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People's Resistance in East Germany

Book Essay on:
Gary Bruce,
Resistance with the People: Repression and Resistance in Eastern Germany, 1945-1955

(New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003, 2005), 288, 312 pages.

by Kevin R. Brady
June 5, 2007

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
Germany, 1945-present
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2007

About the Author
& Abstract
and Links
Plagiarism Warning & Links
at amazon

About Kevin R. Brady

I am a junior history major who enjoys studying the causes and effects of the wars that have taken place in our world’s history. I especially enjoy learning about the World Wars and the wars that have effected and altered American history. I enjoy the subject of history as a whole, but feel that it is the study of our world’s military past that has gained the majority of my interest.

Abstract (back to top)

Gary Bruce’s work Resistance with the People: Repression and Resistance in Eastern Germany, 1945-1955 describes the people and events in East Germany in the years following the end of World War II. Bruce describes the history of anti-communist resistance within the Soviet controlled zone of East Germany and the developments and reactions from the people and conflicting political parties. Bruce also concentrates on the how the socialist system violated individual rights and sense of privacy and security as he depicts the roles and actions by the German Ministry for State Security (MfS, known as the Stasi) against their own people. There is also reference to the social and political resistance from opposing political parties and the people who were associated with an underground resistance against the communist regime. This historian shares the opinion and ideals of socio-economic trouble the majority of the East German population faced while suppressed by the red “fist” of the totalitarianism regime east of the Berlin Wall.

Essay (back to top)


Gary Bruce’s work Repression with the People is a particular historical book that depicts society and events within East Germany in the years immediately following the end of World War II. Seen as a “motivational” history of anti-communist resistance in East Germany, the book describes the developments of the East German population as they find themselves dealing with a newly established Communist political and social system that methodically violates their individual basic human rights, which includes freedom of speech, religion, and legal security. This suppression of basic natural rights by Soviet troops and the Communist government including the East German Ministry for State Security (MfS), the economic dissatisfaction and sense of national insecurity led to public dissent and political resistance to Communist actions and Socialist ideals.

Social and political resistance was reflected upon the historical distinction between communal and legal opposition of specific political parties and a distinct underground resistance. The most political and social resistance involved the actions and beliefs of the non-Marxist parties including the Christian Democratic Union, Liberal Democratic Party, and the Social Democratic Party. Furthermore, there is also an extreme concentration on the roles and actions of the common working man within East Germany and the hardships of suppression the public and workers faced due to economic dissatisfaction and harsh living and working conditions. Along with the foul situations of the people, Bruce also addresses the beginning of a contentious civil rights movement within the society, which ironically had emerged from a twelve-year long totalitarian dictatorship under the political ideal of National Socialism. There is also a main focus on the massive uprising and resistance of 1953 that ripped through and shocked the East German populace and other events that led to the erecting of the Berlin Wall in 1961.

Bruce feels that the controversy to asserting that political and social demands should be granted historical priority over the economic disparities in the interpretation of the dissent and resistance in East Germany. The development of the East German state from 1945 eroded both organized political opponents’ and the broader population’s belief that the state of East Germany exercised its political and legal authority excessively. “By examining previously untapped secret documents of the MfS, the police, secret police (Stasi), and the Communist Party, Bruce carefully details the underground work and actions of the Stasi and East German regime to pacify the public and opposing political figures and supporters.


The social dissent and dissatisfaction of the Communist regime (KPD) in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) between the years of 1945 and 1955 was present since the installation and faced political and social protests and dissatisfaction throughout the time period prior to the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961. East Germany’s government and its military were accused of violating and suppressing individual basic rights of the people pertaining to legality and economics. Such resistance to the Communist practice and its totalitarian regime in the GDR was expressed by public outcry and anti-communist political parties both in Eastern and Western Germany. Anti-communist parties consisted of factions such as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPD). Though there was extreme dissent from these anti-Marxist parties, the most prominent resistance was actually carried forth by the poverty stricken working class leading to the upheaval on June 17, 1953, one of the most influential and remarkable events of Cold War History. Though the socio-political events such as the disregard of fundamental individual rights and dissention and altercations amongst the conflicting political parties were main contributing factors to the repression and resistance within East Germany, I believe that the most significant factor was the underground resistance of the people and the underprivileged working class that echoed the dissatisfaction with East Germany and the SED.

The Communist regime in the GDR was developed on the belief structure of anti-fascism, an extreme disregard for capitalism and privatization, and aspects of security and paranoia. These intensive political and social ideologies, according to Bruce, are believed to be the factors that eventually led to the suppression of civil and human rights amongst the people by the government agencies and military. The abuse by the Red Army was the most prevalent within the eastern region of the Soviet zone because according to numerous reliable reports and sources. This entitled intensive secretive investigation by the Stasi and a high percentage of arrests of individuals affiliated with the political opposition and whoever was partaking in political demonstrations, distributing anti-communist democratic propaganda, or professing dissatisfaction regarding communism. These examples of this violation were the “mechanisms of dictatorial nation building including multiple mistreatment amongst the Eastern German population accompanied by false incarcerations and investigations of individuals associated with the conflicting democratic parties that led to over 78,000 trials and convictions of political opponents from 1949-1950,” (p.98).

Another example of a violation of basic human rights was the Land Reform of 1945 that took place in Soviet controlled zones, especially the GDR because it encountered much resistance and disapproval. There was much scrutiny towards the land reform because of the social and economic impact on the civil individual and property rights of the population. The Land Reform of 1945 was a political and economic transformation measure created to increase the common popularity of the Communist Party within East Germany. The reform consisted of the confiscation of large estates mostly owned and occupied by war criminals, noble families, and former Nazi organizations without compensation and distributed amongst “cottagers” and landless farmers. Considerably similar to a prominent “class war,” the land reform gained much criticism amongst the public and rivaling political parties, especially the CDU, who in response to the Land Reform demanded a resolution in regards to the unfair lack of compensation to the individuals losing their land in favor of the Communist agricultural ideals.

The CDU’s main argument against the Land Reform was the concern for the individuals who had no affiliation to the Nazi party and in fact dissented fascism, but had their land unlawfully taken.. The CDU’s fears about the land reform “seemed to be confirmed on November 15, 1945, when Heinrich von der Gablentz, leader of the CDU political-economic committee obtained a variety of letters and documents stating that property owners were being unlawfully thrown off their land,” (p.30). This particular event foreshadowed the abuse of power by the SED or Communist government and its officials and the common disregard of property rights. In response to the objection regarding the Land Reform, the SED rebutted by stating that the Socialist State of East Germany was against the idea of private property because private ownership led to capitalism, which in time would eventually create a socio-economical “domino effect” leading to fascism.

These supposed violations of the rights of the East German Public were present within the KPD’s proclamation of June 11, 1945. The Socialist proclamation presented an apparent change in the political philosophy of the newly established GDR following the events of World War II. The KPD proclamation granted rights and freedoms according to title and race, but ignored the guarantees for freedom of speech and religion and called or an anti-fascist, parliamentary, democratic ridden society. This led to the formation of numerous contrasting anti-Marxist political parties as the KPD’s ten main points within its newly drafted proclamation “ contained signs that the party had not entirely abandoned its totalitarian tendencies incorporated within the Stalinization of Eastern Europe,” (p.23). These major opposing political parties, such as the CDU, SPD, and LDPD emerged and were united under the same ideals of fighting for essential civil liberties and the implementation of free elections. The most significant, according to Bruce was the CDU, as it was a political organization founded under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer that concentrated on the re-unification of Germany, and the religious and civil rights of the East German people.

The control of the legal and justice system was a primary goal of the KPD in East Germany following the war and response to the emergence of the CDU, the Ministry for State Security (MfS) was created to function by conducting constant surveillance of the population and pacification of other political parties, especially the CDU and its supporters. The Stasi, which was a faction of the Mfs was created as a socialist secretive intelligence agency, and according to Bruce, the Stasi was formed out of paranoia in order to subdue the opposing political parties by orchestrating tactics such as surveillance and espionage by obtaining information about the individual parties and their representatives. Such events and actions involving the Stasi and Gestapo are portrayed in such literary works as The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and The File. A prime example of this was the event of 1950 political elections in Eastern Germany as the SED and the MfS gathered information regarding the other political candidates illegally and created “files” not only on their socio-political idealistic counterparts, but on the entire East German population, thus belying a false sense of legal security amongst the people.

The SED was originally created as “the worker’s party,” but the common working class was faced with massive economic hardships due to a struggling economy and according to natural law of human behavior, if you combine poverty within a large population and no gradual change, the aspect of dissatisfaction and revolution is only inevitable.The socio-economic upheaval that took place on June 17, 1953 is one of the most “remarkable and influential events of Cold War history whose political and social repercussions continue to bewilder the historical interpretation to this very day,” (p. 104). The civil uprising of June 17, 1953 was caused by the announcement of the increase in price of consumer goods unlike in the West and production targets that had to be fulfilled before a worker could receive their full payment. This economic proclamation by the SED caused spontaneous demonstrations by common workers in “560 towns throughout East Germany,” (p.98). The demonstrations quickly intensified and evolved from an economic issue to a political issue as workers then began to demand the institutions of free elections to determine their own representative political parties along with economic stability similar to West Germany. It wasn’t until that particular moment that the upheaval had been interfered and suppressed by military force ending in carnage and a failed attempt of hope. The historical events that took place on June 17, 1953 in East Germany “merits a place in history alongside the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Hungarian Revolt of 1956,” (p.75). All were significant social events that fueled in the fight against Communism in Europe and the marked the culmination of indisputable radical resistance and actions that were represented by political and economic frustration and enduring public opinion.

In conclusion, according to the scholarship of Bruce’s Resistance with the People: Repression and Resistance in Eastern Germany, 1945-1955, the authoritarianism and resistance within East Germany was caused by multiple socio-political factors. These factors included the violation of basic human civil liberties, the socio-political altercations between the opposing political parties, and the underground resistance by the poverty stricken society and common working class. Though the main emphasis of Bruce’s argument revolved around socio-political issues, I discovered that he presented less emphasis on the socio-economical factors which were extremely important to the eventual deterioration and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

Bibliography and Links (back to top)

  • The East German Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Interpretation of the GDR: Ross, Corey, Oxford University Press Inc., 2002. (Hist 133c review)
  • Oppression and Scarcity: The History and Institutional Structure of the Marxist-Leninist Government of East Germany and Some Perspectives of on Life in a Socialist System: Sperlich, Peter, Transaction Publishers, 2001.

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Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Harold Marcuse on 6/12/07; last updated: 6/20/07
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