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Journal of Cold War Studies 3.1 (2001) 135-137

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Book Review

The East German Leadership, 1946-73:
Conflict and Crisis

Peter Grieder, The East German Leadership, 1946-73: Conflict and Crisis. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999. 243 pp. $79.95.

Historians and other scholars continue to sift through the mammoth holdings of the former East German regime in order to tell the story of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). The need for this effort is clear: Only eleven years have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and an even shorter time has elapsed since the archival holdings were made accessible. The complete story of East Germany has yet to be told. It is therefore difficult to understand why some historians claim that the history of the GDR is, by and large, known; that the new material is of doubtful use; and that historical studies of the GDR will now depend on evaluation and analysis of what is already published, rather than on new information emerging from the archives. (For examples of such views, see the proceedings of the 1993 Potsdam conference of the Forschungsschwerpunkt Zeithistorische Studien, in Jürgen Kocka and Martin Sabrow, eds., Die DDR als Geschichte, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1994.) These historians might just as well be defending Henry Ford's view of history as bunk.

Peter Grieder's work is the latest in a series of sound historical analyses of the GDR that demonstrate why the new archival material is so valuable. With it, historians can accurately recount the history of East Germany and force us to revise some of our previous understandings and interpretations. Grieder's book supersedes the major works dealing with the leadership of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) during roughly the same period--notably, Peter Ludz's Parteielite im Wandel (Cologne: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1968), published in English as The Changing Party Elite in East Germany (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1972); and Martin Jänicke's Der dritte Weg. Die antistalinistscher Opposition gegen Ulbricht seit 1953 (Cologne: Neuer Deutscher Verlag, 1964). Grieder's book also provides an important complement to Frank Stössel, Positionen und Strömungen in der KPD/SED 1945-54 (Cologne: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1985). [End Page 135]

The author has divided the period under investigation into four phases: the Stalinization of the SED from 1946 to 1953, the initial opposition to Walter Ulbricht from 1950 to 1953, the later anti-Ulbricht opposition of 1956-1958, and the events culminating in Ulbricht's removal from office in 1971 and the subsequent agreements on Germany. The chapters have been divided accordingly.

Grieder bases his account primarily on the rich archival material in the Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR (SAPMO, the former SED archive), which was recently transferred from east-central Berlin to a new site in Berlin-Lichterfelde, and to a lesser extent on the holdings of the Bundesbeauftragte für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (the former archive of the East German State Security Ministry). At the SAPMO archive, the author has carefully examined the verbatim minutes of the SED Central Committee. Because Politbüro minutes were not preserved, the author has used other sources to investigate views within the Politbüro, including the records of Politbüro protocols and approved resolutions (which have been preserved), the working documents that supplemented these files (from 1952), and the papers (Nachlässe) of many leading officials. Grieder also interviewed twelve men who served in high-level posts of the SED during the period in question. He spoke with several of them more than once.

Grieder demonstrates that during the whole period under investigation, senior SED officials held divergent views of fundamental policy matters. He shows, for example, that Anton Ackermann clung to his view of a "particular German path to socialism" long after he publicly disavowed it. The book also reveals the important role that German reunification played in the opposition of Rudolf Herrnstadt and Karl Schirdewan, both of whom believed that Ulbricht's policies were detrimental because they were...