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Constructing socialism: technology and change in East Germany 1945-1990

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With a cloud of blue smoke and a high-pitched whine, Trabant cars carried many East Germans westward after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989. The car's 1950s design, obvious environmental incorrectness, and all-plastic body became a symbol of the technological limitations of East German communism. Though unfair and oversimplified, the famous image from the early 1990s of the rear of a Trabi protruding from a dumpster seemed to imply that the car, like the system which had produced it, had been consigned to the dustbin of history. But as Raymond G. Stokes points out in Constructing Socialism, eastern Germany in 1945 was one of the most highly developed, technologically sophisticated industrial areas in the world. Despite the evident failings of its technology by the late 1980s, the German Democratic Republic maintained advanced technological capability in selected areas. If the system itself was fundamentally flawed, what explains successes under the very same system? Why could the successes not be repeated in other areas? And if examples of success are so isolated, how did East Germany last as long as it did?To answer these questions, Constructing Socialism examines the system of innovation that delivered some minimal level of technological excellence into the East German economy and industry. Focusing on success rather than failure, Stokes offers a general history of East German technology between 1945 and 1990. He combines an overview and synthesis of emerging scholarly literature with an examination of newly opened archival material in order to explore issues that include automation, standardization, technology transfer and technological tourism, and espionage. Constructing Socialism investigates specific technologies and machines but also emphasizes the people who designed and implemented them and the cultural context and meanings of technological systems.
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Constructing Socialism

Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology
Merritt Roe Smith, Series Editor

Raymond G. Stokes

Constructing Socialism
Technology and Change in
East Germany 1945–1990

The Johns Hopkins University Press | Baltimore and London

∫ ≤≠≠≠ The Johns Hopkins University Press
All rights reserved. Published ≤≠≠≠
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
Ω ∫ π ∏ ∑ ∂ ≥ ≤ ∞
The Johns Hopkins University Press
≤π∞∑ North Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland ≤∞≤∞∫-∂≥∏≥
www.press.jhu.edu
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
will be found at the end of this book.
A catalog record for this book is available from the
British Library.
ISBN ≠-∫≠∞∫-∏≥Ω∞-≠

To the memory of Michael and Nora O’Shea

Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction ∞
Part I: Defining a Socialist System of Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958 ∞≥
1

Technology in the Soviet Zone, ∞Ω∂∑–∞Ω∂Ω ∞∑

2

A First, Flawed Construction: Technology Planning
and Practice through ∞Ω∑∫ ≥∏

Part II: Socialist Technology at the Crossroads, 1958–1961 ∑∑
3

Metrics of Progress: Technological Tourism
and Display ∑π

4

The High-Tech Hardware of Socialism ∫≠

5

The Software of Socialism ∞∞≠

Part III: From Fresh Start to Endgame, 1961–1990 ∞≤Ω
6

The Controlled Experiment in Technological
Development: Technology in the New Economic
System ∞≥∞

7

Substituting for Success, ∞Ωπ≠–∞Ω∫Ω ∞∑≥

8

Technological Tactics in the Endgame ∞ππ
Conclusion ∞Ω∑
List of Abbreviations ≤≠Ω
Notes ≤∞≥
Bibliographic Essay ≤∂≥
Index ≤∑≥

Acknowledgments

At the end of the long process of research, writing, and
rewriting, it is a pleasure to reflect briefly on the kindness, engagement,
and encouragement of the numerous institutions and individuals who
have helped me during the course of it.
Financial support for the project came from the German Marshall
Fund of the United States, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), the University of Glasgow, the university’s Department of Economic and Socia; l History, and
the Centre for Business History in Scotland. I am grateful for the generosity of all of these organizations. Rensselaer and the University of
Glasgow were both also generous with another commodity in short supply, time, which I used for research and writing. Colleagues in my department at each institution were generous in yet a third way, with ideas and
moral support, for which I am very grateful.
During the course of the project I enjoyed a productive year and part of
an additional summer at the Free University of Berlin, for much of the
time as a guest researcher in the Economics Department of the university’s John F. Kennedy Institute. Professor Carl-Ludwig Holtfrerich, the
head of the department, and Frau Barbara Spannagel, along with the other
department members, made my family and me extremely welcome and
provided a friendly, stimulating, and supportive working environment. I
also enjoyed less formal, but still fruitful associations with the Economic History section of the Economics Department of the Humboldt
University (under Professor Lothar Baar) and with the Institute for Economic and Social History of the Free University (under Professor Wolfram Fischer). Additional research time was spent at the Deutsches Museum. I thank Dr. Helmut Trischler, his family, and his staff, for making
our time in Munich so enjoyable.
Much of my time in Germany was spent in archives. I would like to
thank in particular the staff of the Bundesarchiv branches in the Berlin

x | Acknowledgments

area, in Potsdam, in the Berlin city center, and eventually in Lichterfelde.
Thanks, too, to Frau Prause of the Gauck Authority (responsible for the
Stasi documents) in Berlin, who was enormously helpful in preparing
documents for my inspection. The pictures used in the book came from
two archives: the Bundesarchiv Bildstelle in Koblenz, and the Sammlung
industrielle Formgestaltung in Berlin-Prenzlauer Berg. My thanks to
these institutions for permission to reproduce the photographs. Thanks,
too, in particular to Frau Lorenz for her accommodation to the needs of
my schedule in selecting the photos at the Sammlung.
Although my project was generally a small-scale one for the most part,
I had the good fortune to be associated with one larger project group
directly, and indirectly with another. The Science under Socialism project, directed by Kristie Macrakis of Michigan State University and Dieter
Hoffmann of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, brought together a large group of American and German researchers
interested in the history, science, and technology of the German Democratic Republic. The project was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt
Foundation and Michigan State University. I benefited from comments
by project participants on drafts of my paper on the East German chemical industry and from conferences associated with the project. In addition, I was pleased to be in contact with members of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft’s large research project comparing innovation in
the two German successor states between ∞Ω∂∑ and ∞ΩΩ≠. They were
even kind enough to invite me to one of their conferences, which was
extremely helpful. In this context, I want to thank Stefan Unger in
particular.
I presented papers based in part on the research for this book at the
German Studies Association’s ∞ΩΩ∑ annual meeting, two conferences of
the Science under Socialism project, the Society for the History of Technology’s ∞ΩΩ∏ annual meeting, the Free University of Berlin, the University of Glasgow, Cambridge University, the University of Strathclyde,
the History of Science Society’s ∞ΩΩ∫ annual meeting, the University of
Cardiff, and the University of Bielefeld. Criticism and comments from
discussants and participants have both enabled me to develop my ideas
much further than I might otherwise have done and forced me to be more
precise in thought and expression. Thank you to all. I also thank the
editors and publishers of German History for allowing me to use, in
chapter ∑, substantial portions of my article ‘‘In Search of the Socialist

Acknowledgments | xi

Artefact: Technology and Ideology in East Germany, ∞Ω∂∑–∞Ω∏≤,’’ German History ∞∑ (∞ΩΩπ): ≤≤≥–≥Ω.
My thinking has been shaped heavily by conversations with colleagues, and often as well by their comments on draft chapters and/or
informal exchanges of ideas, sometimes long ago. I wish to thank them
all, in particular Werner Abelshauser, Mike Allen, Mitch Ash, Johannes
Bähr, Richard Bessel, Alan Beyerchen, Burghard Ciesla, John Connelly,
Paul Erker, Dieter Hoffmann, Carl Holtfrerich, Paul Josephson, Matthias
Judt, Rainer Karlsch, John Krige, Brian Linn, Kristie Macrakis, Cathy
Olesko, Jörg Roesler, Harm Schröter, André Steiner, Anne Stokes, Agnes
Tandler, and Helmut Trischler. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to
Rainer Karlsch, who read and commented extensively and helpfully on
the entire draft manuscript. Agnes Tandler also gave me useful feedback
on the penultimate draft. Rainer Karlsch also provided some sources that
were not easily available elsewhere, as did Agnes Tandler. Anne Stokes
read through the penultimate draft of the manuscript, helping me enormously with style and clarity. Despite so much generous advice from
so many capable people, errors undoubtedly remain; responsibility for
those, of course, is mine alone.
As the book approached completion, I benefited from the encouragement of M. Roe Smith, the editor of this series, and of the history editor
at the Johns Hopkins University Press, Bob Brugger. The anonymous
reviewer for the press also provided useful comments.
Throughout the project, I have had frequent occasion to consider the
more indirect, but still profound influence on my work of the ideas,
insights, and wisdom of several of my teachers. I thank in particular
William Berentz, Laszlo Deme, June Fullmer, and Alan Beyerchen.
My family have been very supportive during the research and writing,
which sometimes involved extended absences from home. Anne, Jonathan, and Nik also sacrificed part of several holidays to ‘‘working vacations.’’ Much more frequently, they somehow endured my endless distraction, which, I have to admit, is a major drawback of my writing
technique.
This book is dedicated to the fond memory of my maternal grandparents, Michael O’Shea (∞Ω≠∑–Ω∑) and Nora Stack O’Shea (∞Ω≠π–Ω∫),
who exerted an enormous influence on both my personal and my professional development. I count it as a great blessing to have enjoyed that
influence firsthand for so long.

Constructing Socialism

Introduction

With a cloud of blue smoke and a high-pitched whine,
the Trabant, powered by its two-stroke engine, carried many an East
German westward after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November ∞Ω∫Ω.
The car’s ∞Ω∑≠s design, its obvious environmental incorrectness, and its
all-plastic body had made it a symbol of the technological limitations of
communism in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The famous
photographic image from the early ∞ΩΩ≠s of the rear of a ‘‘Trabi’’ (as they
were called) protruding from a dumpster—however unfair and oversimplified—seemed to suggest that the car, like the system that had produced it, had been consigned to the dustbin of history.
The idea that things would end up this way would have come as a rude
shock to East Germany’s founders, and their apparently abject technological failure would have been especially galling. After all, Lenin had
underscored the centrality of technology to the communist project in his
oft-quoted slogan, ‘‘Communism equals Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country.’’ East German leaders had tried from the first
to realize the broader technological program behind these words. Nuclear power, sophisticated electronics, high-precision optical equipment
and machine tools, together with plastics made from petrochemicals,
were the high-prestige products favored by GDR planners and rulers.
And high-technology projects associated with these and other industries
were often touted as the solution to the country’s persistent economic
problems.
So what explains the communist deficiency, especially in this highpriority area of technology? For Soviet Russia and most other eastern
European countries, the economic and technological backwardness of
the areas the communists took over to conduct their grand experiment
clearly played a major role in their ultimate failure. But this explanation
does not hold for East Germany, where, starting in June ∞Ω∂∑, Germans
who were trained and supported by the Soviets could settle in the area

2 | Constructing Socialism

Image not available.

The first version of the Trabant leaving the factory in Zwickau in ∞Ω∑∫.
Named after the first Sputnik, the Trabant, with its futuristic all-plastic body,
was admired in the West as well. Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, Bildsammlung

that would become the GDR to begin to conduct the communist experiment in an advanced industrial economy.
For the historian, the questions must be these: Why and when did this
highly industrialized and highly innovative economy fall on such hard
times? Were there opportunities for reform and resuscitation of its system of industry and innovation, or was it condemned from the start? If
opportunities existed, when did they occur, and why were they not exploited? If they did not exist, how was the system able not only to survive, but even to convince outsiders that the GDR was outperforming
many western industrialized nations through the ∞Ω∫≠s? Finally, what
best explains the maintenance of islands of technological excellence—
which did exist, despite the general technological failure—in a generally
second- or third-rate sea, from the beginning of the GDR’s existence to its
collapse?
In the following chapters, I examine these and other questions relating
to the role of technology in East German history between ∞Ω∂∑ and ∞ΩΩ≠.

Introduction | 3

My focus is on a relatively small country, and one that ultimately collapsed, yet the story I have to tell here is an important one. What is more,
it can be told with the aid of an almost unbelievable abundance of archival evidence. East Germany’s absorption into the Federal Republic of
(West) Germany has opened up to historians the written record of the
GDR regime from beginning to end. Official records of the dominant
Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei, or SED) and the state
it operated are a treasure trove, providing a fairly complete record of a
historical era, in which the party and state controlled—or at least influenced and monitored—virtually every aspect of GDR society. The advantages of the centralized regime to the historian are obvious. The archival
records provide an opportunity to investigate the development of technology policy by centralized institutions and its deployment in research
institutes and factories. Secret-service records provide an unparalleled
glimpse into the practice of technology transfer, legal and illegal, during
the Cold War. The situation is as delightful as it is unprecedented.
These unusually favorable conditions provide the basis for a history of
East German technology that embraces political, economic, and social
factors, and covers the entire period of the country’s existence. Consideration of the role of technology and innovation in the GDR’s development
will improve our understanding of post-∞Ω∂∑ German history generally.
It can also shed light on the role of science and technology in other
socialist (or formerly socialist) countries, none of which can be investigated with anywhere near the same documentary range as the GDR.
Such an investigation can also provide empirical evidence to help test
more general theories about innovation and the process of economic
development, the politics of technology, and the social shaping of technology. And finally—as many who have looked at the history, sociology,
politics, and economics of technology have already documented—the
study of ‘‘failure’’ can be as instructive as that of ‘‘success.’’∞ The case
study presented here is a relatively modest one, but it has very general
and important implications.
Faced with an embarrassment of riches, in the form of unprecedented
access to enormous quantities of documents, the historian must distill
them into a coherent tale. Large quantities of archival and other materials are a vocational hazard of those who investigate the post-∞Ω∂∑ period for any industrialized country, and I have used time-honored techniques to render the subject and its documentation manageable. One

4 | Constructing Socialism

way of doing this is to concentrate on a few themes especially well suited
to the subject matter. Depending upon definition, for instance, technology in the GDR could be a very broad subject indeed, embracing everything from farm implements to microchips, from organizational psychology to management structures and procedures. It seemed sensible to
limit the focus, so I have concentrated on technology-intensive industries of substantial importance for economic development and foreign
trade. These include machine tools, optics, chemicals, and electronics.
In investigating these industries, I have also emphasized several central
themes related to them, such as German technological traditions, technology transfer, alleged Sovietization of technology, and the impact of
ideology and planning on technological development.
I have also relied heavily on the work of other scholars and commentators to identify the kinds of questions that need to be answered. There
seems, for instance, to be consensus among western scholars of the GDR
that the primary explanation for its inefficiencies and relatively poor
performance compared to its West German counterpart was the planning
system.≤ One of the central issues explored throughout this book, then, is
the question of whether systemic or other factors accounted for East
Germany’s relatively poor showing economically and technologically.
Scholars have also identified several issues concerning the specific role
of technology in the GDR. Essentially, these boil down to the question of
why the GDR was not able to innovate effectively (which in turn, of
course, had a probable impact on economic performance). Speaking for
many in the late ∞Ωπ≠s, the German Institute for Economic Research
contended that the causes behind the GDR’s poor record of innovation
were threefold: poor formulation of research tasks by industrial enterprises; weak links between research and production; and, most important, ‘‘the reluctance of the enterprises to accept innovations.’’≥
More recent studies of management and technology in the GDR, completed in the aftermath of German unification and with the benefit
of access to previously secret or inaccessible material, have reinforced
these findings, but added some nuances of their own. Looking at research
and development within the context of the industrial firm, for instance,
Vincent Edwards and Peter Lawrence have pointed out that the GDR
system discouraged new product development, instead favoring projects
that facilitated the manufacture of existing products.∂ Raymond Bentley,
in an in-depth economic analysis of research and technology in the GDR,
identified several different problems, whose cause, he felt, was clear:

Introduction | 5

‘‘obstacles to industrial innovation and diffusion . . . could not be overcome because they were endogenous to the system of central economic
planning.’’∑ This brings us back full circle to the fundamental problem
that most western analyses of the GDR economy identify. Johannes Bähr
and Dietmar Petzina make a similar claim in their introduction to a long
collection of case studies of specific industries and firms in East and West
Germany. They argue that the individual cases lead to a general conclusion: although the GDR had a ‘‘bad start,’’ its ‘‘bad run’’ was primarily
responsible for its ultimate failure. The bad run, in turn, was caused by
shortcomings in the system of planning and innovation itself.∏
Common to such assessments is the implication that the system was a
static one, predestined to failure from the outset. However, this seems
unlikely on the face of it, and for that reason this study pays explicit
attention to the analysis and assessment of GDR research culture as it
changed over time. Assessment of the problems associated with the
GDR system of innovation and their causes also figures prominently.
Focus on the ‘‘high-tech’’ industries already mentioned (chemicals, machine tools, electronics, and optics) allows attention both to formulation
of science and technology policy and to its implementation at individual
factories and in particular technological systems. Such attention in turn
permits a critical assessment of the notion that the GDR possessed a
system of innovation that was at best ineffective, and at worst an outright failure.
In any case, the notion of a system of innovation in the GDR that was
fundamentally flawed from the outset is a somewhat problematic one.
The country, after all, had some major technological successes, as some
of the most recent literature on individual technologies demonstrates.
And these successes were not just in traditional technologies, such as
printing machinery, but also in some of the most challenging, cuttingedge areas, such as laser technology and space optics.π
Several questions thus present themselves for further critical investigation: If the system itself was fundamentally flawed, how does one
explain these successes under the very same system? How was it possible to succeed in some areas but fail in others? And if these successes
were only a few exceptions that prove the rule, then why did the political, economic, social, and technological system in the GDR last as long
as it did? Thus, while this book takes the work of other scholars into
account, it starts from a completely different premise than is the norm.
Instead of trying to explain failure—reasons for which abound—it seeks

6 | Constructing Socialism

to explain success, or at least the maintenance of a system of innovation
that was able to deliver some minimal level of technological excellence
into GDR economy and industry, thus allowing the survival of the system as a whole for several decades. To do this, I start with the assumption
that neither success nor failure was preordained. Instead, the development of technology in the GDR was contingent, shaping and being
shaped by particular and ever changing political, social, and economic
configurations in the country’s forty-year existence.
Discussing the GDR’s relative ‘‘success’’ or ‘‘failure’’ over time implies
comparison with other countries, and this study makes frequent comparisons between GDR technology and technology developed elsewhere.
But it has been far from self-evident which countries are best suited for
such comparisons.
The most obvious point of comparison, and the one on which much of
the now very large German scholarly output on the problem dwells, is
‘‘the other Germany.’’∫ This approach has much to recommend it, not
least because it recognizes, at least implicitly, the existence of a common
German technological culture, which began to unravel after ∞Ω∂∑. Moreover, such a conceptualization makes it possible to investigate the factors shaping innovative behavior in a comparative and dynamic fashion.
Some firms in East and West Germany, such as Zeiss and the successors
of I. G. Farben, had actually been part of the same industrial corporation
through ∞Ω∂∑ and thus shared a common German technological culture
as well as a common corporate culture. This fact makes such a mode of
investigation even more intriguing and convincing.Ω
But there are problems with the German-German comparison, too. As
most researchers who have adopted this approach have discovered, it is
generally far easier to find differences than similarities between innovation patterns in the two countries, mainly because of the very different
economic structures and international trading patterns of the two. And,
on another level, the German-German comparison is not at all fair, because of the very real differences in geographic and demographic scale
between the two German successor states. The West German Federal
Republic was a medium-sized state with a substantial internal market of
its own and considerable high-quality coal resources. The East German
Democratic Republic was a relatively small state (on the order of onefourth to one-third the size of West Germany in terms of population)

Introduction | 7

with sizable quantities of relatively low-quality coal and of uranium ore,
but few other natural resources.
One way of overcoming the problem of fundamental systemic difference inherent in the German-German comparison is to examine East
German developments comparatively in the context of the eastern,
Soviet-dominated bloc. Again, such comparisons seem valuable, not
least because the Cold War produced an outpouring of literature by Sovietologists on technology under socialism.∞≠ This literature addresses the
general problems and possibilities of innovation in the socialist planned
economy, the importance and process of technology transfer both within
the eastern bloc and between East and West, and the development of
specific technologies under Soviet socialism.
But again, despite the systemic similarities between East Germany and
other members of the eastern bloc, comparison between the GDR and its
eastern neighbors has often been primarily an exercise in spotting differences rather than similarities. Most of the literature focuses on the Soviet
Union itself. Certainly, issues of interest to the situation in the GDR do
crop up in these studies, such as the coexistence of impressive innovation
alongside astonishing backwardness, or the pronounced but often unexpected impact of state planning of the economy on technological change.
But the USSR, even at the end of its existence, lay far behind the GDR in
terms of development, whether measured technologically or economically (in terms of per-capita income). What is more, the problems of
extreme differences in scale inherent in the German-German comparison are magnified several times in the USSR-GDR comparison. Czechoslovakia perhaps is the one country in the eastern bloc that may have
been most comparable to the GDR in terms of level of economic and
technological development, but the literature on the Czech case in western European languages is sparse, with virtually nothing on technology.
In brief, comparisons of the GDR with the ‘‘other Germany’’ and with
other Soviet-bloc countries have their uses, but they also have their
drawbacks. A more useful comparison would be with a country or
countries that began the period after ∞Ω∂∑ at a similar level of industrialization and that had, if not a fully planned economy, a heavily nationalized or state-directed one. Two candidates presented themselves to
the East Germans in the late ∞Ω∑≠s and the early ∞Ω∏≠s: the United Kingdom and Japan. Clearly, there are problems in comparing the GDR with
either or both of these, too. After all, systemic differences still stand out,

8 | Constructing Socialism

and both Japan and the UK enjoyed much larger markets and populations
than the GDR. Both, however, like East Germany, were also highly industrialized, with considerable scientific and technological capabilities.∞∞ They were likewise heavily dependent on foreign sources of
raw materials and on foreign markets for their goods. And for the United
Kingdom and Japan, centralized organization of government shaped crucial aspects of the economy and of technological change. For all these
reasons, planners in the GDR thought they could serve as models and
potential trading partners for commodities and technology.
The comparison with the UK is perhaps most intriguing if simultaneous comparisons are made between the two Germanies, on the one
hand, and between the UK and the United States, on the other. Both sets
of countries spoke the same language and shared extensive cultural traditions. In terms of population, both the GDR and the UK stood in approximately the same relationship to their ‘‘other’’ (a ratio of approximately
∞:∂). And, in each case a more planned and nationalized economy stood
opposed to a more open economy, and a poorer record on innovation to
relative technological dynamism.
Much more could be made of this comparison, which might make for a
book in itself. Here I do not intend to pursue the comparison exhaustively, but instead wish to use it to make two points. First of all, the idea
of comparison is useful in determining the extent to which the development of technology in the GDR conformed to or departed from broader
trends in twentieth-century industrial societies. It also helps condition
our historical imaginations, allowing us to think ourselves into the
mindset of the East Germans. They, after all, thought in the very same
comparative terms. Which brings me to my second point: like the East
Germans of the time, I use such comparisons opportunistically throughout the book, highlighting them as they seem appropriate to the general discussion. Although East German technological development took
place in an international context and although the East Germans were
constantly comparing themselves to other countries, much of the story
here is, like the history of all countries, sui generis. The primary focus
has to be on internal developments within the GDR.
I have divided the chapters that follow into three parts, which deal
roughly chronologically with the issues and themes outlined above. The
beginning and end dates for each of the parts correspond to major political events, including the Soviet occupation of eastern Germany and the

Introduction | 9

establishment of the GDR, the beginning of the Second Berlin Crisis, the
construction of the Berlin Wall, the Ulbricht era, and the collapse of
the GDR. But I argue that these political events had economic—and indeed, even more specifically, technological—causes and dimensions.
Part I, consisting of the first two chapters, deals with the early postwar
years in the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany, the nascent GDR,
and the first full-fledged attempts to establish a socialist system in the
∞Ω∑≠s. The impact of war and defeat on technological traditions and
trajectories, reparations and Soviet seizures of scientific and technological personnel, and initial attempts at reconstruction and Soviet-style
reorganization of economy and society are key themes dealt with in
these chapters. The mixture of misery, hope, and despair engendered by
these events culminated in East Germany’s first system failure, the uprising of ∞π June ∞Ω∑≥, one of the main causes of which was a dispute
about work norms.
The period of stabilization and renewed crisis between ∞Ω∑≥ and ∞Ω∑∫
was when the first real attempts to create separate socialist technological
traditions took place in East Germany. The return of major factories to
East German control and their organization into People’s Own Factories
(Volkseigene Betriebe, or VEB) required the adaptation of old forms of
research and development and the invention of new ones. More sophisticated planning had a similar effect. The return of German scientists from
the Soviet Union and the continued hemorrhaging of qualified technical
and scientific personnel to the West were two other major forces for
change in the East German system of innovation during these years.
Part II, comprising chapters ≥–∑, addresses the issue of technology
during the Second Berlin Crisis, between ∞Ω∑∫ and ∞Ω∏∞, a critical period
in East German development. It was a time of extreme discouragement,
as economic targets continued to elude the GDR and the outflow of
qualified personnel continued. Yet cause for hope was seen in a series of
new initiatives for development of new technologies, the successful
launch of the first Sputnik by the Soviet Union, and opportunities for
technological cooperation not just with the Soviets, but also with firms
in the West.
The period ∞Ω∑∫–∏∞ therefore formed a crossroads for GDR decisionmakers not just in political, but also in technological terms. Chapter ≥ is
concerned with the process of technology transfer during this critical
period. Investigation of study visits to trade fairs in the West (focusing on
the Hannover Trade Fair in spring ∞Ω∑Ω) and of attempts to devise ways of

10 | Constructing Socialism

harnessing the Leipzig trade fair as a mechanism of technology transfer
makes it possible to analyze the possibilities and problems of technological renewal in the GDR. This chapter also sheds light on the question of
the extent to which East Germany developed its own distinct technological traditions and identity during these years, by contrasting its
engineers, technology, and technological mentalities with those in West
Germany and in other countries. East German technological culture, I
argue, had already become very different from that in West Germany by
the late ∞Ω∑≠s. In other words, there was already a technological Mauer
im Kopf (‘‘wall in the head’’) between the two Germanies even before the
construction of the Berlin Wall in August ∞Ω∏∞. By the late ∞Ω∑≠s there
was a confusion of identity in East Germany that was engendered by a
longing to form a separate and recognizably socialist technology, while at
the same time being uncritically fascinated by capitalist machines and
technological systems. This in turn led to early and pronounced differences between East German and West German technological culture.
Yet despite the existence of a technological Mauer im Kopf by the
late ∞Ω∑≠s, machines, their design, and their deployment remained in
many ways quite similar in the two Germanies through the early ∞Ω∏≠s.
The rapid and—at least in technical terms—problem-free assimilation of
young scientists and engineers from East Germany into West German
industry attested to this, as did the continued respect through the ∞Ω∑≠s
for East German high-technology products, such as optics and machine
tools. Analysis of technological decision-making during this period of
crisis indicates that East German planners flirted with the possibilities
of cooperation with the West, as the chapters on the ‘‘hardware’’ and
‘‘software’’ of socialism demonstrate. But there were also moves to tie
East Germany more closely to the eastern bloc through technological
artifacts, techniques of industrial organization, and technical and scientific standards. Essentially, I argue that the construction of a virtual wall
in terms of technology preceded the construction of the concrete one.
And after August ∞Ω∏∞ the virtual wall reinforced the physical one and
made it far more effective. Both had the same goal of trying to separate
East Germany from the West, while simultaneously attaching it more
firmly to the eastern bloc.
The construction of the Berlin Wall in August ∞Ω∏∞ stabilized the East
German system by halting the outflow of scientific and engineering personnel. It permitted the completion of a key stage in the construction of a
virtual technological wall between East and West, and allowed the so-

Introduction | 11

cialist system some breathing space within which to reform itself. The
‘‘second chance’’ for the GDR in the ∞Ω∏≠s is the subject of part III, chapters ∏–∫, as is the subsequent endgame in which the GDR found itself by
the late ∞Ωπ≠s and ∞Ω∫≠s. Walter Ulbricht’s New Economic System,
which began in ∞Ω∏≥, foresaw a complete revamping of the economy,
with a key role accorded to technology, and with major implications for
it. Accompanied initially by a loosening of cultural constraints, the New
Economic System appeared by the mid-∞Ω∏≠s to be accomplishing its
objectives, thus easing some of the bad feeling that had arisen from the
construction of the Berlin Wall. But the late ∞Ω∏≠s witnessed renewed
crisis, which culminated in the removal of Walter Ulbricht as head of the
SED in ∞Ωπ∞ and his replacement by the GDR’s second leader, Erich
Honecker.
The crisis of the late ∞Ω∏≠s had political and economic dimensions, but
for the GDR a large part of the problem was technological. The country’s
resources and system of innovation had proven adequate—if sometimes
barely so—in technologies that had been developed initially before ∞Ω∂∑
and had matured in the postwar period. But they were generally not up to
the task of innovation in key postwar high technologies, such as electronics and petrochemicals. Chapter ∏ analyzes this failure of the system
and assesses the role of the reforms of the New Economic System in it.
Chapters π and ∫ examine the GDR’s persistent crises and eventual
endgame during the last two decades of its existence. The replacement of
Ulbricht with Honecker in ∞Ωπ∞ signaled a renewed commitment to
consumer goods production, which, given the precarious financial status
of the GDR regime, could only occur at the expense of high-technology
development, especially in electronics, but also in chemicals and other
areas. Increasingly, the GDR relied on substitutes for technological development rather than the real thing. Tactics included illicit copying of
western technology, and such efforts were often supported in large part
by spying. Espionage undertaken by the State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst, or Stasi) had two aims. The first was the evasion of
COCOM (the Coordinating Committee for East-West trade, which was
responsible for western Allied technological sanctions against the eastern bloc) restrictions on trade in technology. The second was the acquisition of know-how from western firms, mostly West German ones.
During the ∞Ωπ≠s and beyond autarky, or economic self-sufficiency,
had even more of an impact on technological choice and change than
before. It allowed unusual and exotic technological areas (such as acety-

12 | Constructing Socialism

lene chemistry) to flourish. It also promoted development of an extensive
and generally successful recycling program (and associated technologies), the Secondary Raw Materials Office (Sekundärrohstoff, or Sero).
These issues are also addressed in chapter π.
Having virtually abandoned key high-technology research and development and investment, especially in the electronics sector, in the late
∞Ω∏≠s and early ∞Ωπ≠s, in favor of consumer goods production, the SED
decided in ∞Ωπ∏ that the GDR should develop indigenous capability in
microelectronics technology and began to invest accordingly. Since internal political constraints determined that consumer production could
not be scaled back to any significant degree, resources for the microelectronics industry had to come from neglect of other industries, such
as chemicals. Raymond Bentley argues that this ‘‘mismatch between the
GDR’s research and development effort in various branches and the
country’s most important economic and social needs’’ was one of the
main difficulties of the East German system of innovation in its final
years.∞≤ Chapter ∫ examines this contention. Finally, the conclusion revisits the themes sketched out in this introduction.
The book as a whole thus offers an interpretation of East German history as seen through the prism of the development of its technology and
technology policy. I hasten to point out, however, that the focus on technology is not intended to exclude all else. Instead, the purpose here is to
examine GDR technology as at once an important cause, and at the same
time a key consequence, of the country’s political, social, and economic
development. It began to take on this dual role even before the country
came into existence, in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

Part I

Defining a Socialist
System of Innovation
in the GDR, 1945–1958

Chapter 1

Technology in the
Soviet Zone, 1945–1949

A

s World War II drew to its spectacular conclusion in
late spring of ∞Ω∂∑, Allied military commanders ignored the postwar
boundaries on which their governments had agreed. Strategic necessity,
not the borders hammered out laboriously as political compromises, governed the movement of armies. The precise boundaries of the four Allied
zones of occupation would be sorted out after the hostilities ceased. As a
result, the Americans overshot their zone, moving well into those of
their allies, including the Russians. When the Americans withdrew to
the previously agreed borders in June ∞Ω∂∑, more than a month after the
conclusion of hostilities in Europe, the Soviet occupiers could survey
their zone in its entirety. They were confronted with appalling levels of
destruction to cities and industrial plants, within and between which
roamed lost, displaced, and dispossessed people.
Because their own country was in even worse condition, from German
invasion and occupation, the Soviets, even more than the Allies, focused
on three main goals. First, they were keen to punish their vanquished
foes and to make sure that they would never again foment war. Second,
they wished to recast German society and political life in accordance
with their notions of democracy. Finally, and perhaps most important for
our present purposes, they wanted to use the material and intellectual
resources of their zone for the reconstruction and economic and technological improvement of their own nation.∞
Traditions and Locations
Germany had never been a stable area politically, and the end of World
War II brought a renewed revision of its borders. The eastern parts of the
old Reich, including East Prussia and Silesia, were hived off to Poland.
The Soviet zone of occupation, later known as East Germany, had actually long been central Germany. It was a varied area. Generally far less

16 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

densely populated than the western German zones that later formed the
Federal Republic of Germany, the Soviet zone also had several large cities
and industrial centers. The zone’s industrial base was rich in tradition
and in many cases technologically at the forefront of world developments. This industrial base was, of course, not uniform throughout the
zone, but rather was divided into several different regions. Gary Herrigel,
in Industrial Constructions, attempted to divide Germany into different
regions based upon a typology of characteristics of industry and the economy. Herrigel provides a useful overview of what became East Germany,
indicating that extensive portions of the regions making up the later
GDR were highly industrialized and technologically very sophisticated.≤
The northern half of the zone and most of the area surrounding the
former German capital, Berlin, was primarily agricultural, and locations
in these areas, such as Schwedt and Eisenhüttenstadt, later were the
focus of East German regional development policies. But within this
generally relatively backward area, Berlin itself featured very high levels
of industrialization, with much of the industry located in the Sovietcontrolled eastern sector of the city. In addition, there were major centers
of industry to the south and west of Berlin. Dresden, Chemnitz (eventually renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt), Magdeburg, and Leipzig were all prominent industrial locations featuring a wide range of industries, but with
particular strength in machine building and machine tools. Vital to every
other industry, machine tools and machine building together constituted
one of the most advanced industrial sectors in what would become East
Germany. They were vital export industries for the country throughout
its existence and were central to its technological development. Office
machinery was another important industrial sector located in this area.
Indeed, it is estimated that before World War II approximately ∫≠ percent
of Germany’s office-machinery industry was situated in the area that
would later become East Germany.≥ Postwar developments in these
three industrial sectors also bring to light some of the hindrances to, and
limits on, innovation in the GDR.
In addition to Berlin and its environs and the south and west of what
became the GDR, two other sets of industrial locations were crucial for
their technological tradition and potential. Some modern and very large
chemical plants were located not far from Leipzig, in Wolfen, Bitterfeld,
Schkopau, and Merseburg, in the so-called chemical triangle running
northeast from Halle to Bitterfeld, southwest to Merseburg, and back
northeast to Halle. Most of them—and all the important ones—had pre-

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 17

viously belonged to I. G. Farben, the giant German chemical concern of
∞Ω≤∑–∂∑.∂ Factories in Wolfen and Bitterfeld concentrated on dye and
film manufacture. Schkopau was a major producer of synthetic rubber, or
buna, while the Leuna factory in Merseburg had a sophisticated, technologically advanced plant producing a wide range of synthetic products.
As the war ended in ∞Ω∂∑, the Leuna plant was the largest chemical
factory in Germany, in both capacity and number of workers.
Not far along the Saale River from Leuna stood Jena, center of a worldrenowned optics and precision mechanics industry that also stretched to
the north and west of the city. Jena’s most prominent corporate citizen
was the Carl Zeiss Works, an internationally respected producer of optical lenses and equipment. Zeiss was one of the major resources for the
Soviet zone and, later, East Germany. It maintained a very high level of
technological capability throughout the GDR’s existence and was a major foreign-exchange earner for the often cash-strapped country. Other,
less well-known firms performed similar yeoman service for the regime,
including Zeiss Ikon in the camera industry, as well as others in the
motor industry and industrial-design sector.
Despite this impressive legacy of earlier German industrialization and
technological excellence, there were some inherent difficulties in the
situation of the Soviet zone at war’s end. First, although there were substantial damages to the industry of the area owing to the war and its
aftermath, much of the physical plant that existed in the zone in mid∞Ω∂∑ had been built relatively recently. It therefore also bore the mark of
the National Socialist orientation toward autarky, or domestic economic
self-sufficiency, and war. Retooling of much of this plant and equipment
would be necessary before it would be suitable for peacetime production.
Second, the zone suffered from a relative shortage of research and development (R&D) capacity that would be necessary for scientific and
technological innovation. Berlin held some major research institutes of
the former Reich, including the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt
(PTR) and several of the major institutes of the Kaiser Wilhelm (later
Max Planck) Society. Although some of them had been moved in the
latter stages of the war to what would become the GDR, they were generally located in the western parts of the city, and most were therefore
controlled by the western Allies.
Industrial R&D capacity, moreover, was also in short supply. Many of
the plants located in the Soviet zone had been part of firms that were
based in the western area of Germany, and R&D laboratories tended to be

18 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

located in or near the corporate headquarters. One consequence of the
occupation and later division of Germany was the complete loss of this
capacity insofar as it was located in the West. There were some major
exceptions: for instance, some machine manufacturers and the Zeiss
Works retained substantial capability for research and development. But
even there, the research capacity that did exist in what would become
the GDR had, like the area’s physical plant, been shaped by long years of
isolation, autarky, and war, and would require major retrofitting for the
postwar period. What is more, Zeiss’s technological capability in the
postwar period was hampered by the fact that eighty-four leading employees of the firm, drawn from a variety of commercial and scientific
and technical fields, had been evacuated from the Soviet zone by the
American occupation authorities when they withdrew in June ∞Ω∂∑.
Some of these émigrés went on to form the rival Zeiss concern in Oberkochen in western Germany.∑
Third, the location of many corporate headquarters in the West meant
that high-level managerial talent also tended to be located in the western
areas. Plant-level managerial talent was plentiful in the Soviet zone, at
least in ∞Ω∂∑ (it would become less so later with the flow of emigration
westward in the so-called ‘‘flight from the republic,’’ or Republikflucht,
of the ∞Ω∑≠s). But as a result of the shortage of top-level managers, investment, financial decision-making, and long-range planning tended to be
weak within factories in the Soviet zone. Again, there were major exceptions in some industries, such as machine building, machine tools, optics, and fine mechanics. But even here, difficulties arose from the preparations for the end of hostilities and for Soviet occupation that were
made by many major corporations at the end of the war. In many cases,
key firms simply relocated. So, for instance, the headquarters of the
world-renowned Siemens corporation moved from Berlin to Munich toward the end of the war. A splinter group from the Zeiss corporation—
composed mainly of those who had left Jena as the U.S. occupation
troops withdrew in June ∞Ω∂∑—eventually established a rival Zeiss corporation in Oberkochen, in Württemberg, West Germany.
The Technological Impact of the War
When they were sent to Germany in ∞Ω∂∑ to assess the effects of strategic
bombing on the German economy, the investigators of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) came up with surprising findings. Despite

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 19

heavy bombing and considerable ground fighting at the end of the war,
much of German industrial capacity was still intact. Damage to buildings far exceeded that to machinery, and even that was astonishingly
limited. The final collapse of the German war economy was indeed
caused primarily by bombing, but it was the oil industry (and related
industries) and vital infrastructure systems, such as rail lines, water and
sewage facilities, and the like, that were most affected.∏
Despite these overall conclusions, it was also clear that there were
considerable differences in the extent of damage by region and by individual factory. One might have expected that the area that would become
the Soviet zone of occupation would have been especially hard hit. It
contained a heavy concentration of war-related industries, and the chemical industry—which was located in the Soviet zone in the area around
Halle and had extensive synthetic oil and rubber production capacity—
was a favorite target of Allied bombers. In the final weeks of the war,
moreover, the future Soviet zone had also experienced intensive ground
fighting in and around Berlin, which was also a major industrial center.
GDR historical literature eventually relied on these facts to contend
that war-related damage to industry in the Soviet zone was especially
pronounced. But the contention is simply not true. War-related damages
to the industrial basis of the future GDR were on average no greater,
and probably far less, than those in the future West Germany.π Rainer
Karlsch, who has done the most extensive study of war damages, reparations, and dismantling in the Soviet zone, gives an estimate of total war
damages to industry in the future GDR of ∞∑ percent of the capacity that
had existed in the area in ∞Ω∂∂. Damages to industry in the future Federal
Republic and West Berlin reached ≤≤ percent. In both the future GDR and
the future Federal Republic, the damages to buildings were far higher
than to productive plant capacity. The result for the Soviet zone, like all
the other zones of occupation, was that ‘‘most of the large-scale factories
were in the position to take up their usual activities again only a few
weeks after the end of the war’’ (see table ∞).∫
Again, though, these global figures need to be treated with some caution. Individual plants experienced the bombing and the end of the war
very differently: some were hardly damaged at all, while others were
nearly completely destroyed. What is more, there was a general tendency
for factories in more research-intensive industries to be more seriously
affected by the fighting than those in more traditional industries, mainly
because they were frequently the targets of Allied bombing raids. Ma-

20 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958
Table 1. Capacity Losses of Selected Industrial Branches in the Soviet Zone of
Occupation Owing to War and Dismantling, in Percent (as of August ∞Ω∂∏)

Image not available.

chine building, the electrical industry, and the vehicles industry all lost
more than one-fifth of their ∞Ω∂∂ capacity through war damages.Ω But
there were also exceptions to this general tendency. The Zeiss main and
south works, for instance, suffered a total of about RM ≥.Ω∞ million
worth of damage through the fighting, of which damage to premises
(buildings and grounds) made up about ∂∞ percent. In relation to the total
value of the plant and assets of the two facilities, however, the damages
were minuscule, amounting to just ≤.∂≥ percent.∞≠
In assessing the impact of war damages on German industrial capacity
in all zones of occupation, we also need to take into account that these
figures are based on capacity in ∞Ω∂∂—in other words after the German
war economy had grown considerably. Karlsch reckons that industrial
capacity in ∞Ω∂∂ was nearly ∑≠ percent greater than it had been in ∞Ω≥∏,
the last relatively ‘‘normal’’ year for the German economy. (By ∞Ω≥∏
the economy had recovered from the Depression, but had not yet been
skewed substantially through war production.) As we would expect, relatively high-technology industries, such as machine and vehicle building,
electrical goods, chemicals, and precision goods and optics, increased
their production and capacity more substantially on average than those
in more traditional industries.∞∞
These findings have several implications for assessing the technological level of industry in the future GDR. In terms of physical plant, the
Soviet zone was relatively no worse off, and probably far better off, than
the western zones as the war came to an end. Much of the plant capacity

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 21

was intact, and much of it was of relatively recent vintage. Investment
and production during the war, moreover, had focused above all on relatively research-intensive industries. But much of the relatively new, relatively high-technology plant in the future GDR was designed for war
production, which diminished its usefulness, at least potentially, for the
postwar period. It had also been used heavily during the war, so that wear
and tear was substantial. Thus, although the Soviet zone retained a high
level of intact and very sophisticated technology, replacement and retooling would soon be needed.
In terms of war damages, then, the Soviet zone in summer ∞Ω∂∑ faced
exactly the same problems and prospects as did the other zones, although
with marginally better artifactual resources. Still, the zone suffered several technological disadvantages compared to its western counterparts.
First of all, the breakdown of traditional regional relationships in Germany through the division of the country into four zones had a greater
impact on the Soviet zone than on the western zones. Second, as already
noted, high-level managerial talent was in relatively short supply in the
Soviet zone compared to other zones, and the zone had insufficient capacity for research and development. Probably the most important factor
shaping technological development in the future GDR, however, was the
presence of the Soviet occupiers, whose actions changed fundamentally
the material basis of their section of Germany.
The Soviet Occupation and Its Technological Effects
The Soviet occupation, which began in the late spring and early summer
of ∞Ω∂∑, had three major effects on technology in the area that would
become the GDR.∞≤ First, the Soviets had a critical impact on the hardware available in their zone. They dismantled substantial amounts of
machinery and plant, either as reparations or as part of programs to demilitarize the German economy. Second, they adopted policies that affected the technological software (people and ideas) available in their
area of occupation. Like the western Allies, they seized vast amounts of
technological and scientific information for use in their own science and
industry. Unlike the western Allies, they also forced large numbers of
engineers and scientists to move to the Soviet Union to work on R&D
projects there. Finally, they altered fundamentally the institutional context within which industrial innovation took place by changing ownership structures.

22 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

Seizures of plant and machinery were the most obvious impact of the
Soviet occupation. Dismantling, much of it for reparations, took place on
a scale unknown in the other zones of occupation and dramatically decreased industrial capacity in the Soviet zone. In general, the loss of
capacity through dismantling was far greater than what was lost through
bombing or ground fighting during the war itself (see table ∞). Numerous
factories that were still intact at the end of the war were dismantled and
taken away to the Soviet Union as early as the summer of ∞Ω∂∏. Aluminum and magnesium capacity, for instance, was intact at war’s end, but
stood at zero in September ∞Ω∂∏. The same was true for some parts of the
chemical industry. Magnesium-oxide capacity was removed entirely.
Ninety-five percent of automobile tire production plant was dismantled.
Eighty percent of soda capacity disappeared. All of these were sectors
that had survived the war intact.
For other important areas of industry, the dismantling, coming on top
of war damages, severely curtailed production capability. The metallurgical industry, diminished by about ∞≠ percent by the war, saw more
than ∏≠ percent more of its capacity disappear, leaving just over ≤∑ percent in ∞Ω∂∂. The machine-tool industry, which was about ≤∑ percent
destroyed in the fighting, saw a further loss of ∑≥ percent. The electrical
industry lost about ≤≠ percent during the war and about ∏≠ percent more
in its aftermath, leaving just ≤≠ percent of its capacity in ∞Ω∂∂ intact.
And the fine mechanical and optical industry lost ∞∑ percent of its capacity in the fighting, and a further ∏∑ percent through Soviet dismantling.∞≥
When confronted with such astonishing statistics, one cannot help but
recognize that the area that became the GDR had severely diminished
economic and technological capacity by the late ∞Ω∂≠s, compared to a
decade earlier. But it is also necessary to recognize that East German
industry could perhaps afford to lose considerable capacity after the war
without significant effect—at least in principle—on its ability to produce
for the postwar period. The capacity of German industry in general was
running about ∑≠ percent higher in ∞Ω∂∂ than in ∞Ω≥∏, the last year during which the German economy was oriented toward peacetime production. Moreover, the industries that held the most interest for the Soviets
were generally high-technology industries that had seen the largest increases during the build-up to war and during the fighting. Capacity in
these industries had by and large grown more than ∑≠ percent between
∞Ω≥∏ and ∞Ω∂∂. To generalize, we may say that all other things being
equal, we should have expected the Soviet zone to have lost at least one-

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 23

third of industrial capacity across the board, and even more in researchintensive and war-related industries, and still be able to produce at ∞Ω≥∏
peacetime levels.
It is equally important to stress that loss of machinery does not necessarily mean diminished technological capability. In fact, it can have the
opposite effect. In this context, we may recall that much of the machinery and equipment that lay in the Soviet zone of occupation in mid-∞Ω∂∑
had been designed for wartime needs and war-related production. At the
very best, the machines themselves or the technological systems within
which they operated would in any case have had to be reconfigured for
peacetime production; at worst, they would have had to be completely
revamped or else discarded. The same might be said concerning another
characteristic of much of the Soviet zone’s technological basis—that it
was often heavily worn. Even if machinery and equipment could be easily reconfigured for peacetime needs and were relatively lightly worn, in
many research-intensive industries the pace of technological change
meant that they would have had to be replaced soon in any case.
The implication of this line of argument is that the Soviets were not
necessarily doing irreparable harm to the East Germans by removing
irrelevant, worn-out, or obsolescent technologies. The East Germans
were forced to replace such machinery sooner than expected, and the
dismantling and removals (along with seizures of patents and know-how)
may therefore be seen, with some allowance for exaggeration, as a potential force for innovation for postwar German industry.∞∂
Keeping in mind both the statistics on war damages and removals and
the mitigating circumstances of those removals, we come to an accurate,
nuanced picture of the impact of dismantling and reparations on East
German technology. Removal of ‘‘excess’’ plant and equipment was not
at all pleasant for the works affected, at least in the short term, but it had
a potential positive impact in the longer term through stimulation of
technological innovation, especially in research-intensive industries.
Still, because the scale of the dismantling effort went well beyond removal of ‘‘excess’’ capacity, the East Germans started the postwar period
severely hampered in vital industrial and technological sectors. Furthermore, they had a severely diminished capability of mustering the capital
investment necessary to reconstruct them and a curtailed capacity for
research and development both in terms of personnel and organizations.
Shortages of high-ranking managers made things more problematic. To
make matters even worse for the East Germans, the Soviets were not yet

24 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

finished with their dismantling, removals, and general exploitation in
their zone in ∞Ω∂∏. It is clear, therefore, that East Germany was affected
considerably by the Soviet removals in the aftermath of the war, although not unambiguously.
But what are we to make of the impact of this process on the receiving
country, the Soviet Union? Although this is not a question that can be
answered completely here, it is worth considering briefly because it
speaks to debates on the alleged Sovietization of the East German economy.∞∑ The third volume of Anthony Sutton’s massive study, Western
Technology and Soviet Economic Development, indicates that Soviet
dismantling and removals in its zone of Germany were central to Soviet technological development in the postwar period. Contrary to the
usual picture that commentators paint of dismantled German machinery rusting on railway sidings and plants reconstructed but still inoperable owing to German sabotage or inadequate know-how, Sutton claims
that German machinery was actually put to good use in the Soviet Union
after the war. The Soviets, Sutton notes, were especially good at dismantling, having had extensive practice beforehand, unlike the western Allies. They worked carefully, quickly, and effectively, selecting their targets deliberately.
The Soviets concentrated on plants containing equipment and machines
that could be safely transported. Close comparison of removals in Manchuria and East Germany indicates that almost ∞≠≠ percent of removals had
high salvage value and were easily removed and transported, i.e., machine
tools, precision instruments, and small items of equipment not made of
fabricated sheet metal. On the other hand, the Western Allies in Europe
appear to have concentrated their removals on plants with relatively low
salvage value. One cannot, for example, satisfactorily remove an iron and
steel plant to another location, which is exactly what the Allies tried to do.∞∏

By focusing on individual machines rather than on technological systems, the Soviets were able to transport them safely and to deploy them
within their own technological context. In this sense, Soviet technological capability was enhanced by the arrival of German machines and
ideas, but that technology did not change the Soviet system fundamentally. Still, much of this seized German machinery continued to produce
for the Soviet economy for years. These machines also served as templates for other machines. Thus there was bound to be some ‘‘Germanization’’ of Soviet technological systems. Sutton gives an indication of

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 25

the effect of this on the Soviet electrical industry: he suggests that ‘‘current [early ∞Ωπ≠s] backwardness in control instrumentation and computers’’ might be traced back to ‘‘the technical nature of the transfers
from the German electrical industry at the end of World War II.’’∞π
Sutton’s arguments, which were developed in the context of the Cold
War using materials available at the Hoover Institution, require some
revisiting now that the Cold War has ended and former Soviet archives
have become more readily available. But his work and that of others
suggest that German influence on Soviet technological development was
considerable.∞∫ The interaction between the two technological styles,
which had begun in the ∞Ω≤≠s, changed character through time with
evolving power relationships and historical context. But the fact of longterm interaction is important, and recognition of it may well help us to
understand the later process by which East German technological culture was allegedly Sovietized.∞Ω
The impact of Soviet occupation practice on the ‘‘software’’ of East
German technology and science has only recently been studied in any
detail, but the effects were probably much more far-reaching for both the
East Germans and the Soviets than in the case of material transfers. Like
the western Allies, the Soviets investigated scientific and technological
developments that had taken place in Germany during the Third Reich.≤≠
This effort involved systematic visits of specialist scientists and engineers to laboratories and factories; during these visits technical documentation was seized and/or microfilmed, and leading scientific and
technological personnel were interviewed. In the West, an extensive series of reports based on this information was made widely available to
Allied companies and individuals, who could order them from government printing offices. Those interested could also gain access to microfilms of much of the original technical documentation. It is not clear
how this knowledge was disseminated within the Soviet Union, but it is
likely that parallel efforts were made to inform state-owned companies
of the progress of German science and technology during the war.
Both sides also engaged in seizure of German scientific and technological personnel, but the western seizures occurred at a different time and
had a different character from those by the Soviets. Much has been made
of the contribution of German ‘‘rocket scientists’’ and aeronautical engineers to the development of airplane and missile technology in the immediate postwar period and, even more important, to the burgeoning
U.S. space program.≤∞ These men were gathered together very quickly as

26 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

the war came to an end, and most were already in the United States by
the summer of ∞Ω∂∑. German atomic scientists were also seized and
incarcerated at Farm Hall, where their conversations were secretly monitored. These men, unlike many of those associated with the V-≤ program
and the air force, returned to West Germany by January ∞Ω∂∏.≤≤
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Soviets made similar
seizures of German scientists and engineers in the fields of aeronautical
engineering and nuclear physics and engineering. Both groups made contributions to Soviet aeronautical technology and the atomic bomb project, although the atomic and hydrogen bombs and the successful Soviet
intercontinental rockets, all of which were functioning by the late ∞Ω∑≠s,
owed as much to Soviet as to German research and design.≤≥ Western and
eastern Allied policy and practice diverged during ∞Ω∂∏, by which time
forced (or governmentally enticed) migration of scientists and engineers
from Germany to the West had ceased. The Soviets, in contrast, redoubled their efforts to recruit German scientists and engineers (largely
involuntarily) in autumn ∞Ω∂∏ and in a second, smaller action in February ∞Ω∂π.
The Soviet Operation Ossawakim to collect and deport German scientists, undertaken in October ∞Ω∂∏, far exceeded anything undertaken by
the western Allies, both in the numbers seized and in the breadth of their
fields. The effect of the action was magnified by the relatively small size
of the Soviet zone of occupation compared to the western zones. The
Soviets also departed from previous Allied practice, which had emphasized individual, and generally extremely well-known, scientists and engineers; had privileged theoreticians; and had favored war-related science
and technology. Instead, the operation in October ∞Ω∂∏ transported entire teams working on specific, often civilian-oriented projects in chemistry, electronics, and other fields. These teams included not just scientists and engineers, but also their assistants, laboratory personnel,
technicians, and skilled workers.≤∂ Machines and laboratory equipment
frequently accompanied them on the journey eastward. In all, the action
in autumn ∞Ω∂∏ affected approximately ≥,≠≠≠ specialists who, together
with their families, were transported to the Soviet Union. They worked
in a variety of fields, including nuclear research, chemistry, aeronautics,
rocket technology, and optics. Some of them began returning home in
∞Ω∂Ω, although most returned between ∞Ω∑≤ and ∞Ω∑∏. A few were detained until ∞Ω∑∫.≤∑
Clearly, the loss of so much technological talent was especially damag-

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 27

ing to the Soviet zone of occupation and the GDR, where the need for
reconstruction and technological modernization was so great. It must be
noted, of course, that owing to Allied restrictions on war-related research
and development, which lasted into the mid-∞Ω∑≠s, not all the specialists
could have pursued work in their fields unimpeded even if they had
remained in East Germany. They might have been forced to apply their
talents elsewhere, as occurred in the parallel case of Japan. Allied restrictions on the activities of Japanese aeronautical engineers led many of
them to migrate to the automobile industry. There they introduced sophisticated practices of manufacturing and planning—an indication of
the potential positive economic and technological impact of such forced
reorientation. But this did not happen in East Germany, primarily because of the Soviet action. Furthermore, the Soviet seizures may have
had a subtle, but even more nefarious effect on the technological basis
of their zone. As Karlsch points out, one of the key indirect effects of
Operation Ossawakim was to make the technical intelligentsia in the
Soviet zone fundamentally insecure about their positions.≤∏ Many worried about the potential for similar actions in future. All of them understood the operation as the end to the previous regime in which scientists
working for the Soviets often had better working and living conditions
than did those employed by the western Allies. This can only have increased the general tendency during the ∞Ω∑≠s for leading East German
scientists and engineers to take up offers of employment from West German universities, laboratories, and industry.
One of the major points made in the main study of the German specialists resident in the Soviet Union after ∞Ω∂∑ reinforces the point made
above with regard to physical reparations. Ulrich Albrecht and his collaborators argue that there were important aspects of continuity in the
German-Soviet technological relationship stretching back to the ∞Ω≤≠s,
when there was extensive cooperation in the armaments industry. This
tradition was revisited briefly during the Nazi period between the signing of the nonaggression pact in August ∞Ω≥Ω and the invasion of the
USSR in June ∞Ω∂∞. They contend that ‘‘the use of German ‘specialists’ in
the Soviet Union beginning in ∞Ω∂∑ also built upon experiences which
had been made already in the ∞Ω≤≠s and ∞Ω≥≠s.’’ But even though the German specialists resided in the Soviet Union for a considerable amount of
time (over a decade in some cases), there were limits to their impact on
Soviet technology. They did not, as is frequently alleged, build the Soviet
atomic bomb, nor did they provide more than the basis for Soviet missile

28 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

and rocket projects. In fact, German specialists made substantial contributions only to jet engine technology. They ‘‘functioned . . . mostly as
givers of ideas, as ideal competitors in the development of variants for
optimization, and as practical trainers of Soviet scientists and engineers,
who were supposed to acquire the ‘German style,’ the renowned accuracy and capability in experimental innovation.’’≤π
It is therefore difficult to argue that there was a total Germanization of
Soviet scientists and engineers in the aftermath of World War II. Still, as
was the case with physical reparations, intellectual and nonmaterial reparations after ∞Ω∂∑ gave a German inflection to Soviet technological culture. This inflection may in turn have facilitated the subsequent Sovietization of East German technology during the ∞Ω∑≠s and beyond.
Besides having an impact on the hardware and software of East German technology, the Soviet occupiers also affected the context within
which East German technological systems functioned and innovation
occurred. They did this primarily by fundamentally changing ownership
structures and by introducing planning. Both changes had an impact on
how technology was deployed and innovation carried out in the Soviet
zone of occupation.
Within months of the start of the occupation, the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) had ordered a land reform, which
eliminated most large landowners and took the first steps toward socialization of agriculture. This action was followed, beginning in ∞Ω∂∏,
with a series of measures to change the ownership structure of industries. Most large enterprises and those whose proprietors were politically
tainted were nationalized. SMAD consolidated the largest of the large
enterprises into twenty-five Soviet Joint-Stock Companies (Sowjetische
Aktiengesellschaften, or SAGs). The SAGs accounted for about one-third
(and possibly somewhat more) of the zone’s industrial output and comprised much of its high-technology industry, including all of the chemical industry, much of the machine-tool industry, and much of the optics
industry. They remained under Soviet control and ownership until ∞Ω∑≥,
when they were turned over (at a cost of over ≤.∑ billion marks!) to the
East Germans. They subsequently became People’s Own Enterprises
(Volkseigene Betriebe, or VEBs), thus remaining in the public sector.≤∫
The primary effect of the establishment of the SAGs was to halt dismantling of large-scale industry in the Soviet zone, and in this sense they
mitigated the impacts described above regarding transfer of German
hardware to the USSR. However, the primary motivation for the estab-

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 29

lishment of the SAGs was to provide for more effective transfer of goods
and services from the GDR to the USSR—essentially by not killing the
goose that laid the golden egg. Thus, one of the major impacts of the
formation of the SAGs was to deny the fruits of a significant part of the
productive capability of Soviet-zone industry to the Soviet zone. Although the SAG factories remained on German soil, they essentially
were part of the Soviet economy and society.
The precise impact of these changes in ownership structures on technology is not clear. Although the factories were owned by the Soviet
Ministry of Foreign Trade and various Soviet industrial ministries, they
employed German workers and German managers to carry out production. In a sense, therefore, the SAGs may have promoted continuity to an
even greater degree than in other zones (and especially the U.S. zone)
because ‘‘the Soviet directors paid little attention to the denazification of
their factories. . . . [T]he SAGs brought back the old Nazi factory directors
and chief engineers to run the factories.’’≤Ω Such continuity in personnel,
it would seem, could only have helped maintain, rather than alter, previous German technological traditions within Soviet-owned factories.
Joachim Radkau, in a thought-provoking article on technology in the
GDR, claims otherwise. He argues that the SAGs ‘‘anchored . . . structures of Russian applications of technology in the production apparatus
of the GDR.’’ These ‘‘structures’’ included a tendency to design artifacts
and technologies that were ‘‘wasteful of resources and far too large in
scale.’’≥≠ This is a fascinating thesis and one that, if true, would provide
evidence for an additional mechanism through which Sovietization of
East German technological culture may have occurred. But demonstrating it conclusively would require extensive research into the day-to-day
operations of one or more of the SAG factories, research that has thus far
not been carried out.
In the meantime an alternative thesis seems more convincing: that
Sovietization of GDR technological culture by means of the SAGs was
slight. It did occur, but primarily indirectly, because the enterprises were
forced to produce and invest based on the needs of the Soviet economy
and the Soviet market, and not those of the East German economy or its
traditional foreign markets. Although GDR and Soviet technology remained different in many respects from ∞Ω∂∑ through ∞ΩΩ≠, there was a
gradual convergence. However, this was not solely related to the SAGs.
As Radkau indicates, the most persistent damage from the Soviets to
East German technology may have come not through dismantling and

30 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

unequal trade treaties, which made things difficult for the GDR, ‘‘but
rather through that which made the GDR all too comfortable: through
the [Soviet] purchase [from the GDR] of superannuated machines which
had no chance on western markets.’’≥∞ But this contention gets us ahead
of our story somewhat, and will be revisited in later chapters.
Introduction of Soviet-style planning in the Soviet zone also had a limited influence on GDR technological development at first. Ultimately,
however, planning proved a very important shaper of GDR innovative
capability. In the initial occupation period all the Allied occupiers retained some key institutions and regulations for controlling and directing the German economy that had been put in place during the Nazi
period. The Russians were no exception. The main difference came later:
while the western zones began to dismantle such controls and institutions by ∞Ω∂∫, the Soviets were expanding them. In ∞Ω∂π the German
Economic Commission (Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission, or DWK)
was established. It had responsibility for devising plans for the zone’s
economy, and its decisions had the force of law. Eventually the DWK
became the basis for the government of the GDR, which was established
in October ∞Ω∂Ω, and its planning functions were eventually turned over
to the State Planning Commission (Staatliche Plankommission, or SPK),
which was set up in ∞Ω∑≠.
The main initial task of the DWK during the second half of ∞Ω∂∫ was to
devise a Two-Year Plan for the economy. The short time frame would
allow the establishment of procedures and techniques for planning and
would also synchronize GDR planning with that of the other countries in
the eastern bloc. Initially, however, several factors limited the impact of
planning. First of all, the Soviet zone, even more than the other zones of
occupation, was still in a state of flux during ∞Ω∂∫ and ∞Ω∂Ω. Therefore,
‘‘planning’’ essentially boiled down to organizing industrial production
at a very basic level, ensuring that the population was supplied with
basic needs, and making certain that reparations targets were met. Only
during the first Five-Year Plan (∞Ω∑∞–∑∑) were rudimentary techniques of
planning developed into a sort of template, which would be developed
and improved in following years.≥≤ Another factor limiting the impact of
planning during the occupation period was that less than half of the
economic enterprises in the zone, and probably only about ≥≠ percent of
industrial enterprises, were under direct central control.≥≥ Lastly, initial
planning in the Soviet zone/GDR did not focus on innovation directly or
to any great degree, which limited its direct impact on GDR technologi-

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 31

cal development and indeed guaranteed at first a certain degree of autonomy for science and technology.≥∂ Still, the techniques and procedures
for planning developed in these years had an indirect impact on the GDR
system of innovation, making it more like the Soviet system in how
resources were deployed and incentives given. And they provided the
basis for later development of extensive planning of GDR science and
technology beginning in the early ∞Ω∑≠s.
The Beginnings of an Alternative System of Innovation
The system of industrial innovation in the Soviet zone of occupation
was composed primarily of people, machines, and institutions that had
emerged from German history through ∞Ω∂∑.≥∑ Thus, despite the changes
in hardware, software, and context noted above, the East German system
remained in many ways quite (prewar) German. It was in the ∞Ω∑≠s and
later that more fundamental changes took place owing to generational
change, the impact of ideology, and the altered political-economic system. Nevertheless, these changes began during the occupation period, as
new institutions were formed and old ones redefined.
The topmost institution for science in the GDR was the German Academy of Sciences (Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, or
DAW), which was founded under the auspices of the Soviet occupiers in
summer ∞Ω∂∏ as a successor to the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Although it drew some of its membership and much of its tradition from
the older Prussian institution, the DAW had some new elements, such as
having its own research institutes, and over time it became even more
different from its predecessor. From the beginning there was a certain
tension in the definition of the DAW’s role. On the one hand, it was
supposed to be an all-German institution; on the other, it was supposed
to become a ‘‘socialist research academy.’’ This tension was heightened
by the criteria for membership in the academy, which were implemented
by ∞Ω∂Ω: one was ‘‘professional quality’’; another was ‘‘suitability for the
fulfillment of state duties,’’ which meant, among other things, ‘‘offering
scientific help to the people’s owned industry of the eastern zone.’’ Essentially, then, the DAW became a peculiarly East German institution—
one that, by taking over functions previously exercised by Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes and state-run laboratories, operated a vast network of
research establishments and attracted to its employ many of the GDR’s
best scientists and engineers (and also, incidentally, social scientists and

32 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

scholars from the humanities). The pan-German function was largely
lost.≥∏
Again, these changes came to fruition only during and after the ∞Ω∑≠s,
but they were implicit in the constitution of the DAW. One of the main
innovations here was the explicit linking of elite science to applied science and technology, the economy, and society, although there were certain linkages of this sort in German scientific tradition.≥π Another, even
more dramatic break with the German past was the mobilization (and
control) through the DAW of much of the East German scientific and
engineering establishment within the confines of a single institution.
Although the full impact of these changes would again be felt only
later, during the ∞Ω∑≠s, it is clear that the establishment of the DAW,
along with the concentration of industry into SAGs (and subsequently
VEBs), had a pronounced effect on the structure of East German science
and technology. Under Soviet tutelage and control, the East Germans
began to develop much more centralized structures to replace the relatively decentralized and flexible system of innovation traditional to Germany. As these relatively centralized institutions developed and became
more effective, they permitted a higher level of planning of science and
technology policy and strategy, which began to occur from the early
∞Ω∑≠s onward.
In the shorter run, during the actual occupation period, the constraints
on scientific and technological development were such as to prevent
anything more than the most primitive measures. The war and the longterm isolation of Germany from international scientific and engineering
best practice meant that the country had fallen behind its rivals in many
fields. Seizures of plant, information, and personnel only exacerbated
these difficulties, and they were especially bad in the Soviet zone. Funding for science and technology was in short supply. Yet the Soviet zone,
like those in the West, needed desperately to improve productivity. Since
the usual sources of productivity increases, science and technology, were
unable to deliver, more desperate measures were undertaken.
Essentially, in this situation, East Germans were told to work harder
and faster in order to produce more, and the efforts were personified by a
coal miner, Adolf Hennecke, leading to the so-called Hennecke movement. On ∞≥ October ∞Ω∂∫ the forty-three-year-old Hennecke mined
nearly four times his normal quota of coal in a single shift. Little different
from the Stakhanovite movement of the ∞Ω≥≠s in the USSR, the Hennecke movement was based on an artificial ‘‘accomplishment’’ achieved

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 33

Image not available.

Adolf Hennecke (∞Ω≠∑–π∑), pictured in October ∞Ω∂∫. Aided by extensive
preparation and support, Hennecke mined nearly four times his normal quota
of coal in a single shift in October ∞Ω∂∫. The resulting ‘‘Hennecke movement,’’
which encouraged workers simply to work harder and faster, indicated the
bankruptcy of innovation policy in the Soviet-controlled zone in the early
postwar period. Bundesarchiv, Koblenz, Bildsammlung Bild ∞∫≥/W≠∑∞∂/≥≠∞

through extensive preparation. It was also politically inspired and mercilessly propagandized in the aftermath. The movement spread to all industries in the Soviet zone of occupation, causing widespread resistance to
what was in fact a socialist, and corrupted, version of Frederick Winslow
Taylor’s scientific management. Such toying with quotas and work
norms eventually culminated in the workers’ uprising of June ∞Ω∑≥.≥∫
During the Soviet occupation the area that would later become the GDR
faced enormous difficulties. There were severe disruptions to the Soviet
zone’s system of innovation owing to war, occupation, German division,
and new political and economic institutions. But did these disruptions
and developments during the occupation period throttle the area’s ability
to innovate from the outset? Or, as the editors of a recent collection of

34 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

studies of East German innovation put it, given that we know East Germany ultimately failed technologically, was that failure a result of a ‘‘bad
start or a bad run’’?≥Ω
To some degree, this question begs a more fundamental one. When did
the start occur? One might argue that it occurred in ∞Ω∂∑, during the
‘‘zero hour’’ of German history. But alternatively, one might argue that it
happened in ∞Ω∂∫, when the currency reform took place, the First Berlin
Crisis began, and the DWK began its planning work. Rainer Karlsch, for
instance, seems to locate the origins of the GDR’s problems with innovation around this time in ‘‘the Stalinist social system which was establishing itself.’’ After smashing the democratic façade in the Soviet zone, that
system began ‘‘to hamper increasingly the innovative forces of the society.’’∂≠ A third possibility would be to place the start date in ∞Ω∂Ω, with
the founding of the GDR.
Regardless of when precisely the start of the GDR is deemed to have
occurred, it is clear that the conditions in ∞Ω∂Ω, as the initial Soviet
occupation period came to an end, were very bad indeed. It is just as clear
that the GDR at its official founding was not all that far behind the
Federal Republic in technological terms, was still competitive in key
industries, and was still very good in science and engineering education
and practice. Therefore, the proximate causes of the ultimate failure of
the GDR system of innovation must be placed later than the occupation
period, at the very earliest in the ∞Ω∑≠s. But there is also a need to explain
the country’s continued ability to innovate, both during the ∞Ω∑≠s and, to
a lesser degree, beyond. Even if the GDR was falling behind technologically relative to the capitalist West, it was still very respectable in international terms and was the envy of the eastern bloc.
This tension between the looming specter of failure on the one hand
and the grudging recognition of both success and enormous potential on
the other is a key theme in GDR history, lying at the heart of its development from its very origins. The tension grew more acute as the occupation period drew to a close and the nascent GDR regime took over increasing control of its own affairs.
Still, it must not be forgotten that the Hennecke movement, one of the
few concrete measures actually implemented to increase productivity in
the Soviet-occupied area, was a pathetic demonstration of the real weaknesses of East German science and technology. It was also a premonition
of the country’s inability to function effectively in this vital area. At the
same time, however, it is important to keep in mind that the changes

Technology in the Soviet Zone, 1945–1949 | 35

that had taken place were not irrevocable. Despite war damages and
removals of equipment and personnel, East Germany retained an imposing technological and scientific capacity compared to virtually every
country that surrounded it, even the Federal Republic. The relative decline of East German science and technology, the increased divergence
from German traditions of organization and deployment of science and
technology, and the frequent failures of the East German system of innovation lay largely in the future.

Chapter 2

A First, Flawed
Construction
Technology Planning and
Practice through 1958

S

hortly after the founding of the Federal Republic of
Germany (FRG), the East German Democratic Republic was established,
in October ∞Ω∂Ω. Both successor states to the formerly united Germany
set about creating the institutions and traditions required by any nation.
From autumn of ∞Ω∂Ω they regained a considerable amount of control
over their internal political, social, and economic affairs, but both continued to labor under severe restrictions on their sovereignty. Neither,
for instance, was invited to take part in the proceedings of the newly
created United Nations (and indeed the two did not become full members of the UN until ∞Ωπ≥). Nor were they initially welcomed into other
international organizations, such as the International Standards Organization (ISO). Berlin, the former capital, remained an occupied city in
which the four former Allies had the ultimate say. The Federal Republic’s actions continued to be overseen by representatives of the western
Allies in the form of the Allied High Commission, while the Soviets
retained crucial aspects of political control in the East.
Despite these similarities, it is clear that the constraints on decisionmaking were greater in the GDR than in the FRG, especially in the areas
of science, technology, and the economy. Some of the constraints were
the indirect results of the war and Soviet policy and practice. For instance, infrastructure problems affected all aspects of life in the GDR
well into the ∞Ω∑≠s, the result of wartime destruction and Soviet rapacity. GDR industry and science suffered from the severing or loosening of
links with counterparts in the West. Other constraints were much more
direct. The GDR, for example, continued to be plagued by a shortage of
scientific and technical talent, exacerbated by the Soviet seizure of scientists and engineers in ∞Ω∂∏. The experts began to return in the early
∞Ω∑≠s, but they were not all back until the middle of the decade. More
important, in the context of the late ∞Ω∂≠s and early ∞Ω∑≠s, the Soviets
constrained economic and technological decision-making at virtually all

Technology Planning and Practice through 1958 | 37

the major factories in the GDR. The SAGs controlled most of the largest
concerns in the GDR until the beginning of ∞Ω∑∂ and eventually accounted for around ≥≠ percent or more of the GDR’s industrial output.
They produced for the needs of the Soviet economy, not for those of the
GDR, and decisions on investment, expansion, and technological research and development were made on that basis.
But even had all these constraints, deliberate and otherwise, been removed, the GDR would still have been faced with a major task at the
beginning of its existence. As a new state, it lacked both the institutions
and the links between them through which to sustain delivery of highquality products of science and technology. To use more recent technology, it needed to create the institutions and practices for establishing a
‘‘national system of innovation.’’∞ In this, the GDR could draw for inspiration upon the many distinguished and successful models and traditions of the pre-∞Ω∂∑ German system of innovation.≤ But at the same
time, the leadership most surely did not wish to re-create the institutions
and practices of united Germany; in fact, they wished consciously to
break with them. During the ∞Ω∑≠s, therefore, they jettisoned key aspects of tried and true German practice, centralizing scientific institutions on the Soviet model, nationalizing the means of production, and
engaging eventually in detailed planning, not just for production and
consumption, but also for research, development, and innovation.
The leadership’s commitment to science and technology was demonstrated dramatically at the beginning of the decade: expenditures for research and development increased by ∂π∂ percent between ∞Ω∂Ω and
∞Ω∑≠, from under ≤≠ million to Ω≠ million marks. The vastly increased
sum still represented only a tiny proportion of GDR national income,
just one-half of one percent in ∞Ω∑≠. But that proportion grew steadily
throughout the decade, reaching an average of just under ≤ percent of
national income by the early ∞Ω∏≠s.≥ In attaining this level of spending,
the East Germans were not far out of line with their West German counterparts. In fact, the public and the industrial sectors in the Federal Republic spent just under one and one-quarter percent of the country’s GNP
on research and development in ∞Ω∏≤, with the figure rising to ≤ percent
only in the late ∞Ω∏≠s. Of course, it must be kept in mind that the two
countries differed in their definition of what constituted research and
development. More important, although West Germany spent proportionally slightly less of its GNP on research and development than did
the GDR in the early ∞Ω∏≠s, the GNP was much larger and growing

38 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

faster. Thus, in absolute terms, West German spending far exceeded that
of East Germany.∂
The GDR’s first attempts to create a new, socialist national system of
innovation during the ∞Ω∑≠s entailed dependence upon people, organizations, and technologies from the German past. But by ∞Ω∑π–∑∫ a very
different set of institutions and practices had been created—one more
centralized, planned, and regimented than at any time before in German
history. To be sure, the efforts ended in severe disappointment, as the
new system of innovation failed to deliver on its promises, at least as
compared to the performance of the rival and thrusting West German
system of innovation. But compared to the outlook at the beginning of
the ∞Ω∑≠s, when GDR managers and bureaucrats started their task, the
situation in ∞Ω∑π–∑∫, though facing frequent crises, was relatively favorable. The decade had begun in almost unimaginable conditions as the
GDR leadership, armed with very little besides their ideological zeal,
began to cobble together a new socialist world.
Lurching toward the First System Crisis, 1949–1953
Rudimentary planning for the economy had begun in ∞Ω∂∫ under the
auspices of the nascent government of the GDR, the German Economic
Commission (DWK). During ∞Ω∂∫ and ∞Ω∂Ω a large number of R&D facilities in fields ranging from basic research in physics, chemistry, and biology to economics and applied research came under the formal control of
the DWK, which established a Main Section for Science and Technology
(Hauptabteilung Wissenschaft und Technik) to oversee them. Officially,
the DWK gave research assignments to each of the ∂∑≥ laboratories under
its formal control, supervised their activities, and provided some of the
funding.∑ As might be expected, the heaviest concentration of facilities
was in the areas in which German industry was strongest. Approximately ≤≠ percent were in the machine-building and machine-tool industry, for instance, and about ∞≠ percent each in applied chemistry,
precision mechanics and optics, and the electrical industry.∏ During
∞Ω∂Ω, as reconstruction began in earnest, new attempts were made to
harness research and development for the GDR’s economy. In January
∞Ω∂Ω the DWK’s responsibilities for funding of and planning for the facilities were placed under the auspices of the Plan for Research.
Simultaneously, moves were made to establish a patent system of the
GDR to succeed that of unified Germany. German patents had been

Technology Planning and Practice through 1958 | 39

seized during the war by the Allied governments, and an agreement
reached in London in July ∞Ω∂∏ made them available without cost to
signatories.π This was something of a blow to both German successor
states, as the patents were undoubtedly extremely valuable.∫ But the
agreement also provided a basis for establishing a new patent system
once the two successor states were formed. The FRG set about doing this
first with the establishment of the German Patent Office in Munich in
October ∞Ω∂Ω. The GDR passed its patent law in January ∞Ω∑≠ and established its patent office in Berlin on ∞ October ∞Ω∑≠.Ω
Despite these energetic efforts to begin to gain control over the R&D
system within its borders, the GDR government faced real limits to its
power in this area. Shortcomings of the planning system itself were
partly responsible. There were not enough planners to tackle this complex task, and they lacked adequate tools (both information and machines to process data). At times, they did not carefully define the tasks
that needed to be accomplished, and sometimes they did not pay enough
attention to the relationship between the costs of research and the benefits derived from it.∞≠ But the power of GDR planners to harness their
R&D system to the benefit of the economy was limited much more severely by the fact that a huge part of the R&D establishment—especially
in the area of applied research—was entirely outside their control. Most
of the R&D work undertaken in the early years of the GDR took place,
after all, within the confines of the SAGs and the other factories of the
nationalized sector, the VEBs.
Almost immediately after the end of the war, the factories that later
became the SAGs and VEBs began to develop processes that would allow
them to make better use of their existing facilities, and they continued
with this task through the early ∞Ω∑≠s. In addition, they created new
laboratories for factories that had previously depended upon research
done in the western part of Germany. The Zeitz Hydrogenation Works,
for instance, had been part of the state-directed Braunkohlenbenzin AG
(BRABAG) and had had no need for its own laboratory facilities through
∞Ω∂∑. A lab was established, however, when the permanence of the separation from the West became apparent. One of the key areas of research
for both existing and new laboratory facilities was the development
of new products, or new uses for old ones, to enable the GDR to manufacture materials to substitute for those previously supplied from the
West. In other words, the German tradition of autarky, or economic selfsufficiency, continued in the GDR. Aspects of this tradition continued in

40 | Socialist Innovation in the GDR, 1945–1958

the West as well—for instance, in the chemical industry, where traditional coal-based chemistry continued to dominate into the ∞Ω∏≠s.∞∞ But
while the traditions gradually disappeared in the FRG, they actually
gathered new force in the GDR during the ∞Ω∑≠s and beyond. Through all
these efforts, the GDR was able to return to some semblance of the German traditions of technological excellence in the chemical and machinetool sectors by the early ∞Ω∑≠s.∞≤
There were clearly crucial limits to the ability of the SAGs in particular to pursue clear, coherent, and successful R&D programs well into the
mid-∞Ω∑≠s. The same was true to a lesser degree for the VEBs. For one
thing, as noted earlier, SAGs produced primarily for the Soviet market
and were not very sensitive to the needs of the GDR itself. In addition,
the leadership of both the SAGs and the VEBs needed to focus almost
entirely on the immediate and pressing need to increase production
rather than on R&D planning, which was a longer term consideration.
Constant reorganization of the means of production during the first decade after the war also led to problems with R&D within the SAGs and
VEBs, since this necessarily involved a ‘‘splitting up of research and development capacity.’’∞≥
The case of a major camera manufacturer, the VEB Zeiss-Ikon works at
Niedersedlitz, illustrates these and other problems facing East German
industry in the first decade after the war. Zeiss-Ikon’s cameras had attained international renown through the ∞Ω≥≠s, and it seemed reasonable
to expect that they would regain some of their market position in the
postwar world. That did happen for the East German Zeiss-Ikon group as
a whole, but not for the Niedersedlitz works in particular, in part because
of intense competition from the West German Zeiss-Ikon group.∞∂ Like
other rival groups set up in the wake of German defeat and division, such
as Agfa and Zeiss, West German Zeiss-Ikon challenged its East German
counterpart for market share. In this somewhat unusual case the challenge was ultimately unsuccessful, since the West German group went
into receivership in the mid-∞Ω∏≠s.
But Niedersedlitz faced other problems than just West German competition. Part of the difficulty in regaining market share in international
markets undoubtedly had to do with poor quality. Between ∞Ω∂∑ and
∞Ω∑≤, Zeiss-Ikon’s works at Niedersedlitz produced cameras, but with a
staggering rate of defects. At times during this period, up to Ω∫ percent of
production had to be discarded! Attempts to overcome the problem were
hindered by such factors as frequently changing leadership, emigration of