OBITUARY:Wolfgang Harich

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The Independent Online
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.