Background: This essay comes from the 1960 East German handbook for journalists. Albert Norden was a top party official. His piece provides a clear outline of the GDR’s views of the press, defending the claim that the East German press was far freer than the West German press.
The source: Albert Norden, “Der Journalist unserer Zeit,” Journalistisches Handbuch der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (Leipzig: VEB Verlag für Buch- und Bibliothekswesen, 1960), pp. 11-20.
The Journalist in our Day
by Albert Norden
In a 29 November 1959 broadcast on West German television during which a diligent Adenauer journalist was conducting things as usual, there was an interruption. The well-known American-Swiss author and correspondent Robert Jungk said:
There was an excited confusion of voices until Jungk could continue:
The moderator interrupted: “My dear Herr Jungk...” But he was not so easily cut off:
The moderator did not let the journalist Jungk go any further. For a moment, however, the wonderful statements about freedom were exposed and the audience could see behind the facade, where the capitalist rulers of public opinion are concealed.
That brings us to one of the decisive questions of our day: What and where is freedom? It is not and cannot be where a tiny minority of the society possesses the overwhelming majority of the newspapers, magazines, and other instruments of public opinion and uses them to incite the hatreds of the cold war. That is the case in the imperialist phase of capitalism, and it is evident in particular and terrifying clarity in West Germany.
The reestablishment of monopoly capital and militarism in West Germany a flagrant violation of the Potsdam Accords has resulted in a newspaper and publishing system in which the magnates of financial capital have regained their positions as the all-powerful rulers of public opinion. It begins with the raw material, paper itself. The most important paper factories in West Germany are the property of a tiny group of millionaires who brought Hitler to power and used his policies of conquest to enrich themselves. A leading and legally convicted war criminal like Flick could in 1960 gain possession of the largest paper-producing firm in West Germany, the Feldmühle-AG. West Germany’s leading newspapers, both in terms of circulation and as mouthpieces of the ruling class, are owned by finance capitalists, or are subject to their advertising dictatorship. During the early stages of capitalism, individual printers owned newspapers, but today a press system has developed that is typical of the larger monopoly system. A small group of oil, steel, and bank lords own the leading South German Adenauer paper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung along with numerous local papers that are published by the same firm. The press lord Springer, a money-grubber of the post-war era, not only controls the press system of West Germany’s largest city Hamburg, but used it as a base to conquer the rest of the country. By 1959 he controlled a fourth of the daily circulation of all newspapers in the Federal Republic and West Berlin. The total value of the Springer firm was estimated at about a quarter of a billion, putting him among the top of those in finance capital. Since then Springer has secured a majority of the Ullstein concern, which publishes such major papers in Berlin as the Morgenpost and the BZ, using the most modern printing facilities.
The extraordinary power of the press monopoly is even greater than is suggested by the names of the newspapers and magazines that it owns, since it also controls more than four-fifths of the smaller local newspapers. They cannot afford a full editorial staff or correspondents in other cities and countries. Their domestic and international sections come from correspondents of the press monopolies, or reaches them in a form ready to print. This means that there is full political coordination of the West German press in ways directed by the West German armaments millionaires. They are usually invisible, but are still the all-powerful directors of the shrill press choir of the cold war leadership that in a thousand variants always finds new provocations against the GDR and the entire socialist camp as it sings the praises of the militarization of West Germany.
The Imperialist press monopoly, the private ownership of paper factories, newspaper and magazine firms and large printing firms is the opposite of freedom. One cannot speak of freedom of public opinion there, since the creation of public opinion from paper production to the finished newspaper is controlled by a few millionaires. The press has a double function. It is a source of profit, and serves to maintain Imperialist dominance by preaching to the working people the idea that it is God-ordained and useful. Those people do not have a mass press, nor do they have any of West Germany’s 1500 daily newspapers at their disposal. The West German press provides terrible proof of the absence of freedom in West Germany.
The great majority of Germans reject the dominance of the trusts. However, nearly the entire West German press advocates the trusts and monopolies through editorial matter and advertising. One does not have to praise the rulers to be of use to them. It is enough to conceal their evil.
The overwhelming majority of the people do not want atomic weapons on West German soil. The overwhelming majority of the press supports the atomic war policies of Strauß or at least conceals the opinions of the people. No newspaper speaks for public opinion, which after all is the real purpose of a free press.
Never have so many people has so few organs to express their opinions than today’s 50 million West Germans. Never have so few had so many press organs at their disposal as West Germany’s 8,000 millionaires do today. A large part of the West German press never tires of claiming to be independent of any party. And when one considers that most of the newspapers are controlled by industrial concerns without requiring any action on the part of their bribed political parties, this claim is even true...
One cannot ignore the alarming fact that the Hugenburg concern, this dreadful nationalistic poisoner of the mind that did so much to propagate the “unstoppable rise” of Adolf Hitler, has been resurrected in the Federal Republic. A. Cäser Springer has taken over the role of the conservative Weimar Republic press king, He openly says that he whips up the Cold War behind the Bonn facade and has ordered the editors of his papers to let no day pass without articles attacking and defaming the GDR.
On 1 June 1960 this lord of the largest continental press trust told the editors of the West Berlin BZ and Morgenpost in the conference room of the Ullstein Building: “When I heard that the Paris summit conference had collapsed, I had a big glass of champagne. Thank God, I thought!”
This press Caesar, the confidant of Adenauer and Strauß, thanks his God for the disunity of the great powers and for the continuance of tension in Germany. One does not need his confession to know which part of Germany is led by those who want war, and which by those who want peace.
As long as he does not affect the interests of the ruling class, the West German journalist may write “freely.” Within these bounds, even an “opposition” is permitted, assuming it does no harm to monopoly capitalist militarism, or discusses the real nature of things or attacks the anti-democratic system. The best it can do is to point out isolated instances of difficulty. This gives support to the lie of “press objectivity” and increases the circulation and business. More business means more expensive advertisements, which bring in more than subscriptions. They are the primary source of newspaper revenue. That takes away the last remnant of freedom from the press, reducing it to a purely business enterprise. Ownership by the wealthy and large advertisements are the protection against any freedom of the press in the West.
In The German Ideology, Marx and Engels laid down the fundamental principle that “the thoughts of the ruling class ... in every era are the dominant thoughts.” “The class that has the means of material production at its disposal also controls the means of intellectual production.” The ruling class therefore controls the thinking of those who have no intellectual means of production. Under such conditions, there is no freedom of public opinion, at best only the freedom to cautiously complain. The capitalist monopoly of opinion denies the people freedom of opinion. A few hundred owners and big advertisers, along with the dictatorship of their accomplices in the federal government, the generals, and the higher clergy, make a mockery of freedom of opinion.
There are a few free newspapers that are organs of the working class, and that fight against capitalism.. They are therefore persecuted. Their editors constantly have one foot in prison. They must pay for their freedom of opinion by a lack of economic freedom.
West Germany today has little more than the facade of bourgeois parliamentarianism. It has banned numerous people’s organizations and their newspapers, and boycotts and persecutes those that remain. The struggle for democratic parliamentary conditions in West Germany today aims first at winning press freedom for and the legality of the KPD, and the prohibition of military-chauvinistic propaganda.
West German militarism cannot survive if the press is free, that is, if it may write the truth. On the other hand, the freedom of the press is an elementary principle of every people’s democratic state. Freedom from capitalism also means eliminating the capitalist private ownership of newspapers and radio stations as well as the influence of advertising monopolies. It creates the foundations for true freedom of the press. The free existence of a free press begins where the dictatorship of the monopolist robber barons of the twentieth century ends and the rule of the working class, in cooperation with farmers and the intelligentsia, begins.
The newspapers, magazines, radio and television of the socialist state meet the wish for an integrated, honest and moral form of publication. Advertising, which in capitalism is a every effective means of influencing the political sections of the press and radio, has entirely lost this function in socialism (since the overwhelming majority of advertisements are for socialist institutions). No private interest can turn the press into a tool of its selfish interests and order editors to do what it wants, since in socialism there is no private ownership of the means of public opinion. The journalist in socialism receives orders from his own conscience and from the people and their organizations. Thus we fulfill Karl Marx’s injunction: “The first freedom of the press is the freedom not to be a business.” The best that the best bourgeois newspaper in the early period of bourgeois journalism could offer was teaching, education and observation. That is not insignificant, and we carry on this legacy in a time in which the West German press is the handmaiden of the dark lords of clerical militarism.
Still, that is only a part of the function of journalism in the German Democratic Republic. Its primary mission is to build the enthusiasm of its readers, listeners and viewers for the noble cause of socialism, and to explain to them the laws of historical development in our day. More than that, as the Politbüro of the ZK of the SED said in its decision on press matters of 29 April 1959, the task is “not only to influence and change thoughts, but simultaneously actions in every area of the socialist transformation. . . Each editorial staff should therefore strive to initiate its own actions in the political economic and cultural spheres.”
That is surely no small task! It can be met only by one who understands all the important problems of our society, who know precisely the situation in the large factories, farming villages and administrative offices of his county and district, who is personally connected to the workers, farmers and others, and who is moved by a powerful desire for positive change. The ideal publication of our day tirelessly and manfully defends peace, teaches Marxism-Leninism, draws a compelling picture of the greatness of socialism, and shows through as many lively and local examples as possible how each individual can and should participate in this work. That is how minds are awakened to win new victories in agriculture and industry, and how mistakes, errors and false methods are uncovered. Then, in the words of N. S. Khrushchev, journalists will be the right hand of the party. They are flesh of the people’s flesh and will always write and speak in their language as long as they share the people’s heart, whose servants they are, no more nor less. Their highest goal is to be participants in the socialist process of construction, and to speed it up.
The standard of the Imperialist press in the second half of this century is the major newspaper, filled with pictures and advertising, what only whips up the lower instincts and degrades people. This type of newspaper reached the highest circulation in West Germany after 1945, and it is no accident that its master Springer is at the same time the big gun of the Federal Republic’s attack on the GDR. Moral decay and chauvinistic lies against the GDR grow on the same tree.
The standard of the socialist press of the GDR is the education of the new German person and the realization of the national ideals of our people. German history has always been the history of the martyrdom of the German people, as long as the Junkers and big capitalists ruled. Their increasing power and property and profits came at the cost of their fellow countrymen (and naturally of other nations too). The ideas and policies of the ruling exploiting classes of Germany, especially in this century, were deeply anti-national, leading to the nation’s terrible catastrophe, and are preparing it for a disaster of unimaginable size through the barbaric Bonn military regime.
Only the rise to power of a class foreign to every form of exploitation, one that does not follow selfish interests, only the rise to power of the working class in the east of Germany opened the way to truly national German policies. The workers and farmers live from their own work, not at the cost of foreign nations or other classes. They are the enemy of any policies leading to war and conquest that will destroy Germany. Their special interests are the same as that of the entire nation. This is the high mission of the socialist press in our GDR. It uses the examples of history and the new relations between people and classes and various occupations in the GDR to prove that under the symbol of the hammer, sickle, and grain sheave of the GDR, a new national community is developing whose first goal is peace in Germany and the whole world.
No one has a greater duty to tirelessly attack the ruling Imperialist-militarist-inhuman circles in Bonn than the journalists of the GDR. They must reveal its aggressive plans for war, reveal its hostile actions in intelligent and persuasive ways, and combat the ideology of the big capitalists and their lackeys. The state of the workers and of socialism is a state of peace. Experience shows that the victorious socialist construction in our republic also has the greatest persuasive power beyond our state border as well, and deals powerful blows to West German militarism. Therefore, the historically great deeds of the socialist community of the people in our republic deserve first place and the loving attention of our journalists.
Seldom has it been as clear as it is today that the journalism of the bourgeois and that of the working class are incompatible. The fundamental evil of our age, the exploitation of people by people through finance capital, is taboo for the press, radio, and television of the West.
We, however, present people with the new age, with the community of socialist work, in which the millennia old egotism of people an exploiting society must give way to new social relationships and altruistic feelings and deeds. This era began on 7 November 1917. We sing the praise of the textile worker who sets aside her personal interest to help a colleague who lags behind, helping her to higher productivity. The dairy farmer with high production, the hard-working vegetable farmer, the worker who finds new methods to break production records, the socialist brigades and communities these have first place in our newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. The opinion makers west of the Elbe River present the parasites at the top of the society, film stars, and aristocratic fossils. They scorn our heroes, simple workers under socialism. Understanding their situation, they do not see (or are not allowed to see) that German history is no longer determined by robber barons with or without weapons, but rather by people who have been the whipping boys of German history ever since the dissolution of tribal society, but who have since 1945 found their place in the East of Germany. Since they live in filth, they want to pull everyone into the dirt with them. But he who resists the storm of history should not spit, because it will fly back into his face.
Within the circles of imperialism, and especially in West Germany, that journalist enjoys the greatest esteem who is able to conceal his depravity behind an impressive facade. He is an intellectual Cain plotting the murder of his German brothers by spreading slanders, invented and distorted stories, and evil, hate-filled fabrications about the socialist camp and the GDR. Here, journalists win respect and admiration when they use newspapers, the radio and television to make intelligent suggestions for raising the national income or contribute to the needs of the citizens or to their cultural improvement. They use all their ability, knowledge and extraordinary means of influence to influence the rapid pace of change of our era and help the flags of socialism move on to new victories.
The high social duties of socialist journalist equates to his high social standing. It comes from his responsible position as the maker of the most honest publications filled with the golden ideas of socialism. He earns the honor that comes to him only by every day remaining close to socialist progress and the new socialist man, preparing with the banner-carriers of today the mass activity of tomorrow.
Naturally the what is of prime importance, but the how is also very, very important. Gripping and involving people requires interesting material across the entire journalistic spectrum. It would probably be an exaggeration to say that all journalists in our republic already are at this level, reaching successfully both the hearts and minds of people. Since capitalist journalists often offer glitter to sell their wares, some of our journalists think their articles must be entirely colorless. Since others are too lively, they feel obligated to write in a boring manner. They are on the wrong path. Socialist journalism must exceed capitalist journalism not only in content, but also in its interesting manner of presentation. It may be we have good examples of that, but they are not yet the general rule.
The socialist journalist can look back on glorious traditions and illustrious predecessors. The founders and great minds of scientific socialism were editors of the first rank. Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels were the founders and editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Lenin gave his occupation as journalist. Franz Mehring was editor of the Leipziger Volkszeitung, Rosa Luxembourg gave the young Rote Fahne its character. History provides proud examples for the socialist journalist of today. His passion may be aroused by the heroism of communist editors under Hitler, who showed what they were made of. There are all too many names on the list of martyrs of anti-Fascist journalists! Each of them, however, was a source of courage and a model for imitation both for his day and ours. Paul Braun (alias Guddorf), Walter Husemann, Martin Weiß, and John Sieg, with whom I worked with on the Rote Fahne, were fiery believers and proponents of socialist truth until their last breath under the guillotine. Their convictions, ability and energy are models for the journalists of our daily newspapers and magazines, our factory and county papers, our radio and television. May they be worthy of these national heroes!
Ours is not a relaxing age. The faces of nations and continents are changing before our eyes. The closed ranks of the socialist states march from one political, industrial, agricultural, social, scientific and cultural triumph to another. We live in an age of permanent revolution against Imperialism, in a period of titanic struggles and victories of the people over their enemies. The journalist of the GDR stands in the first rank of the fighters of that nation which is at the front lines of socialism, constantly in contact with imperialism, in unbroken conflict with the party in Bonn that favors war.
Caller of the party, flag-bearer of the Republic and the nation, the mouthpiece of the people, the scout and eager defender of socialism, peace and freedom that is the calling of the journalist in the GDR. If he masters the task, he will be both the educator of humanity and a maker of history.
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