State Power and 'Everyday Criminality' in the German Democratic Republic, 1961-1989
AffiliationUniversity of Chester
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AbstractFriedrich Engels claimed that communists would ‘take an axe to the root of crime’; the removal of the perceived causes of crime in a society - capitalist economic and societal conditions - would automatically lead to its eradication. This did not, however, prove to be the case in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), where instances of ‘everyday criminality’ such as theft, robbery and assault never fell below 100,000 throughout the period of the state’s existence from 1949 to 1989. This article examines the ruling Socialist Unity Party’s (SED) perceptions of the causes of ‘everyday criminality’ in the GDR. It shows that the SED concluded that crime persisted because citizens’ ‘socialist sense of legal right and wrong’ (sozialistisches Rechtsbewußtsein) was underdeveloped. The regime measured this by the extent to which citizens supported and participated in socialist society. Thus, crime could be eliminated by co-opting as many citizens as possible into the Party’s political project. The SED’s ideological tunnel vision on the causes of ‘everyday criminality meant that it dismissed hints about the real causes of crime, such as poor supply and living conditions, identified by its analysts. Its failure to address these issues meant that citizens continued to break the law. Thus, the Party’s exercise of power contributed to the creation of limits to that power. Moreover, analysis of opinion polls with GDR citizens about their attitudes to criminality shows that they accepted crime as a part of everyday life.
CitationMillington, R. (2020). State Power and 'Everyday Criminality' in the German Democratic Republic, 1961-1989. German History, 38(3), 440-460.
DescriptionThis is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in German History following peer review. The version of record Millington, R. (2020). State Power and 'Everyday Criminality' in the German Democratic Republic, 1961-1989. German History, 38(3), 440-460, is available online at: DOI to be added on publication.
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