GHDI logo

2. The Conflict between Democracy and Dictatorship
OVERVIEW   |   1. THE DEEPENING OF DIVISION   |   2. THE CONFLICT BETWEEN DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP   |   3. STRAINS IN THE SOCIAL MARKET ECONOMY   |   4. RESPONSES TO SOCIAL CONFLICTS   |   5. UNCERTAINTIES OF MODERNIST CULTURE   |   6. WESTERN SUCCESS AND EASTERN FAILURE

After the construction of the Berlin Wall both German states had a chance to consolidate their political systems. Whereas the Bonn government gained in international respectability and democratic credentials, the East Berlin regime continued its dictatorial reign, even though its concrete policies also evolved. In 1961, Chancellor Konrad Adenauer refused to relinquish power in spite of his advanced age, but he ultimately faltered over the "Spiegel-Affair" of 1962, which involved a violation of freedom of the press that ended his political career a year later. Though his successor, Ludwig Erhard, was still chosen from the Christian Democratic Union, the Free Democrats eventually withdrew support for this successful economist but less adept politician, and a grand coalition under Kurt-Georg Kiesinger (CDU) and Willy Brandt (SPD) ensued in 1966 (12). When SED leader Walter Ulbricht experimented with economic reforms, a permissive cultural policy, and a rapprochement with West Germany, the more orthodox Erich Honecker overthrew him with Soviet help. The ascent of this anti-Fascist resistance fighter reinforced the dictatorial character of the Communist regime (13).

In contrast, the formation of the Brandt-Scheel government affected a complete transfer of power to the opposition two decades after the founding of the Federal Republic. After a close election in 1969, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Free Democrats (FDP) agreed to form the first social-liberal coalition at the federal level. Willy Brandt's domestic counterpart to his reconciliation with the East was a thorough reform policy under the slogan "dare more democracy," which appealed especially to younger voters. As part of this policy, the SPD/FDP government expanded the welfare state, permitted generous wage increases, widened educational opportunities, and founded new universities (14). At the same time, Honecker promoted a communist form of consumerism in the East under the slogan "the unity of economic and social policy." The implicit social contract with the citizenry was supposed to deliver material benefits in return for political acquiescence, but it raised expectations that could not be maintained in the long run. In addition, favoring consumer goods over capital investments cost a good deal of money, requiring foreign loans that ultimately helped bankrupt the GDR (15).

As a result of economic stagnation and ideological erosion, Marxism-Leninism in the East lost much of its ideological credibility during the 1970s and 1980s. While the lagging economic performance frustrated workers, the repression of Alexander Dubcek's "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in the summer of 1968 showed GDR intellectuals that the Communist regimes rested more on coercion than popular consent. Even convinced Communists thereby lost faith in the superiority of their socialist utopia. Increasingly, dissidents like Robert Havemann criticized the SED, an independent peace movement sprang up in the shadow of the Protestant Church, and a counter-cultural youth scene as well as an artistic community began to develop. Ironically, massive Stasi repression forced opposition groups to realize the importance of Western-style civil rights (16). In contrast, the Social Democrats in the West managed to reconcile the incentives of market competition with the provision of social security in an expanded welfare state (17).



(12) Dennis L. Barck and David A. Gress, A History of West Germany. Second edition (London, 1993).
(13) Monika Kaiser, Machtwechsel von Ulbricht zu Honecker. Funktionsmechanismen der SED-Diktatur in Konfliktsituationen von 1962 bis 1972 (Berlin, 1997); Jeffrey Kopstein, "Ulbricht Embattled: The Quest for Socialist Modernity in the Light of New Sources," Europe-Asia Studies 46 (1994), pp. 597-615.
(14) Peter Merseburger, Willy Brandt 1913-1992. Visionär und Realist (Stuttgart, 2002); Barbara Marshall, Willy Brandt. A Political Biography (New York, 1997).
(15) Andre Steiner, Von Plan zu Plan. Eine Wirtschaftsgeschichte der DDR (Munich, 2004); Phillip J. Bryson and Manfred Melzer, The End of the East German Economy. From Honecker to Reunification (New York, 1991).
(16) Stefan Wolle, Die heile Welt der Diktatur. Alltag und Herrschaft in der DDR, 1971-1989 (Berlin, 1999); Ehrhart Neubert, Geschichte der Opposition in der DDR 1949-1989 (Berlin, 1997); Christian Joppke, East German Dissidents and the Revolution of 1989. Social Movement in a Leninist Regime (New York, 1995).
(17) Hans-Günter Hockerts, ed., Drei Wege deutscher Sozialstaatlichkeit. NS-Diktatur, Bundesrepublik und DDR im Vergleich (Munich, 1998).

Page 4

First Page < Previous   |   Next > Last Page