Why did the German Democratic Republic last

Why did the German Democratic Republic last so long and prostration so fast?

The German Democratic Republic lasted longer than the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich combined. Despite this when the terminal came it did so with such abruptness that many modern-day politicians – and so those within the government itself – were shocked [ 1 ] . This essay will try to explicate the apparently self-contradictory state of affairs in which a government can last for so long, merely to go off and fall apart so rapidly. Alternatively of suggesting an statement that is based on the traditional theories of consent and coercion, this essay shall, pulling upon the work of Andrew Port [ 2 ] and others, argue that the GDR’s stableness and eventual prostration can be explained by the fact that the really factors that accounted for the stableness of the GDR – the usage of dialogue and via media by the government in order to get at societal harmoniousness and consensus – were damaging in the long-run and fatally undermined the government

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The lastingness of the German Democratic Republic seems perplexing. It was an autocratic government which compulsively spied upon its ain citizens [ 3 ] , it was a surveillance province in which its citizens spied upon one another – one-in-seven was an informant [ 4 ] – and the setup of the province, peculiarly the Stasi, was much feared. Populating criterions were good below those enjoyed by consumers in the West and economic adversities had to be often endured [ 5 ] . All of this suggests that any government presiding over such conditions certainly could non hold a long-run being. Yet the GDR did. Since its prostration historiographers have attempted to explicate this paradox. Andrew Port [ 6 ] accuses many of the historical plants on the GDR of being teleological in their mentality, that it to state such plants are written with the benefit of hindsight and with the events of 1989 invariably looming over the shoulder of the writers and therefore overcasting their positions and judgements. Much recent work on the history of the GDR, claims Port [ 7 ] , starts with the preconceived thought that the GDR was necessarily doomed from its construct and that its history is one of “decline by installments” Yet such a reading of events is flawed he argues as it fails to account for the stableness of the GDR, which Port footings “remarkable” ; “From the exterior, it appeared to be one of the most stable provinces in Eastern Europe and its population among the most docile.” [ 8 ] Post-1953 to 1989 there were no mass rebellions against the government despite the being of legion societal, economic, and political grudges that one would anticipate to take to some look of popular protest.

Mary Fulbrook has written that coercion and consent are normally the most common accounts used when accounting for the stableness ( and prostration ) of political systems [ 9 ] . If a government does non hold the consent of those whom it governs, if its people do non believe in its legitimacy so, it is said, coercion is necessary, the province must guarantee obeisance via the usage – or the menace of – force. Numerous accounts for the stableness of the GDR remainder upon what can be called the coercion thesis ; that the province security setup, most notably the Stasi, and Soviet support, peculiarly in footings of military hardware and forces, were the important elements in repressing resistance and guaranting obeisance, therefore procuring the continued endurance of the GDR ; “In the terminal it was armored combat vehicles and nil but armored combat vehicles that held Stalin’s imperium together 36 old ages after his death.” [ 10 ] . The coercion thesis besides claims to explicate the autumn of the GDR ; one time Moscow withdrew its endorsing the menace of repression evaporated and so the people overthrew the government [ 11 ]

Whilst some put the length of service ( and by deduction, the prostration ) of the GDR down to coercion, others believe that consent played a more outstanding function. The myth of the passively obedient German, which has been used to explicate the offenses perpetrated under the Nazi’s, is besides used to explicate the stableness of the GDR. That the public of the GDR did non revolt during 1953-1989 is attributed to what is deemed to be the basically apolitical or inactive nature of the German people, what Kupferberg refers to as “the strong presence of inherited, typically German cultural traits among East Germans, such as a deficiency of individuality, intuition of aliens, and obeisance to authority” [ 12 ] . Another statement which stresses the consent of the governed is one which claims that the Socialist Unity Party managed to get legitimacy by building a narrative which emphasized its antifascism allied with a vision of a hereafter in which inequality and insecurity were banished, a narrative that, purportedly, attracted support from nucleus subdivisions of the population, such as husbandmans and workers [ 13 ] . Furthermore the alleged benefits that socialism brought, in footings of its moderate societal and economic additions, the occupation security, the educational chances, the chances for societal promotion, are said to hold engendered a sense of trueness towards the government [ 14 ] . When these additions began to vanish in the late 1980s the province lost the people’s consent and the GDR imploded. Whilst those who contend that the stableness of the GDR was due to the consent of the governed may emphasize differing ways in which this consent was brought into being – be it the built-in and long-standing national features already present in the German mind, or the success of the Socialist Unity Party in appealing to cardinal subdivisions of East German society – they all concur that important Numberss of East Germans supported, or at least recognized, the government. This support/acceptance was, claims Madarasz, “the gum that held the province together.” [ 15 ] Madarasz besides argues that the GDR survived for over 40 old ages “because of the engagement and active engagement of the bulk of the population.” [ 16 ] This thought of the consent and “active participation” of the East German people, or what Fulbrook refers to as “participatory dictatorship” [ 17 ] has been controversial and as such has non gone uncontested. Mark Allinson has demonstrated that most East Germans “failed to place with their state” and “did non peculiarly back up their political system.” [ 18 ]

Andrew Port’s recent work on the German Democratic Republic seeks to exceed the well-worn coercion/consent paradigm and offer a more nuanced analysis of the stableness so prostration of the GDR. In order to make so he looks at the province at the grass-roots degree. By analyzing resistance and discontent at the micro-level Port provides us with a alone and compelling account for the lastingness and eventual death of the GDR. Port shows that the government attempted to get at the ends of harmoniousness and consensus via the agencies of dialogue and via media [ 19 ] . He emphasizes the matter-of-fact nature of the government at the local degree, demoing how compromising agreements were made in order to avoid confrontation with ordinary Easts Germans:

“This often involved giving into their demands, turning a blind oculus to disobedience and insubordination, or negociating some kind of colony that frequently involved partial grants –all in an sedulous effort to keep harmoniousness at the grass roots” [ 20 ]

The history of the GDR is riddled with paradoxes and Port nowadayss us with another that explains both the long-run stableness and the sudden prostration of the GDR: the really factors that accounted for the stableness of the GDR – the compromising understandings mentioned above – were damaging in the long-run and fatally undermined the government, doing it to go off. For illustration, professing to workers’ demands in order to head off discontent ( and in the short term secure the stableness of the government ) had the longer-term effect of lending to chronic deficits and other such economic adversities therefore doing the discontent that such steps were designed to relieve. With respect to industrial dealingss Kopstein has persuasively argued that the lenience of the government towards the opposition of workers to reforms intend that the alterations needed to deliver the economic system were fatally delayed or non implemented at all, taking to economic diminution that finally saw the prostration of the GDR [ 21 ] . Likewise, the Utopian rhetoric of the Socialist Unity Party may hold stymied discontent to get down with but it was counter-productive one time the citizenship saw the world of their mundane lives. Many historiographers, such as Childs [ 22 ] and Dennis [ 23 ] , point to the economic troubles faced by the government in the 1980s, every bit good as the effects of these troubles, such as the diminution in life criterions, particularly comparative to the consumerist Federal Republic, as cardinal grounds for the autumn of the GDR. Whilst they are mostly right to foreground the importance of economic factors there is small or no acknowledgment of the fact that these jobs sprang, at least in portion, from the via medias that the government made with its ain citizens, as detailed above.

In decision, the German Democratic Republic lasted so long and collapsed so fast for the same ground: the desire of the government to any dampen societal discontent that might endanger its endurance led to a state of affairs in which the province tried to engineer societal harmoniousness and consensus by resort to dialogue, via media and compromising understandings. Worker’s demands were conceded to in order to forestall unrest. This had the short term consequence of supplying stableness and helped to guarantee the continued being of the GDR. Longer term nevertheless, such policies were counter-productive as they fatally undermined the economic system of the GDR, therefore rushing its death. This short term expedience meant stableness today but catastrophe tomorrow and it is this phenomenon, instead than the traditional statements that centre around consent and coercion, that decently explains the long-run stableness so sudden prostration of the GDR.


Allinson, M. ( 2000 )Politicss and Popular Opinion in East Germany, 1945–68.Manchester University Press

Childs, D ( 2001 )The Fall of the GDR. Longman

Dennis, M. ( 2000 )The Rise and Fall of the GDR 1945-1990. Longman

Fulbrook, M. ( 1995 )Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR, 1949–1989.Oxford University Press

Fulbrook, M. ( 2005 )The People ‘s State: East German Society from Hitler to Honecker. Yale University Press

Funder, A. ( 2003 )Stasiland. Granta

Kopstein, J. ( 1997 )The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945–1989. University of North Carolina Press

Kupferberg, F. ( 2002 )The Rise and Fall of the German Democratic Republic.Transaction Publishers

Port, A.I. ( 2008 )Conflict and Stability in the German Democratic Republic. Cambridge University Press

Madarasz, J.Z. ( 2003 )Conflict and Compromise in East Germany, 1971–1989: A Precarious Stability. Palgrave Macmillan

Maier, C.S. ( 1999 )Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East. Princeton University Press, 1999


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