East Germany Essay

This essay has a total of 1913 words and 8 pages.

East Germany

Why was there working class protest in East Germany in June 1953

The troubles in East Germany in June 1953 reached a peak on June 17th, when there were
mass demonstrations and a General Strike throughout the German Democratic Republic.
(G.D.R.). There has been many reasons cited for these protests, but it is perhaps possible
to bring them down into two categories. Firstly, the long-term causes. These include the
raising of work quotas, and the subsequent reduction of worker income. As well as this was
the program of collective farms in the countryside. Going further back than this, it is
possible to cite the imposition of Stalinism as a long-term cause. As well as this there
is the economic and social change in East Germany at the time.

For the short term however, it would be useful to discuss the winter of 1952/53, during
which there was a substantial economic crisis in East Germany. Perhaps added to this is
the political crisis in East Germany at the time, which can be seen as a major cause of
the working class unrest.

After all of these factors are discussed, a conclusion will be reached as to the reasons for the working class protest.
In his book, “The Two Germanies since 1945”, Turner begins to describe the
reasons for the unrest of June 1953 by looking at the role of the Sozialistische
Einheitspartei Deuchtschland (SED) After the second party conference in July 1952. He says
that the pressing for “austerity in the operation of government-owned plants and for
establishment of work quotas…” led to a raising of quotas for the contracts
in 1953, which ultimately led to a reduction of the workers incomes. He also makes mention
of the showtrials which were introduced to cover for these large quotas not being reached.
In typical Stalinist fashion, the SED blamed the failure to meet targets due to sabotage
from the supervisors.

As well as the problems in the industrial sector, there were also long-term problems in
agriculture as well. Government officials were putting private farmers under sever
pressure in order to force them to form the collective farms. Whilst they achieved limited
success, the problems came when the regimes harsh measures began to force people to leave
the country. By the end of 1952, nearly 15,000 farmers and their families had left the
country, which left around 13% of the countries arable land unattended. Because of this a
food shortage problem soon developed.

Another long-term cause is the imposition of Stalinism. The policies and framework of the
soviet Model was imposed rapidly on East Germany, mainly because of the Soviet Union was
uncertain of the future of East Germany as a Soviet state. They believed that it may just
become a neutral area between themselves and the West, or they believed it would become a
separate entity in it’s own right. By 1949, the Stalinist policies had taken over in
East Germany. However, the speedy imposition caused problems. As well as the exodus of the
farmers due to the imposition of collectivisation, many independent businesses began to
leave the country for the West, as were many leading intellectuals, who could not live
with the ideological monopoly the SED tried to impose on East Germany. This drop in
population lead to many problems for the GDR. Added to these problems was the need to
create an economy for a country that had for a long time been part of a larger, more
complete country. By this, it is meant that the GDR did not have the industry needed to
sustain the type of economy that it wanted. In order to remedy this, there was a policy of
producing goods solely for use for basic industries. More produce for the industry’s
meant less produced for the consumers of East Germany. Ulbricht, the SED General
Secretary, was the leader of East Germany at this time. He was not in an authoritative
office in the GDR, but as with all Stalinist models, the Party took preference over the
State. He initiated the program of Socialist reconstruction in East Germany in the early
1940’s and it was accelerated after 1952. In 1950, 51% of the population was brought
under socialist control, and in 1951, the first five-year plan was introduced. It was
predicted that there would be a 90% increase in the industrial output. In order to achieve
this, it was believed that there would need to be a 72% increase in labour productivity.
This was highly ambitious on the part of the planners, and in hindsight is impossible to
achieve in such short space a time.

As well as this economic reform, there was a lot of social reform in a short space of
time. In 1949, the GDR effectively became a one party state. The four parties in East
Germany that the Soviet Union approved of were merged into one, and the
“elections” held were merely false shows of affirmation for the SED. In this
period the SED began to purge it’s party of any disloyal members, and a Stalinist
control of the Party was assumed by Ulbricht.

Another long-term problem, which led to the working class revolts of 1953, is the changing
roles of the Trade Unions in East Germany. East Germany had a strong tradition of Trade
Unions, but at the end of the war, their role began changing. They still retained their
socialist members, but they became much more controlled by the Communist party. In 1948
they changed again. Now they were no longer concerned with just protecting the workers
interests. They became more like the TU’s in the USSR, with much more broader
functions. They became in effect an extension of the Communist Party, aiding state
objectives of fulfilling the socialist construction. The large scale industrial
manufacturing was supported by the Trade Unions, who would help to create and support it,
as they would later benefit from the increased workforce which would be brought in to work
in the industrial sector. The problems arose around the poor resources that East Germany
had. As well as this, the socialist construction program also assumed that the working
classes would be behind the programme. This brought up the problem of the legitimacy of
the SED in East Germany. If the working classes were resisting their changes, then how
could they legitimise themselves to the East German public at large? There came an added
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