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Kirchengeschichte: 20. Jahrhundert, Zeitgeschichte


Fleischauer, Alexander


»Die Enkel fechten’s besser aus«. Thomas Müntzer und die Frühbürgerliche Revolution – Geschichtspolitik und Erinnerungskultur in der DDR.


Münster: Aschendorff 2010. 399 S. m. Abb. gr.8°. Kart. EUR 29,00. ISBN 978-3- 402-12846-6.


Peter Matheson

Deploying Martin Sabrow’s concepts of Herrschaftsdiskurs and Diskursgefängnis Alexander Fleischauer offers a detailed survey of the twists and turns of SED policy from 1945 to 1989 and the consequent shifts in Marxist historiography about the Peasants’ War and the Reformation. Although readers of this journal will be aware of the main shifts in SED policy new nuances come to light through this study, which is based on a Tübingen Ph.D. The focus is less on Marxist scholarship than on the Instrumentalisierung, of this scholarship for the mass propaganda of the regime, its Geschichtspolitik, by means of film, drama, historical fiction, art works and above all the jubilees of 1967, 1974/5, 1983 and 1989. The Leitmotiv of the book is that the SED sought with might and main to remedy its Legitimationsdefizit by successive interpretative schemata, not only for Müntzer, but for the Peasants’ War and Luther himself. By demonstrating the continuity of current DDR policies with inherited values from the early modern period, an awareness of Erbe und Tradition would be fostered, and a sense of national identity nourished. The narrative is mainly based on a close study of SED documentation in the Bundesarchiv, and on the use of an impressively wide range of print and visual media, from Neues Deutschland to film and radio archives. A number of interviews with Marxist historians, church representatives and officials from the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee round out the picture. Regional and church archives were not consulted.
The initial section on methodology is followed by five chapters: on the early years of the DDR; the 1967 jubilee; the 450th anniversary of the Peasants’ War; the 1983 Luther celebrations and the Müntzer events in 1989. Each chapter deals with a wide range of material: from Party guidelines to academic histories, films, sculptures, novels, dramas, children’s books, and historical centres.
Initially the Misere-Sicht of Alexander Abusch prevailed, the early modern period being seen as part of the »ongoing wretchedness« of German history (Engels). F. points out, however, that from the outset Kurt Hager was determined not to surrender Luther and the positive Reformation traditions to the reactionaries (68). More promising than Abusch’s negative view proved the familiar contrast which emerged in the 1950’s between the progressive Müntzer and the Fürstenknecht, Luther, which began to gain some popular traction through drama and film.
Under the influence of M. M. Smirin Max Steinmetz began to develop the key concept of the early bourgeois revolution, which had the merit of yoking together Reformation and Peasants’ War and genially anticipating the October Revolution of 1917 and the Workers and Peasants’ state. After the erection of the Wall, this national dimension became, of course, a matter of prime importance. The 1967 celebrations of the 95 Theses gave popular resonance to the concept. More credit could now be given to Luther as the catalyst of a movement on the cusp of bourgeois modernity. For the CDU Götting presented the DDR as the true heir of the humanistic values of the Reformation, though church representatives made their rejection of the whole conceptuality crystal clear.
The 1974/5 celebrations of the Peasants’ War put the spotlight once again on that »significant revolutionary Thomas Müntzer«, and on the DDR as the ultimate fulfillment of the peasants’ hopes. Ty­pical is Abusch’s anthology, Wir Enkel fechten’s besser aus, a collection of insurrectionist prose, poetry and documentation over the past 450 years. The exclusively political characterization of Müntzer in the 1970 Hans Pfeiffer film, Denn ich sah eine neue Erde is des­cribed as »complete nonsense« (200), and the Illustrierte Geschichte der deutschen frühbürgerlichen Revolution of 1974, authored by Steinmetz, Günter Vogler and Adolf Laube is characterized as »pompous« (172).
The relatively positive tone of the 1983 Theses on Luther and of the subsequent celebrations, with Honecker acclaiming the reformer as »one of the greatest sons of the German people«, is explained by the concern to demonstrate the peaceful internal (Kirche im Sozialismus) and external policies of the regime, and to attract foreign visitors to the Wartburg and other Lutheran centre. The »mammoth« Halle conference was refreshingly academic in tone, and attracted significant numbers of international scholars. Large sums of money were invested in renovating the historic Luther centres, as part of the Schmusekurs in regard to the evangelical church. A five part TV series on Luther took his theology seriously. The SED was, however, disappointed by the outcome of all its efforts, so 1983 proved to be a »skurriles Intermezzo in der Geschichtspolitik« (270).
Chapter 7 is entitled: »The Müntzer Year 1989 – a State in its death agonies acclaims its alleged ancestor«. This celebration at-tracted nothing like the same international interest as in 1983, and its ›grotesque‹ features are noted, coinciding as it did with the mass flights from the DDR and the collapse of the Wall. F. notes, how­-ever, the emphatic way in which Laube, Brendler and Vogler de­-parted at the autumn Halle conference from exaggerated claims about Müntzer’s proto-communism, and underlined his pastoral and theological priorities; a similarly sober note is struck by the TV film, I, Thomas Müntzer, Sickle of God. Much attention is devoted to the Panorama project of Werner Tübke at Frankenhausen, both in regard to the huge investment of scarce resources in it, and for the artist’s success in evading ideological directives and producing a quite memorable work of art. Due notice is also given to the unofficial, but regular dialogues between church historians such as Rogge, Junghans, Bräuer and Seils with the Marxist historians. Such dialogues had been taking place for almost two decades by then, and clearly had borne much fruit.
This is a useful study. Yet it is characterized by a certain one-dimensionality, in part due to the (quite understandable) lack of reference to church documentation; at times the tone and language is tendential and dismissive. The integrity and quality of the Marxist historians is not apparent from this treatment. We may ridicule the thesis of the early bourgeois revolution in hindsight, but it proved a useful heuristic tool for a while and stimulated West German and English-speaking historiography to revise previous attitudes to Müntzer, the Peasants’ War and Luther. The »Instrumentalisierung« of Müntzer (there is no exact English equivalent of the term!) was, after all, practised by Lutheranism long before the Marxists appeared on the scene. It was not a monopoly of the SED. And here’s a thought: without the historiography of the DDR, and above all the tough dialogue between Marxist and church historians during it, we would all be poorer off today.