The individual and society in the GDR under Honecker : orthodoxy, dissidence and internal debate.

  • Louise J. Gibson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The thesis offers a comparative interdisciplinary approach to the examination of the intellectual debates about the relationship between individual and society in the GDR under Honecker. It shows that there was not only a continuum of debate between the academic disciplines, but also from the radical critics of the GDR leadership such as Robert Havemann, Rudolf Bahro and Stefan Heym through the social scientists, literary critics and legal theorists working in the academic institutions to theorists close to the GDR leadership. It also shows that the official line and policy of the ruling party itself on the question of the individual and society was not static over the period, but changed in response to internal and external pressures. Over the period 1971 - 1989 greater emphasis was placed by many intellectuals on the individual, his needs and interests. It was increasingly recognised that conflicts could exist between the individual and society in GDR socialism. Whereas the radical critics argued that these conflicts were due to features of GDR society, such as the hierarchical system of labour functions and bureaucracy, and extrapolated from this a general conflict between the political leadership and population, orthodox critics argued that conflicts existed between a specific individual and society and were largely due to external and historical factors. The internal critics also pointed to the social phenomena which were detrimental to the individual's development in the GDR, but they put forward less radical solutions. With the exception of a few radical young writers, all theorists studied in this thesis gave precedence to social interests over individual interests and so did not advocate a return to `individualistic' positions. The continuity of sometimes quite controversial discussions in the GDR academic journals and the flexibility of the official line and policy suggests that it is inappropriate to refer to GDR society under Honecker simply as totalitarian, although it did have some totalitarian features. What the thesis demonstrates is the existence of `Teiloffentlichkeiten' in which critical discussion is conducted even as the official, orthodox line is given out for public consumption in the high-circulation media.
Date of Award1991
Original languageEnglish


  • individual
  • society
  • GDR
  • Honecker

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