The Last Revolutionaries tells a story of unwavering political devotion: it follows the lives of German communists across the tumultuous twentieth century. Before 1945, German communists were political outcasts in the Weimar Republic and courageous resisters in Nazi Germany; they also suffered Stalin's Great Purges and struggled through emigration in countries hostile to communism. After World War II, they became leaders of East Germany, where they ran a dictatorial regime until they were swept out of power by the people's revolution of 1989.
In a compelling collective biography, Catherine Epstein conveys the hopes, fears, dreams, and disappointments of a generation that lived their political commitment. Focusing on eight individuals, The Last Revolutionaries shows how political ideology drove people's lives. Some of these communists, including the East German leaders Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker, enjoyed great personal success. But others, including the purge victims Franz Dahlem and Karl Schirdewan, experienced devastating losses. And, as the book demonstrates, female and Jewish communists faced their own sets of difficulties in the movement to which they had given their all.
Drawing on previously inaccessible sources as well as extensive personal interviews, Epstein offers an unparalleled portrait of the most enduring and influential generation of Central European communists. In the service of their party, these communists experienced solidarity and betrayal, power and persecution, sacrifice and reward, triumph and defeat. At once sordid and poignant, theirs is the story of European communism--from the heroic excitement of its youth, to the bureaucratic authoritarianism of its middle age, to the sorry debacle of its death.
Epstein argues persuasively that…internment, Soviet exile and Western exile all led to redoubled emphasis on party discipline… Epstein’s work is essential to study of the GDR and will be a prerequisite for wider comparative considerations of communist elites.
In this absorbing study, Epstein records the history of the German communist movement from the Weimar era to the demise of the German Democratic Republic by focusing on the careers of eight ‘old communists,’ those who joined the party before Hitler assumed office in 1933, including Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker, and one woman, Emmy Koenen. Epstein’s extensive research reveals a wealth of new information…that alter[s] heretofore widely accepted interpretations of this period.
Epstein takes a biographical approach in this fascinating study of communism in Germany. After interviewing and researching hundreds of ‘Old Communists,’ she chose eight representatives of the long-term Communist experience and intertwines their stories… Their lives make for compelling reading… This collective biography offers a revealing and readable account of an important aspect of modern European history. A worthy complement to scholarly studies of East Germany… Highly recommended.
A pathbreaking study that explores the world of veteran communists and puts forward fresh interpretations of their peculiar mentality. Moving well beyond traditional institutional and organizational analyses of communism, Epstein demonstrates in her richly documented collective biography how social conditioning and experiences during a time of struggle and sacrifice prior to 1945 shaped the ideologies and policies of this small band of East German leaders. Essential reading for an understanding of the communist mind and of communist practice.
Catherine Epstein’s The Last Revolutionaries is the most comprehensive, deeply researched, and nuanced history of the leading German communists in English, and perhaps in German as well. Her use of the East German archives opened in the early 1990s expands our understanding of German communism from the 1920s to 1989, and makes for grim but essential reading. She has captured the illusions but also the engagement and tragedy of the veteran German communists with the balance, thoroughness, and fairness we expect from our best historians.
Catherine Epstein has written a lively and engaging study of a remarkable generation of German leftists who entered radical politics in the Weimar period, fought fascism, and ended up ruling one of the most bureaucratic and stultifying political entities on earth, the German Democratic Republic. Anyone who wants to understand the rise and fall of the communist movement in the twentieth century should read this important and original comparative biography.
Catherine Epstein tells the story of a unique generation, but also provides a novel explanation far the failure of the ‘old comrades’ to build their communist paradise. [The Last Revolutionaries] is an extraordinary book, and an important one.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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