When it comes to European history, very few nations provide us with the abundance of material that Germany does. From the heroic Arminius on the 1st century battlefields of the Teutoburg Forest, through the medieval Holy Roman Empire and Martin Luther, to the unification under Otto von Bismarck in 1879, German history provides us with literary riches through the ages. In the modern period, Germany has arguably provided us with more material than any other nation at any point throughout all of history, with the bloodshed of the trenches in World War I, the rise of Hitler and National Socialism, the Second World War and the epicentre of an ever-impendent nuclear conflict between east and west throughout the 20th century. The period of 1933-1945 in German history alone is the most written about historical topic of all time.
However, one period of modern German history that is often overlooked or otherwise paid mere lip service to is that of 1949-90, specifically events east of the Berlin Wall. Particularly in the English speaking world, East Germany is often agglomerated with the wider “Eastern Bloc” countries dominated by Moscow, which does a disservice to the inflated contribution the small East German nation provided the historical record with. Of course if it is covered at all, it is for a political purpose as opposed to any innate desire to study the East German state objectively. This has led to many misconceptions, of which there are too many to list.
It must be said, however, that from a nationalistic perspective the socialist East German state did more to preserve, aid and cultivate the “Deutsches Volk” than West Germany or the modern Bundesrepublik has ever done. On the contrary, the modern German state has taken countless measures to harm the German nation and people, either intentionally or as a victim of circumstances which in any event they are often culpable of formulating. This is the premise on which I wish to present a brief essay on East Germany. That is not to say that the East German state didn’t add some very negative entries to the history books; it absolutely did. But the job of an historian is, after all, to give a fair hearing to both sides and offer credence to the validity of arguments when more subjective studies may not.
Formation and Early History
East Germany as a nation state actually came into being by accident, or by way of circumstance as opposed to a specifically designed plan by the victorious allied occupation forces at the end of WWII. From May 1945 onward, Germany was divided into 4 zones of allied occupation; British (north-west), French (south-west), American (south) and Soviet (central, nominally north-east after border revisions). Berlin in turn, although situated deep into Soviet-administered territory, was divided again into the same 4 zones. In practise these were just 2 zones; the American-led allied zones in the west and the Soviet zone in central Germany. The geographical areas that were actually eastern Germany, such as Danzig, the “Polish” corridor, the Sudetenland, Pomerania and Silesia were ceded to the Soviet Union upon the fall of the Third Reich, an area which is today part of Poland and the Czech Republic.
In the summer of 1949, the allied occupation authorities introduced the Deutsche Mark as legal tender to replace the Reichsmark. This was followed by the independent creation of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in September of the same year, a move which for reasons known only to them the Soviet Union would not agree. Rather than simply absorbing the relatively homogeneous region of central Germany into the greater USSR, the Soviet occupation authorities consulted with German socialists and communists to form what was nominally an independent state, but was at least for the first 5 years of existence a satellite state of Moscow. The East German state never truly held sovereign independence, as it was a vassal state relying on Moscow’s support for its continued existence through to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
The state was to be headed by the newly founded Socialist Unity Party (SED), formed through a Moscow-brokered merger of the Communist Party (KPD) and the Social Democrats (SPD), both of which had newly reformed after their proscription during the Third Reich period. This is the first “red flag” – excuse the pun – which suggests that the East German state was not a typical Marxist-Leninist state governed along Stalinist/Bolshevist lines, for there were deep ideological differences between Moscow on the one hand, and the SPD/KPD coalition on the other. Even in the pre-war period and despite receiving much instruction from Moscow, the KPD was not completely aligned with Soviet ideology. Undoubtedly the large proportion of the party was, but there were multiple factions who drew more heavily on German socialism as an ideology in itself. There is also the fact that the larger socialist coalition known as the National Front of Democratic Germany, a group of political parties that were allowed to exist in alliance with the SED, including the National Democratic Party where many former members of the NSDAP found a home.
Soviet Asset Stripping
Almost from its inception, the East German state had a relationship with Moscow that was virtually as uneasy as that which it had with the western powers. Far from creating the “international solidarity” that the Stalinist regime in Moscow preached, East Germany became a victim of Soviet economic aggression from the outset. In the initial period of its administration of the territory, the Soviet Union dismantled almost 2,000 factories – equivalent to the 30% of the region’s industrial capacity in 1944 – and transported them eastwards in reparations for Germany’s role in the Second World War. Military industries and those owned by the state were also confiscated, which accounted for 60% of the Soviet zone’s industrial production. Furthermore, 12,000 kilometres of railway were also dismantled and taken to the Soviet Union. by 1949, 100% of the East Germany’s automotive industry, 93% of its chemical industry and 90% of its fuel industry were in Soviet possession.
East Germany was compelled to make cash reparation payments to the Soviet Union, which by 1953 amounted to 1,349 Reichsmark per capita – conversely, West Germany was paying reparations to the US-backed allies at an equivalent rate of 23 Reichsmark per capita by the same year. Moscow also imposed quotas on renovated East German factories for produce to be shipped to the Soviet Union as further war reparations; 50% of chemical production, 35% of electric/technological products and 25% of machine tools. This was in sharp contrast to West Germany, which received billions of Deutsche Marks in financial assistance under the Marshall Aid Plan. All this led to a very bitter feeling toward both the Soviets and the Americans, ensuring that the East German state remained loyal to Moscow only out of necessity as opposed to ideological unity. Furthermore, it fuelled the immediate economic arrest suffered by East Germany that cannot simply be attributed to the doctrine of centralised planning enacted by the governing SED.
It cannot be overstated enough the extent to which community cohesion was greater in East Germany than it ever was in the west, or than it has been since German re-unification. The lack of rampant materialism, whether through choice or necessity, was conducive to a more cooperative society than those in the west today. Partly down to the socialist ethos pushed by the ruling party, but in no small part as a result of the völkisch spirit instilled in the population during the Third Reich years, there was an inherent comradeship present in East German society that is simply absent or even actively discouraged in western capitalist societies. After all, it’s the ideology of neo-liberal economics that “there is no such thing as society”.
This is often corroborated by those who lived through the GDR side of the partition. In sharp contrast to the crime-ridden, often violent cesspits that the capitals of most western nations became in the post-war years, criminal activity on the part of the average citizen was relatively low in East Germany. Parents felt no hesitation in allowing others to watch their children, gang or drug-related violence and murder were non-existent and young women could walk the streets alone at night safely in the knowledge that meeting a sexual predator was almost unheard of.
Much of the economic planning conducted by the ruling party aided this sense of mutual care in East German society, even if it was as an unintended or unforeseen consequence. For instance, blocks of flats were often owned by what was known in Germany as a cooperative. This meant that communities owned their living spaces collectively, despite them being mostly rental properties, which fostered a culture of mutual assistance when it came to repair and maintenance work. A similar system of cooperative-owned farmland nurtured this culture. Many farms were owned collectively by multiple families and entire communities, meaning that each worker was responsible for the output as a whole as opposed to their own personal interests. This encouraged an “in it together” spirit that is almost impossible to manufacture in an individualist, consumerist society.
Fertility and the Family
In contrast to genuinely communist regimes such as that of the Soviet Union or China, and of most western nations today, the government of East Germany was relatively and remarkably pro-family. The 1950 law Gesetz über die Rechte der Frau enshrined gender equality in the East German constitution, but far from diminishing the role of the family, it actually complemented it. As it was realised everywhere in the post-war world, financial pressures had made it difficult if not impossible for women to play the primary role of home builder in the family and thus more women began having full-time careers. Whilst in the west this has deterred women from childbirth for fear of it affecting their careers, in East Germany it was a criminal offence from 1950 onward to dismiss a worker or fail to hire a worker because she was pregnant. The same law offered financial assistance to mothers, as well as creating special designed medical centres for children and thousands of free kindergarten places. Maternity leave (14 weeks) was also brought into being, with further legislation ensuring mothers could return to the same job/career path following childbirth.
Later on, in 1972, a further law enshrined the concept of maternity leave, increasing it from 14 to 18 weeks – this was later increased further to 26 weeks in 1976. Payments of 1,000 Deutsche Marks were introduced and given to couples for each newborn child, an incentive to increase fertility, whilst maternity leave was also later guaranteed for every newborn child as opposed to just the first or second. Young couples under the age of 26 were offered interest-free loans by the state to the tune of 5,000 Deutsche Marks (6 months’ salary). Needless to say, childcare was fully subsidised. In contrast, western capitalist governments have organised a situation whereby women can’t afford not to work, but have simultaneously refused to offer many of the same protections against discrimination. Of course, financial assistance for mothers and families is given in the modern west, but only if they’re foreign.
Whether or not these were by design or simply happy coincidences of their ideological commitment toward female emancipation we will undoubtedly never know, but objectively speaking it’s impossible to argue that West Germany or the modern day Federal Republic were even half as positive toward the native fertility rate as the East German government was. Instead, they and neighbouring regimes in France, England and Scandinavia have embarked upon a policy of “replacement migration”, as stipulated by the United Nations, whereby the falling native fertility rate is negated by importing masses of hostile foreigners from the third world. There is no better contrast than this to demonstrate the benefits – or lack thereof – to the survival and advancement of the Deutsches Volk, of the opposing political systems.
Healthcare as a basic right was enshrined in the East German constitution from its inception in 1949. The system operated much in the same way as the National Health Service began in the United Kingdom; free at the point of use. Financial pressure actually forced the East German health system to become more efficient in its approach than many other socialised healthcare systems, by focusing on prevention as opposed to treatment. This is perhaps another example of a positive outcome resulting as a happy coincidence of ideological doctrine, but nevertheless it enabled a progressive, cost-effective and patient-focused healthcare system to thrive in East Germany. Interdisciplinary cooperation was encouraged in the East’s healthcare system, something from which many socialised health services could learn today. Of course it must be noted that, due to general shortages, foods rich in fat and sugar were not readily available which in turn eased the strains placed on modern western societies by the fast food culture.
Large hospital wards like the kind one might see on a Victorian period drama were non-existent. In the 1970’s, modern hospitals were built all across East Germany with rooms that housed no more than 2 or 3 patients at any one time. The state also developed the concept of the “polyclinic”. These were large, multi-purpose walk-in centres consisting of multiple specialised departments staffed by doctors and nurses, where patients could be treated for minor injuries too urgent for a General Practitioner but where hospital care was not essential. These acted as a halfway house between the two usual forms of health treatment. Detractors will of course claim that this is all about communistic ideology, but in practise there’s very few better ways to strengthen the nation than to ensure its good health. However, much of the state’s ability to provide a free health service can be attributed to having a relatively small population to provide for, as well as the notion that a poor man’s diet is rarely unhealthy.
Immigration and ‘Multiculturalism’
It is often charged that socialism and socialist states are inherently pro-migrant and therefore anti-native population. Obviously, this is true of socialist regimes in contemporary Europe; the British Labour Party, the German Social Democrats and the French Socialist Party, to name just a few, are obsessively pro-migrant and vehemently anti-native. But East Germany demonstrated a somewhat different approach. It is true that their official state motto was that old Communist battle cry “workers of the world unite”, whilst the government back in Moscow encouraged a doctrine of “international solidarity” to propagate Lenin & Marx’s theory that human beings are divided primarily by class over nationhood. The East German government paid nothing more than lip service to this concept, the concepts of diversity and multiculturalism remaining relatively alien to them until the wall fell in 1989.
The extent to which East Germany supported diversity was their sending of technical experts on missions to aid national liberation movements in the colonial possessions of other European powers, or their support for Palestine and refusal to have diplomatic relations with Israel. It’s also true that they operated a “worker exchange” program whereby a very small number of workers from non-European communist regimes came to East Germany to learn a trade and contribute to the economy, but this had two marked differences from the Gastarbeiter program operated by West Germany; the immigrants actually worked and, after they’d completed their designated period of employment, they went back, Comparatively, West Germany imported millions of young men from Turkey who have, since their arrival, been disproportionately represented in crime and unemployment statistics.
In any event, the strong sense of community that was nurtured in East Germany caused the native population to be naturally hostile to the outsider, and many companies in practise would not hire foreign workers at all had it not been the state’s attempt to show some commitment to the Soviets’ obsession with a faux notion of international solidarity. This rejection of multiculturalism and immigration from outside of Europe can be evidenced today by the fact that the vast majority of opposition to the Merkel regime’s open borders policy has come from the former GDR territory. Indeed, the major movements protesting against this policy began in the East, such as PEGIDA which has its roots in Dresden.
It goes without saying that East Germany was not a particularly great place to be a lot of the time for a lot of the people. Democratic rights such as free speech and freedom of expression were severely lacking and they did not enjoy many of the material possessions that we do in the west today. Toward the end of the regime’s life for instance, it could take between 8 and 10 years to purchase a car. However, given that the most popular western vice for East Berliners after the wall came down was a McDonald’s meal, one can question with some irony to what extent they stood to gain from western freedom.
But humour aside, our western capitalist societies have ruined everything that once made us patriotic; our cultural life is decadent bordering on the absurd, our governments apparently prefer foreigners to their own people, and the fractional reserve systems of central banking have enslaved the people in foreign-held debt cycles. There is a hatred between our own people being nurtured by special interest groups, our work ethnic as nations has dropped below what is decent, we’re overweight, we disregard physical fitness, the ugly is celebrated as beautiful and the criminal is excused. When these things are taken into account, we may begin to question more seriously whether or not we’d sacrifice our version of freedom for the homogeneous, high-trust society of the German Democratic Republic.
Editor’s note: In order to keep up with the demand for fresh content, it’s not always time-efficient to proof read every single article, particularly longer essays such as this. If you notice a grammatical mistake, feel free to send me a message and it’ll be corrected.