Bringing culture to the masses : control, compromise and participation in the GDR : a case study of Bezirk Potsdam
This thesis examines cultural life that was organised in state institutions, factories and mass organisations in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Controlling people in their free time was an instrumental part of SED policy, but in spite of the party's attempts to direct and channel cultural life, people's cultural activities developed a dynamic of their own. The analysis of organised cultural life is therefore an interesting angle from which to explore the nature of dictatorial rule. The main focus of this thesis is the middle period of the GDR. Compared to the 1950s and 1980s, the 1960s and 1970s were characterised by a greater willingness to exercise cultural inclinations by participating in the organised cultural structures, and by communicating with different levels of authority in order to secure the fulfilment of personal interests. This study challenges current assumptions about the GDR's social and institutional history, which do not place enough emphasis on the interaction and inter-dependence between 'rulers' and 'ruled', primarily because they do not sufficiently accentuate the important role of functionaries. The analysis of this thesis identifies three groups of 'agents' in the cultural sphere. The first group consists of cultural functionaries, who operated at various organisational and administrative levels. They ensured that organised cultural life appealed to those who participated in it through compromises and extensive dialogue. The second group encompasses the participants. They were willing to integrate into the organised cultural structures in order to fulfil their own interests and they relied on the effective communication with functionaries in local, intermediate and central organs in order to realise their aims. The third group consists of the leaders of the central party organs. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, they increasingly abandoned idealistic and Utopian policies in favour of a more pragmatic approach that aimed to satisfy people's cultural interests more broadly. In short, cultural life encompassed complex forms of agency, it exhibited various forms of communication and it highlights that reciprocal influence existed between different actors.