The War as Revolution of the Self : The Diaries of Vojtěch Berger
This article draws upon the remarkable diaries of Vojtěch Berger to offer an original perspective on left-wing politics and the transformative effects of war, occupation, and violence in early twentieth-century Central Europe. Berger, a trained carpenter from southern Bohemia, began writing a diary at the turn of the century when he was a member of the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party in Vienna. He continued to write as he fought for the Habsburg monarchy during World War I; moved to Prague and joined the Communist Party; endured the Nazi occupation; and questioned the Communist Party, and his place in it, after liberation in 1945. Berger’s diary speaks to two constituencies that deserve more attention from historians: Czech-speaking veterans of World War I and rank-and-file members of the interwar Communist Party. The article argues that Berger’s politics, while informed by his experiences and framed by party ideologies and structures, obtained significance through relationships with like-minded “comrades”. Furthermore, the article examines how Berger used his diary to create political self-understanding, to fashion a political self. Each world war, the article concludes, threw this sense of self into disarray. Each world war also spurred Berger to reshape his political self, and with that to reconstitute his political beliefs, his public relationships, and his sense of belonging in the world.