An investigation into the politics of consumerism in East Germany during the years between the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 and the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, Dictatorship and Demand shows how the issue of consumption constituted a crucial battleground in the larger Cold War struggle.
Based on research in recently opened East German state and party archives, this book depicts a regime caught between competing pressures. While East Germany's leaders followed a Soviet model, which fetishized productivity in heavy industry and prioritized the production of capital goods over consumer goods, they nevertheless had to contend with the growing allure of consumer abundance in West Germany. The usual difficulties associated with satisfying consumer demand in a socialist economy acquired a uniquely heightened political urgency, as millions of East Germans fled across the open border.
A new vision of the East-West conflict emerges, one fought as much with washing machines, televisions, and high fashion as with political propaganda, espionage, and nuclear weapons. Dictatorship and Demand deepens our understanding of the Cold War.
Dictatorship and Demand provides new and important information about a period in East Germany's history that had a defining impact on the country's later years. Landsman is an engaging writer who skillfully brings life to this generally opaque period of German history.
State socialism failed, among other reasons, because it produced an economy of consumer scarcity. Mark Landsman's well-documented study starkly reveals the contradictions between the priorities of production and consumption in perhaps the most industrious Communist society, the German Democratic Republic. The rich texture of this work, the presentation of now obscure bureaucratic conflicts, the gritty evocation of privation, ensure its quality and interest.
Mark Landsman's book stands at the crest of a coming tide of books in English concerning East Germany, consumption, and questions of how to explain the intertwined fates of politics, economics and everyday culture on the other side of the Berlin Wall. If Landsman's book is any indication of where this field is heading, scholars of East Germany and modern Germany in general should be in for some very good summer reading in the next couple of years...This book is highly recommended.
This clearly written monograph, which is a revised version of the author’s dissertation, contains a number of important aperçus. Like a number of other recent studies that underscore the often unintended consequences of official East German policies, Landsman’s book adroitly shows how several of the innovations introduced by authorities to try to satisfy consumer demand—such as a mail-order catalogue and an installment plan—ended up boosting demand to levels that could not be met, creating even greater frustration on the part of East German consumers.
- 2005, Winner of the Herbert Feis Award
- 310 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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