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  • The Proletarian Dream: Socialism, Culture, and Emotion in Germany, 1863–1933 by Sabine Hake
  • Erika Quinn
The Proletarian Dream: Socialism, Culture, and Emotion in Germany, 1863–1933. By Sabine Hake. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. xii + 370. Cloth $103.99. ISBN 978-3110549360.

Sabine Hake's fascinating study of the articulation and development of a proletarian vision and emotional symbolic realm from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-1930s suggests that emotional identifications like group belonging present an overlooked and valuable archive in which to work. Her project aims to "liberate the [End Page 623] proletarian dream from mainstream condescension and leftist nostalgia and take seriously its historical and theoretical challenges to dominant culture and hegemonic practices" (256). Her book traces the "materialist appropriation" of eighteenth-century idealist philosophy to create a socialist mentalité through the "language of emotion" (56). This mentalité, in turn, produced a twentieth-century politicized avant-garde. The ambitious scope of the book and its relatively brief chapters that draw on visual, literary, and dramatic sources give an impressionistic sense of the book's overarching argument about the centrality of aesthetic experiences to class mobilization. Hake's study provides a model for transdisciplinary work with her use of sociological and psychoanalytic approaches, literary criticism, and visual and performance analyses.

Hake investigates the social imaginary conjured in the name of the revolutionary working-class, an emotional community created through images, stories, songs, performances, symbols, and rituals, a realm of "possibility—not factuality" (11). The "dream" of her title is a given, in that debates about the actual goals of militant socialism are excluded in favor of exploring how the movement's leaders and members sought to achieve their goals. The planned second volume will study how the proletarian dream was expressed in the workers' states of National Socialist Germany and the German Democratic Republic.

Hake illustrates that emotions "perform their historically specific functions through culturally mediated processes of translation and transformation" (76) by tracing changes in the use of aesthetic form and emotional tone in socialist sources. While her touch on the theory of emotions is light, she does emphasize that "emotions exist only in textual and discursive practices" (20); in other words, scholars can access only representations of emotions. We can't know how workers of the past "really" felt while singing together or reading stories of oppression and exploitation. Instead, through close reading and tracing changes over time concerning the ways emotions were mobilized, Hake points out the myriad roles emotions played in creating a revolutionary working class: they could be anticipatory, restorative, generative, prescriptive, aspirational, and compensatory (25).

Part 1 of the book addresses the early origins of socialism and its emphasis on sentiment, in particular through depictions of workers' suffering and their redemption through collective identification and action. This pathos-imbued strain of the workers' movement, emotional socialism, was one that persisted well into the early twentieth century, despite Marxist attempts to replace it completely with a more militant masculinity, deeming sentimental socialism weak, effeminate, and ineffective. Here, Hake introduces an important analytical red thread, that of gender. Since socialists took the male as the normative position, gendered forms were consistently used to mobilize allegiances and define enemies. Hake's analysis of the use of melodrama, proletarian novels, allegorical images of Prometheus as liberator and rebel, the cult [End Page 624] of celebrity around SPD founder Ferdinand Lassalle, and speeches by SPD leader Karl Liebknecht shows how emotional expressions helped to transform working-class indignation and suffering into a heroic sacrificial stance.

In emphasizing aesthetics as agents of creating and maintaining group identity, Hake reveals the often unacknowledged or denied debt working-class culture owed to the residual forms of both bourgeois and religious cultures. Examples can be found in socialism's most important borrowing from bourgeois culture, the idea of Bildung, and from religious culture, narratives of suffering and redemption through a collective faith and action. These strong resonances between the collectivities of nation, class, and community imbued nineteenth-century social movements across the political spectrum.

Part 2 begins with the defeat in World War I and the workers' revolutions and militant actions that followed on its heels from...


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