Bibliography on Party Politics in EAST GERMANY, 1950-1962
John C. Thomas
Both the quality and quantity of literature on political parties in the German Democratic Republic, commonly known as East Germany, can be explained largely by one factor--the preoccupation of writers with the question of the government's legitimacy. On the one hand, the literature is limited by the refusal of some writers to consider the institutions of what they regard as an illegitimate political system. Writers in this group deal with such things as mass migration of East Germans to the West, the influence of Russia on the government's policies, and the centralized dictatorship of Socialist Unity Party boss, Walter Ulbricht. Where these writers venture so far as to describe the party and governmental system, they give only an outline of the formal structures of both.
On the other hand, the more interesting literature has been produced by another group of writers (usually academicians) who, realizing the concern of East German leaders with their government's legitimacy, have undertaken to describe the efforts of these leaders at legitimization. Discussions of the five parties become discussions of their activities as legitimizing agents, for it is apparent that the four minor parties were created to enlist non-Communist support for a fully Communist system. Some of the best examples of this kind of discussion are found in the unpublished dissertations of John Wortman ("The Minor Parties in the Soviet Zone of Germany: The Communist Preparation and Use of 'Transmission Belts' to the East German Middle Class") and Melvin Croan ("Dependent Totalitarianism; the Political Process in East Germany") and in a monograph by James Wolfe ("Minor Parties in the East German Political System").
As one would expect, there is an extensive body of literature in German on party politics in East Germany. Some of this material (for example, Carola Stern's Ulbricht: A Political Biography) was available in English translation, however. Because of the amount and variety of material in translated form, and the scarcity of German language skills among researchers on the project, the decision was made to index only English-language material for the file. This decision undoubtedly imposed limitations on the coverage and the quality of information in our file, but was reluctantly taken given the scope of the project and our limited resources.
A total of 970 pages from 58 sources was indexed into the file on East Germany. A description of the coding categories and their frequencies is presented in the first table.
A glance at some of the most frequently used individual codes produces a summary picture of the more obvious characteristics of East German political parties. Code 460 (ancillary organizations), the most frequently used code, reflects the common assumption that the National Front, which is supposedly a cooperative venture of all parties, is actually an auxiliary organization of the dominant Socialist Party. The heavy reliance on code 250 (discipline, maintains group unity), is due to the frequent purging of the party membership. Evidence of the importance of Ulbricht working through the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party can be seen in the frequent usage of codes 360 (party leaders and officials), and 440 (national party committee).
Some of the other codes reveal the interest of writers in the regime's attempts to gain legitimacy. The attempts are principally of two types: (1) to persuade the population of the worth of the regime and its policies; (2) to draw the population into active participation through membership in one or another of the parties. Indicative of the first type is the frequent use of codes 240 (propagandizes its goals and activities), and 280 (stands between government and citizen). The latter was used in almost all cases to designate the parties' efforts to make the population compty with the policies of the government. One of the two major uses of code 240 was to indicate the parties' propaganda efforts on behalf of the regime. In its other major application, code 240 was used to represent the parties' efforts to recruit and educate new members. We find other signs of these efforts in the literature's emphasis on "party membership" (code 320) and "organizational goals" (code 560). After noting party goals and activities on recruitment, a number of scholars sought to present the most accurate information available on total membership. The usual failure of these recruiting attempts, however, explains several other characteristics of the indexed material. To facilitate recruitment, the parties frequently changed their organizations, thereby accounting for the occurrences of code 220 (builds party policy and organization). In this light, the party purges which were mentioned earlier may be viewed as an outgrowth of the leaders' reaction to the failure of the parties to gain mass support or membership.
Wortman's concern for these problems of the regime is largely responsible for the unusually fine coverage of lower-level party organization. Codes 400 (local party organization), 410 (constituency party organization), 420 (regional party organization), and 480 (articulation of party structure) comprise a total of 5.0% of all codes assigned. Wortman's dissertation has excellent descriptions of the legitimizing efforts at all levels of party organization for all five parties. Wortman also deserves primary credit for the surprisingly frequent usage of code 020 (functions of political parties). The code reflects his belief that the reason for the existence of the minor parties is to mobilize non-Communist support for the regime.
Some of the deficiencies in the indexing are instructive about the nature of the East German party system. Indeed, a moment's consideration on the nature of Communist parties would lead one to predict many of the gaps. First, elections do not play an important role in Communist systems, or at least most outside observers so regard elections. Turning to the table of indexing codes, we find deficiencies in codes 210 (conducts election campaigns), 340 (party candidates), and 500 (electoral objectives). Second, we know that policy is determined by the Party and not by the government. Thus, we would expect a paucity of codes on party "legislative organization" (450) and "legislative objective" (510). Our expectations are firmly supported by a complete lack of codes in either category.
The other notable gap in the indexing is in the 0-- codes (study of parties). Most writers-whether journalist, scholar, or advocate--seem to set their goals in terms of description to the neglect of theory, abstraction, or methodological considerations in the study of parties.
The data quality codes consisting of 56 documents do not tells us a great deal more about the nature of the literature. The figures in the table are somewhat deceptive in that one-fifth of the documents account for almost three-fourths of the pages indexed. Furthermore, incomplete information made data quality judgments on many documents unfeasible. The overwhelming majority of the documents were originally written in English, and most of these were published in the United States. However, the substance of much of the German-language sources may well have been passed on to us in some of the English-language documents. For many of the writers are native Germans and an even larger number have the capability to use German sources or the German language in their field work.
The overall quality of the documents is good, with the majority classified as "medium," and with many more classified as "high" rather than "low." There were not many problems with either the authors' objectivity or ideology, but the file does show a paucity of documents representing the Communist viewpoint.
An analysis of the literature has made the needs obvious. Theory needs seem to be foremost. There is also a need for more scholarship on the actual operation of the East German party system, and fewer refusals to consider that operation because of the government's supposed illegitimacy. But one hesitates before chastising scholars for their neglect of any particular facets of the East German political system, for the opportunities for research in East German party politics by western scholars have not been abundant.