Jürgen Kuczynski, 25. 9. 1987, Berlin, East Germany

Questions to the narrator


Location Berlin, East Germany
Date 25. 9. 1987
Length 23:19

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Why did intellectuals of your generation become communist?

You see there were very different reasons. In my family we were always left-wing bourgeoisie and always intellectuals since six generations, all the books you see have been collected for six generations, since the end of the 18th century. So, and as we always, never had much money but always bought good books you see, intelligent books, they have become very very valuable in the last 200 years. For instance, my, the grandfather of my great grandfather was an enthusiastic follower of Kant, so we have all the first editions of Kant. My great grandfather went, after he had been to prison because of political activities in 1847 to Paris, (unclear .. then interrupted

Wasn't that a problem for the intellectuals, the fact that the country, until the end of the war, had been under Nazi rule, and suddenly at the end of the war, here they were trying to establish a new society, where did they think their support would come from? Here was a group of communist intellectuals rather isolated from society.

People who came to the, who became communists after the Second World War.

Yes, well I’m thinking isn’t there a problem between people who were communists, yes

I was talking …

Yes, yes people like you who were communists before the War who opposed Nazis, and had tried to establish a new society with people who sometimes were becoming communists in 1945, and wasn't that a strange problem to become a communist in 1945?

Yes, but there were not many intellectuals who became communists after ‘45, during the first one two or three years there will still much anti-Sovietism, anti-Communism, and you must distinguish between those who became communists and those who decided to stay here and work somehow with the new regime. That’s something very different, and of them the number of them became in the course of time also communists, but they didn't start to flock to the Party let us say in the spring of or in the summer of 1945.

Does that explain then why the regime had to be quite strong, quite tough, because it didn't have much support in the population at that time?

Quite, quite. You see then came the reparations to the Soviet Union, and you can imagine how the workers reacted when the machines were taken away, and then there was this implant by Hitler, you see one Becher for instance, the great poet, went to Mecklenburg, which is largely countryside, in the summer of ‘45. He asked the peasant woman what has surprised you most about the Russians? And he hoped of course that she would say something about the decent behaviour, but she said “I was so surprised that they didn’t have any horns.” How, what do you say horn, yes? Not any horns you see. That was the population.

So how did you re-educate the population if that is the word?

Yes, that was our main task, our main task and we had of course several of these, we had the trade unions, we had the party agitators and propagandists, we had the greatest help from the Soviet cultural officers who were wonderful men and knew our literatures at least as well as we knew it, you see they were of course …

But wasn't there a difficult to you, yourself say that the Russians were perceived with a certain amount of distrust, how would be their influence received?

Surprise. enormous surprise to the intelligentsia how well the cultural officers of the Soviet Union knew our literature and our scientific work. Of course, they were selected for this purpose. But it was absolutely surprising. I’ll tell you a story, which may interest you. I was in order to return as quickly as possible, I joined the American government in Germany for a few months, so I could return at once. And they had a dance with Russians and with Americans and I was there too. And I introduced an American friend of mine who was a specialist in German literature to a Soviet officer, who had also studied the literature, American literature. And he told me - the American told me later on, he didn't know so very much about American literature, but he [probably the Soviet officer] is the greatest specialist on the short story in American literature whom I have met. Interesting. Also, about the kind of education. Not broad enough, but excellent as a specialist.

Now the GDR has been concerned to present itself as the anti-Nazi state, the state that had a clean break with the Nazi past. However today there is an attempt to revive Prussian history, to find some continuity with the Prussian history, rehabilitation of Frederick The Great, even the new books about Bismarck, etc. Isn't there a contradiction in trying to have a clean break with, what should one say, the darker side of the German past, and on the other hand rehabilitating what is often perceived as a militaristic tradition in Germany?

No, I wouldn’t call Frederick the Great, and I always have called him that and written about him as a great man, as the darker side, because he was one of the, he was the only really well educated and clever and intelligent Hohenzollern whom we had, and it is very natural that we try to understand him better than when we at first repudiated the whole of the Prussian history. On the contrary it was high time that we started.

So why was it high time, why was there this need to be?

Because you see we must re-live all the best parts of the, at least the not bad parts of our history, in order to understand the whole history of Germany and the past and the present.

But how can you do that? I mean how do you select what is good and what is bad in German history?

From our point of view, from our …

Yes, the point of view obviously is changing.

The point of view becomes more generous but is not changing. But becomes more generous.


Yes, generous towards men who have done well, and at the same time had great faults.

What do you say to people who say the GDR in fact is Red Prussia?

No, not at all. Not at all. Only the best parts of Prussian history.

Only the best parts. Always selection.

Yes. Yes. Or - let us say not the worst parts.

Still I would be interested to know what is a criterion, I mean today what, how, if you look at …

Humanitarian point of view


Yes. Yes. Yes. And he was the most tolerant of princes of his time.

And is that the same reason for rehabilitating Martin Luther?

Yes, oh but Martin Luther was a great figure anyway. At first …

You don't have to convince me, I'm, I'm, but it's simply that everybody remembers what Marx and Engels wrote about Luther, and then one sees the Great Exhibition in Berlin in 1983 where Frederic Honecker, where Mr. Honecker praised the, Luther as a progressive figure, as the forefather of East German Socialists …

Yes, but Marx wrote that Luther was an excellent economist.

An economist?

Yes, an excellent economist.

What about as a theologian?

Only, interest rate problems and so on. And as a theologian, he was a rebel. That also is …

But he betrayed the peasant uprising.

Yes. Of course, and that’s why I say we divide …

… and rule?

Yes, yes. We divide and exactly, we divide and rule, yes. Excellent.
I shall remember this!

Now talking about dividing and ruling, one is obviously thinking about the wall; Wasn't the wall an admission of failure when it was built? And the second part of my question, why is it still necessary today to have the wall?

To have the wall?

To have the wall.

Yes. Yes, you see, there was an enormous infiltration from the West and not, not only ideological this doesn't matter so much because anybody can hear the western television, but actual penetration of disturbers and one tried to get our skilled people away and we sent them to the universities and then one offered them very high salaries on the other side and so on. And therefore I think the wall is, was necessary,     

To keep the educated elites in the country?

I beg your pardon?

To keep the educated elites in, to working for socialism?

Yes, to keep them, to stop the west interfering. We can express it in this way too. Pause!

There is, you have mentioned yourself the influence of the western media, particularly West German television. What kind of problem does it pose to have a country which is, where everybody can listen every evening to West German television and at the same time try to spread Socialist values, educate the young people …

I don't think that there is a serious problem, because you see you enjoy what you see from the West, but you have become citizen of our Republic. In so many ways. I think that is an outlet but doesn’t disturb the situation in our country.

So if it’s not disturbing …

Now if you say that the penetration of the West German media in the GDR is no problem merely a safety valve, maybe the wall has become obsolete?

Oh no, not at all, because you see you must distinguish between personal interference by being by a person being sent to us to interrupt all kinds of things, and television, that’s a very great difference. You remember in 1953, when we had trouble with our workers. You had an enormous influx at once from Western Berlin by people who stirred up even more trouble.

Hmm. But you are, you as a friend of Bertolt Brecht, do you remember what he said about what happened in 1953, if you can’t change the government perhaps you have to change the people?

Yes, but he stood …

But he didn’t talked about western disturbers and western interference …

He stood 100 Percent behind our government and wrote a letter to our government and to our party chief. You remember he was not a member of the party, but he wrote to our party chief, to say that he stood behind the …

But I meant that even people like him acknowledge that the source of the ‘53 revolt was local, was indigenous, it was not something imported.

Oh of course he said that it was imported. You must, you must not only read this one elegy which he wrote in Bukow, but you must read his, his letters to the government, and his attitude …

How do you explain then, and that’s perhaps a more pleasant question for you, how do you explain that the GDR is the only country in Central Europe which hasn’t experience like Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Poland, a big upheaval, big attempt to reform and shake up the system …

I think that we had very intelligent politicians, at the head of the party and our state and you see today we are economically the most advanced of all socialist countries. Of course, you must exclude always armament industry of the Soviet Union, but as far as the civil industry is concerned, and as far as economic policy is concerned, we are the best of the socialist countries. Of course, our technical level is not as high as that of the West, but we have the highest.

Does it mean you don’t have to follow the Soviet example, in all spheres of social or economic life? What I have in mind is that in all Soviet bloc countries today there is a great deal of talk about reform, the only country where it doesn’t seem to be urgency for reform is here.

Yes, and you see as far as foreign policy, absolute unity. As far as economic policy, absolute unity in the strategy, and we were the first to concentrate on high tech among all the socialist countries. As far as glasnost is concerned, we have not, we are not as far as, advanced as the Soviet Union, and I'm sorry about that.

You are?

Yes, quite

You think there's a need for …

Yes, quite. I openly say it.

So what are the obstacles to the penetration of glasnost in the GDR?

I think it will only be a question of time and a slow process. In contrast to the Soviet Union.

Do you think in the Soviet Union there is need for a quick process?

Yes. But you see it …

Because they are less advanced than you are?

Yes, yes. No, they were less advanced as we, but now they are much farther advanced, as far as glasnost is concerned. As we, then we. But of course, there is not this urgent need. But on the other hand, I would be happier if we would accelerate the process of glasnost.

But what are the internal obstacles, what do you think are the stumbling blocks? You say you would wish there were more glasnost but what is the main obstacle?

I don’t think that there are main obstacles, but I think that there is simply a question of strategy, how quickly you should follow the Soviet example.

And do you think that East Germany should be, could become an example for other socialist countries?

No, no, the Soviet Union is the example. That is no doubt, no doubt.    We are an example as far as economic policy is concerned, and we are an example also in certain respects, as far as foreign policy is concerned, for instance our relations with China and not only state but also party relations, in the Soviet Union as up to now only state relations with China.

One of your colleagues from the leadership of the East German Communist Party said in an interview recently that when your neighbour changes his wallpaper you don't have to change your wallpaper too. How do you, how do you respond to this, do you share that view that …


That when your neighbour changes his wallpaper, you don't have to.

Changes the what?

The wallpaper. Wallpaper. The paintings on the wall.

Oh I see wallpaper, wallpaper, I know

That you don’t have to.

No, I don’t agree at all with this, not at all, not at all.

You think you should change the wallpaper?

Yes of course we should change the wallpaper, and it isn’t the wallpaper, it is much more what we should change, and we should. But and we will change it. We will change it, but slower than in the Soviet Union.

Couldn’t one even say that the speed of reform in the Soviet Union might be counter-productive for the slow gradual pace of reform that had started in the GDR before the Gorbachev era?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, yeah in every respect except glasnost we have preceded the Soviet Union. And that’s of course one of the reasons why we are slow in following in the other respect. Because glasnost is in the Soviet Union so connected also with the economic reform, and with the foreign policy reform you see. And with us and this connection is not so necessary. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t hope that we shall accelerate the process of more glasnost.

Let's accelerate it …
What is your assessment of the …

Well, you see I wrote a book “Dialogue with my great grandchild”, and there he asks me the same question, and I wrote about it in such a way that I say one must see the greatness of Stalin as well as the criminal acts he has committed and so faults, which he has theoretical faults, faults in theory …

But for the GDR what did it mean concretely the faults?

In not in … we were quite saved from the worst sides of the Stalin period. You see we had no capital trials and those things didn’t happen with us.

Why weren’t there official trials in the GDR, why weren’t there those trials like in Prague and Budapest?

Wonderful, wonderful policy of the occupational forces. I told you about them, I mean …

Really loved these occupational forces?

They were really something exceptional, and especially exceptional if you think of the Stalin period. Absolutely exceptional.

In preventing Stalinism in its worst …

Yes, exactly in not applying, not applying Stalinism

Is that what you are saying. Not applying Stalinism? So what were they applying?

No of course as far as ideology is concerned yes, but not as far as criminal acts are concerned.

So you could apply the Stalinist method of control, without the criminal dimension?

Yes, exactly, exactly, exactly, and that wasn’t so bad. Perhaps it was even helpful at this time when the Nazis were still so rampant in the population.

So the idea is to have the methods of control without that criminal dimension?

No I wouldn’t say it’s ideal, but it happened and it was very fortunate for us. But this has nothing to do with the appraisal of the Stalin time which is very necessary, and which I have started in our republic and there is not much follow up;

One last question simply, back to glasnost and question of reform. What would be the concrete political reforms that one would need in order for change to happen, some improvement to happen? What would be the …

I don’t think there is a political change necessary, and I think there is a very deliberate policy of very slowly developing glasnost.

Thank you very much.


Jürgen Kuczynski (1904–1997)

Jürgen Kuczynski

Jürgen Kuczynski was born in Elberfeld (now Wuppertal) on 17 September 1904; he died in Berlin on 6 August 1997. Kuczynski was a German economic historian and economist.

Jürgen Kuczynski was born into a wealthy Jewish family as one of six children. He studied philosophy, statistics and political economy in Erlangen, Berlin and Heidelberg and was a research student in the USA from 1926. He returned to Germany in 1929 and lived in Berlin from then on. He had been a member of the KPD since 1930. He was editor of the “Rote Fahne” and produced economic policy analyses.

In 1936, Kuczynski left Nazi Germany and went into exile in England. There he was recruited by the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) as a statistician. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he - like many other emigrants - was interned as an undesirable alien. Kuczynski succeeded in recruiting the nuclear physicist Klaus Fuchs for the Soviet military intelligence service GRU. His sister Ruth Werner became its commanding officer. In June 1943, Kuczynski founded the Initiative Committee for the Unity of German Emigration in London, which led to the founding of the Free German Movement in Britain on 25 September 1943. He was a member of the leadership of the KPD emigrant organisation in Britain until the summer of 1944, when he was removed from this position after a dispute with Kurt Hager. He also worked for the German Freedom Radio 29.8.

In late 1944, he prepared analyses of the economic impact of Allied bombing for the United States Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS). Kuczynski returned to Germany as a US lieutenant colonel on behalf of the USSBS in 1945 to secure important documents of German arms production. In Heidelberg, he personally arrested I.G. Farben boss Hermann Schmitz.

Still in 1945, he became president of the Central Finance Administration in the Soviet occupation zone. In 1946 he became a member of the SED. In the same year, he was appointed to the chair of economic history at Berlin University and headed the Institute for Economic History there until 1956. On 30 June 1947, he was elected the first chairman of the Society for the Study of Soviet Culture (forerunner of the Society for German-Soviet Friendship DSF). In 1950, the anti-Semitic campaign underway in the Stalinist Soviet Union resulted in Kuczynski’s removal from this position. From 1949 to 1958 he was a member of the Volkskammer.

At the same time, he was one of the GDR’s most prominent and productive academics. As a professor emeritus in 1968, he was able to successfully present himself in the 1980s as a “lateral thinker and cheerful Marxist”, especially to younger critics of the government. The starting point for this was his book “Dialogue with my great-grandson”, published in 1983, which was widely read at the time and very critical by the standards of the time. His public lectures were very popular. Due to his “revolutionary high nobility” and old age, he last enjoyed a certain fool’s freedom in the GDR. Most recently he was active in the PDS Council of Elders and was a columnist for the daily newspaper “junge Welt”. Kuczynski had a close personal relationship with Erich Honecker. He wrote the passages on the “economic situation in the world of capital” for Honecker's speeches. Honecker “was my mouthpiece and my postman to the ND”, Kuczynski described the relationship between the two.

He owned one of the largest and most valuable private libraries, with about 70,000 volumes.