The fascist past had a different meaning for us. The accusation made by most 68ers in the West: that their parents were at least bystanders, if not more, during the Nazi period, was not relevant for us. Our mothers and fathers were either active in the Nazi resistance or had spent the Nazi years in exile or emigration. The question posed to us was whether the development of GDR society did not demand that we follow the heroic example of our parents, which meant to act conspiratorially and resist this development, which we viewed as anti-socialist.
Even the extremes that always exist within such a movement had a totally different character for us. Terrorism of the sort found in the western Left was completely out of the question for us. We had to (and were able to) content ourselves with purely symbolic actions.
[ . . . ]
Those of us who grew up in the GDR, and thus did not participate in the heroic struggles leading up to the creation of this country and who don’t belong to its founding generation, saw lives ahead of us in a country marked by an ever-growing bureaucracy that continually restricted everyone’s range of motion – not only those who were directly subjugated by it, but also political actors as well. We saw lives that would be determined by technology and technical necessities. We were not and could not feel comfortable with that; in any case, it no longer sparked any enthusiasm in us whatsoever. Perhaps this indicates that the era of faith in progress in which we were raised had come to an end. I only remember the book that all young people in the GDR received at their youth initiation ceremony, Weltall, Erde, Mensch [Space, Earth, Human Being], which, using illustrations that can only be laughed at from today’s perspective, presented us with technical solutions to all the problems of humanity, "Soviet power plus electrification equals Communism"*– that was a motto that might have inspired us too, but an electrified GDR in which some switches were to be set according to a predetermined plan was certainly not what we had in mind. And the phase that could still captivate people such as Volker Braun and Heiner Müller, the phase called Schwarze Pumpe, Stalinstadt, Eisenhüttenstadt, when the construction of industrial plants was still associated with something heroic, was already long gone. Even if, unlike our peers in the West, we could not envisage a life of material abundance ahead of us, we could not imagine that the society in which we had been born and raised had any goal other than pure material affluence. Before us lay an intellectual desert, since the socialism that we were served was not anything that could inspire or motivate us as young socialists.
This desert, with its petty bourgeois structures, was lacking everything broad and great, yet it continued to spread out around us. But it was still alive, alive in those of us who asked whether this was really supposed to be socialism. In any case, it was not the socialism that any of us had imagined, and we could not imagine that the founders of the movement, Marx, Engels, and Lenin, could have intended such a dull and tedious socialism, one that seemed to restrict human productivity more than liberate it. And, to take up Henry Kissinger’s formulation, we could not assume that our leaders understood or even grasped the metaphysical desperation that had taken hold of us – this desperation that derived from what little experience of socialism was possible in the GDR but at the same time went much farther.
* Phrase attributed to Lenin – ed.