Berlin Airlift: 1960s DDR poster
1960s East German Poster about the 1948 Western airlift against the Eastern Berlin Blockade

UCSB Hist 133c, L9 & 10:
Causality in History:
Division, Berlin Blockade, 1953

lectures on Jan. 30 & Feb. 1, 2006 (L08; L11)

by Professor Harold Marcuse (homepage)
created Feb. 7, 2006, updated 2/10/06, 7/10/12

Model of Causality
Causes of Division
Berlin Blockade, 1948-49
1953 Uprising

Introduction (back to top)

  • Two turnarounds. Lecture 9 began with a brief presentation of two major turnarounds shortly after World War II: the political turnaround embodied by the United States' proclaimed aim to work towards giving (west) Germany sovereign status once again, and the image turnaround caused by the Soviet blockade of the western sectors of Berlin in June 1948, which turned the city, in the eyes of the (Western) world, from a "bastion of Nazism and Prussian militarism" into a symbolic "last outpost of freedom and [Western-style] democracy" (see Fulbrook 1992, p. 158).
  • Model of historical causality. In this course I'm emphasizing questions of causality: WHY do events occur? What causes them to happen? In the second part of the lecture I explained a model that helps to categorize different types of historical causes, and conceptualize how they interact to produce a certain outcome.  The model can also be used to look for "hidden" (not obvious) causes and ask what role they might have played, and why or why not.
  • Division of Germany, Berlin blockade, 1953 uprising. In the rest of lecture 9 and in lecture 10 I applied the model to these three events to show how it can be used.

Two Turnarounds(back to top)

The first turnaround was heralded by US Secretary of State James Byrnes' in a Sept. 1946 policy speech in Stuttgart. Here are two key excerpts from the speech (starting about 3/4 of the way through; full text of Byrnes' speech at US

From now on thoughtful people of the world will judge Allied action in Germany not by Allied promises but by Allied performances. The American Government has supported and will continue to support the necessary measures to de-Nazify and demilitarize Germany, but it does not follow that large armies of foreign soldiers or alien bureaucrats, however well motivated and disciplined, are in the long run the most reliable guardians of another country's democracy.
All that the Allied governments can and should do is to lay down the rules under which German democracy can govern itself. The Allied occupation forces should be limited to the number sufficient to see that these rules are obeyed.
But the question for us will be: What force is needed to make certain that Germany does not rearm as it did after the first World War? Our proposal for a treaty with the major powers to enforce for 25 or even 40 years the demilitarization plan finally agreed upon in the peace settlement would have made possible a smaller army of occupation. For enforcement we could rely more upon a force of trained inspectors and less upon infantry.
... [the speech concluded with the words:]
The American people want to return the government of Germany to the German people. The American people want to help the German people to win their way back to an honorable place among the free and peace-loving nations of the world.

  • Comparison to the occupation of Iraq. The first thing that struck me while reading this source in 2006 is is how closely analogous the problems in 1946 Germany are to the problems US occupation authorities are currently facing in Iraq. If we take the Iraqi Shia as analogous to the anti-Nazi resistance, which was predominantly socialist and communist, the main difference would be that the Shia comprise a majority of the population, whereas anti-Nazis had been a distinct minority in Germany. On the other hand, in Germany the hard-core Nazis were utterly discredited in the eyes of former sympathizers and beneficiaries, while Saddam Hussein's loyal followers at least seem to wield substantial power. Why they seem to enjoy support is a crucial question: out of fear of retailiation, because many Iraqis hate the US occupation even more, or because many Iraqis truly want a restoration of a Baathist rule. Only time will tell whether US occupation policies will lead to a peaceful, progressive state.
  • At any rate, Byrnes' Stuttgart speech was the first time that the US signalled that its goal was not punishment and reparations, but the reintegration of a sovereign Germany into the international community.

The second turnaround was caused by the June 1948 Soviet attempt to starve the Western occupied zones of Berlin into submitting to a Soviet takeover. Before we analyze that event, I introduced some theory into the course, which we will draw on for the rest of the quarter when analyzing major events.

Model of Historical Causality (back to top)

Several years ago I began developing this model to help me teach about why historical events happen. The basic premise is that most causal factors in history can be usefully categorized as follows (I settled on these names to create the mnemonic EIEIO, after the Old MacDonald song, with peOple admittedly being a stretch):

  • Economics. I would argue that this is the most primal underlying cause in most cases. (That is the fundamental postulate of Marxist historiography.) Model of historical causalityThat is why the arrows of interaction leading out from it are darker: economics moves other categories more directly, although all the other factors together, combined with the luck or coincidence of natural resources and environmental factors, determine economic developments. For so-called primitive hunter-gatherer, nomadic and early agricultural societies, one could substitute Environment as the heading, which would include climate, topography and natural resources, as well as diseases, animals and insects, etc..
  • International situation. If other, usually vastly more powerful states/societies intervene, they can be extremely determinating. Why do other states want to intervene? Usually for economic reasons of their own. They can turn a domestic economy upside down in short order.
  • Elites and LEaders. Top-level policy decisions can also be powerfully causal. Think about the role that Hitler (or Churchill or Roosevelt) played in World War II and the Holocaust. In this course I've been developing the argument that the close vote between Adenauer and Schumacher in 1949 might have set West Germany on a very different course if it had gone differently.
    And of course the aggregate behavior of elites of various kinds (from government bureaucrats to wealthy propertied elites, to corporate managers, to the inner circles of government) in supporting--or not doing so--the leaders can be crucial as well. Again, many leaders and elites are themselves driven by economic motives, but they might also act for reasons of prestige or humanitarian motives (or just plain lunacy) as well.
  • Ideology, Information (and mass media). Why might humanitarian motives or prestige matter more than economics? Another important motive is the belief in an ideology or religion. People often ignore their economic best interests and follow other principles that they feel make their lives more meaningful. This, I think, is most likely to happen when a standard of living well beyond mere survival is guaranteed, so that individual actors may be unconcerned about economics. On the other hand, when people are so impoverished and lacking in avenues to attain means to survive, they may resort to destructive violence that may not improve their individual economic situation, although it may improve the access of others to economic means.
  • Ideology is also part of the central realm of "culture," which plays an important role in determining how the various factors will be weighted and interact.
    Beyond ideology is information: what do people know (or think they know) about what is happening around them, and why it is happening? Manipulation (by elites) of the information available to people may cause them to make very different choices.
  • peOple/Opposition. Last but certainly not least are the true agents of history, the people who do things. People can be moved by the naked need to survive or a desire to prosper and ensure their well-being over time; they may be forced by external armies; or coerced or seduced by leadership; or moved by their own beliefs, but each individual can still make a choice to ignore any of these forces to achieve a particular aim. Thus in a sense peOple chosing to Oppose other causal motivations are the ultimate, primary movers of history.
    I note that this entire model can be used not only on a macro-social level, but also to examine the causal decision-making process that goes on inside a given individual's mind: weighing personal resource implications, the constraints of external structural and human forces, the particular personal beliefs and values, the available sensory information and interpretations, and the behaviors of other peers, all interacting within the realm of that individual's character and socialization.

Division of Germany (back to top)

How can this model be applied to the historical chain of events that led to the division of Germany?

  • According to the excellent discussion in the textbook (Fulbrook 1992, 164f) there were ultimately multiple causes of the division:
    • the German people themselves, for trying to take over Europe and unleashing World War II, without which there would have been no occupation and division;
    • West German political elites, who consciously chose material prosperity (Marshall plan aid) and military security over a path of neutrality that might have made unification more likely;
    • the economic and political interests of the USA, which wanted access to a vibrant and compliant German market (the British and French mostly followed the US lead in occupation policy, even though they were nominally autonomous in their respective zones), as well as a bulwark against possible Soviet expansion;
    • Soviet policy, which needed to rebuild its economy after German devastation, and which wanted to create a buffer of compliant satellite states for its protection against potential and perceived Western aggression;
    • French and British fears of a strong Germany--the larger and more independent, the more dangerous. (Asked what he thought about German unification in 1989, the Italian prime minister quipped that the Italians loved Germany so much that they were glad that there were two of them.)
  • In sum one might say that the Germans peOple who followed and tolerated Hitler had created an open situation that otherwise never would have arisen. The postwar Leadership (in this case the Adenauer government) conciously chose options that made division essentially inevitable. Those options, in turn, were sharply limited by the International occupying powers' Economic and security interests.
  • Added together, these differences led to incompatible policies in the western vs. eastern zones of occupation, and thus preordained the division of Germany into two states.
  • What was primary? Hitler's quest for prestige and resources (ideological and economic motives), and the bulk of the German populace's willingness to support him in that quest--perhaps because they believed he would rescue them from the economic turbulence that followed World War I, most directly from the great depression at the end of the 1920s.

Berlin Blockade and Airlift (back to top)

What happened?

  • Dec. 2, 1946: US and British agree to merge zones administratively in Jan. 1947 to create what was called Bizonia. Plans were made for the French to join. (Trizonia was not actually created until Apr. 8, 1949, although the French did join the bizone's June 1948 currency reform.)
  • June 1947: US Secretary of State George Marshall announced aid plan for Europe in his Harvard University commencement speech. The explicit aim was economic, but ultimately it was to use economic means to prevent political deterioration:
    "Our policy is not directed against any country or doctrine but against hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. Its purpose should be the revival of a working economy in the world so as to permit the emergence of political and social conditions in which free institutions can exist."
  • March 20, 1948: Soviets withdraw from the Allied Control Council administering Berlin
  • June 7, 1948: Western powers announce intention to create West Germany
  • June 19, 1948 (Saturday): US announces currency reform for Western zones of Germany and Berlin;
    Soviet Union responds by prohibiting travel between Berlin and Western zones.
    About 2.2-2.5 million people live in the 3 Western sectors of Berlin.
    Berlin Airlift: 1960s DDR poster
    1960s East German Poster about the 1948 Western airlift. The text reads: "Air bridge to Westberlin--a peace-endangering provocation of the imperialist Western powers."
  • June 20, 1948: currency reform introduced in West
  • June 23, 1948: Soviets introduce currency reform in their zone and sector of Berlin, while the Western powers introduce their currency into their zones of Berlin
  • June 24, 1948, 6am: Soviets prohibit all rail traffic to Berlin. Blockade begins.
  • June 26, 1948: US airlifts 156 tons of supplies in 64 flights
  • Oct. 1948: about 5000 tons/day are flown into Berlin
  • Nov. 1948: Tegel airport is finished after only 49 days construction (longest runway in Europe).
  • Jan. 1949: peak strength of 225 C-54 supply planes is reached
  • April 1949: record-breaking effort known as the "Easter Parade": 1,398 flights (one landing in Berlin every minute) bring 12,940 tons.
  • May 12, 1949: Soviets lift blockade
    • casualties: 31 US personnel, 39 British, 12 Germans
    • in 321 days 272,000 flights delivered about 2.3 mio. tons of supplies=avg. 847 flights/day (35/hour)
    • about 60,000 people flew into Berlin, and 167,000 flew out
  • Sept. 1949: airlift, which had continued for building a reserve, ends

What about the causes of the blockade?

  • Economic: currency reform
  • Interntional politics: Soviets wanted a contiguous territory with Berlin as capital city
  • Elites: didn't play much of a role here
  • Ideology: US didn't want to give up Berlin, as it would set a bad precedent. In fact, this powerful symbol of Western support for Germany gave the West Berliners and Germans a huge boost in morale and was a great embarrassment to the Soviets.
  • peOple: West Berliners stick it out in huge numbers and put up with the privations. Only 20,000 take up the Soviet offer of ration cards for eastern goods. Clay told Congress on May 17, 1949: "I saw the spirit and soul of a people reborn. This time the people of Berlin cast their lot with those who love freedom."

For more information see the Wikipedia Berlin Blockade page

June 17, 1953 Uprising (back to top)

June 1953 in East Berlin: tanks and crowdWhat happened? Responding to pressure to work faster, construction workers in East Berlin marched to government officials to demand a repeal of the new norms. Disappointed with the response, they called for a general strike across the country. Soviet forces were deployed to force strikers off the streets. Timeline:

  • Apr. 1946: SPD and KPD "merge" into one party, the SED
    • Otto Grotewohl of the SPD, who had been in the USPD during WWI and then returned to the reformist SPD, brings his party into the union. He was arrested several times during the Nazi period but remained in Walter UlbrichtGermany.Otto Grotewohl
    • Walter Ulbricht of the KPD, who had emigrated to France and then the Soviet Union in 1938, led his party. He was very loyal to Stalin.
  • 1948: the SED is "Stalinized:" discussion and dissent are not tolerated
  • July 1952: 2nd SED party conference [according to Klessmann 1988, 263]:
    • "building of socialism" is decreed, forced collectivization of factories and farms is the method
    • as a consequence emigration from East Germany increases:
      Jan. 1952: 7,200 refugees registered in the West (240/day);
      Mar. 1953: 58,600 registered (1950/day)
      Jan.-June 1953 estimate: 225,000-426,000 refugees [Fulbrook, Anatomy 1995, 180]
  • March 5, 1953: Stalin dies
    • jockeying for power in Moscow:
      Beria ("New Course") might have ousted Ulbricht
      Semyonov gains upper hand in early June, pursues "softer course"
  • June 1953: 1953: throwing rocks at Soviet tanksEast German gov't raises work norms by 10%
    • Differing assessments are published in newspapers (Tribüne, Neues Deutschland)
    • For details, see Fulbrook 1992, 190f; or 2003 ed., 154f (on amazon, search keyword Zaisser to read on-line)
    • Malenkov summons Ulbricht and Grotewohl to Moscow, warns them to correct the situation in East Germany by halting collectivization and fostering independent businesses
    • Announced by SU on June 9; rumors of Ulbrichts demise circulate, expectation of repeal of work norm increase set to go into effect
  • June 16, 1953: workers on the Stalinallee project march to FDGB Union headquarters, then to the gov't House of Ministries, demand repeal of norm increase. One "enterprising worker" grabbed a megaphone and called for a general strike the next day. (role of peOple/lEadership)
  • June 17, 1953: 300,000-375,000 workers in most industrial cities and towns strike or demonstrate, about 100,000 of them in East Berlin (nationwide 5-7-10% of the total workforce, depending on whose estimate you believe)
    • Soviet tanks come out to clear the streets. About 125-250-500 people were killed and 1200 arrested
  • Aug. 4, 1953: West German parliament passes a law declaring June 17 a national holiday, The "Day of German Unity" (although the strikes had nothing to do with a desire to unite with West Germany).

Why did Ulbricht remain in power after 1953, when Khrushchev repudiated the course that Stalin had set (and which Ulbricht wanted to continue in East Germany)?

  • at first Beria was ousted by Malenkow and Khruschev
  • after the 1956 uprising in Hungary, SU wanted someone who could guarantee continuity

What were the causes of the 1953 uprisings?

  • Economic: work norms as trigger
  • Interntional politics: regime change in the Soviet Union--new course after Stalin
  • Elites: Ulbricht set the goal for the accelerated transition to socialism
  • Ideology: workers believed it was their state and government should listen to them
  • peOple: voting with their feet: going on the streets in droves to demonstrate, also leaving East Germany

For more information, see:

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Feb. 7, 2006, updated: see header
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