external image east_germany_flag.pngexternal image east_germany_flag.pngThe German Democratic Republic: A Case Study of Dictatorship (1949 - 1990)

A POLS 209 study by Jesse Corlett, Johnny Stewart, Sean Rusk & Sophie Turner

Introduction - Why was the G.D.R a Dictatorship? (All)


The German Democratic Republic (GDR), a communist state which existed between 1949 and 1990, tells an interesting story of Cold War politics and the impact of ‘people power’ on a seemingly resolute dictatorship. This essay will consider the forty years of totalitarian rule under General Secretaries Walter Ulbricht, Erich Honecker, Egon Krenz, and their respective winning coalitions. While the German Democratic Republic appears to be unique in its political division from and geographical proximity to capitalist economy West Germany, further research dispels this assumption. By drawing from political scholars studied in the Politics 209 class; in particular, Jennifer Gandhi, Adam Przeworski, Jean Montesquieu, Robert Wintrobe, Steven Pfaff, Stephen Haber, Timur Kuran and Bueno de Mesquita, this Wiki page will argue that the German Democratic Republic illustrated traits common to dictatorships the world over. Overall, this page will determine that dictatorships can indeed be explained by political theory.

As this Wiki page is an extensive study of the German Democratic Republic, the point of this Wiki page is, necessarily, four-fold. The first section of this Wiki concerns defining the GDR as a totalitarian regime. Secondly, the Wiki page will explain the events and decision making processes which led to the emergence of a dictatorship. The third section is dedicated to the mechanisms that Ulbricht, Honecker and Krenz used to maintain control, and the fourth concerns theories behind why these methods eventually failed. Leading on from this will be a section explaining the economic and social effects of the dictators’ strategies to maintain power.


A Classification of the G.D.R as a Dictatorship (All)


The German Democratic Republic was a dictatorship. It is defined as a dictatorship by the definition as purposed by Jennifer Gandhi. Gandhi’s definition, and her subsequent "Democracy and Dictatorship Index" is based on the sole criteria of free and fair elections.[1] Simply, the GDR held no meaningful elections during the period between 1949-1989. Elections of the GDR were always rigged with such a massive number of people supposedly always voting for the SED (which had approximately 98% support in the 1989 election), which East German citizens knew was corrupt. This definition is simple yet very effective. The assumption that if political parties respect elections and do not cheat and hence elected freely by the people means they less likely to be corrupt and abuse power. They respect the results and integrity of an election, which is paramount in defining the difference between a dictatorship like the GDR and a democracy like West Germany.


A Timeline of the East German Regime (All)

[2]



Origins of the Dictatorship

Johnny Stewart

Accurate analysis of the German Democratic Republic would not be possible without considering the foundations upon which the dictatorship was built. This section will thus examine the decisions made both prior to and following the defeat of Nazi Germany which brought the German Democratic Republic into fruition. Further, this section will contend that while theories discussed in the Politics 209 class can account for the rise of the dictatorship, outside theories such as structural realism must also be considered.
One of the most significant decision-making processes for the ratifications of 'East' and 'West' were formed by powers outside of Germany[3] . It was during the Yalta Conference in February 1945 that the 'big three' Allied leaders - President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States of America (USA), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin - first discussed the division of Germany into four occupation zones following Nazi surrender. Here, personal objectives of each of the three countries were endorsed; for example, Churchill wished to maintain the British Empire while Roosevelt sought Soviet commitment to the Pacific war. This relates to Kenneth Waltz' theory, that "the nature of anarchy means that states must look after their own interests." [4] . Most imperative to the separation of East and West Germany was Stalin's strategy to attain a secure 'buffer' zone in order to encourage Soviet expansion. This meant imposing communist rule upon eastern territories such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and those within the Crimea. Upon questioning regarding Polish sovereignty, Stalin replied: "for the Russian people, the question of Poland is not only a question of honor but also a question of security. Throughout history, Poland has been the corridor through which the enemy has passed into Russia. Poland is a question of life and death for Russia." [5] Here, Stalin effectively stated his intention of the annexation of Poland and similar eastern territories into the Soviet Empire. Following Western demands, Stalin promised free elections for Poland (and implicitly others under the sphere of Soviet influence) though this proved hollow. After discussion and negotiation from each perspective, the question of German territory was discussed. As stated above, each of the 'big three' would hold spheres of influence within Germany, while a fourth zone was apportioned to France. By 1961, geographically and symbolically, East met West in Berlin, where, although technically within the Soviet Zone, a wall was created and manned by the Soviets in order to separate the two spheres.
Map of the Berlin airlift, 1948.
Map of the Berlin airlift, 1948.


German territory was divided following German defeat after a final meeting of the victorious powers at the Potsdam Conference from July 16th through August 2nd, 1945. Here, finalities concerning the occupation zones of Germany and Austria were concluded, and punishments for Germany were agreed upon. Economic processes met increased disillusionment, as the Western allies wished to build up West Germany, whereas the Soviets were allowed to take whatever industrial equipment they wished from their zone, as well as ten percent from West Germany. Disagreement would continue and heightened over the next four years. A case example of this dissatisfaction occurred on June 5, 1947 where It was agreed upon by the Western powers that West Germany would receive the benefits of the 'Marshall Plan' (or the 'European Recovery Plan'). The Marshall Plan would be undertaken by the USA, with its objectives being the prevention of widespread hunger, homelessness and unemployment in Western Europe. Following this, the Deutsch Mark was established in June 1948 as currency for West Germany. [6] In essence, the American-led process built up the West German economy, while in contrast Soviet enactments on East German industry was ruthless. Essentially, East German industry was destroyed - this being a key factor in the alienation German workers felt toward the Communist movement prior to its being established in government. Alienation would be furthered during the mass rape of German women and children by Soviet forces between 1945 and 1949, ensuring East German dissent in the years following.[7] Importantly, the Soviets had not agreed to the formation of a new currency, and in June 1948 initiated the Berlin Blockade - in response, France, Britain and America would airlift supplies to west Berlin and after elevent months, the Blockade was over. [8] All of these actions factored in the complete division of both the living standards between the two spheres of influence, and the opinion of the plebes toward their country's occupants.

During this time of increased hostility, the governing of East Germany was planned and finally initiated. This began with the merging of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the German Communist Party of Germany. It was then in 1949 that the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) was formed. Critics were spirited in their notation that each party was opposed to such a merger and were forced into it by their Soviet military occupants, thus it is important to note that the very establishment of the ruling party had been articulated via directions from the east. From 1950-1971 Walter Ulbricht, would serve as Chairman of the SED. Ulbricht later noted, "everything was made to look democratic while in reality communists retained control in the background." [9] False elections followed ensuring the SED's retention of power, while the Stasi ensured the prevention of political opposition.

The allowance of such authority was achieved through Germanic culture. That is to say, Germany has a strong cultural tradition of autocracy. To give theoretical reference to this cultural feature, Adam Przeworski's use of Charles de Secondat Montesquieu's Lettres Persanes (1721) in his work, Culture and Identity (1998) is paramount. Montesquieu explains the relationship between cultural principles, their effect on economic situations has a resultant influence on types of governance. As Montesquieu notes, Monarchic rule rests heavily on honour, whereas despotism relies on fear. Montesquieu furthers this idea by adding that each form of governance rely on cultural, climatic, territorial and obviously, economical situations.[10] To complete the cycle, Montesquieu argues that the economy is shaped by cultural values. The theory of cultural principles and governance would later be developed through moralist writings which explained civilisation as something that did not simply 'emerge', but rather would develop and evolve. [11] Thus as cultural perspectives change, so does the structure of the governing body.
Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party 1921-1945
Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party 1921-1945


Evidence of previous cultural ties with authoritarianism can be found prior to the SED, with the best example being the Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. The fascist ideals of Nazi Germany had only been accepted due to a combination of the history of autocracy in Germany and the percieved weaknesses of the democratic young Weimar Republic. The Weimar Government serves as the only evidence of pre-1991 structural democracy in East Germany. It had been established under the heavily contested Weimar Constitution _though importantly this had gained significant opposition due to the contention surrounding the distribution of rights to German provinces as well as the weakness of those within parliament relative to the President.[12] This initial backlash, as well as later developments, for example the French invasion of the Ruhr in order to force German payment of reparations, led to the German populace viewing the Weimar Government as politically weak. This assumption had been ill-made however, as the Weimar Government was doomed due to the terrible economic conditions under which it took power - particularly as a result of the harsh impositions of the Treaty of Versailles (1919).[13] To further assist in understanding the German history of autocracy, the foundation of greater Germany should be considered. Germany as a whole did not exist until following the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. Prior to this, it had been comprised of multiple provinces, each headed by emperors, princes or even knights who ruled over single estates.[14] Such was the cultural tradition of small governments that a larger centralised one was viewed as ineffective. Thus the cultural heritage of a provincial Germany undermined future centralised democratic regimes leading to strengthened authoritarian foundations under the Nazis which would then be utilised by SED.

The culturalist approach explains both the origins and workings of the SED in relation to the people of East Germany. As noted above, despotism rests on fear - fear being a component of repression, while monarchy rests on honour - honour can be seen as a means of retaining a status quo, or, a way in which loyalty is ensured. Wintrobe notes in How to Understand, and Deal With Dictatorship: An Economists View that totalitarian regimes utilise both high levels of repression and loyalty in order to retain power.[15] Both of these qualities factored heavily during the reign of the SED - with repression being exemplified by the Stasi, while the SED's 'equilibrium of lies' ensured loyalty through prevention of any organised opposition to prevent a shift from tolerance and loyalty to open rebellion. The theory of an 'equilibrium of lies' is attributed to another Przeworski text, Democracy and the Market.[16] Thus overall, it was cultural presence of autocratic rule which eschewed in the SED era, while the dire economic situation prevented any methods of rebellion, that is to say, the lack of any real organised enterprise outside of government control ensured the government's grip on power.


The Stasi provided hard-line repression of citizens in East Berlin
The Stasi provided hard-line repression of citizens in East Berlin

Wintrobe, Pfaff, Haber and Przeworski: Maintaining Power in the G.D.R.

Sophie Turner

We have thus far defined the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as a communist dictatorship. Further, we have outlined origins of the dictatorship. We now turn to an analysis of how the dictators and elites of the German Democratic Republic - in particular, General Secretaries Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker - were able to maintain power for forty years despite both external and internal political pressure. This section will draw largely from Wintrobe’s paper 'How to understand, and deal with dictatorship: an economist’s view', to argue that the GDR used a hybrid of loyalty-attaining and repressive methods to maintain control. Wintrobe’s theories will be complemented by Pfaff’s model of coercive surveillance, whereby he states that “...totalitarian regimes radicalised the existing principle of police to enforce not only obedience to the state, but also ideological devolution to the ruling party[17] ” Overall, this essay will contend that loyalty acquisition in the GDR was no more than another form of hardline repressive politics.
The first method that the dictators Ulbricht and Honecker used to maintain power was attaining loyalty from East German citizens. The loyalty of an elite few was especially important to the dictators, who trusted only his closest advisors with information about issues such as the state of the East German economy. This method was not limited to the GDR; and can be seen in dictatorships such as Mobutu’s Zaire[18] . Indeed, the methods of rule over the winning coalition are highly comparable between the two dictatorships. President Mobutu made his decisions so erratically that none of his closest advisors could predict what his next policies would be[19] . In the GDR, in comparison, Honecker kept figures pertaining to East Germany’s pending financial crisis highly confidential. The few figures made available to elite finance ministers such as Gunter Ehrensperger were presented in an “...almost unreadable format...on purpose”, [20] and then shredded. Ulbricht and Honecker gained support from elites by supporting them with privileges they otherwise wouldn't gain – a method which also occurred under Mobutu in Zaire. However, whereas elites in Zaire would receive more obvious forms of payment, such as expensive cars and access to mineral resources such as diamonds, elites in East Germany gained privileges to less material goods, such as access to the more affluent neighbourhoods in East Berlin. Overall, as Wintrobe explains, “...successful dictators typically rule with the loyal support of at least some groups of subjects while repressing others.”[21]
However, “really existing socialism” in the GDR also required a level of loyalty from the general population. Communist states differ from many other dictatorships in that they seek to provide welfare for the majority of people. Mesquita et al explain that large selectorates, such as those under dictator regimes in China and East Germany (approximately 5% of the population were members of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) demand a certain level of welfare. As Wintrobe explains, “...a dictator “buys” the loyalty of a group when he gives them more than they can expect to obtain under a different regime". [22] This theory is most relevant to Honecker’s reign over the GDR from 1971 through to 1989. Political reforms - such as reducing political imprisonment, and Honecker’s signing of the Cooperation in Europe Treaty in 1989 (which stated that everyone possessed "the right to leave...and to return to their own country”)- xmarquez xmarquez Jun 7, 2011)</ref> -->[23] pushed some commentators to describe East Germany as a “welfare state.” As Pfaff explains, “the late socialism of Honecker... has been described by historians as a post-totalitarian or post-Stalinist regime. [24] ” In many respects, the GDR appeared to be the most successful socialist state of the Eastern bloc – and as Sebesteyn explains, there were no food queues and almost no absolute poverty in the mid-1980s. [25] Overall, Pfaff suggests, "...the regime also compensated citizens for continuing repression with improved living standards, a social safety net, and, unintentionally, by providing the opportunity to retreat from a highly politicised public life into a private world of social niches” [26] . Theories by Haber elaborate on this point: in his discussion of benign dictators, he asserts that dictators invest in public goods in order to enhance their careers **[27] However, the political reforms did not succeed in attaining loyalty from all citizens. Just as The GDR’s purported economic success was discovered to be fabrication, so too was the faith of many East German citizens. Haber explains this theory with the idea that “virtually all constituents and colleagues in dictatorships – at least those who value their necks – profess loyalty to the dictator, even as they conspire to depose him.” [28]
As Wintrobe explains, the Communist system worked in a specific way to ensure that it “...rewarded those who worked loyally for the system’s goals and punished those who did not” Where there was some loyalty from citizens of the GDR, there was also a significant amount of repression. Wintrobe describes repression in universal dictatorships as follows:
//“Dictators typically impose restrictions on the rights of citizens to criticize the government, restrictions on the freedom of the press, restrictions on the rights of opposition parties to campaign against the government, or, as is common under totalitarian dictatorship, the outright prohibition of groups, associations, or political parties opposed to the government”.[29]
One way the regime repressed citizens was by denying access to free and fair elections. Chiebub, Gandhi and Vreeland note that elections play a central role in the level of freedom in a country [30] . “Competitive elections enable citizens to shape policymaking in the societies in which they live.” “Even unfair, authoritarian elections may enable citizens to push their societies in a more liberal direction if some competition is allowed.”[31] However, as made explicit in the SED Party handbook, evicting incumbents was outlawed by the GDR. “In the socialist state there does not exist any objective political or social basis for an opposition against the ruling social and political relations” – Stoever, in Pfaff, 390 (189). In 1989, when 98.6% of votes were claimed to be in favour of the Communist Party, Honecker merely addressed the obvious corruption as “a step towards the further perfection of our democracy” (Pfaff). People were further repressed by not being granted full access to the media. While Western media was opened up to East German citizens in the 1970s, those who, as Honecker illustrated, “emigrated to the West every evening” were closely followed by the Stasi. Furthermore, social media was proofread personally by Honecker before being sent to print every morning. As Sebesteyn notes, no one questioned how Honecker would have time to do this. Overall, these mechanisms of control left East Germans with limited knowledge of political processes, and extremely limited control over them.
Repression did not solely occur in political terms, but also in the homes of East Germans. Honecker’s aim was to make online records of every citizen, and indeed, he did manage to track over six million East German and outside citizens. This was achieved mostly by means of the German Secret Police, or the Stasi. Stasi leaders such as Defence Minister Heinz Hoffman, once described as “the brain and nerve centre of the GDR” (Mary Fulbrook, 383)” were placed as members of the GDR’s winning coalition because of their success at providing “subtle surveillance” of East German citizens. At one point, as many as one in ten East German citizens were employees of the Stasi; including teachers, spouses, and in some cases even children. This method correlates with Wintrobe’s theory of maintaining power through monitoring the citizenry: “The existence of a political police force and of extremely severe sanctions for expressing and especially for organizing opposition to the government such as imprisonment, internment in mental hospitals, torture and execution are the hallmark of dictatorships of all stripes.” The Stasi were so successful at infiltrating the homes of East German citizens a level of self regulation was adopted among citizens. As Pfaff explains, in order to maximise control at the lowest cost the individual would never know when he is directly under surveillance and hence learn to police itself – self sustenance p 386 (185). One example of this is given from East German writers. Each writer in the GDR was assigned a helper, who would “assist” in editing their work. Poet and novelist Gunter Kunert explicates that writers “got so used to this second opinion... that we considered it our own. We believed we were writing in freedom, and under our own influence, but we weren’t.” (208 1989)

In polar contrast to the highly mysterious Stasi was the infamous Berlin Wall. Constructed in 1961 following an outpour of young and educated East Germans into the West, the Berlin wall was a conspicuous representation of what the GDR meant to East German citizens: the lies (it is a “"Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart," Ulbricht justified in 1961); the surveillance (spotlights lined the wall, and guards were stationed on towers, ready to “shoot to kill”); and the complete and total lack of freedom for all East German citizens. 238 East Germans died attempting to cross the border, a fact fabricated as “death by natural causes”. Here, every death served to further represent the imprisonment of the general population.
Overall, the loyalty and repression explained above shows that East Germans were not only trapped physically, but also mentally and politically in the GDR. It seemed unreasonable, even in the months beforehand, that freedom could ever be attained for East Germans in 1989.


Erich Honecker, Head of State 1976-1989
Erich Honecker, Head of State 1976-1989

Wintrobe, Kuran & Mesquita: Loss of Power in the G.D.R.

Jesse Corlett

This section will discuss how the East German dictatorship lost its grip on power, despite the seemingly unbreakable grip on power it possessed (as discussed above). It will do so by applying Wintrobe's theory of the "Dictator's Dilemma", and Kuran's model of "Preference Falsification", along with Mesquita et al's writings on the winning coalition, and discussing whether these theories serve to explain the causation of such a rapid decline in East Germany's dictatorial power.

A significant paradox faced by the dictators of the German Democratic Republic was what Wintrobe calls the "Dictator's Dilemma". This theory presents the notion that, by its nature, dictatorship is an unstable form of governance, and all dictators must necessarily experience a constant paranoia regarding how much support they can have. This is because, in consolidating power, a dictator often removes the institutions and avenues through which citizens can voice concerns and doubts about the government. While this allows the dictator a greater hold on power, it also removes a way for him to gauge the support and concerns of his citizenry. This creates a paranoia on the part of the dictator - how can he really ever be sure who supports him, if everybody knows they'll be punished for speaking out? The paranoia is evident on both sides, as the citizens become paranoid that any disenfranchisement they feel toward the regime may not be shared by those around them, and thus keep quiet about any concern or opposition. Wintrobe goes on to create a classification system for dictators, ranging from tinpots (low repression, and low loyalty), to totalitarians (high repression and high loyalty).[32]

From this stems the "Preference Falsification" theory, related to the willingness of citizenry and government members to speak out against the regime. Kuran suggests that any potential opposition to the regime must necessarily pretend to support the regime, as they cannot be sure of the support of others. Thus, a scenario is created in which mass discontent does not necessarily create a popular revolt, instead existing 'under the radar'. The fear and doubt fostered by hardline enforcement of the regime prevents many from speaking out, thus making them seem, on the face of it, loyal and dedicated supporters of the regime. As the rewards for speaking out increase, however, and the potential costs of doing so decrease (for instance, if more and more people begin to speak out and the inherent risks consequently drop) it becomes more likely that the opposition of a regime will voice their disenfranchisement. Under this model of revolution, Kuran assigns members of the society a threshold for opposition. Essentially, each person must meet their own requirements for speaking out. As more and more citizens do, the thresholds for others are met, as they perceive less risk in speaking out as part of a more popular movement. Kuran's model, then, explains how a hardliner regime with oppressive enforcement can topple like a house of cards if the fuse of opposition is lit. [33]

Mesquita, et al discuss a model of authoritarian government whereby a dictator must 'pay off' those who can help secure his position as dictator. They identify a group called the selectorate - that is, the group considered eligible to rise to political influence. In a perfect democracy, therefore, this can be considered to be every person eligible to vote. In a dictatorship, this group is often smaller and composed of elites capable of swaying policy. The winning coalition is a select group from within this wider collective, made up of as few as a couple of influential people or organisations crucial to the dictator's security of office. Thus, the dictatorship becomes heavily reliant on the support of these actors. If the winning coalition no longer has faith in the dictator, his regime cannot survive. Under this model, we can see that the dictator often does not have the final say on whether his dictatorship succeeds or fails. A failure to maintain the support and loyalty of the winning coalition, according to Mesquita et al, carries fatal consequences for any dictator reliant on this small group of power-consolidating allies.[34]

Wintrobe's "Dilemma" theory, Kuran's "Preference Falsification", and Mesquita et al's "Winning Coalition" all paint an accurate political picture of pre-1989 East Germany. Under the hardliner leadership of Honecker and the radically oppressive enforcement of the Stasi, any whisper of opposition was quickly snuffed out, and thousands of citizens were under constant surveillance - in some cases, even by members of their own family. It is apparent that every East German dictator, from Pieck to Krenz, relied on several actors to maintain dictatorial power: the Stasi, as a means of maintaining loyalty and obedience within the state; the Communist party, as a means of maintaining political support; and the Soviet army, as a means of suppressing popular revolt. The theories also serve to help us understand why and how this apparently secure regime fell so rapidly.[35]

It could be said that under Wintrobe's theory that the leaders of East Germany should be classified as totalitarian regimes (high repression, high loyalty). Honecker's leadership followed the same patterns, responding to high loyalty with high repression. However, the events of 1989 illustrated a clear decay in loyalty under his leadership. This could be attributed to several factors, most likely being the constant presence of a democratic and comparatively more prosperous West Germany fostering envy within the struggling repressive borders of East Germany. The hardline rule of Honecker, too, may have disenfranchised members of East German society (perhaps even some within the government itself). With the relentless enforcement of the Stasi constantly pressuring citizens to obey and remain loyal, supporters of the regime may have begun to question whether the government was truly looking after their best interests. Members of the winning coalition, too, may have been shifting toward other personalities to lead the state.[36]

The rapid downfall of the East German regime stunned even the most seasoned political commentators around the world. According to Kuran, "...in a matter of weeks entrenched leaders were overthrown, the communist monopoly on power was abrogated in one country after another, and persecuted critics of the communist system were catapulted into high office". The preference falsification theory presented by Kuran accurately explains how this could have happened. As unrest and opposition to the Communist regime in East Germany simmered to boiling point, all that was needed to trigger a cascade of popular unrest was a catalyst. This catalyst came in the form of the "Stolen election" of 1989. East Germans had been used to stringent election procedures, but this time was different - more people took the risk of voting against the Communist Party. Egon Krenz, heir apparent to Honecker and man in charge of the electoral commission, declared an overwhelming majority result for the Communist Party, but enough citizens and media had witnessed the voting to deduce that this was a serious perversion of fair voting procedure. West German media broadcasted bulletins pointing out the illegitimacy of the election, and quickly the cascade began to snowball. Increasingly, citizens reached their own 'thresholds' (under Kuran's cascade theory) and began to speak out in unison against the Communist party. [37]

A significant causative factor in the failure of the German Democratic Republic was Honecker's failure to maintain the trust and faith of his winning coalition. The Communist Party ousted him from power late in 1989 (as rumblings of the revolution began to emerge) and this created the opportunity the opposition needed. They finally saw that the "unassailable" power of the dictatorship was faltering, and the popular revolt gained momentum. It can also be noted that, from a certain point of view, the Soviet army could be considered a part of the winning coalition. They had helped the Communist party retain power in the 1953 uprising, but under the non-interventionist policy of Russian President Gorbachev their assistance was unavailable. Thus, another key factor in the regime's hold on power was the support of the Soviets - when Gorbachev opted not to intervene with force in support of the Communist regime, it spelled the end of any thoughts of violent repression, and the fate of the regime was sealed.[38]

It is interesting to note that despite being characterized by repression and violence, the regime seemed unable to suppress the uprising of 1989 as it had in 1953. This can be attributed to the nature of the regime under hardliner Erich Honecker. Historically, it can be seen that highly repressive regimes do not experience uprisings often - however, when there is an uprising, the regimes fall quickly. According to Karklins and Peterson, popular revolution against repressive regimes, specifically in 1989 Eastern Europe, was successful because it used non-violent methods. Not only were the revolutions successful from a bottom-up standpoint, but contributing factors to the downfall of the regime also came from the top. As the regime's coercive methods (specifically, the Stasi and the ingrained fear of the government) are undermined, the government loses its ability to stifle

opposition, and the cascade spirals out of control. Essentially, the more repressive a regime, the less likely it is to succeed in the face of popular revolution, because the repressive nature of the state fosters much stronger anti-regime sentiments that are harder to silence.[39]

Ultimately, the failure of the East German authoritarian regime in 1989 was the result of a multitude of factors, all effectively explained by political theory. The inherent paranoia in maintaining a dictatorship, both on the part of the dictator and the citizenry, creates an unstable political environment, according to Wintrobe's "Dictator's Dilemma". The uncertainty of support, specifically on the dictator's part, is summarised by the system of "Preference Falsification", whereby opposition opt to fake support for the regime. The dictator's inability to gauge opposition must certainly have contributed to the success of the 1989 revolution. The regime's over-dependence on the winning coalition further cast the security of the dictator into doubt. This totalitarian regime crumbled rapidly because its repressive methods of maintaining power fostered an invisible opposition too determined to be cast aside, and the hesitance of the Stasi and Soviets in suppressing the revolution ultimately resulted in a total defeat. A regime that had stood for 40 years was successfully demolished by non-violent revolution in a matter of weeks.[40][41]

Mechanisms of Control: Economic & Social Consequences

Sean Rusk

The two separate Germany’s were created out of World War II. In 1945 East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic known as the GDR) was occupied and controlled by the Soviets and became part of the Eastern Block of Communism and the West (or the Federal Republic of Germany known as the FRG) was controlled by the Allies (led by America) and became part of the ‘Western’ countries. The once united Germany diverged greatly politically due to the GDR ‘embracing’ communism and the FRG, capitalism. The policies of control and repression adopted in the two countries differed remarkably which led to huge disparities in social welfare and economic policies and performance. The GDR and the FRG were on par with one another economically to begin with. Each side had to rebuild their extensively damaged infrastructure after WWII and had to pay reparations. They essentially had the same starting point and hence effective comparisons can be made between one and the other. It should be noted that comparisons between an authoritarian communist regime such as the GDR and a democratic capitalist regime such as the FRG is an exceedingly rare thing to be able to do. The GDR ruled by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) was by far inferior on both key issues and as a result eventually failed in 1989 due to popular, peaceful uprisings. The political theory purposed by Wintrobe is very effective in analysing the social and economic consequences of the authoritarian, communist regime.

The Economy
The economy of the GDR was deeply flawed. The policy of central redistribution and control by the state staggered, hindering the economy compared to the limited free market policies of the FRG. The centralisation of the economy in the SED meant it had complete control over all aspects of the economy. Eventually almost everything was nationalised and controlled by the state. Inefficiencies in the system were rife but control was still maintained. The GDR’s plan under communism was full employment for all and that an increase in material wealth could be achieved through central planning and collective ownership of all state assets.[42] The idea was initially successful in the GDR with positive growth in GDP.[43] Positive growth lasted until approximately 1975 when the economy slowly declined.[44] Out of all years of growth, four years the GDR outmatched the FRG in increase in GDP growth. Overall, the FRG had the larger overall increase.[45] The FRG experienced a very minor recession after fifteen years of aggressive growth following WWII which resulted in three years of superior GDR growth.[46] In the initial stages of the GDR it looked as if it could compete with its Western counterpart.

Whilst the communist system appeared to work it had many problems that were not fixed. The GDR consistently experienced a mass exodus of its population. People saw that life was better in the FRG as more political freedoms were granted and thus “voted with their feet” and left.[47] The huge labour movement helped the FRG who had need of labour (as they were experiencing an large economic boom) to grow, with some two million people migrating over.[48] This exodus occurred from 1949-1961 when it stopped due to the construction of the Iron Curtain.[49] The GDR had to do something to stop the mass exodus. The closing of the border posed more problems. No longer could inefficiencies in the system of East Germany be blamed on ‘outsiders’ or ‘terrorists’ as they no longer had direct access to the GDR.[50] The GDR’s communist system was also flawed. It was rigid and had no flexibility to deal with inflation or unemployment.[51] It was designed more for political control rather than sound economic principles. Every five years an economic plan was produced, this set all the quotas for production and what would occur over the next five years.[52] It paid little attention to market demands, prices, wages and led to absurd quantities of products being produced (too much in many cases and too few in others).[53] The plan, once it was set, was rarely changed and control by bureaucracy led to massive pitfalls and a shadow economy.

A ‘shadow economy’ is the unofficial economy that developed in the GDR due to decencies within its economic system.[54] The shadow economy in the GDR grew to incorporate such things as barter exchange, foreign trade (outside of the plan), moonlighting and manipulations of purchases.[55] The central communist system with its ‘plan’ meant many things were not provided adequately, not least of all money, so citizens had to find other ways which was an illegal black market. Even the government officials took place in back handed deals that would have been deemed illegal. Erich Honeker, the leader of the GDR for twenty five years, had an official to ensure his private desires of overseas items that could not be attained in the GDR were found and bought.[56] The Deutsch Mark (DM) of the FRG was used for these purchases and was an unofficial currency in the GDR because it had far more value attached to it. The system endured huge corruption and was run by men who knew there were problems but chose to ignore them and further.

The GDR resorted to selling ‘political prisoners’ (usually people captured after 1961 trying to leave the GDR) for money to the FRG which became a constant source of much needed revenue, netting some eight billion DM for the SED.[57] The problems of the communist system became worse and GDP became negative. The GDR’ debt increased, although only Honecker, Gunter Mittag( economics tsar), Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski(unofficial financer for the GDR), Erich Mielke(Stasi chief) and Gerhard Schurer(State planning chief) knew the depths of the debt.[58] The GDR was the stand out performer of the Eastern bloc, but hid the dark secret of huge financial debt. This debt rose exponentially and a cycle began with borrowing to pay debts and interest which led to more borrowing. Ironically much of the money was borrowed off West Germany’s capitalist banks to finance the ‘superior communist system’. West Germany’s more open capitalist system had allowed it to endure financial shocks and be realistic about its spending. East Germany’s did not. By the time Honecker was removed and the real debt of the GDR revealed to the top echelon of the SED, the GDR was insolvent, secretly. No one yet knew that the GDR could not even afford the interest repayments on its loans.[59] If the GDR had not collapsed under the revolutions of 1989 forty six days later would have become financially insolvent as it was so deeply in debt. The system of central control and redistribution that was the communist economic model was flawed to begin with and was never fixed. Initially, following rebuilding, the infrastructure experienced positive gains. The system survived but over time the flaws and corruption led to its down fall. The FRG was superior in economic performance because of it more open; less corrupt capitalist system worked more efficiently and produced better returns.

Social Welfare
The SED controlled nearly all aspects of social welfare and life within the GDR. Communism promised a job for every person and health care for everyone – the ‘basics’ as it can be said. Almost every person had a job and worked eight and three quarter hours a day (even while protesting).[60] Communism was after all for the workers but the workers received very little benefit. The life of these people whilst ‘safe’ was quite boring. Many of the luxuries people in West Germany had those in the East did not. Further the FGR actually had an extensive welfare system to care for its people which was deemed better than the GDR’s system. What was worse is that the citizens of the GDR had the benefits of the FRG shown to them, daily, as most received West German Television. The social welfare of the people was claimed to be looked after but really was pushed to the side in pursuit of greater output which had always been the goal of the SED.
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Vera Lengsfeld - Civil Rights Protester against nuclear missiles in the GDR


The SED chose repression to control the people when they would not obey. The Stasi were the feared secret police of the GDR. They divided the people and always had them under suspicion. The Fear created by the Stasi is somewhat remarkable. The Stasi had a reputation of knowing almost everything and being just about everywhere at all times, which is where they gained there real power from.[61] This was more a myth than reality but was an extremely powerful psychological deterrent to the population and had a resounding effect on the behaviour of the citizens of the GDR. The people were fundamentally altered in the way in which they interacted with one another, as it suspected the Stasi was always around and listening. Trust between different people was broken and families torn apart through suspicion and betrayal of one another to the Stasi. In East Germany no one wanted to be seen as ‘an enemy of communism’ and be taken away. People had to adopt speaking in the “communist jargon”[62] to avoid being noticed and taken away by the Stasi. One in ten people were associated with the Stasi in some way, the highest concentration secret police anywhere in the world.[63] The lengths the Stasi went to were just as impressive. Vera Lengsfeld was an activist against the communist party (one of the very few) who protested again nuclear missiles in Europe.[64] She lost her job, spent time in jail and was followed by sixty Sasi officers.[65] Even more amazing was that her husband, with whom she had two children, was a Stasi informer.[66] He had married and had children with her to keep appearances; the Stasi seemed to have no limit as to what they would do. The repression of the SED did have a large economic cost (Billions of DM annually) but more importantly had an even higher social cost. People saw everything as propaganda and trust between people and the state was very low. People learned to conform to what the state demanded, open loyalty, but many were against the SED although they could not show it. The Stasi repression had the effect that they could not effectively gage support for the regime, no one really knew although as long as they complied with SED demands and directives it was not so much of a problem, but some paranoia was always present. Violent repression was a tool not particularly favoured by the Stasi, rather it was the ever present Russian army who used violence (repression of the 1953 rebellion).[67] The Stasi relied on fear and propaganda to meet there needs and to maintain control over the population.

Theory
Does the theory Ronald Wintrobe help explain what Happened in the GDR? Wintrobe’s theory centres on the idea of repression and loyalty but entails far more.[68] The dictator’s dilemma of not knowing how much support one really has, repression is the only real form of control (and is costly) so it is difficult to express discontent for citizens. Supporters (in this case, communists) are overpayed to maintain their loyalty and includes a classification of what the regime is in this case a totalitarian regime (high repression, high loyalty). Specifically with communism his theory stipulates that having no markets means that the government will not know what peoples’ economic wants and needs are. The theory is more economically geared but serves as good guide to explaining what happened in the GDR. Take for a moment that the head of the GDR is a dictator and the dictator’s dilemma can apply not just to him but the top echelon of the SED. They never really knew how much support they had. There too much repression for them to know. They assumed they had support of the people (if naively) but really didn’t and this became clearer and clearer towards the end of the regime. Repression was very costly both socially and economically, with huge cost associated with maintaining the Stasi and the communist party. The social welfare cost of the system was the destroyed trust between the citizens of the GDR and people did not trust the state at all. To them everything that was said was propaganda (and usually was). Supporters or high ranking members of the SED were ‘payed off’ with high wages and luxuries that most citizens could not dream of having, although this was a select few. The economic model of central allocation and redistribution with the 5 year plans and quota was very inefficient. The SED did not know what peoples’ economic wants The states were formed at the same time (ending of WWII) and were about on par with one another economically to begin with. Each side had to rebuild their extensively damaged infrastructure after WWII and had to pay reparations. They essentially had the same starting point and hence effective comparisons can be made between one and the other. or needs were and very often got it wrong. This theory really centres on repression and loyalty. Maintaining the loyalty of the few, and repressing the masses is what the SED did in the GDR. Wintrobe’s theory proves useful in explaining East Germany under the SED.[69]


Conclusion (All)

This Wiki page has presented a case study of the German Democratic Republic, from its establishment immediately subsequent to World War Two, to its re-integration with West Germany following to the fall of the Socialist Unity Party in 1989. Examining in particular theories by Wintrobe, it has presented the importance of not simply providing a history of a dictatorship but rather applying political theories to political events. Indeed, this essay has presented a range of economic, political, state-based and cultural theories in order to present a general understanding of how the German Democratic Republic originated, how it was maintained, how it was overthrown, and what the economic and social effects of the regime were. This essay has shown that individual dictatorships are able to be compared, categorised, and explained by political theory. This, we believe, is an important insight. If political theorists such as Wintrobe possess the ability to reflect on the motives behind dictators, then they hold a certain degree of power over those who wish the control entire political regimes. Thus, political theorists play a role in opening barriers between even the most elusive of regimes: the German Democratic between 1949 and 1990, and conceivably, present-day North Korea.

Future research & Interesting Points (All)

A key area of potential future reference is certainly the revolutions of 1953 and 1989. Why did the first fail so absolutely, but the second succeed in toppling the 40-year old regime so quickly? Applying the theory of the winning coalition and selectorate (as Sophie and Jesse’s sections did) is helpful - after all, it was the failure of the Soviet army (the "winning coalition", from a certain perspective) in intervening in 1989 that contributed to the success of the peaceful revolution. Another interpretation of the winning coalition theory in the GDR - that the members of the Communist party in East Germany should be considered the wining coalition which also explains the success of the revolution. It was, after all, the party's ousting of Honecker that opened the floodgates for popular revolt against the regime. Surely, though, other factors were at play. Wintrobe's theories could all be applied to this revolution, as they may serve to effectively illustrate the causation behind the revolutionary failures and successes.

The role of violence in revolution (or lack thereof, in East Germany's case) may also have consequences for this research. How did the success of the non-violent revolution in East Germany compare to the failures of violent revolution across history? Can theories presented by academics explain the inherent similarities and differences in outcomes of revolution? Information cascades and preference falsification played a demonstrable role in the revolution (as suggested in Jesse’s section); further research into this factor of revolution, using other case studies to provide context, could wield interesting results.

The long-term outcomes of the fall of the German Democratic Republic, and the consequent import of Western culture and politics, serves as an interesting and intriguing area of potential future research. How the historical repression of East Germans affected their lives – even up to today and into the future – is an interesting question. Sean’s section approached this question and highlights the need for more in-depth research – across multiple case studies – of the long-term effects of authoritarian government. A great deal of academic literature has been dedicated to the immediate consequences of the rise and fall of dictatorship, but whether the research of academics has covered the long-term historical, political, social and economic consequences of repression is yet to be seen.

An interesting point to note is that the GDR is an anomaly in the study of dictatorships - it had an immediate democratic neighbor that originated from the same state (West Germany), providing a rare case of comparison between the performance of democracy vs. dictatorship. This allowed us to gain an excellent contextual understanding of the regime as a whole, and when this was augmented with the political theories we've applied to the study, we were able to create a holistic report on the dictatorship.

Overall, we found it remarkable how accurate the theories of Wintrobe in particular were, when applied to this case study. They effectively provided a framework through which the intricacies of dictatorship – from its rise and consolidation to decay and collapse – can be fully understood. Our study has enabled us to gain and demonstrate a contextual understanding of the German Democratic Republic, from its historical origins (Johnny), to its rise and consolidation of power (Sophie), its eventual collapse (Jesse) and the economic and social consequences of the regime (Sean).
  1. ^
    Gandhi, Jennifer. 2008. Political Institutions under Dictatorship, chapter 1 pp. 1-41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. ^
    Timeline created using www.timeglider.com; information gathered from 'German Political & Economic History (Chronology), 1945 - 1997', found on http://faculty.washington.edu/krumme/german/chronology.html
  3. ^
    Spartacus Education, "Yalta Conference," http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/2WWyalta.htm (accessed February 25, 2011).
  4. ^ "The Yalta Conference (1945)," http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/imperialism/notes/yalta.htm (accessed February 25, 2011).
  5. ^ Ibid.
  6. ^
    "A Summary of the Marshall Plan," http://www.ambrosevideo.com/resources/documents/53.pdf (accessed May 26, 2011).
  7. ^ Antony Beevor, "They Raped Every German Female from Eight to Eighty," The Guardian.co.uk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/may/01/news.features11 (accessed May 29, 2011).
  8. ^ "Berlin Blockade," http://www.johndclare.net/cold_war9.htm (accessed May 26, 2011).
  9. ^
    World News Network, "East German Propaganda," http://wn.com/East_German (accessed May 26, 2011).
  10. ^
    Adam Przeworski, "Culture and Democracy," World Culture Report: Culture, Creativity, and Markets, (1998): pp. 126.
  11. ^ Ibid.
  12. ^
    Sebestyen, Victor. Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York: Vintage Books, 2010, 127.
  13. ^ BBC, "Terms of the Treaty of Versailles," http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/ir1/thetreatyrev1.shtml (accessed May 28, 2011).
  14. ^ Frank Tipton, "A History of Modern Germany Since 1815,", University of California Press, http://www.ucpress.edu/excerpt.php?isbn=9780520240490 (accessed May 29, 2011).
  15. ^
    Ronald Wintrobe, "How to Understand, and Deal with Dictatorship, an Economist's View," Economics of Governance, no. 2 (2001): 35-58.
  16. ^ Adam Przeworski, "Democracy and the Market," Department of Politics, New York University, http://as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/2800/sisson.pdf (accessed May 29, 2011).
  17. ^
    S Pfaff (2001). "The Limits of Coercive Surveillance: Social and Penal Control in the German Democratic Republic. Punishment & Society 3(3): 381-507
  18. ^
    Wrong, Michela (2000). "The Emperor Mobutu." Transition 9 (1): 92-112
  19. ^ Ibid
  20. ^ Ibid
  21. ^ Ibid
  22. ^
    Ibid
  23. ^ Type the content of your reference here. (missing reference - - xmarquez xmarquez Jun 7, 2011)
  24. ^ Ibid //
  25. ^ Ibid//
  26. ^ Pfaff, Steven (2001). "The Limits of Coercive Surveillance: Social and Penal Control in the German Democratic Republic." Punishment and Society 3(3) : p383
  27. ^ Ibid p. 698
  28. ^ Haber, Stephen. 2006. "Authoritarian Government." In Oxford Handbook of Political Economy, ed. B. R. Weingast and D. A. Wittman. Oxford: Oxford. University Press. P698
  29. ^
    Ibid
  30. ^
    Cheibub, José Antonio, Jennifer Gandhi, and James Raymond Vreeland. "Democracy and Dicatorship Revisited." Public Choice, 2010.
  31. ^ Ibid.
  32. ^
    R. Wintrobe (2001). "How to understand, and deal with dictatorship: an economist's view." Economics of Governance Vol. 2, No. 1: pp. 35-58.
  33. ^
    Kuran, Timur. (1991) “Now Out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989.” World Politics 44(1): 7-48.
  34. ^
    Bruce Bueno de Mesquita; James D. Morrow; Randolph Siverson; & Alastair Smith "Political Competition and Economic Growth". Journal of Democracy 12.1 (2001) pp. 58-72.
  35. ^
    Ibid.
  36. ^
    Pfaff, S. (2001). "The Limits of Coercive Surveillance: Social and Penal Control in the German Democratic Republic." Punishment & Society 3(3):381-407.
  37. ^
    Kuran, "Now Out of Never" pp. 7-48.
  38. ^
    Mesquita et al, "Political Competition and Economic Growth".(2001) pp. 58-72; Kuran, "Now Out of Never" pp. 7-48.
  39. ^
    Kuran, "Now Out of Never" pp. 7-48; Pfaff, "The Limits of Coercive Surveillance", pp. 381-407.
  40. ^
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-R0518-182,_Erich_Honecker.jpg
  41. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmRPP2WXX0U
  42. ^
    O’Dochartaigh, Pol. Germany since 1945. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004, 43.
  43. ^
    Ibid.
  44. ^
    Ibid., 90.
  45. ^
    //
    Ibid.
  46. ^
    Ibid., 89.
  47. ^
    Sebestyen, Victor. Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York: Vintage Books, 2010, 127.
  48. ^
    Ibid.
  49. ^
    //
    Wierling, Dorothee. “Work, Workers, and politics in the German Democratic Republic.” International Labour and Working Class History, No. 50, Labour under communist Regimes (Fall, 1996): pp. 45.
  50. ^
    O’Dochartaigh, Pol. Germany since 1945. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004, 47.
  51. ^
    Sebestyen, Victor. Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire//. New York: Vintage Books, 2010, 16.
  52. ^
    Ibid.
  53. ^
    //
    Ibid.
  54. ^
    Manz, Gunther, Michael Vale. “The Shadow Economy in the GDR.” Eastern European Economies// Vol 29, No. 3 (Spring, 1991): pp. 71.
  55. ^
    Ibid.
  56. ^
    Sebestyen, Victor. Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York: Vintage Books, 2010, 343
  57. ^
    Ibid., 10.
  58. ^
    Ibid., 343.
  59. ^
    //
    Ibid., 343.
  60. ^
    //
    Ibid., 335.
  61. ^
    Ibid., 122.
  62. ^
    Ibid.
  63. ^
    //
    Ibid., 123.
  64. ^
    Ibid., 124
  65. ^
    //
    Ibid.
  66. ^
    Ibid.
  67. ^
    Ross, Corey. The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR. London//: Cambridge University Press, 2002, 16.
  68. ^
    R. Wintrobe (2001). "How to understand, and deal with dictatorship: an economist's view." Economics of Governance Vol. 2, No. 1: pp. 35-58.
  69. ^ Ibid.