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Work, Workers, and Politics in the German Democratic Republic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Dorothee Wierling
Affiliation:
University of Washington

Abstract

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Type
Labor Under Communist Regimes
Copyright
Copyright © International Labor and Working-Class History, Inc. 1996

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References

NOTES

I am very much indebted to Peter Hübner for his advice and support in the early stages of working on this article, to Inska Benes for her translation, and to the editors, particularly Guy Baldwin and Helmut Gruber, for their input and patience.

1. An English-language introduction to this debate is offered in Fulbrook, Mary, “New Historikerstreit, Missed Opportunities or New Beginning,” German History 12 (1994):203–7.Google Scholar

2. I orient myself closer to Alf Lüdtke's concept of Eigensinn than to GDR research that takes the repressive political system in a more narrow sense as its main starting point. Lüdtke, Alf, Eigen-Sinn. Fabrikalltag, Arbeitererfahrung und Politik vom Kaiserrich bis in den Faschismus (Hamburg, 1993).Google Scholar

3. Herbert, Ulrich, “Arbeiterschaft im ‘Dritten Reich:’ Zwischenbilanz und offene Fragen,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 15 (1989):320–60;Google Scholar Timothy Mason, “The Containment of the Working Class in Nazi Germany,” in idem., Nazism, Fascism and the Working Class (Cambridge, 1995), 231–73; Niethammer, Lutz, ed., “Die Jahre Weiss man nicht, wo man die heute hintun soll:” Faschismuserfahrungen im Ruhrgebiet (Bonn, 1983).Google Scholar See also Lüdke, , Eigen-Sinn, 406ff;Google ScholarRoseman, Marc, “World War II and Social Change in Germany,” in Total War and Social Change. ed. Marwick, Arthur (London, 1988), 5878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4. According to internal GDR opinion polls of youth, the mid-1970s were the high point of a positive identification with the GDR, less for political reasons and more due to economic strength and success in sports. See Friedrich, Walter, “Mentalitätswandlungen in der Jugend der DDR.” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte 1617 (1990): 25–37.Google Scholar

5. I refer to my own earlier attempt to sketch an East German identity after the end of the GDR: Wierling, Dorothee, “Is There an East German Identity? Aspects of a Social History of the Soviet Zone/German Democratic Republic,” Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte (Tel Aviv, 1990), 193207.Google ScholarWriting in 1970, Uwe Johnson looked with a clear and cold perspective on the still-successful GDR. Johnson, , “Versuch eine Mentalität zu erklären.” in Kopfbahnhof Almanach 2: Das falsche Dasein (Leipzig, 1990). 233–44.Google Scholar

6. Hübner, Peter, “Sozialgeschichte der Industriearbeiterschaft in der SBZ/DDR: Bemerkungen zu Forschungstendenzen in Deutschland seit 1989,” Jahrbuch für historische Kommunismusforschung (Berlin, 1993), 284–89. See the pertinent articles in Hartmut Kaeble.Google ScholarKocka, Juergen, and Zwahr, Hartmut, eds., Sozialgeschichte der DDR (Stuttgart, 1995).Google Scholar

7. Proclaimed as the “primary aim” at the 9th SED Party Day in 1976.

8. Zwahr, Hartmut. Ende einer Selbstzerstörung. Leipzig und die Revolution in der DDR (Goettingen, 1993), especially 11ff.Google Scholar

9. Campbell, Joan, Joy in Work—German Work (Princeton, 1989).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10. See Thaa, Winfried, “Die legitimatorische Bedeutung des Arbeitsparadigmas in der DDR,” Politische Vierteljahresschrift 30 (1989):94113.Google Scholar

11. See Garland, John, “The GDR's Strategy for ‘Intensification,’” Studies in Comparative Communism 20 (Spring 1987):37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12. In October 1965, for example, the following educational measures, among others, were recommended in the administrative district around Leipzig for the disciplining of young Beatles fans: “the unions are to combat work shirkers and flagrant violations against work discipline … those who do not pursue proper work are accordingly … to be taken to work camps.” Staatsarchiv Leipzig, Bestand SED-Bezirk. IV A2/16/464.

13. Arendt, Hanna, “A Report from Germany: The Aftermath of Nazi Rule, Commenary 10 (1950):342–52.Google Scholar

14. On the image of women, see especially Dölling, Irene, Der Mensch und sein Weib(Berlin. 1991), ch. 4;Google Scholar and Merkel, Ina, “Leitbilder und Lebensweisen von Frauen in der DDR,” in Sozialgeschichte der DDR, ed. Kaeble, Hartmut, Kocka, Juergen, and Zwahr, Hartmut (Stuttgart, 1995), 359–82. Both authors show that deeply traditional and even sexist representations are hidden in these images of women “who act like men.”Google Scholar

15. For an overview see Zimmermann, Peter, Industrieliteratur der DDR. Vom Helden der Arbeit zum Planer und Leiter (Stuttgart, 1984).Google Scholar

16. On such self-presentation, especially in the early GDR, see Hübner, Peter. “Um Kopf und Kragen: Zur Geschichte der innerbetrieblichen Hierarchien im Konstituierungs prozess der DDR-Gesellschaft,” Mitteilungen aus der kulturwissenschaftlichen Forschung 33 1993):210–32.Google Scholar

17. See the reports from Kindergärten und Kommissionsbericht an den V. Paedogogischen Kongress 1956, Bundesarchiv, Abteilung Potsdam, R-2/3513.

18. Cited in Bühl, Harald et al. , Handbuch für den Kulturfunktionär (Berlin, 1961), 10.Google Scholar

19. Zimmermann, , Industrieliteratur;Google ScholarRuether, Guenther, “Greif zur Feder, Kumpel,” in Schriftsteller, Literatur und Politik in der DDR 1949–1990 (Düsseldorf, 1991).Google Scholar

20. As an example of the attempt to better grasp the social structure of the GDR through western categories, see Schupp, Juergen and Wagner, Gert, “Basisdaten fuer die Beschreibung und Analyse des soziooekonomischen Wandels der DDR,” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 43 (1991):322–33.Google Scholar

21. Broszat, Martin and Weber, Herrnann, eds., SBZ-Handbuch (Munich, 1990), 1070ff.Google Scholar

22. See the detailed statistical analysis of Kabermann, Heinz, “Die Bevölkerung des sowjetischen Besatzungsgebietes. Bestands- und Strukturveränderungen 1950–1957,” in Bonner Berichte aus Mittel- und Ostdeutschland 31 (Bonn/Berlin, 1961).Google Scholar

23. The number of employed women rose between 1949 and 1989 in a curve that leveled off after the 1980s: The number rose from 2,989,000 to 4,178,000—from 40.9 percent to 48.9 percent—of all those employed. Statistisches Jahrbuch der DDR 1990, 17.

24. Between 1961 and 1964 the birth rate reached seventeen for every 1,000 residents, a level not subsequently surpassed. It fell in 1975 to 10.8 and rose following the establishment of welfare measures in the 1980s to over fourteen per 1,000. Ibid., 64.

25. Winkler, Gunnar, Sozialreport DDR 1990: Daten und Fakten zur sozialen Lage in der DDR (Stuttgart. 1990), 107.Google Scholar

26. Statistisches Jahrbuch der DDR 1990, 64.

27. The whole issue of social restructuring is still under-researched, and especially numerically hard to pin down. Hübner, Peter, “Die Zukunft war gestern: Soziale und mentale Trends in der DDR-Industriearbeiterschaft,” in Kaeble, Kocka, and Zwahr, eds., Sozialgeschichte der DDR. 176.Google Scholar

28. These figures are from the census of people, housing, and buildings of Januar 1, 1971. Volks-, Berufs-, Wohnraum- und Gebäudezählung am l. Januar 1971, vol. 5 (Berlin, 1972), 56.

29. Among fully-employed men, the proportion over the age of sixty-five was 8.1 percent in 1969; among working women the proportion over the age of sixty was 10.4 percent. The numbers fell by 1989 to 1.7 percent and 4.9 percent, respectively. Statistisches Jahrbuch der DDR 1990, 131.

30. Hofmann, Michael. “Die Kohlearbeiter von Espenhain: Zur Enttraditionalisierung eines ostdeutschen Arbeitermilieus, in Soziale Milieus in Ostdeutschland, ed. Vester, Michael. Hofmann, Michael. and Zierke, Irene (Cologne, 1995), 91135.Google Scholar On the concept of milieu and on the comparison of East and West German milieus, see Michael Vester, “Milieuwandel und regionaler Strukturwandel in Ostdeutschland.” in ibid., 7–50.

31. Latent generational conflict is suggested, for example, by the different values registered in a 1987 survey of different age groups in the GDR. According to this, those over the age of 50 rated the value of discipline, achievement, and contribution to peace “very important” at 80, 70, and 64 percent, respectively. But these values were held very important by only 41. 37. and 29 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 25. Of these, however, 45 to 53 percent valued high earnings and entertainment to be very important. This held true for only 32 percent of those over 50. Gensicke, Thomas, “Mentalitätsentwicklungen im Osten Deutschlands seit den 70er Jahren. Vorstellung und Erläuterung von Ergebnissen einiger empirischer Untersuchungen in der DDR und in den neuen Bundesländern von 1977–1991,” in Speyerer Forschungsberichte ed. Forschungsinstitut für öffentliche Vewaltung bei der Hochschule für Verwaltungswissenschaft Speyer (Speyer, 1992), 25.Google Scholar

32. How far these egalitarian pretensions went is shown, for instance, in the reactions to the modest living standards of the GDR leadership (in contrast to the West German elite) in the community of elites in Wandlitz near Berlin that was visited by GDR citizens at the end of 1989.

33. Alf Lüdtke gives an example of a turbine plant in 1957 in which a foreman could count on a monthly income of 665 marks, while a turner in the highest income category had an average income of 1,100 marks. Workers who had reached the level of foreman found themselves reverting to worker status. Lüdtke, , “Helden der Arbeit,” in Sozialgeschichte der DDR, ed. Kalble, Hartmut, Kocka, Juergen, and Zwahr, Hartmut (Stuttgart, 1995), 188213.Google Scholar

34. For a critique of the collective workplace contracts, see the political pamphlet published by the West German SPD leadership, Die Kollektivverträge als System der Ausbeutung in der Sowjetzone (Bonn. n.d.).

35. In 1949, 53 percent of all those employed worked in collectively owned or cooperative enterprises; in 1959, 71.7 percent: in 1969. 84.8 percent; and in 1979, 94.5 percent. Statistisches Jahrbuch der DDR 1990. 17.

36. Horst Brezinski only dedicates a few remarks to illegal activities and only values their contribution to the national income at one percent. “The Second Economy in the GDR: Pragmatism Is Gaining Ground,” Studies in Comparative Communism (Spring 1987):85–101.Google Scholar

37. Klenner, Christina, “Arbeit und Leistung von Frauen in der DDR.” in Unterm neuen Kleid der Freiheit—Das Korsett der Einheit, ed. Faber, Christel and Meyer, Traute, (Berlin. 1992), 2331;Google ScholarWierling, Dorothee. “Randbemerkungen über Moral. Ökonomie und Geschlechterverhältnisse im (sub)proletarischen Milieu der DDR: Gespräche mit Elke Körner.” in Arbeiterkulturen. Vorbei das Elend—aus der Traum? ed. Kuntz, Andreas (Düsseldorf. 1993). 5166.Google Scholar

38. Hübner, Peter, Konsens, Konflikt und Kompromiß: Soziale Arbeiterinteressen und Sozialpolitik in der DDR, 1945–1970 (Berlin, 1995). 127;CrossRefGoogle ScholarWinkler, , Sozialreport DDR 1990. 85.Google Scholar

39. Interesting in this context are the results of a study on work dissatisfaction comparing older workers in an outdated and even dangerous plant and young workers in a newly erected plant. It was found that the work satisfaction of those who actually fought more than worked with their completely dilapidated machines was unexpectedly high. Hofmann, Michael, “Das aesthetische Wirkungspotential moderner Produktionsanlagen. Eine soziologische Studie.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Leipzig. 1982.Google Scholar

40. Kohli, Marin. “Die DDR als Arbeitsgesellschaft? Arbeit. Lebenslauf und soziale Differenzierung.” in Sozialgeschichie der DDR, ed. Kaeble, Hartmut, Kocka, Juergen. and Zwahr, Hartmut (Stuttgart, 1995), 3161.Google Scholar

41. Hofmann, Michael, “Die Leipziger Metallarbeiter,” in Soziale Milieus in Ostdeutschland, ed. Vester, Michael, Hofmann, Michael, and Zierke, Irene (Cologne. 1995), 136192.Google Scholar See also Statistisches Jahrbuch der DDR 1990, 60, 378.

42. Belwe, Katharina, “Zu den Hintergründen der Fluktuation in der DDR.” Deutschlandarchiv 1980, 601–611.Google Scholar

43. On the situation in the 1950s see Hübner. “Um Kopf und Kragen.”

44. See the standard work on this by Suckut, Siegfried. Die Betriebsraetebewegung in der Sowjetisch besetzten Zone Deutschlands (1945–48) (Frankfurt. 1982).Google Scholar

45. Roesler, Jorg, “Die Produktionsbrigaden in der Industrie der DDR. Zentrum der Arbeitswelt?,” in Sozialgeschichte der DDR, ed. Kaeble, Hartmut, Kocka, Juergen. and Zwahr, Hartmut (Stuttgart, 1995). 144–70.Google Scholar

47. Hübner, , “Konsens. Konflikt und Kompromiss.” 229ff:Google ScholarRoesler, Jörg, “Gab es sozialistische Formen der Mitbestimmung und Selbstverwirklichung in den Betrieben der DDR?,” Utopie kreativ 3 (1993):122–39.Google Scholar

47. For an example of the functionaries' fear of workers, see my 1987 interview of a plant party secretary: Wierling, Dorothee. “Gewalt und Gesetz,” in Die volkseigene Erfahrung:Eine Archäologie des Lebens in der Industieprovinz der DDR. ed. Niethammer, Lutz. von Plato, Alexander, and Wierling, Dorothee (Berlin. 1991), 584–94.Google Scholar

48. Among the elite white-collar workers we interviewed in 1987, stress-related psychological illnesses were very frequent. For an example of their difficult position in production management see Niethammer's, Lutz portrait of such a socialist manager: “Von der revolutionären Kraft.” in Die volkseigene Erfahrung: Eine Archäologie des Lebens in der Industieprovinz der DDR, ed. Niethammer, Lutz, von Plato, Alexander, and Wierling, Dorothee (Berlin, 1991). 416428.Google Scholar

49. A female worker explained the fact that she did not want to become a SED member, despite pressure to do so. by saying it was an organization for white-collar employees and “the educated.” who “had to stick to this straight path, or wouldn't have amounted to anything. But those in production, they weren't tied socially.” Wierling. “Randbemerkungen über Moral.” 59.

50. For examples of the women's commissions, see Clemens, Petra, “Frauen helfen sich selbst. Die Betriebsfrauenausschüsse der 5Oer Jahre in kulturhistorischer Sicht,” Jahrbuch fuer Volkskunde und Kulturgeschichte (Berlin, 1987), 107–42.Google Scholar

51. Gaus, Günter, Wo Deutschland liegt (Munich, 1983).Google Scholar

52. Conversations with East German refugees in the 1950s suggest that National Socialist and Socialist understandings of community were closely related. This was also the case in the memories of older GDR citizens in 1987. suggesting continuity not only in rejection but in approval of an authoritarian, caring state and in notions of community. On the attitudes of refugees, see Schroeter, Gerhard, Jugendliche Flüchtlinge aus der SBZ (Munich, 1958).Google Scholar

53. Niethammer, Lutz. “Where Were You on the 17th of June? A Niche in Memory,” in Memor and Totalitarianism: International Yearbook of Oral History l, ed. Passerini, Luisa (Oxford. 1992). 4569.Google Scholar

54. Since 1989 the following works on the uprising have appeared, using new sources from the state security archive (SED–Archiv) and local archives: Hagen, Manfred, DDR Juni '53. Die erse Volkserhebung im Stalinismus (Stuttgart, 1992);Google ScholarDiedrich, Thorsten, Der 17. June 1953 in der DDR. Bewaffnete Gewalt gegen das Volk (Berlin, 1991);Google ScholarMitter, Armin, “Die Ereignisse im June und July 1953 in der DDR,” Politik und Zeitgeschichte 5 (1991): 3141;Google ScholarRoth, Heidi, “Der 17. June. 1953 im damaligen Bezirk Leipzig.” Deutschland-Archiv 24 (1991). 573585.Google Scholar

55. See Wierling, , “Rand-Bemerkungen zu Moral,” 60, and Hubner. ‘Konsens, Konflikt und KompromiB.” 239ff.Google Scholar

56. For descriptions of the conflicts, see ibid., 187ff. On the attitude of the “unpolitical whiners” in GDR society, see Fulbrook, Mary. Anatomy of a Dictatorship: Inside the GDR, 1949–1989 (New York, 1995). 129ff.Google Scholar

57. Dölling, Irene. “Social and Cultural Changes in the Lives of GDR Women: Changes in Their Self-Conception,” Studies in GDR Culture and Society 6 (1986):8192.Google Scholar

58. This was also openly expressed in the GDR shortly before its demise. See Dietrich, Isolde. “Pladoyer für die Verantwortung: Technologie und Humanismus heute,” Weimarer Beitrage 6 (1989):10001002.Google Scholar

59. See Zwahr, , Ende einer Selbstzerstörung, 148ff. Disagreements among the demonstrators came up primarily between students and workers, in which the former supported a reformed GDR and the latter a quick reunification. In a November 1989 survey, fifty-four percent of the foremen and thirty-nine percent of skilled workers, but only four percent of students, wholeheartedly supported reunification.Google Scholar