Manoeuvres around nudism

In one of my previous posts I wrote about a ban imposed by the East German Communist government on naturism in the 1950s. The book “Sex, thugs and rock ‘n’ roll” by Mark Fenemore may explain what was behind this decision. As always it was due to of ‘high politics’. In 1953 Stalin died in the Soviet Union. The Khrushchev‘s rush for power in the Communist Empire led him to denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Communist Party Congress in February 1956. This in turn led to plots and political manoeuvres under the slogans of ‘de-Stalinization’ in the countries of the Soviet bloc.

From 1950 the leader of Eastern Germany was Walter Ulbricht, the General Secretary of the SED (The Socialist Unity Party of Germany) Central Committee. It was believed that after the death of Stalin his position was in danger for some time, because of his reputation as a hard Stalinist. His opponents began criticizing his policies and style of rule with a view to remove him. They called for a more humanistic socialism.

Many utopian and eccentric ideas how to reform socialism emerged in 1953-56. It was suggested then that the health benefits of nudism warranted not only its legalization but the creation of a nudist mass organization in the GDR. Someone believed that nudism could help in creation of New Communist Man, because nakedness would ‘deconstruct old conditioned reflexes and construct new ones in their place’. Already in 1924 Leon Trotsky wrote in his Literature and Revolution: “The human species, the coagulated Homo sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation“. The most of the SED leaders did not support these ideas. As regards Ulbricht, he kept and even strengthened his power. In 1960 he became the Chairman of the State Council of the German Democratic Republic, i.e. official Head of State.

The struggle for power within the SED resulted in the zigzag policies in relation to gender, youth and sexuality. In 1954-55 there were numerous futile attempts to suppress nudism by force. Mark Fenemore wrote: “The reason why the communist leaders were so determined to repress nudism was that they viewed it as a dangerous (and contagious) form of Social Democratic immunity (or ‘resistance’ to ideological persuasion). They also felt that young people corrupted by the West were using nudism ‘as a cover for mischief’. As late as 1960, policemen were sent onto the beaches to repress nudist subculture armed with machine guns.

Freikörperkultur an der Ostsee

Freikörperkultur an der Ostsee

Nevertheless, nudism survived in the GDR. Already in the early 1960s it was not considered anymore as a suspect, minority activity and became a largely unpolitical mass- participation, mass-spectator sport.

P.S. Well, these East Germans just wanted to have a nice time by the sea and found themselves engaged in plots based on the idiotic philosophizing!

4 comments
  1. Rick said:

    I have found your series on East German Nudism very interesting and informative. I’m lookng forward to reading more.

    I’ve long felt that nudism is a powerful expression of personal freedom and mayb even a bit subversive. I suspect that’s why so many people are against it; they fear personal freedom and its attending personal responsibility.

    • The naturist philosophy has several sources, many of which can be traced back to the health and fitness philosophy in Germany in the early twentieth century… (Wikipedia )

      It was quite remarkable that it all it all held out against dictatorial pressure.

  2. Mark Fenemore said:

    I enjoyed reading your posts about nudism in the GDR. It may interest your readers that Josie McLellan (of the University of Bristol) has written a very interesting article on attempts to ban nudism in East Germany and how (despite these) it became a mass activity.

    Josie McLellan, ‘State Socialist Bodies: East German Nudism from Ban to Boom’, Journal of Modern History 79 (March 2007), 48–79

    [http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/517544]

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