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The Character of Leisure Time in Capitalism and Socialism (1961)

In the face of economic difficulties, official propaganda in East Germany sought to emphasize the theoretical advantages of Socialism. That applied to the area of leisure as well. According to East German propaganda, leisure time in West Germany served merely to allow the exhausted worker to recover so that he could return to work; moreover, under capitalism, leisure time was apparently spent on undemanding, nonpolitical activities. In contrast, the worker in the GDR had access a broad array of cultural institutions in which he could continue to educate himself personally, politically, and vocationally.

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Friendship and conviviality are closely linked to the extent and content of leisure time. In this regard, it is interesting to compare and contrast the character of leisure time in capitalism and Socialism.

Four main characteristics distinguish the leisure time of workers in the German Democratic Republic from the leisure time in capitalism:

First, in Socialism, through the conquest of political power by the working class and the socialization of the important means of production, relationships of mutual, comradely assistance arise for the first time for all workers; emanating from the work process, these relationships also extend into leisure time.

Under capitalism, the entire organization of leisure time is overshadowed by existential fears, at times this occurs more strongly than at others, but it is invariably so. It flattens and isolates, especially culturally, not least through the effects of class conflict, about which Engels says: “Today, the possibility of pure human emotion in relations with other people is already sufficiently atrophied through a society based on class conflict and class rule in which we are forced to operate.”

Second, in Socialism there is no longer an existential struggle over secure leisure time. Leisure time will naturally expand as labor productivity rises. Under capitalism, by contrast, the worker either has a lot of involuntary “leisure time” in periods of part-time work and unemployment, or too little leisure time in periods of economic boom, because of the greed of capital to transform the last remnant of leisure time into profit-generating work time. As it is, leisure time that is secure and appropriate to the work is won only in an energy-sapping class struggle. It usually results in an exhausted worker. In this context, the report in an issue of the Neue Rheinzeitung [New Rhine Newspaper] under the title “The worker largely foregoes the book” is revealing. It notes that the West German worker is not among either the buyers or readers of books. And the reason? Let us recapitulate two answers by West German workers.

A fifty-two year-old metal worker from Cologne: “Well, I used to be quite happy when I could read a book in the evening. Today I want my peace and quiet. The stress at work wears me out so much that the most I do in the evening is look at the paper. My wife sometimes gets something from the library. But I only look at it on Sundays. Mostly it is some kind of kitsch.”

A thirty-seven year-old construction worker from the Sieg district: “When I come home from work, I am exhausted. My wife then usually turns on the television. She often has to wake me up when the show is over.”

Under Socialism, by contrast, the worker, on the basis of social security and regulated work hours, can still muster enough reserves of energy for leisure time.

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