Uprising in East Germany, 1953: The Cold War, the German Question, and the First Major Upheaval Behind the Iron Curtain (National Security Archive Cold War Readers,)

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9789639241572: Uprising in East Germany, 1953: The Cold War, the German Question, and the First Major Upheaval Behind the Iron Curtain (National Security Archive Cold War Readers,)
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The first documented account of this early Cold War crisis from both sides of the Iron Curtain. This collection of primary-source documents presents one of the most notorious events of postwar European history in a highly readable format.

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About the Author:

Christian F. Ostermann is director of the Cold War International History Project, editor of the CWIHP Bulletin, a senior fellow at the US National Security Archive, and an expert on the Cold War in Germany. Before joining CWIHP in January 1997, he worked as a research fellow at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. He won the DAAD Article Award of the German Studies Association for "Best Article in German Studies (History), 1994-1996".

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INTRODUCTION

Stalin and the Construction of Socialism in East Germany

The roots of the summer 1953 East German crisis date back to July 1952, when the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) adopted a crash socialization and collectivization program termed the "Planned Construction of Socialism." A number of other East and East-Central European states had already embarked upon this approach a few years earlier, seeking to promote rapid short-term economic growth. By late 1952, however, the devastating effects of these policies--both in human and economic terms--had gradually become evident, even in Moscow itself. Towards the end of that year, Soviet officials were receiving a growing number of accounts of economic dislocation and popular unrest. Soviet diplomatic and intelligence sources reported a state of "near-total chaos" in the Czechoslovak economy, "severe deficiencies" in Hungary, and "extremely detrimental conditions and disruption" in Romania. Local communist rulers maintained control only through massive expansion of the largely Soviet-controlled security apparatus, mass terror, purges and show trials.

In East Germany, the decision to undertake open and accelerated socialization of industry and agriculture seemed to mark a turning point in Soviet policy toward the German Democratic Republic, which had remained essentially unresolved since the end of World War II. Moscow’s options had included the Sovietization of the Eastern occupation zone; the creation of a unified, socialist Germany; and the establishment of a unified and democratic, but "neutral" Germany. Even after the establishment of the GDR in October 1949 under the control of the SED (formed when the German Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party were forcibly merged in 1946) Stalin’s policy continued to be, by all indications, torn between the full "satellization" of the new state and the realization of his all-German aspirations.

But a series of events may have combined to remove the Kremlin’s indecisiveness. One crucial moment was the Western powers’ rejection of the March 1952 "Stalin note", in which the Soviet leader had called for allied negotiations on a peace treaty for Germany, an all-German government and all-German elections, and proposed establishing a unified, "democratic" but neutral German state that would have its own national armed force. Many Westerners doubted that Stalin’s offer was more than a propaganda ploy aimed primarily at delaying the signing of treaties to provide greater sovereignty for West Germany and accelerate its military integration with Western Europe.

Prior to the summer of 1952, Soviet designs for German unification had precluded full satellization of the GDR along the model of the East European "people’s democracies." But the announcement of the GDR's new policy by the country’s strong man, SED General Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Walter Ulbricht, now seemed to signal openly that the priority of promoting so-called all-German concerns had been abandoned in favor of unimpeded sovietization and consolidation of the eastern zone. As early as April 1952, Stalin had told visiting East German leaders, "you, too, need to organize an independent state." He further demanded that they turn the relatively open demarcation line between East and West Germany into a "border", and insisted that everything needed to be done to "strengthen the defense of this border" (Document No. 1). Stalin also decreed the creation of an East German army--"without making much noise"--announcing that the "pacifist period" was over--"[pacifism] was needed in the past but not any more" (Document No. 1). The Soviet leader also sanctioned the socialization of GDR agriculture and industry, but in a piecemeal fashion: "Even now they should not shout about socialism."

By late 1952, hard-line policies had already backfired. Forced socialization in industry and agriculture had driven East Germany’s economy into the ground, and socio-economic conditions had become critical. Hardest hit was the "middle class", mainly small entrepreneurs and wealthier farmers ("kulaks"). In this new phase of the "class struggle", the regime levied prohibitive taxes against remaining small and medium private enterprises in trade and industry. In addition, small business owners were, by April 1953, precluded from receiving ration cards, forcing them to buy food at exorbitant prices at state stores.

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9789639241176: Uprising In East Germany 1953: The Cold War, the German Question, and the First Major Upheaval Behind the Iron Curtain (National Security Archive Cold War Readers)

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