All work and no play?: labor, literature and industrial modernity on the Weimar left

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2008-05

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Kley, Martin, 1975-

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Abstract

My dissertation, entitled "All Work and no Play? Labor, Literature and Industrial Modernity," analyzes writing about work that was mostly published in communist and anarchist newspapers during the Weimar Republic. Discussing texts that have been almost fully neglected, my approach departs from existing scholarship on Weimar in two significant ways: First, I analyze these texts in the context of the period's dominant theories, practices, psychologies, and utopian ideas concerning labor. Due to the proximity of artistic and industrial 'production' particularly in the minds and practices of Weimar communists, I consider these literary treatments of work also within the framework of literary and artistic meta-discourses during the Weimar Republic (e.g. Expressionism, New Objectivity, and Productivism). Second, investigating such controversial issues as industrialization, the division of labor, technology, progress, etc., my dissertation leads to a transnational (hi)story in which Weimar Germany can be viewed in the larger context of American imports such as Taylorism and Fordism, their Soviet variants, and pre-industrial counter-models. Chapters One and Two scrutinize communist discourse on work, with Chapter One focusing on the situation in Germany (especially the rationalization drive sweeping the Weimar Republic after 1924 and its literary representations in the communist newspaper Die rote Fahne) and Chapter Two discussing the complex cross-fertilization between German and Soviet communist politics and culture (Egon Erwin Kisch, Sergei Tretiakov, et al.). In these two chapters, I put forth a critique of dominant Marxism-Leninism at the time. Its fetishization of labor and modernization can be found in the texts I discuss (although in highly contradictory terms), and was at the core of the worker-authors' self-understanding as "engineers" of socialism. Chapters Three and Four present the challenge to communism's labor theories and artistic models that arises from various anarchist and syndicalist factions at the time -- groups I summarily call 'anti-authoritarian socialism.' Proposing a veritable exodus from industrial modernity in texts published in Fritz Kater's Der Syndikalist and Franz Pfemfert's Die Aktion, anti-authoritarian socialists ventured to mostly pre-industrial settings both within Germany (e.g. in the case of Heinrich Vogeler's Barkenhoff commune) and Mexico (in this case, through the work of B. Traven).

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