Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany

Charles S. Maier
Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Against the backdrop of one of the great transformations of our century, the sudden and unexpected fall of communism as a ruling system, Charles Maier recounts the history and demise of East Germany.Dissolutionis his poignant, analytically provocative account of the decline and fall of the late German Democratic Republic.

    This book explains the powerful causes for the disintegration of German communism as it constructs the complex history of the GDR. Maier looks at the turning points in East Germany's forty-year history and at the mix of coercion and consent by which the regime functioned. He analyzes the GDR as it evolved from the purges of the 1950s to the peace movements and emerging youth culture of the 1980s, and then turns his attention to charges of Stasi collaboration that surfaced after 1989. In the context of describing the larger collapse of communism, Maier analyzes German elements that had counterparts throughout the Soviet bloc, including its systemic and eventually terminal economic crisis, corruption and privilege in the SED, the influence of the Stasi and the plight of intellectuals and writers, and the slow loss of confidence on the part of the ruling elite. He then discusses the mass protests and proliferation of dissident groups in 1989, the collapse of the ruling party, and the troubled aftermath of unification.

    Dissolutionis the first book that spans the communist collapse and the ensuing process of unification, and that draws on newly available archival documents from the last phases of the GDR, including Stasi reports, transcripts of Politburo and Central Committee debates, and papers from the Economic Planning Commission, the Council of Ministers, and the office files of key party officials. This book is further bolstered by Maier's extensive knowledge of European history and the Cold War, his personal observations and conversations with East Germans during the country's dramatic transition, and memoirs and other eyewitness accounts published during the four-decade history of the GDR.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2225-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. One Losing Faith
    (pp. 3-58)

    Hein’s play was written for production in early 1989, as the East German Politbüro buckled down to resist the winds of reform blowing through Eastern Europe. In Hein’s “comedy” of disillusion, Arthur’s aging knights include remaining true believers, exhausted former believers, the defector to “Merveille,” that is the Federal Republic—and, outside their circle, the son and heir for whom the king’s original faith was always irrevelant. Halfway through the play, the knights admit they may never find the grail. Still, Arthur endeavors to explain, it is not the grail but the quest that is essential: “If we give up...

  5. Two The Economic Collapse
    (pp. 59-107)

    “Ali” Neumann was a Politbüro old-timer and hardly one of its leading thinkers, but when the Council of Ministers convened for a session of collective breast-beating a day after Honecker agreed to retire, he put his finger on the economic dilemma of the GDR. Only as Communist rule was disintegrating could party leaders openly address the country’s precarious situation. It was not foreordained that East German socialism had to collapse, but the financial pressures were becoming unrelenting. At the end, they culminated in a debt crisis, the extent of which astonished and demoralized party delegates. The GDR, so Gerhard Schürer,...

  6. Three The Autumn Upheaval
    (pp. 108-167)

    What happened? News of the startling changes in foreign capitals spread with great rapidity; the authorities in Berlin failed to comprehend the challenge, then reluctantly agreed to shuffle ministers; mass demonstrations forced the pace and extent of concessions; authority irreversibly evaporated from a state apparatus earlier renowned for its efficiency and capacity to use force; repeated changes of government were attempted to accommodate the pressure from the streets; the old spokesmen had to apologize for attempting to control earlier demonstrations with police. There was negotiation of a new constitution, countless discussions of national unity, and a season of collective euphoria:...

  7. Four Protagonists of the Transition
    (pp. 168-214)

    “For us it’s clear. Now is the time of the citizens committees.”² New Forum did not want to be a party. In this goal it succeeded. By the time of the elections for a renewed East German legislature in March 1990, New Forum’s electoral organization won approximately 2 percent of the electorate. For some the result was a reproach; for others, consistent with the attitude taken since its organization the previous autumn. Reinhard Schult, the heating and plumbing worker who gave the interview on behalf of the New Forum and had been such an object of Stasi research two years...

  8. Five Unification
    (pp. 215-284)

    IT WAS typical of the German Democratic Republic that it dared not play the lyrics to its own national anthem. As such songs go, Hans Eisler and Johannes Becher’sEinig Deutsches Vaterlandwas not a bad effort: “Reemerging from the ruins, face toward future now we stand, let us serve you for the better, united German Fatherland.” Among the many reforms enacted in his four-month tenure, Hans Modrow did agree to “rehabilitate” the text: “GDR Radio and Television are to be informed that at the end of broadcasting, the national anthem of the GDR will be transmitted with the text...

  9. Six Anschluss and Melancholy
    (pp. 285-329)

    One souvenir of the East that might remain was a piece of the Berlin Wall. Although it did not go up for sale officially until January 21, 1990, local entrepreneurs seized their opportunity and their chisels earlier. They hammered off fragments, added spikes of rusted barbed wire, then mounted each jagged miniature on a stained wood base and peddled them to tourists. West German public agencies embedded votive shards in plexiglass cubes to present to foreign dignitaries. And as early as Christmas 1989, the American shopper could buy a two-ounce chip of the Wall in Boston’s Filene’s Basement for $12.95....

  10. Epilogue Wrapped Reichstag, 1995
    (pp. 330-338)

    DESPITE THE difficulties of unification, it would be wrong to close this history in a minor key. Germans had transformed their history, and for the better. They had demonstrated a rare solidarity and not just on the Leipzig Ring or at the Berlin Wall, but later to protest against crimes of hatred. The German Democratic Republic had dissolved in 1989 once crowds took over the streets. They were not menacing crowds then, save for the regime. They were often frightened, sometimes angry, gradually becoming aware of their own collective power. Almost six years after that mass mobilization, Berlin became the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 339-420)
  12. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 421-426)
  13. Index
    (pp. 427-440)