Thursday Lecture Series: Hide and Seek

Political Knowledge, Secrets, and the Livelihood of States: A View From and On the Late GDR

Thursday, The Heyman Center

Based on his historical ethnography of the efforts of the secret
police of former East Germany to control civil rights movements in
the country, Professor Glaeser provided an overall interpretation of
GDR political project as a revolutionary, self-fulfilling prophecy. By
emphasizing the party state’s modalities of producing knowledge
about its own situation, he also offered a novel way of understanding
the failure of its socialism. These modalities were marred by
the perceived need for constant mobilization in order to realize
socialism—even at the expense of critique, which was seen as
a hindrance to the mobilization effort. At the core, then, of the
demise of GDR socialism is the profound irony that the measures
devised by the party to secure the state were actually undermining
it. Concluding, Professor Glaeser pointed out that socialism
is a form of hyper-modernity and, as such, shares features with
advanced capitalist democracies. Most notable among these features
is an understanding of politics as intentional effort to form
institutions: in both socialism and capitalism, trade-offs between
mobilization and critique have historically led to institutional failures—
even if, so far, such failures have occurred on a smaller scale
in capitalist societies.