OBITUARY:Wolfgang Harich

Sitting on the stage of Brecht's Berliner Ensemble on 29 May last year, Wolfgang Harich, with his smart suit and white beard, looked like a visiting American professor. But the former East German Communist, philosopher, "revisionist" and political prisoner, was not in the famous theatre to discuss Brecht. He was there to introduce a discussion on espionage and counter- espionage in divided Germany.

Harich, who had not been in the headlines since the late 1950s, made a comeback after the fall of the Communist regime in the German Democratic Republic. With him on the stage sat the former GDR espionage chief General Markus Wolf, Wolf's successor General Werner Grossmann, two of their former enemies from West Germany and, yes, an American professor, Nancy Wolfe. Harich, imprisoned by the East German dictator Walter Ulbricht in 1957, lined up with the self-proclaimed Gorbachev reform-Communists after 1990.

He had taken over as chairman of an "alternative commission for German contemporary history", alternative, that is, to the official commission of the German parliament. The "alternative commission" is close to the party of former Communists, the PDS. A recently planned conference on the GDR secret police, the Stasi, was called off after disagreements among the organisers about who should be invited from among the former Stasi office and their victims. Harich was among the victims.

Harich was born in Knigsberg, East Prussia, in 1923, the son of the writer Walther Harich. His war experiences helped to turn him towards Marxism and Communism and he worked for the newspaper of the Soviet occupation regime Tagliche Rundschau after 1945. He joined the Socialist Unity Party (SED), later to be the ruling party of the GDR, in 1946. Regarded as a high flyer, by 1948 he was teaching Marxist philosophy at Humboldt University, East Berlin. After briefly studying at the SED's own university he was appointed professor at the Humboldt in 1949 holding this position until his dismissal in 1956. He was also editor-in-chief of the influential journal Deutsche Zeitschrift fur Philosophie. Harich was increasingly attracted to the ideas of the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs. Lukacs sided with the Hungarian revolution against the Stalinists in 1956. Like others, Harich had been encouraged by the denunciation of Stalin by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956. He took up contact with the West German Social Democrats. He wanted, after the removal of the Stalinists in the SED, to achieve a neutralised, democratic socialist Germany. He produced a manifesto which he discussed with others. They were arrested in November 1956 for "building a conspiratorial anti-state group". Harich was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in March 1957. He was released in December 1964. He was allowed to resume his literary work and found a job as an editor at the Akademie Verlag in Berlin. Later he lived for several years in West Germany and Austria without giving up his GDR passport.

At his trial Harich thanked the Stasi, the secret police of General Erich Mielke, for their vigilance in arresting him; otherwise, he said, he would have been looking not at 10 years' imprisonment but at the gallows. He was later a key state witness against his friend Walter Janka, the head of the famous Aufbau publishing company and Spanish civil war veteran. On that occasion, the bronzed and fit-looking Harich was given several hours of the court's time to destroy Janka with detailed lies.

Harich always remained an intellectual Communist and hoped for the realisation of his dream of a democratic, Communist state in Germany and for the recognition for the wrong done to him by the Stalinists in the SED. He had to wait 33 years for his rehabilitation, which was pronounced by the GDR supreme court in April 1990. By then the GDR was already on the capitalist road having elected the mainly Christian Democratic "Alliance for Germany" in the previous month. Harich found the courage to fight on for his ideals to the end.

David Childs

Wolfgang Harich, writer, philosopher, publisher: born 9 December 1923; died 15 March 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory