|This collective volume synthesizes the main debates within German scholarship about the nature of the communist regime in the former GDR. It is based upon a conceptual axis which extremes are the SED rule as being fundamentally illegitimate and the partisan, nostalgic retrospective of the GDR. All the contributors attempt what the editors believe to be “a critical historicization” based upon “conceptualizing complexity.” Most authors agree on the modern profile of state socialism; but, they also point to its repressive nature. Subsequently, the starting point of the assessment of the communist regime is Jürgen Kocka characterization of it as a “modern dictatorship”.
The SED’s tenure in power is seen both through the lenses of its dictatorial measures, but also through its attempt to achieve a “compensatory legitimacy”(Martin Sabrow). The totalitarian interpretation of communism in Germany is rejected and all authors describe the aspects of the “social contract” through which the communists managed to localize and ‘domesticize’ their rule. The SED created a state and acted upon a society in a modernization-type of process (elites, bureaucracy, industrialization, urbanization, print culture, national narrative, etc.), but that should be taken as only relative, because one has to follow its developmental logic while also analyzing the pressure form below, which greatly altered the “proper realization” of the GDR project. The volume discusses the multiple degrees of normality existing within the abnormal (i.e., dictatorial) confines of the SED rule (Konrad Jarausch).