In Search of Anti-Fascism: The British Left's Response to the GDR during the Cold War

Stefan Berger, Norman LaPorte

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article examines the role of antifascism in perceptions of the German Democratic Republic in Britain, with a particular emphasis on the British Left. It shows that the GDR deliberately used its self-portrayal as antifascist German state and the inverse portrayal of the Federal Republic of Germany as a state still dominated by old fascists to gain credit in Britain. It was relatively successful in doing so, because many on the British Left shared an experience of antifascism going back to the 1930s and 1940s. In some cases, British left-wingers and East German representatives of the SED state even shared the experience of fighting in the International Brigades in Spain. Given that many on the British Left deeply mistrusted the successful capitalist West Germany, they were only too willing to be critical of the FRG and wear rose-tinted spectacles when in came to the GDR. However, perceptions began to change from the 1960s onwards, as a new postwar generation with no direct experience of the interwar antifascism began to doubt the validity of the antifascist argument put forward by GDR representatives. Furthermore, the public debates in West Germany about the Nazi past improved the perception of the FRG in Britain, where Willy Brandt in particular was seen as the representative of an antifascist but democratic Germany. Hence, by the 1980s the shine had come off the antifascist star of the GDR. However, it remains remarkable that British left-wingers retained a certain soft spot for the antifascist rhetoric of the GDR almost to the very end of the second German state.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)536 - 552
    Number of pages16
    JournalGerman History
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2008


    • cold war
    • East Germany
    • British left
    • antifacism
    • Britain
    • German Democratic Republic
    • Federal Republic of Germany
    • trade unions
    • Labour Party
    • SED


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