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After the 'Socialist Spring'

After the 'Socialist Spring': Collectivisation and Economic Transformation in the GDR

George Last
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    After the 'Socialist Spring'
    Book Description:

    Historical analysis of the German Democratic Republic has tended to adopt a top-down model of the transmission of authority. However, developments were more complicated than the standard state/society dichotomy that has dominated the debate among GDR historians. Drawing on a broad range of archival material from state and SED party sources as well as Stasi files and individual farm records along with some oral history interviews, this book provides a thorough investigation of the transformation of the rural sector from a range of perspectives. Focusing on the region of Bezirk Erfurt, the author examines on the one hand how East Germans responded to the end of private farming by resisting, manipulating but also participating in the new system of rural organization. However, he also shows how the regime sought via its representatives to implement its aims with a combination of compromise and material incentive as well as administrative pressure and other more draconian measures. The reader thus gains valuable insight into the processes by which the SED regime attained stability in the 1970s and yet was increasingly vulnerable to growing popular dissatisfaction and economic stagnation and decline in the 1980s, leading to its eventual collapse.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-901-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Map of Settlement Pattern in Bezirk Erfurt
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  2. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxxviii)

    It is commonly recognised that the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was a dictatorship. Under the auspices of the Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlandsor SED), whose dominant position in government was never legitimated by free democratic elections, judicial, executive and legislative powers were also never rigorously separated, compromising the rule of law and allowing the infringement of basic human and civil rights in the name of the party’s ideological goals.¹ The nature of the SED dictatorship, as it changed over the forty years of the GDR’s existence, remains nonetheless a matter of considerable debate among historians seeking to explain...

  3. Part I Consolidation and Control:: Collectivisation and Its Malcontents

    • 1 Steps towards Full Collectivisation of Agriculture
      (pp. 3-26)

      There is no doubt that despite claiming the title of ‘the workers’ and peasants’ state’ in 1949, it was the former not the latter who were central to the identity of the GDR as both carriers of the revolution and models of the socialist personality. The extent and depth to which the SED had penetrated rural society was correspondingly limited. The advancement of collective farming during the 1950s was in large part the beginnings of an attempt to remedy this glaring deficiency. The completion of the collectivisation campaign in 1960, while being an administrative success, revealed, however, just how deficient...

    • 2 The Aftermath of Collectivisation
      (pp. 27-53)

      The massive deployment of agitation brigades in the countryside and a number of tactics ranging from genuine persuasion through to public humiliation, intimidation and incarceration succeeded in moving the vast majority of farmers in the GDR to sign up to a collective farm. Beyond the paperwork, however, the situation was by no means so clear-cut. It was one thing for farmers to be brought to sign up to participation in a collective farm, it was quite another for these farms to get up and running in practice. The farmer quoted above was by no means alone in his sentiments and...

    • 3 Farming behind the Wall
      (pp. 54-73)

      On 13 August 1961 the obstacles to an illegal departure from the GDR to West Germany were suddenly made considerably more severe. Along with the Wall running through Berlin, measures were taken to strengthen security along the entire border with West Germany, a considerable part of which ran along the northern and western edges of Bezirk Erfurt. Although attempts continued to be made to get across the border by citizens of the GDR – with some limited success in the first weeks after the Wall’s construction – the steady flow of people to the West was brought to an abrupt halt. This...

  4. Part II Communicating Reform:: The Limits of Economic Transformation

    • 4 Steps towards Reform
      (pp. 77-100)

      During the 1960s, the impact of the hasty completion of the collectivisation campaign on the consistency with which SED agricultural policies were communicated to the LPGs and implemented on the ground continued to be felt. In 1960, the agricultural workforce in Bezirk Erfurt, as in the rest of the GDR, was marked by a lack of technical qualifications and only very low levels of participation in political parties or indeed mass organisations. From the late 1950s, in conjunction with the collectivisation campaign, the pace of recruitment of farmers by the SED as well as the bloc parties had increased.² At...

    • 5 Resistance, Compromise and ‘Cooperation’
      (pp. 101-130)

      By the mid-1960s, the LPGs were no longer a new or controversial phenomenon. The context in which farming took place in the GDR continued nevertheless to shift, as the SED leadership continued to pursue a radical transformation of the conditions of agricultural production. Levels of recruitment to the SED and levels of more and less advanced degrees of qualification among farmers continued to increase, as the size of the agricultural workforce declined. The economic pressures on members of Type I LPGs to establish collective livestock holdings or agree to merge with Type III LPGs ensured the extent of private farming...

    • 6 Critical Transitions
      (pp. 131-152)

      Much had been achieved during the 1960s in transforming agriculture in the GDR and changing the context in which agricultural policy was implemented. More LPG chairmen were technically trained and politically loyal. SED party secretaries and SED party organisations were becoming increasingly influential. An ever-increasing proportion of LPG members were achieving qualifications in socialist agricultural methods, learning specialist trades and, at more advanced levels, learning the techniques of socialist agricultural management and economics. Moreover, with the continuing absorption of Type I LPGs into Type III LPGs and the development of collective livestock herds, greater centralisation of farm management increased the...

  5. Part III Stable Instability:: Economic Stagnation and the End of Transformation

    • 7 From Ulbricht to Honecker
      (pp. 155-177)

      The explicit transfer of power at the top of the SED hierarchy from Walter Ulbricht to Erich Honecker in 1971 sealed a shift in the approach of the SED leadership towards the management of the economy. Austerity and economic reform in the pursuit of utopian goals of social and economic transformation were, broadly speaking, abandoned in order to overcome a deficit of popular support for the SED regime. In its stead a form of consumer socialism was established which sought to satisfy the material needs of the population, though with little consideration for the longer-term costs to the state’s economic...

    • 8 Stabilisation and Stagnation
      (pp. 178-203)

      After a long period of social, political and economic transformation in the countryside, marked not least by conflict and compromise with collective farmers, the SED leadership could now exert its authority in a changed context. By the mid-1970s, SED policy was being implemented and the rural economy assessed and coordinated on new terms, providing a more stable foundation for further socialist modernisation in agriculture. Collective farmers and the state administration of agriculture in the districts were no longer so antagonised by conflict and uncertainty over the fundamental direction of agricultural development. Consequently, without the overt hostility to transformation among collective...

    • 9 Economic Crisis and Popular Dissatisfaction – the Road to 1989
      (pp. 204-223)

      The 1980s began with a more self-critical attitude in the SED hierarchy concerning the previous course of agricultural policy. The death of Gerhard Grüneberg, who had played such a dominant role in shaping the direction of SED agricultural policy over the last twenty years, allowed some room for manoeuvre. The arrival of his replacement in the SED leadership, Werner Felfe, along with the new course set during the X SED Party Congress, promised some retreat from the worst excesses of the gigantism and overspecialisation of the previous five or so years. Importantly, too, new efforts to ensure that crop and...

  6. Conclusion: The Practice and Problems of Agricultural Transformation in the GDR
    (pp. 224-229)

    After the ‘Socialist Spring’ of 1960 the conditions of agricultural production and, with them, the whole nature of rural society in the GDR began to undergo a new stage of radical transformation. This book has sought to clarify the terms on which this transformation took place, highlighting the complexity of authority as social practice in the rural and agricultural context.

    By offering farmers and agricultural workers various forms of economic incentive to join or form an LPG and by gradually restricting the profits of independent farmers, the SED leadership had had only limited success during the 1950s in changing the...