The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945-1989

The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945-1989

The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945-1989

The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945-1989

Synopsis

Jeffrey Kopstein offers the first comprehensive study of East German economic policy over the course of the state's forty-year history. Analyzing both the making of economic policy at the national level and the implementation of specific policies on the shop floor, he provides new and essential background to the revolution of 1989. In particular, he shows how decisions made at critical junctures in East Germany's history led to a pattern of economic decline and worker dissatisfaction that contributed to eventual political collapse. East Germany was generally considered to have the most successful economy in the Eastern Bloc, but Kopstein explores what prevented the country's leaders from responding effectively to pressing economic problems. He depicts a regime caught between the demands of a disaffected working class, an intractable bureaucracy, an intolerant but surprisingly weak Soviet patron state, and a harsh international economic climate. Rather than pushing for genuine economic change, theEast German Communist Party retreated into what Kopstein calls a "campaign economy" in which an endless series of production campaigns was used to squeeze greater output from an inherently inefficient economic system. Drawing extensively on sources in recently opened East German archives, as well as on his interviews of key players, Kopstein argues that East Germany's leaders faced an impossible task in trying to adapt the Soviet system to their own country's needs. While the East German economy did outperform those of many of its Communist neighbors, it continued to lag behind that of West Germany - a critical failing in the eyes of East German workers, who had been given virtual veto powerover wages, prices, and piece rates in order to secure their political support. Under these circumstances, concludes Kopstein, the lure of prosperity ultimately played a key role in the revolt of the East German people.

Excerpt

One of the main tasks of this study is to reexamine the use of technocratic imagery by students of Leninist politics. the previous chapters examined the search for technocratic solutions to industrial relations, economic structure, and foreign trade. All proved elusive. However, my characterization of the policies themselves as technocratic may have been misleading. Technocracy is as much a question of who rules as how rule is carried out. As we have seen, Erich Honecker and his allies were at least as concerned with the effect reformist policies would have on the structure of power--on who would rule--as they were with the disequilibrium generated by Ulbricht's economic experiments.

This chapter focuses on the changing personnel policy at the middle levels of power from Ulbricht to Honecker. in doing so, it places important parts of the East German power elite into sociological perspective. What kind of people ran the industrial provinces in the GDR? How were they chosen? How did their background and training prepare them for the economic challenges they faced? What kinds of ideas did these people bring to their work and what kind of cultural milieu did they operate in? Contrary to what conventional sociological wisdom would lead us to expect, in important ways the structure of authority in East Germany actually became more ideological and less technocratic over time.

This latter point deserves further explanation. the word "technocracy" broken down into its parts means literally the rule of those who know and understand technique or technol-

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