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  • The Proletarian Dream: Socialism, Culture, and Emotion in Germany, 1863–1933 by Sabine Hake
  • Marcel Rotter
The Proletarian Dream: Socialism, Culture, and Emotion in Germany, 1863–1933. By Sabine Hake. Berlin, Boston: de Gruyter. 2017, xiii + 370 pages + 50 b/w and color illustrations. € 89,95 / $103.99 hardcover or e-book.

In times of increased reliance on emotional responses to political propaganda to create communities around extreme ideals, the need for an academic analysis of what drives such responses is especially needed. Therefore, Sabine Hake's book on the role of emotions in creating the politically motivated imagined community of the proletariat could not have been published at a more fitting time: she repeatedly draws parallels between her book and the current climate of populism and the overtaking of the political discourse by emotions.

Hake's analysis contributes to the not entirely new but nascent research on the role of emotions in cultural history. Her book is the first of a two-volume project (the second to be titled The Workers' States, 1933–1989), which she describes "as part cultural history, part cultural theory, and part a series of case studies" (7). In 18 chapters as well as a comprehensive introduction and an afterword, she shows that the proletariat was only a utopian concept promoted by Karl Marx and advanced by the left wing of the Social Democrats and, later, the communists. However, the very idea of the proletariat shaped German cultural history from the 19th century to at least the 1980s.

In the first part, "Imperial Germany," Hake explores how the concept of the proletariat was created in the 19th century. Here, she relies not only on the definition by Marx, but shows how the negative characterization of the working class (such as by Lorenz von Stein or the liberal politician Friedrich Harkort, Chapter One) contributed to the creation of the "proletarian" identity. Hake also shows the influence of the emerging psychological and sociological studies on its formation. [End Page 163]

As evidenced by a rich body of examples, the proletariat remained a utopian concept, since the working class was too diverse to be unified under one such term. The classless society that Marx saw his proletariat unify in never materialized. The only—temporary—exception seems to be the summer camps of the Kinderfreunde movement, where adolescents could experience such a society in a protected realm (Chapter 15). Other representations of the "proletarian dream" include works of literature (novels, plays), visual arts (paintings, film, photography), music (songs, dances), and discourses (association journals, speeches). Hake includes not only the well-known names of working-class culture (Lasalle, Kautsky, Heartfield, Brecht), but also the lesser-known expressions of proletarian emotion. She also shows that the creation of the imagined community of the proletariat "was not always original but took place through the use of familiar rituals from other social and class traditions (classic and romantic literature, the bourgeoisie, guilds, religion, folk rituals).

In her analysis, Hake stresses more than once that she does not want to use the language of Marxism. While Marxism was important as it promoted the concept of the proletariat, Hake transcends the left-right dichotomy when analyzing the broad spectrum of emotions expressed in proletarian culture.

Hake's detailed investigation of working-class emotions also includes the identification of frictions within the proletariat as well as of exchanges with bourgeois concepts. She contrasts, for example, Lasalle's and August Bebel's description of socialism in sentimental terms with Kautsky's argument against an emotional socialism ("Gefühlssozialismus") and for a "scientific socialism" (Chapter Three). Moreover, Pastor Paul Göhre's editions of workers' literary texts to make them more palatable for bourgeois audiences or Hake's characterization of the misery of workers in proletarian imagery as socialist version of the bourgeois Bildungsroman draw a more complex picture of the working class than the purported "workers' unity" of Marxism. Furthermore, in addition to an aspiration upwards, there were downwards sympathizers who identified with the "proletarian dream" despite different socialization (impoverished artists, Bildungsbürger, intellectual "Geistesproletarier"). Hake concludes that the proletarian movement was so successful due to this ideological flexibility: it could be a...


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