Political Epistemics The Secret Police, the Opposition, and the End of East German Socialism
by Andreas Glaeser
University of Chicago Press, 2011
Cloth: 978-0-226-29793-4 | Paper: 978-0-226-29794-1 | Electronic: 978-0-226-29795-8
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

What does the durability of political institutions have to do with how actors form knowledge about them? Andreas Glaeser investigates this question in the context of a fascinating historical case: socialist East Germany’s unexpected self-dissolution in 1989. His analysis builds on extensive in-depth interviews with former secret police officers and the dissidents they tried to control as well as research into the documents both groups produced. In particular, Glaeser analyzes how these two opposing factions’ understanding of the socialist project came to change in response to countless everyday experiences. These investigations culminate in answers to two questions: why did the officers not defend socialism by force? And how was the formation of dissident understandings possible in a state that monopolized mass communication and group formation? He also explores why the Stasi, although always well informed about dissident activities, never developed a realistic understanding of the phenomenon of dissidence.

Out of this ambitious study, Glaeser extracts two distinct lines of thought. On the one hand he offers an epistemic account of socialism’s failure that differs markedly from existing explanations. On the other hand he develops a theory—a sociology of understanding—that shows us how knowledge can appear validated while it is at the same time completely misleading.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Andreas Glaeser is associate professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and the author of Divided in Unity: Identity, Germany, and the Berlin Police, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

REVIEWS

“This is a wonderful book that at long last explains the epistemological reasons behind the collapse of Eastern European state socialism. Through Glaeser’s intensive case study, we learn how socialist party-states cultivated particular modes of understanding the world whose inflexible, self-referential character eventually contributed to an enormous gap between the political imagination of the party-state and that of its citizens, which led to popular discrediting, cynicism, and collapse. Along the way, he introduces us to a pioneering theory of how institutions and understandings co-constitute one another. There is, in sum, no shortage of genius in Political Epistemics—it is a magnificent testimony to the resurgence of the sociology of knowledge and its provocative arguments and conclusions will be debated widely for years to come.”--Dominic Boyer, Rice University— Dominic Boyer

“This is nothing less than a Summa Sociologica masquerading as a masterful ethnography of the collapse of East German socialism. Political Epistemics will further establish Glaeser’s reputation as one of our leading scholars, one whose far-reaching vision will take the field in important new directions. Its achievements are monumental and it will surely be a landmark work for readers serious enough to take it seriously.”--Jeffrey Olick, University of Virginia
— Jeffrey Olick

TABLE OF CONTENTS

List of Illustrations

List of Abbreviations

Preface

Acknowledgments

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0001
[social arrangements, political understanding, epistemic force, socialism, dynamic relationship]
Social arrangements in decline often look farcical. They produce events that just a little while ago were literally inconceivable. They engender plots that are, judging by the received wisdom of their time and space, whimsical, indeed improbable in the dramatic sense of the word. They also reveal clashes of political understandings in which the still presupposed commonplace is destabilized by views unthinkable only yesterday. This chapter opens up with an event from the fall of 1989 that has become emblematic for the decline and final disintegration of socialism in East Germany. Different poetics enable a number of interesting dynamic relationships or dialectics between discursive, emotive, and kinesthetic understandings. The mutually amplifying coordination of discourse, emotion, and bodily movement is central to any successful ritual; it is the mutually supportive coordination of many layers of understanding as an encompassing experience that lends it reproductive or transformative epistemic force. (pages 1 - 60)
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I. Socialism as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy—The Party’s Project

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0002
[socialism, revolutionary practice, Marx's theory, labor movement, ideological disturbances]
Socialism is very sensitive to ideological disturbances. The bracket that keeps the whole thing together is ideology, and if this bracket is weakened the whole system falls apart. To get a better sense about divergences and congruencies between Marx's theory and Eastern European socialist practice, this chapter recapitulates briefly what Marx had to say about the relationship between understandings and other kinds of institutions. Marx aims to show throughout his work how scientific theoretical-historical analysis can provide a road map for the actions of the labor movement. Marx tries to provide ananalytics that helps the labor movement to decide which battles to fight and which ones to avoid in any concrete moment—including the determination of the right moment for revolutionary action. Marxist thinkers continued to develop further the idea that sound theory must inform the struggle of the labor movement. The relationship between theory and revolutionary practice in the form of poignant analysis of the present and their consequences for the revolutionary struggle was what writing in the tradition of Marx was centrally concerned with. (pages 65 - 119)
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    University Press Scholarship Online

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0003
[communism, Stasi, socialist, democratic, monolithic intentionality]
A monolithic intentionality, the unity and the purity of the party (and ideally of the whole population), was the best way to move socialism forward on its inevitable path to communism. This chapter describes the organizational principles understood by the party as assuring central control, the principles of democratic centralism and central planning. Socialist consciousness, the Marxist-Leninist way of differentiating and integrating the world, also needed to be produced substantively the vast propaganda apparatus of the party conducted a politics of education. Since the party assumed that the class enemy would aim at interfering with this task, the smooth operation of the propaganda apparatus needed to be safeguarded against “sabotage” and the “soddening” influence of the class-enemies' attempts to interfere in the party's project. The party state employed a politics of disablement and disarticulation, trying to prevent the GDR's populations from having access to certain ideas or people. Furthermore, this chapter discusses the Stasi and the ways in which it figured into the party's project of creating a monolithic intentionality. (pages 120 - 162)
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II. Contingencies and Dynamics of Understanding—The Theory

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0004
[individualistic theories, Wittgenstein's late philosophy, orientational needs, understandings, interactions]
This chapter concerns argument of individualistic theories of belief as they are manifest, for example, in much of opinion research and social psychology, by revealing their unrealistic ontological presuppositions. It shows that understandings are better analyzed through their constitution within three intersecting contexts. Firstly, because understanding is indissolubly social it must always be analyzed from within the interactions with other persons. The stability of understanding discusses Wittgenstein's late philosophy as the result of interactions within networks of authority. Secondly, because particular differentiations and integrations are always building on other understandings they must be analyzed in relationship to these. Emphasis is placed especially on the fact that these relationships are highly differentiated, qualitatively and quantitatively. Thirdly, since understandings characteristically respond to orientational needs in the real world, they must be seen in relation to its experience, and even more precisely through the experience of understandings in use. (pages 165 - 208)
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- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0005
[validation, space, understanding, social, historical transformation]
This chapter shows the whole complex of understanding constituting processes as taking place within a space of validation. It allows for an integrative imagery for the social, doxic, and referential environments of understandings. Recognitions, corroborations, and resonances are the recurring process dynamics. Spaces of validation can be seen as meeting grounds of interfering forces. Together they validate and thus actualize certain understandings for an interconnected network of people within a particular experiential and mnemonic environment. They thereby constitute people's selves, agency, and identity, and ultimately the institutional fabric of the society. The spatial metaphor also enables to imagine the historical transformation of understandings, for example, from a mere “hypothesis,” “assumption,” or “hunch” to esteemed “knowledge,” “fact,” or “belief” and back to regretful “error,” “misunderstanding,” or “wishful thinking” as movements toward or away from the biographical axis. The validation model emphasizes a distinct way in which human beings and their social lives are inextricably intertwined. (pages 209 - 250)
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III. Becoming Socialist Men—The Stasi Officers

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0006
[Marxism-Leninism, party state, officers, socialism, validation, monolithic]
The quotations opening this chapter provide glimpses of a worldview in operation. They suggest how deeply the secret police officers believe in Marxism-Leninism, and how this belief was wrapped up in strong identifications with institutions, most notably the party, the state GDR, and the Stasi. They reflect the success of the SED to create the kind of monolithic intentionality it envisioned for the country as a whole. This chapter is the story of officers' understanding in the making where “in the making” means both—becoming and remaining once become. It shows how socialism in the guise of an idea, a person, an institution, or a setting began to be appealing to these men, and how this appeal becomes compelling through the mutually supporting work of resonances, recognitions, and corroborations. This is done by drawing on the life of one officer, while juxtaposing his development to a more general consideration of others' experience. The officer chosen to allegorize the group over a particular period of time is selected not for reasons of representativeness in a demographic sense—the use of that notion is often just the admittance that one knows little about the relevant processes—but for reasons of highlighting particularly important dynamics of validation. (pages 255 - 295)
This chapter is available at:
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- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0007
[political understanding, Stasi culture, officers, authority, socialism]
This chapter provides an understanding of how particular understandings become stabilized, are maintained, and decay among a particular set of people. It investigates the structure and dynamics of the authority networks in which these people operate. It explores the principles according to which officers in socialist East Germany learned to ascribe authority over their political understandings to others and describes how the structure of their networks of authority was influenced by the organizational cultures and structures of Stasi. The open border between both parts of Germany, together with West Germany's refusal to recognize an independent GDR citizenship, implies that those people who felt socialism to be insufferable could leave the country without many of the more traumatic consequences that refugee status usually entails. Furthermore, this chapter analyzes the discursive cultures that characterize these networks because the very precondition for understandings to be recognized is that they are allowed to emerge and develop in interaction. (pages 296 - 338)
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IV. Disenchantment, Disengagement, Opposition—The Dissidents

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0008
[school experiences, individual, state, cultural opposition, civil rights]
This chapter focuses on the trajectories from school experiences up to the moment when people in socialist East Germany began to form discussion circles while trying to organize critically engaging programming in official performance venues—that is, the so-called cultural opposition. It gives an account of the gradual formation and transformation of political understandings among later activists of the peace, civil rights, and environmental movements in East Berlin during the 1980s. The sequencing of relevant experiences, the articulation of understandings, their subsequent corroboration in contingent events, their recognition in changing networks of authority as well as the various resonances they invoke provides the underlying structure of the narrative. The beginnings of dissidence can scarcely be comprehended as the result of differences in already well articulated discursive political understandings between an individual and the state. (pages 341 - 398)
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- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0009
[gropus, cultural opposition, peace movement, nonreligious peace groups, church]
The changing relationship between party state and church in socialist East Germany can also be traced through the changing legal forms in which the church was constituted. This qualitatively and quantitatively new dimension of peace activism within the church dovetailed with a second development. Since the beginning of the 1980s, nonreligious peace groups formed throughout the country. The organizational core members of these groups had previously collected experiences in a variety of state-critical venues, in the cultural opposition, by participating in reading and discussion circles, or by organizing and/or frequenting privately staged public readings or concerts. The emerging peace movement's operation at the margins of the state church compact, in the space between a large semi-controlled and thus legal, and much smaller uncontrollable non-legal institutional domain, created unprecedented political opportunities. The interstitial mode of operation created considerable tension among all actors involved: the church hierarchy and local ministers, laypeople and secular peace activists. (pages 399 - 462)
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V. Policing Understandings—Reproducing Misunderstandings

- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0010
[Stasi, PID/PUT/opposition theory, guidance officers, self-politics, institutionalization]
This chapter describes and analyzes the means used by the secret police to control the formation of dissident groups and their activities in socialist East Germany. It interprets these efforts of the Stasi as a particular form of politics undertaken with the intention to prevent, hinder, or undo the formation of party-critical institutions. These efforts were oriented and directed by the party state's political understandings about how dissident activities come about. This chapter is devoted to the exploration of “PID/PUT/'opposition'” theory and its institutionalization in rules and regulations as well as in actual practices. It shows how this theory acquired credibility among party officials and Stasi officers within the international context in which it was developed and the first cases to which it was applied. Analyzing the relationship between the Stasi's guidance officers and their informants leads to the question of how socialism produces knowledge about itself and how this knowledge informs actions to maintain its institutional order, that is, in the language of political epistemology, to engage in self-politics. (pages 465 - 526)
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- Andreas Glaeser
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226297958.003.0011
[monolithic intentionality, Chinese solution, Romanian solution, Cataclysmic changes, socialism's dissolution]
Among the many remarkable aspects of socialism's disintegration, three stand out: the apparent unpredictability of disintegration seen from within and without Soviet Eastern Europe; the incredible speed with which it proceeded; and it's entirely bloodless course. Taken together, these three aspects make the process look so unlikely that it might just as well have been a historical miracle. Cataclysmic changes are thought of as triggered by visible long-term crises that make them more predictable, and history that rapid change is almost inevitably connected to violence. Central to an analysis of all three aspects of socialism's dissolution are the roles played (or as it may turn out: not played) by various strata of the party. In Western circles this historical option was widely discussed under the epithet of a “Chinese solution” and one of its possible consequences, a quasi-communist dictatorship on a low level of economic development was also known as the “Romanian solution.” Monolithic intentionality enforced in the interest of strengthening socialism became a cancer suffocating its institutional fabric. (pages 527 - 566)
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References

Index