“My workplace: where I fight for peace”: the World Day of Peace in the GDR

peace-day-wandzeitungelement.jpg

“My workplace: where I fight for peace”, poster from a portfolio of propaganda elements produced in 1989 (photo: author).

The GDR marked the World Day of Peace, September 1st, from its earliest days, with Party leaders seeing it as a platform to advance its politics and justify its place of primacy. In the immediate post-war era, the idea of peace was decidedly concrete for Germans and it occupied a key place in the GDR’s self-legitimization, but this argumentation ran right through to the country’s late stages.

The idea for this post came from this newspaper editorial published in Aufwärts, the newspaper of the Buna chemical works, in August of 1988. In it, the paper’s editor exhorts the Kombinat workers to put in a “maximum performance shift” in honour of imminent World Day of Peace, arguing that this practice has established itself as “a tradition which one can file under the category ‘tested and true'” and will help fulfill the plant’s share of the country’s “Plan” for 1988.

Buna - Aufwaerts - World Day of Peace

Agitation of this type was omnipresent in the GDR, but from our distance it’s worth taking a minute to understand the ideological basis for this argumentation. The key to this is found in the poster image at the top of this post, a “propaganda element” from 1989. It reads “My workplace: where I fight for peace.”

When I first encountered this slogan many years back, it accompanied a photo of a tank driver at work with the National People’s Army. The idea that this soldier was helping keep the peace was argument which I understood, even if I had some issues with the premise. But I later saw this same slogan attached to images of workers in decidedly non-military settings: textile workers, farmers, etc., and found this confusing.

Only once I began reading myself into GDR society, did I realize that this slogan was a prime example of hermetically-sealed ideology that the Party used to justify itself and state socialism. Essentially, the thesis was: “The GDR is a peaceful nation and a guarantor of peace, in Germany, Europe and by extension, the world. Therefore any activity which contributes to the GDR’s continued existence is a contribution to the cause peace.” Of course, when I write any activity, I mean, any approved activity. Of course the flip side of this argument was that any unapproved activity could be understood, and often was by authorities, as an attack on world peace.

In a recent interview with a former East German, I had it explained to me that the peace thesis was the standard argumentation of any apparatchik trying to bring someone into line: “It was always, ‘Are you in favour of world peace?’ Not ‘socialism’, because they couldn’t be sure of the answer to that, but ‘peace’? And so you’d say, ‘Peace? Of course I’m for peace.’ And once they had established that you were on the same side, they’d take things into the direction they wanted. ‘Well, in that case, you’ll understand that . . . ‘” (Interview with Mat S., May 2017)

LPG Schenkberg, Feier des Weltfriedenstages

Event marking World Day of Peace at Collective Farm in Schenkberg, GDR in 1983 (photo: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0901-038)

So, in a country where everything was political, the World Day of Peace was no exception, but rather yet another example of how the ruling Socialist Unity Party tried to reinforce its legitimacy amongst its citizens.

 

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