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Why did so many Germans leave the GDR?

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Post 16 Feb 2011, 02:02
Up until the construction of the Berlin Wall, around three million East Germans left for West Germany, and I'm just wondering why was this?
Last edited by Szabo on 16 Feb 2011, 02:26, edited 1 time in total.
Post 16 Feb 2011, 02:17
I'm sure a generation's worth of nazi propaganda against 'judeo-bolshevism', championing of germany as the defender of europe from the 'asiatic' communists, and slander of slavs contributed it to it. German workers had been taught they had more in common with the traditionalist west then the radical revolutionary east.
Post 16 Feb 2011, 02:49
More/better commodity supply in the West.
Post 18 Feb 2011, 11:49
Mabool wrote:
More/better commodity supply in the West.

This. The Intershops also contributed to that problem because DDR citizens had a view at the selection of goods offered and compared it to the goods shown in regular shops.
Post 18 Feb 2011, 20:46
People with a problem with their past left the DDR,people who wanted more than everyone else,but,i must say,around 87-90 things were not so good.And if i may say,many of the people had some kind of a connection with the west (families,hometown,alot of things),thus making life harder.
Post 18 Feb 2011, 22:12
East Germany was a dud as a socialist state since its inception and did a terrible job at earning proletarian support.


Stalin’s Meeting With the Politburo of the SED

German communists of the former KPD, returned to Germany as the Soviet troops battled in. Under Soviet advice, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the KPD merged to form one party – the German Socialist Unity Party (SED), in April 1946. Stalin had several meetings with its’ leaders. By 1951‑52, thousands of inhabitants of the GDR were leaving across the open inner‑German borderlines in Berlin. The East Berlin government turned the freely passable East‑West German border into a guarded border in May 1952. During 1952, more than 232,000 GDR residents went West.

Stalin clearly disapproved of the policies of the GDR leaders. He warned them that they were undergoing a rapid rate of collectivization, and alienating all the layers of society from peasants, to workers to intellectuals. He also advised them that it was incorrect not to continue to work for a unified German state. Finally, he specifically advised that the GDR was not to be considered a socialist state. He used the formulation “beginning of socialism”.

“Comrade Stalin says that you should say to your workers:
"We have just entered socialism. This is not full socialism yet, because you have many private capitalists. However, this is the beginning of socialism, a little piece of socialism, and a road to socialism. You should show that you are closer to the workers than Adenauer's government“.

Stalin fought for differentials to reflect that there was a ‘lot of private capitalism’:

“Comrade Stalin …Last time it was found that in the GDR, the ratio of workers' salary to the salary of engineering and technical personnel was 1: 1.7. That is absolutely incorrect. It will doom your entire industry. . . The engineer is engaged in intellectual work. He must have an apartment, decent furniture; he should not be chasing a piece of bread. He should enjoy a standard of living appropriate for a person who is engaged in intellectual work. “Ibid.

Stalin insisted on voluntary collectivization:

“Comrade Stalin …The kulaks should be encircled, and you should create collective farms around them. In our country, organization of collective farms was going on simultaneously with expropriation of the kulaks. You will not need to do it this way. Let your kulaks sit tight, leave them alone. In addition to the kulaks, you have poor peasants in your villages that live right next to the kulaks. They should be pulled into production cooperatives. … You will see for yourself that peasants will visit those collective farms and watch how life will unfold in a new way. I noticed, said Comrade Stalin, that you do not value peasants in your policy…… Do not force anybody to join; if they want to, good. If they do not, do not force them.” Ibid.

Stalin staunchly advocated German unity:

“You should continue propaganda for German unity in the future. It has a great importance for the education of the people in Western Germany. Now it is a weapon in your hands, and you should always hold it in your hands. We should also continue to make proposals regarding German unity in order to expose the Americans.” Ibid.

These stipulations are pretty concrete and clear. Yet within 3 months of Stalin’s death, Ulbricht turned ultra-left-wards, as noted by US Diplomat N. Spencer Barnes to the State Department on 30 April 1953 (Uprising in East Germany 1953; Compiled by C.Ostermann; Budapest; 2001; p.75).
And criminally so.

Ulbricht launched what has been called the “socialization“ of East Germany. In the way this was carried out, it resulted in the total alienation of all sectors of the population- including the working class and peasantry. There was a clear reversal away from Stalin’s advice, in the polices being adopted in the GDR under the SED:

“In a 2 May 1953 memorandum, Semyonov, …within the Soviet establishment, advised Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov that because "The Socialist Unity Party of Germany and the democratic forces in the GDR have already strengthened and matured enough to manage independently the leadership of the country," the maintenance of overt political control by the Soviets could be sharply reduced. . . . Thus, in Semyonov's opinion, there was no need to do anything but "to create more favorable conditions for socialist construction in the GDR.";
Working Paper #11: The United States, the East German Uprising of 1953, and the Limits of Rollback, by Christian Ostermann ... ent&id=441

Ulbricht ensured that a Central Committee resolution on higher quotas for workers was passed, instructing that:

“All necessary steps to remedy the abuse in the sphere of work quotas … and to raise those of importance… by an average of at least 10% by June 1, 1953”;
A. Baring Uprising in East Germany June 17 1953; Cornell 1972; p.21-22

This overall leftist strategy was resisted by Beria. The ground was laid for a revolt, which would play into the hands of the imperialists. Since the death of Stalin, Khrushchev was determined to move the state of the USSR into a position subordinate to USA imperialism. Ulbricht’s policies played into this overall strategy.

The “Beria Plan” to reverse Ulbricht’s Ultra-leftist Policies

Beria tried to reassert Marxist-Leninist control after the death of Stalin. He was aware of the dangerous situation in Germany. On May 27 1953, the Presidium of the Soviet Council of Ministers met to discuss the situation in East Germany. The Council of Ministers, warned of an imminent crisis, and blamed the incorrect polices of the SED. The document is known as the “Beria Document”. It was dated prior to the June 11 rising. [See Council of Ministers of the USSR Order; “On Measures to Improve the Health of the Political Situation in the GDR”; 2 June 1953. No. 7576-rs; Moscow, signed by Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR G. Malenkov. Hereafter: USSR Order 7576-rs. ... t&id=26760

The “Beria Document”, as Ulbricht and the SED called it, was a retreat from ultra-leftist “socialization”, and was forced upon the SED. However, it did not go as far as Beria had wanted. Mainly this was in regards to Beria’s fight to unify Germany:

“Divisions in the Presidium prevented the leaders from making a decision … Molotov reports that Beria tried once more to get him to accept reunification, but when this failed withdrew the proposal…. “Malenkov favored reunification as a neutral country because he considered the division of Germany artificial and contrary to the historical development of that country. . .. Molotov, by contrast, focused on the traitorous character of Beria's proposal ….” Richter, Ibid.

Albeit that USSR Order 7576-rs was not, in its final form, exactly as Beria had hoped, the document was scathing about the SED policies. It bluntly stated that the situation had been created by the serious alienation of the German workers, peasants and intelligentsia, by the “incorrect political line”. This had resulted in a “very unsatisfactory political and economic situation”:

“As a result of the incorrect political line. . . There is serious dissatisfaction with the political and economic measures carried out by the GDR among the broad mass of the population, including the workers, peasants, and the intelligentsia. This finds its clearest expression in the mass flight of the residents of the GDR to West Germany. ..over the course of four months in 1953 alone over 120,000. Many refugees are workers. .. It is remarkable that among those who have fled to West Germany in the course of [the first] four months of 1953, there are 2,718 members and candidates of the SED and 2,610 members of the Free German Youth League. “USSR Order 7576-rs.

It was emphasized that the SED was following ultra-leftist decisions following the Second Conference. The polices flagged as incorrect, included a forcing of the pace of industrialization,
Continued on page six.

and the forced collectivization, as well as simple abuses of restriction of ration cards to “person in the free professions”:

“The social-economic measures which have been carried out ... include: the forcible development of heavy industry, which also lacked raw materials; the sharp restriction of private initiative, which harmed the interests of a broad circle of small proprietors both in the city and in the country; and the revocation of food ration cards from all private entrepreneurs and persons in the free professions. In particular, the hasty creation of agricultural cooperatives in the absence of the foundations [necessary] for them in the countryside led to: serious difficulties in the area of supplying the population with manufactured goods and foodstuffs; a sharp fall in the mark’s exchange rate; the ruin of a large number of small entrepreneurs-artisans, workers in domestic industries, and others. It also set a significant stratum of the populace against the existing authorities. The matter has gone so far that at present more than 500,000 hectares of land have been abandoned and neglected, and the thrifty German peasants, usually strongly tied to their plots, have begun to abandon their land and move to West Germany en masse.”
USSR Order 7576-rs.

In addition, serious errors were made in ideological work, especially in regards to the clergy and to the intelligentsia:

“Serious errors have been committed with regard to the clergy, evident in the underestimation of the influence of the church amongst the broad masses of the population and in their crude administrative methods and repression. The underestimation of political work amongst the intelligentsia should also be admitted as a serious mistake...”
USSR Order 7576-rs.

The Order bluntly insists that the SED must acknowledge error, and prescribes remedies:

“All of this creates a serious threat to the political stability of the German Democratic Republic. In order to correct the situation that has been created, it is necessary:
To recognize the course of forced construction of socialism in the GDR, which was decided upon by the SED. as mistaken under current conditions.“
USSR Order 7576-rs.

Largely, the proposed remedies fell into two main categories – either they reversed the ultra-left attacks on the peasantry; or they condemned repressive measures aimed at either the clergy or intelligentsia:“

2. .. to halt the artificial establishment of agricultural production cooperatives, which have proven not to be justified on a practical basis and which have caused discontent among the peasantry; To check carefully all existing agricultural production cooperatives and to dissolve both those which were created on an involuntary basis as well as those which show themselves to be non-viable. . . c) to renounce the policy of limiting and squeezing middle and small private capitalas a premature measure. . . . . To restore food ration cards to private entrepreneurs and. . persons of the free professions.
d) to re-examine the five-year plan for the development of the national economy ofthe GDR with a view to curtailing the extraordinarily intense pace of development of heavy industry and sharply increasing the production of mass consumption goods, as well as fully guaranteeing food for the population in order to liquidate the ration card system of providing foodstuffs in the near future;
f) to take measures to strengthen legality and guarantee the rights of democratic citizens; to abstain from the use of severe punitive measures which are not strictly necessary. To re-examine the files of repressed citizens with the intent of freeing persons who were put on trial on insufficient grounds. To introduce, from this point of view, the appropriate changes in the existing criminal code;
g) . . . To assign special attention to political work among the intelligentsia in order to secure a turnabout by the core mass of the intelligentsia in the direction of active participation in the implementation of measures to strengthen the existing order. At the present and in the near future it is necessary to put the tasks of the political struggle to reestablish the national unity of Germany and to conclude a peace treaty at the center of attention of the broad mass of the German people both in the GDR and in West Germany. At the same time, it is crucial to correct and strengthen the political and economic situation in the GDR and to strengthen significantly the influence of the SED in the broad masses of workers and in other democratic strata of the city and the country. To consider the propaganda carried out lately about the necessity of the GDR’s transition to socialism, which is pushing the party organizations of the SED to unacceptably simplified and hasty steps both in the political and in the economic arenas, to be incorrect. …
h) To put a decisive end to [the use of] naked administrative methods in relation to the clergy…To end the oppression of rank-and-file participants in the religious youth organization “Junge Gemeinde,” moving the emphasis of gravity to political work among them..”
USSR Order 7576-rs. . .

Finally, there remained lip-service towards German unification:

6. Taking into account the fact that at present the main task is the struggle for the unification of Germany on a democratic and peace-loving basis, the SED and KPD, as the standard-bearers of the struggle for the aspirations and interests of the entire German nation, should ensure the use of flexible tactics directed at the maximum division of their opponents’ forces and the use of any opposition tendencies against Adenauer’s venal clique. For this reason, inasmuch as the Social Democratic Party [SPD] of West Germany, which a significant mass of workers continues to follow, speaks out, albeit with insufficient consistency, against the Bonn agreements, a wholly adversarial position in relation to this party should be rejected in the present period. Instead, it should be attempted, where possible, to organize joint statements against Adenauer’s policy of the division and imperialist enslavement of Germany. “
USSR Order 7576-rs.

The Rising

Although the Ulbricht leadership of the SED resisted, it had to make some retreat. However, it refused to make any retreat on the 10% work increase in norms for the working class. In fact, they were confirmed on June 13. Yet it did make massive improvements in the conditions of the intelligentsia and middle classes – that of itself icreated suspicions. It was called the “New Course” .

“To make matters worse, the only segment of the population which seemed to have been excluded from the concessions of the "New Course" were the workers: the arbitrarily-imposed higher work norms remained in force.“
[Study of the Instigation, Outbreak and Crushing of the Fascist Adventure of 16-22 June 1953], 20 July 1953, Ostermann, Paper 11; Ibid.

Continued on seven.

Signs were evident from even the 2 June of worker unrest (Report of Sokolovskii, Semyonov & Yudin: In “Uprising in East Germany 1953”; Ostermann ibid; p.258].

The confused sudden retreat, yet with no amelioration of the workers work norms soon triggered worse. On 16 June 1953, hundreds of East Berlin construction workers staged a demonstration, calling for a general strike the next day. Only now did the SED retreat question of work norms. Too late. On 17 June 1953, huge riots (up to 300,000 strong) and protests broke out. Soviet military force was required, to suppress them.

American aims at undermining German unity were enhanced. The Americans carefully refrained from military steps. The provocative Ulbricht strategy, both anti-working class and peasantry – ensured the failure of any attempts at a united German state for the foreseeable period.

“The Eisenhower Administration came to devise a psychological warfare strategy which effectively capitalized on the instability in the GDR. … while undermining any potential Soviet initiative for German unity as well as the new leadership's "peace offensive," …, the American response to the East German uprising could best be characterized as a superb exercise in "double-containment." . . . It undermined Soviet exploitation of German nationalism by squarely keeping Moscow and East Berlin on the defensive while, at the same time, containing German nationalism by boosting the election success of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his policy of "Westintegration."” ... ent&id=441

In the process some 40 were killed (Report of Sokolovskii, Semyonov & Yudin: In Uprising in East Germany 1953; Ed Ostermann ibid; p.284]. ... a1953.html
Post 05 Jun 2012, 16:18
We need to be fair here, the honest truth is that leaders in East Germany lived a much better lifestyle, had more material goods at their disposal and enjoyed more freedoms than the rest of the population. Margot Honecker regularly vacationed in Paris, while ordinary East Germans were prevented from travel to the West, except for West Berlin and even that after the construction of the Wall.

Party members and those with hard currency had access to special shops that offered high quality goods from the West, the rest of the population walked around with their "just in case" string bags hoping for a rare find like a banana or real chocolate.

The problem with the above in a Socialist / Communist state is that it is a glaring hypocrisy to the fundamental basis of the society.
Post 05 Jun 2012, 20:05
The gulf between the rulers and the commoners is much, much higher in capitalist society however. A Saudi princess recently rented 41 rooms all for herself in a luxury hotel and got away without paying a debt of 17 million Euro while homeless people are jailed for years for stealing from a grocery store. The Swazi king is one of the world's richest people while population under his rule goes barefoot and dies at the average age of 31.88 years from AIDS. About chocolate and bananas, you could buy them easily if you knew where to buy them. People had money to buy chocolate or bananas, you just had to find a shop that had some. It was a supply problem, not a poverty problem. And I don't know about the GDR, but at least in Czechoslovakia, I think chocolate (real chocolate) was one of the few non-fruit non-milk desserts that was not in shortage. I know at least that cocoa powder was higher quality than today, and I think much more available than coffee, which was kind of rare. Bananas only on May Day or Christmas, unless you lived in Bratislava or Prague or were willing to exchange some of your wage for hard currency coupons.

About "party members", only a few had higher living standards than the rest of the population. Every fifth person was in the party, so either the "ruling ellite" was generously big or you know, being in the party does not mean you are in the top echelons.

About hard currency, every person could have it if he exchanged some of his money in the black market. The guys who did the exchanging were called veksláci in Czechoslovakia and usually were either clever young guys, or old ladies who recieved their pension in hard currency because they once lived and worked in the UK or other Western state. It was basically tolerated by the state.
Post 06 Sep 2012, 22:02
The same reason they leave Mexico. I've always thought that if Ulbricht had played his cards right, he could have forced the West to build the wall. But Mexico can afford to lose excess workers; the GDR had no "unnecessary excess" of population. The deficit could have been made up with "guest workers" as in the West (from the socialist community, of course.) But again, Ulbricht's and the SED's nationalism got in the way. For the first 15 years or so of the GDR's existence it portrayed itself as the "state of the German working class," west *and* east, in the increasingly-utopian hope of a reunified socialist nation. To resolve the mass "desertion" would have required more imagination and craftiness (and independence, perhaps) than the SED's rulers possessed.
Post 31 Jan 2013, 02:16
All was fair in the game of espionage. They were East German and Russian moles ran by Markus Wolfe. But they were easily indentified by West German intelligence. How? Haircuts!
(No kidding)
Post 10 Aug 2013, 09:09
bundtrock wrote:
We need to be fair here, the honest truth is that leaders in East Germany lived a much better lifestyle, had more material goods at their disposal and enjoyed more freedoms than the rest of the population. Margot Honecker regularly vacationed in Paris, while ordinary East Germans were prevented from travel to the West, except for West Berlin and even that after the construction of the Wall.

Party members and those with hard currency had access to special shops that offered high quality goods from the West, the rest of the population walked around with their "just in case" string bags hoping for a rare find like a banana or real chocolate.

The problem with the above in a Socialist / Communist state is that it is a glaring hypocrisy to the fundamental basis of the society.

This is true, however it was only relative luxury. By international standards, the houses where the leadership lived were positively austere.

Some consumer goods were difficult to obtain. Coffee, for instance, had to be purchased at the international market, rather than at advantageous prices from other Comecon countries. They tried to cut the costs of this by introducing a mix of real coffee and ersatz material. But of course you should never stand between a man and his coffee, and the reaction was such that real coffee was reintroduced soon after.

Of course this was a bad situation compared to the luxury and freedom of choice most of us get today. However it should not be forgotten that the DDR was in a difficult situation and that it could not grow wealthy from exploiting the third world.
Post 07 Mar 2014, 02:23
The average waiting time for an East German refugee who finished engineering in Berlin to land a job is 2-3 years. Much more for those who finished social sciences or non-engineering courses. Job security is shaky especially if you are suspected East German mole. If I were pragmatic, I would stay in East Germany and worm my way to high positions in the Communist Party. Jobless rate today in Germany is 8%. 60 million multiplied by .08 is 4 million, 800 thousand jobless. Having finished a social science course like most of us here, chances are we will end up as welfare recipients without hope of acquiring a job nor home. Belorussia is the only country today which is communist. My advice to you communists is to migrate to Belorussia.
Post 07 Mar 2014, 06:04
The thing is, the low-level party/bureaucracy jobs (at least in the USSR) were basically hell on earth with endless paperwork and filing reports on party activities among the 18-25 y.o. male demographic or sending orders to city public works based on the directives of the city executive committee on the need for an additional sidewalk on Dzerzhinsky St. in the area of Gagarin St., for 50-60 hours a week. Once you get through, it gets better, but to do that there was a lot of networking/ass-licking to do. There was also the elected official route, but it was either not very important, like the Congress of People's Deputies which met for a few days once a year, or a city/region official for which again there was party competition.

Also, unemployment is generally determined by the formula (people actively seeking work) / (total employed + people actively seeking work), so it's not based on the total population which also includes populations like children, retirees and the disabled, who are unable to work and are not looking for any sort of employment.
Post 20 May 2014, 03:31
There are a host of legitimat criticisms of the German Democratic Republic to be made. Many of them have been spelled out here (over-indulgence and luxeries going to the leadership, the Coffee shortage, utopian thinking ect).

However it started at a lower level of economic development and was forced to bear the burden of paying War repramands to the Soviet Union for the massive losses and damage inflicted on the USSR in WW2. These conditions were largely responsible for the less attractive aspects of life in the GDR: lower pay, longer hours, and fewer and poorer consumer goods compared to West Germany. The GDR comprised only one-third of German territory and had a population of 17 million. By comparison, the FRG comprised 63 million people and made up two-thirds of German territory. [1] Less industrialized than the West, the new GDR started out poorer than its new capitalist rival. Per capita income was about 27 percent lower than in the West.

Despite all this however, "East Germany’s national income grew in real terms about two percent faster annually that the West German economy between 1961 and 1989." [3]

It's possible to have high growth with it all going to the top of society however. Fortunately this didn't happen to the German Democratic Republic. The mean Gini coefficient – a measure of income equality which runs from 0 (perfect equality) to 1 (perfect inequality) – was 0.24 for socialist countries in 1970 compared to 0.48 for capitalist countries. [2]

[1] John Green, “Looking back at life in the GDR,” The Morning Star (UK), October 7, 2009
[2] Shirley Ceresto, “Socialism, capitalism, and inequality,” The Insurgent Sociologist, Vol. XI, No. 2, Spring, 1982
[3] Austin Murphy, The Triumph of Evil: The Reality of the USA’s Cold War Victory, European Press Academic Publishing, 2000
Post 21 May 2014, 03:13
oh man I havent read the morning star in years.

To be honest I dread to think what it has become.
Post 21 May 2014, 04:10
I agree it's a highly revisionist newspaper by now. It's filled with Social Democrats, Revisionists and Greens now. I just went for the statistics.
Post 05 Jul 2014, 18:28
Interesting info.

By the way, I think a paper like the Morning Star is an important asset. If the socialist and labour movement in the Netherlands had a daily paper controlled by the Communist Party, I would have no problem with it if they occasionally gave a platform to some horrible "revisionists" or whatever. The progressive role of social-democrats, greens, etc. as a whole is long played out, but individuals within these parties can sometimes say or do things that coincide with our interests.

Those social-democrats, reformists, etc. who even bother engaging with a communist paper (they have plenty of careerist reasons to avoid communists like the plague!) are generally not people who woke up one day and decided to become evil revisionists. They tend to be people who should really be with us (and would be, "if only you guys were bigger"), but who have made a compromise on their own beliefs, wanting to "get things done" or whatever. But they can still be allies, fellow travellers, etc.

What matters is that the paper gives a voice to those concretely involved in mass struggles every day, a voice which gets systematically ignored or slandered in other media. In Western Europe, including the UK, we are at a stage where the mere defence of the past gains of the working class is hard enough already. I can only imagine how useful it would be to have a paper that is present wherever working people are fighting for concrete material demands, offering a perspective of "peace and socialism" to them.
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