Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 2018 Philip Decker. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


History Department

First Advisor

Robert Weinberg


This thesis uses the case study of cowboy-persona singer Dean Reed in order to look closely at propaganda and culture in Cold War East Germany. Decker argues that the Socialist Unity Party (SED) sensed an opportunity to convert the singer’s fame into a platform for its agenda and was willing to tolerate his American aesthetic in order to promote socialism on a mass scale. Developing the concept of jiu-jitsu socialism, in which a communist society borrows artistic and entertainment models from the West and retools them for use under socialism, he captures the arc of GDR culture policy between 1949 and 1986 through the case study of Dean Reed. Using a wide array of secondary and primary sources including newspaper articles, the German Propaganda Archive, and historical images, Decker advances that the SED’s investment in Reed was a prime example of jiu-jitsu socialism which demonstrated an understanding that persuasion would have to complement repression if socialist culture was to survive in Europe.


Co-recipient of the Paul H. Beik Prize in History, awarded in 2018.