A View From Mielke's Den / by Bryce Hidysmith

I’m writing this in the one of the Stasi’s old cafeterias out in East Berlin. There’s some haphazard propaganda posters on the walls in characteristic 1970s faded ink, speaking out about how to fight Imperialismus, and a video playing a documentary. You can buy tea and soft drinks. I’m sitting on a windowsill, enjoying the February air. Peeking out of the old Stalinist blocks are a Lutheran spire, the Berlin TV tower, a single crane. 

Though this is rather uniformed and heterodox, I think the Stasi must have been rather bad at processing information and mapping out the enemies of the state, who it was supposed to engineer security against. This didn't stop them from building a reign of terror, which was the real objective, with bureaucracy as a sort of performance. I am increasingly intrigued by the competition in organizational design between control-power and action-capacity, as distinct elements. As Will Burroughs put it, You see, control can never be a means to any practical end…It can never be a means to anything but more control…like junk.

I cannot suppose that any of the agents of the Stasi were incentivized to really do their jobs under the level of mutual scrutiny they experienced, only to submit reports that the Egregore of the Stasi would find legitimate. This is already a situation of metrics and targets being conflated, leading to a scenario where the program of the organization is not spread with intention, but through the contagious self-similarity of behavior transmission: a fear-virus. 

One of the concrete projects that the Stasi carried out was attempts to obtain gold and Western money, which is an intriguingly quantifiable and objective metric. It is perhaps the only specific element of their operation documented in the museum that seems like a definitive attempt to increase the capacities of the organization, rather than simply using force in a way that fits the aesthetic of the secret police. Their listening devices were crude, their disguises a bit dull and not necessarily that convincing, their methods of gaining confidential informants simple blackmail. This notion that their craft is complex seems increasingly misguided. It is theatrical, each action a piece of the propaganda of the deed, leading to an overall impression that the world is controlled wholly by secret forces you cannot understand, the whole affair enchanted with paranoia. 

Salman Rushdie (while repeating an anonymous secret policeman who defended him while under death threat from Fatwa in an interview a number of years ago) made the point that security is the art of making nothing happen. This was not the only purpose of the Stasi—they were also attempting to commit memecide on the German people, to eradicate forces oppositional to the Socialist order—but it was their effect: creating a bizarre paralysis of each individual. Engaging in their domestic terror campaign, they integrated their forceful network into the whole of the East German social system, and by doing such, they ensured that everyone who might make something happen was unable to. Nothing was for sure, and it wasn’t worth trying anymore. There is the standard narrative that, at the center of all of this, was a complex institutional “brain” that was capable of tracking the whole affair down to the minute details. This does not seem to be the case—surveillance seems to be more of a kind of violence in this historical case than a tactical method used for its own purposes. One of the Stasi’s victims, a pediatrician who eventually committed suicide, reported that objects in her house were constantly moved around, giving her a sense that she might be losing her mind. The use of surveillance by the Stasi should, I think, be seen as a subset of this behavior: a display of voyeuristic power, of omnipresent, inescapable brutality, echoed forward and backward in time. 

In Erich Mielke’s chambers on the third floor of the HQ, one gets the impression of the den of a stimulation addict. The Spartan wood offices, when the Military Prosecutor came though, were covered with papers, but not much in the way of the actual systems of life that one would need to feel a sense of home. His breakfast was delivered to him the same way every day, as denoted by a card. I wonder, sometimes, if the nature of totalitarian regimes is fairly simple: the state is the totality of the system of note, and thus the unilaterally self-interested individual does their best to ascend in the state because that is the right move, and thus takes comfort as the state is able to further Rossum-automate the ascending individual’s needs.

This lets one live in a curious idealism, a dance between agents like objects in space, moving in and out of each others orbits, extending their spheres of influence. It is worth thinking of both the notion of reflexive control and perhaps even Boyd’s OODA Loop as Anti-Hegelian weapons that render comparative analysis impossible by ensuring an assumption of feints and an embrasure of false-complexity with the assumption it might be real, and thus must be considered as such. In other words (those initially of one M. Vassar) is negative feedback from a malevolent force the same thing as being manipulated by it? It seems as though, if yes, one is unable to actually gain true agency from this attempt to navigate based on the fully empirical behavior of a threat, and, furthermore, your agency will further decline as it is unclear when to stop believing, to act out of the will of an individual, rather than a subsidiary of malevolence that has already implicitly won. The control mentality is a beautiful, paranoid system of thought, where the constant analysis of the enemy, ally, and all in between must shift, trusting the senses possibly a bit too much. It has the beautiful characteristic of allowing one’s reasonable paranoia to fill all of the extra cognitive space: a truly infinite problem that can leave one constantly in mental motion. It seems addictive. Burroughs seems right to model this as a kind of drug, though he was speaking of control at the most general, rather than this specific instance of it becoming an infinite masochistic pleasure for an isolated man. There is a certain perverse decadence to psychopathy, and Mielke seems to fit the bill. This is of course all conjecture, but one must intuit something from the depressive glee of such a haunted place as the Stasimuseum. 

When the wall fell and the process of reunification began, the Stasi didn’t resist much, they just torched the papers that dealt with spying activity in West Germany. The center of the paranoid infection was stormed by protestors, and the guards looked on, smiling in photographs. As long as the past would not come to haunt the future, by virtue of justice sought by the in-group against the in-group themselves, they must have thought that they would make it out alright. In effect they did, Mielke lived until 2000, despite being considered by the likes of Wiesenthal to be "much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people." The dialectic was coming back, at least for a moment. May it continue uninterrupted.