Of Sticks and Carrots: Repression and Food Policy as a Cause and Consequence of Mass Unrest in East Germany
Posted: 19 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
Mass unrest only rarely leads to regime collapse because it determines, and is simultaneously determined by, the mix of co-optation and repression chosen by authoritarian governments. Policy miscalculations which allow for uprisings to destabilize regimes are possible, but uncommon and quickly reversed, making uprisings critical junctures with long-term effects on regime durability. Analysis of data collected from unpublished archives shows that the 17 June 1953 uprising in East Germany was neither a fascist putsch nor a spontaneous workers' protest, but a direct response to government policy. Unrest was enabled by the lack of an effective repressive apparatus and sparked by severe economic policies. Protests were concentrated among citizens who were disadvantaged by these policies, and better organized. Subsequently, potential for unrest was factored into a recalibration of economic co-optation and repression which prevented a repeat of the uprising. Data show that areas with higher levels of unrest were better supplied with consumer goods and foodstuffs after the 1953 uprising. Historical evidence shows that both regular and secret police were also reformed to better address the threat of mass unrest.
Keywords: Germany, GDR, authoritarianism
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