This analysis of the relationship between science and totalitarian rule in one of the most technically advanced countries in the East bloc examines professional autonomy under dictatorship and the place of technology in Communist ideology.
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.