In Cold War-era East Germany, the German tradition of science-based technology merged with a socialist system that made technological progress central to its ideology. Technology became an important part of East German socialist identity—crucial to how Communists saw their system and how citizens saw their state. In Red Prometheus, Dolores Augustine examines the relationship between a dictatorial system and the scientific and engineering communities in East Germany from the end of the Second World War through the 1980s.
Drawing on newly opened archives and extensive interviews, Augustine looks in detail at individual scientists’ interactions with the East German system, examining the effectiveness of their resistance against the party’s totalitarian impulses. She explains why many German scientists and engineers who were deported to the Soviet Union after World War II returned to East Germany rather than defecting to the capitalist West, traces scientists’ attempts to hold on to some aspects of professional autonomy, and describes challenges to their professional identity on the factory floor. Augustine examines the quality of science and technology produced under Communist rule, looking at failed research projects and clashing cultures of innovation. She looks at technological myth-building in science fiction and propaganda. She explores individual career strategies, including the role played by gender in high-tech professions, and the ways that both enterprises and individuals responded to increasing state and party control of research during the 1980s. We cannot understand the economic choices made by East Germany, Augustine argues, unless we understand the cultural values reflected in the East German belief in technology as indispensable to progress and industrial development.
About the Author
Dolores L. Augustine is Associate Professor of History at St. John's University. She is the author of Patricians and Parvenus: Wealth and High Society in Wilhemine Germany.
"Red Prometheus will become required reading for anyone interested in the history of science and technology in the GDR and the Soviet bloc after World War II."—Michael J. Neufeld, ISIS
"This superb study of the “new technical intelligentsia” in East Germany analyzes the ambivalent interaction between engineering professionals and the SED dictatorship, exploring the promise of socialist modernity, the tightening of Stasi control and the failure of innovation in high technology."
—Konrad H. Jarausch, Lurcy Professor of European Civilization at the University of North Carolina and Senior Fellow, Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung, Potsdam
"The great strength of Red Prometheus lies in the author’s ability to put a human face to the story of East Germany’s technological development between 1945 and 1990, something she does by dint of careful archival and oral history research. The result is a social history of technology in which the technologists themselves come to the fore as agents affecting continuity and change, success and failure, in the development of technological systems. Augustine’s book thus complements and extends existing scholarship, not only on East German technology, but also on science and technology in the Soviet bloc more generally."
—Ray Stokes, author of Constructing Socialism: Technology and change in East Germany, 1945-1990
"Red Prometheus succeeds brilliantly in drawing a fascinating picture of the relationship between Communist regimes and high-tech scientists during the Cold War. It shows convincingly how, despite impressive innovative potentials, their quest to overtake the West was destroyed by enormous bureaucratic inefficiencies. This highly original study also provides much food for thought for other Prometheans who believe that their research can be separated from politics and ideology."
—V.R. Berghahn , Columbia University