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2. Economics and Politics in the Two Germanies
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Overview   |   1. The Situation in 1945   |   2. Economics and Politics in the Two Germanies   |   3. Reconstituting German Society   |   4. Culture   |   Suggestions for Further Reading in English   |   Suggestions for Further Reading in German

By 1955, anxieties over the future labor pool were so severe that West Germany concluded its first treaty with Italy on the recruitment of Italian guest workers [Gastarbeiter]. Over the next decade, it made similar agreements with Spain and Greece (1960) and Turkey (1961). West German politicians emphasized the economic dimensions of these treaties but also viewed them as opportunities to prove their willingness to cooperate with a range of international partners.

The East German government faced similar problems in its quest to emerge from the rubble of 1945 and create a dynamic economy that was capable of fulfilling the promise of a better life. In accordance with Stalinist doctrine, the East German approach was based on central planning and the expropriation of private industry. Additionally, the government began to collectivize agriculture and to socialize the wholesale and retail trades. By 1953, this system had produced so many contradictions, inequalities, broken promises, and dislocations – and so much popular anger – that it must be counted as a major contributor to the June 17th uprising. The strikes and demonstrations began in the capital of East Berlin and quickly spread throughout the country.

The reconstitution of political parties and the restoration of democratic elections at both the local and state levels meant that a civic infrastructure was already in place before the founding of the two German states. But the documentation included in this volume, especially election data and public opinion polls, makes clear that the political system in the West was far from consolidated. The first Adenauer government, for example, had to rely on a welter of smaller parties to gain the required parliamentary majority. There were still many disaffected voters who supported parties on the extreme right or left. In some cases, the rhetoric of these parties was radical enough to raise questions about their constitutionality. In 1952, the neo-Nazi Socialist Reich Party of Germany [Sozialistische Reichspartei Deutschlands or SRP] was banned. In 1956, the Federal Constitutional Court also proscribed the Communist Party of Germany [Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands or KPD].

The fact that West Germans reconciled themselves to their new government in ever greater numbers and were increasingly prepared to lend active support both to the republic and its mainstream parties must be viewed within the context of Erhard’s economic policies, which were delivering the prosperity that people were looking for. Meanwhile, East Germany’s multi-party landscape became increasingly meaningless as the regime continued to waver between making concessions, especially after the June 17th uprising, and tightening its hold on what for all practical purposes was a one-party state run by the SED.

It should not be forgotten that the escalating Cold War also acted as political glue for each state. In West Germany, fear of Soviet expansionism – which was especially keen after the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 – triggered a long debate on the value of NATO’s protective shield, whose strength relied in part on the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. It also led politicians to ask whether the provision of West German conventional military forces would make the Federal Republic more secure against an attack from the East. NATO’s "Carte Blanche" military exercises of 1955 were designed to test the shield defense strategy by showing how West Germany would look if it ever became a battlefield for tactical nuclear weapons. Eventually, popular resistance to West German rearmament was overcome, and the Federal Republic joined NATO that same year. Having already built up the paramilitary People’s Police [Volkspolizei] in the early 1950s, East Germany became a member of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact that same year and established the People’s Army [Volksarmee].

As the two Germanies became more deeply integrated into their respective military blocs, it became increasingly clear that division was setting in. Throughout the 1950s, West Germans continued to debate, often heatedly, whether and under what conditions national unity might be achieved. The debate reached a climax in 1952, when Stalin proposed to unify Germany’s two halves under the condition that the Adenauer government abandon both West German rearmament and integration into the Western alliance. It is likely that Stalin did not expect the West to agree to these terms. With its four Allied sectors, Berlin was another point of constant friction, from the blockade of 1948, through the crises of the late 1950s, and up to the building of the Wall in August 1961.

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