy the Stalinist structure.
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