“Real existing socialism” in the GDR and “State Socialism” in Romania: A Comparison
Over the course of the last two decades, following the collapse of communism in Russia and other Eastern Bloc states, there has been a considerable amount of debate in academic and political circle relating to the re-definition of socialism, which as a political ideology then became separated from communism.
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In its purist form, socialism is perceived as the organisational concept within a society whereby the means of production, including factories and farms, is deemed to be held in ownership terms by the whole of a particular community or nation (Caldwell 2003, p.17). Thus, in theory every worker and citizen should benefit equally from his or her share of that ownership. However, as with every other political ideology, in practice such purism does not exist.
However, as with other forms of political ideology, a perfect form of socialism does not exist within any national state. As has been witnessed in the Eastern Bloc countries in Europe, there is a significant difference in the way that socialism manifests itself in individual cultures and nations, and this depends upon the prevailing political structure and cultural environment. For example, whilst there are democratic and dictatorship led countries that exercise a socialist agenda, this does not equate to the method of state socialism practiced in other states, even those within the same region.
The purpose of this study is to compare two distinct forms of socialism; at the same time seeking to distinguish between the ways that each is operated in their respective societies. To assist with this objective, it is intended to use two nations that have experienced differing political structures. These are GDR, which operates a system known as “real existing socialism” and Romania, which enjoys a state socialism political environment.
There has been a substantial amount of literature produced that has concentrated upon the study of socialism. Much of this has concentrated upon the various divergent forms of the ideology that have emerged within and outside of a communist environment. Although there is still some debate about terminology for these divergent forms of socialism, the vast majority have adapted the two most prominent as being “real existing socialism” and “state socialism.”
Real existing socialism
The studies that have led to the defining of real socialism only really commenced following the breakdown of socialism in areas such as the former communist block (Von Hirschhausen 1995, p.8). From this it has been found that the foundations of real socialism bore no resemblance to the “planned economy” message that was being projected by the state, and thus cannot be measured or compared with the political systems that exist within the democratic regimes of the western world.
Despite it’s similarity to state socialism, the real existing version has none of the unique elements of capitalism. For example, individual property rights, commodity markets, freedom of capital and labour do not exist. Economics was dominated by politics and the two were therefore closely interwoven. This in itself can be seen as part of the cause for their being a lack of planning within these economies, which resulted in problems in three main areas.
Firstly, monetary controls and restraints did not exist in the sense that we know in the West. Instead, paper money formed only a part of issues such as workers salaries, with basic goods at low prices or rationed, as can be witnessed by the fact that the price of bread in 1987 had not changed for over fifty years (Von Hirschhausen 1995, p.9), and the higher priced goods were used as rewards for merit rather than available to the citizen as a right.
Secondly, there was no attempt to aim for maximum or optimum output from the countries industrial plants as these formed just a part of the party’s objectives, along with welfare and house and a raft of other priorities. Unlike commercial corporations, those within this socialist environment paid little attention to profit and success. Similarly, the idea of plant closure was contrary to the countries socialist identity and beliefs. In itself, this proves the case that there was no economic basis for the nations industrial production and output.
The final aspect is planning. As has been discovered since the fall of communism, the official documents issued by the regimes, which purported to be official plans, none of these where implemented or controlled within the industrial environment. This was partially due to the fact that these plants lacked the basic equipment needed to do so, and also because the state showed little interest in the results (Von Hirschhausen 1995, p.9).
There are many who would argue that state socialism is actually a misnomer. The reason for this is that in this type of socialist community, although there is a limited recognition of private capitalism, the state itself is the centre of power. This power not only includes their ownership of the “means of production” mentioned earlier in this paper, but also extends to other significant areas as well. For example, their ownership and control extends to the media, transport and communications and, in addition, to the workers, police and military. Similarly, the state uses its power to control dissidents and “so-called” reactionaries.
During the communist era in Eastern Europe, what stopped the nation that followed “state socialism” from being described more appropriately as bureaucratic regimes was the fact that the state itself was controlled by the communist party, which was essentially determined as a party for the people and thus their representatives.
Case Study – GDR and Romania
The GDR and Romania have been chosen as a comparison case study for this paper as they operate within the two different areas of socialism being discussed, with GDR following the route of real existing socialism and Romania being a state socialism environment.
Prior to its reunification with West Germany, the German Democratic Republic was run by a communist regime and operated a system that has latterly become known as belonging to the “real existing socialism” The economy was controlled and planned centrally by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, who also strictly controlled prices within the economy, particularly those of a basic nature such as basic foodstuff and housing. In these cases the party heavily subsidised production to ensure that prices remained low and manageable for the ordinary citizen. As has been indicated to be the case with such political structures, virtually all of the production process were centrally owned and controlled. Even in the small private sector (around 2.8%), these were subjected to oppressive regulations and taxation, sometimes with the latter exceeding 90%. In essence, at least in the early years, and to a large degree up until a few years short of the fall of the Berlin wall, one of the central intentions of the states plan was the “total governance” of society (Caldwell 2003, p.2).
However, this centralisation of control provided an ideal breeding ground for corruption, with many managers within the publicly owned business sector lining their own pockets and those of party officials, thus creating an even worse economic situation in terms of the production output of their factories.
In an attempt to address some of these issues GDR ruling party moved to a more autonomous level of social control (Caldwell 2003, p.15). They adopted the slogan of “real existing socialism” as a way of showing that, although there was still a large degree of state control, the lives of the individual was said to be, to a large degree, independent and autonomous to the state, which stated that its regime allowed their citizens to live unfettered lives in private, although dissidents claimed that this pretence of “normalcy” was just an attempt to cover up the high levels of repressions that existed (Maier 1999, p.22). In reality the individual’s emancipation was against wishes of the state but by allowing it to occur it had the opposite effect to that which could have been expected, this being a tendency towards more the creation of more conflict and unrest.
However, as Maier (1999, p.42) later shows, the lack of substance in the opposition by ordinary citizens was probably quelled by the measures taken by the state to repress their citizens. Whilst in some cases, such as the media, this was achieved by s strict process of censorship, as far as ordinary citizens a “stick or reward” policy was operated. For example, rationing and the reward system in terms of luxury goods, which were always accompanied by the threat that the benefits gained through these measures, tended to opposition voice down to a muted level (Maier 1999, p.49). Similarly, the dispersal of the states secret police force led to a situation where fear of neighbours replaced trust as many people responded to the implied threat by showing a willingness to report opposition in secret. This was not only done to curry favour but also to avoid becoming embroiled with the police on a personal level.
Thus, as Maier (1999, p.42) states “real existing socialism thus rested on a double distortion. It transformed the public sphere into one of negotiated bargains, while it twisted the idea of a private sphere into a domain of complicity and secrecy.” Similarly, as has been evidenced within the performance of the state, despite its repressive measures, is more closely linked to the ideals that were previously expressed by Mark (2004).
Perhaps the one benefit that East Germany has derived from the real existing socialism that has become inherent within the culture, particularly in terms of the previous movement towards members of the public having an element of a certain degree of autonomy to their lives, is that this has made it easier for the nation to become integrated within the larger German nation following its reunification with the Federal Republic of German (Crow 2001).
In certain respects the Romanian socialist structures is similar to that of the GDR. This is certainly true in the case of the party’s control of the media, which has yet to find an independent voice and the state ownership of a large number of commercial assets. However, following the fall of the communist regimes in the Eastern Block, this country has retained a communist political regime, which observers feel results from the fact that the general public are reluctant to involve themselves in politics in a direct manner (Carey 2004, p.10).
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When compared with the GDR it is found that the population of Romania is distinctly different to those of neighbouring countries. The culture is much more centralised in its thinking. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that most citizens within the Romanian society have a bias towards “paternalistic protection of authoritarian institutions” rather than being concerned with their own democratic freedom and values (Carey 2004, p.14).
A similar situation exists within the business sector. At the present time the state controls and owns most of the production organisations and, in addition, all of the financials institutions are in public ownership. It would be difficult to sell the latter, because of the problem of non-recoverable loans and other debt crisis. Similarly, although many of the countries vast production plants are inefficient and losing money, the ethos of the ruling classes is such that closure of these organisations is an unacceptable option (Carey 2004, p.17). Furthermore, there is a reluctance to allow these to move into private ownership. Even if the state were prepared to look at this option, as Carey shows within his research (Carey 2004, p.18), the vast majority of business and other citizens in Romania are of the opinion that “the privatisation” process was dishonest. The overwhelming preference within the country and its culture is in favour of state control, particularly in respect of what are considered to be the most important issues, these being “prices and wages.”
However, despite the views of the population, the state does have to address the issue of corporate control and, although some attempt has been made in this area, this has yet to lead to a stable environment. One of the problems they have in this respect is that the workers are union controlled and, with the current wish for central state control of wages, negotiating a productivity based working environment would, at present, be very difficult to achieve. It is anticipated that it will take some time for Romania to be able to convert either its political structure to a more democratic cultural base or its production and manufacturing industries to a situation of optimisation and a success based agenda (Carey 2004, p.229).
It is clear that socialism is still in the process of undergoing radical change, particularly following the collapse of communism in areas such as Russia and the former Eastern Bloc countries. However, as has been seen from the case study of the German Democratic Republic and Romanic, the cultural impact of this varies between nations. For example, prior to the 1989 revolutions the GDR was already experiencing a significant amount of unrest, which was being generated “from below,” in other words from a groundswell of public opinion and active opposition (Kornai 1992). This country is therefore moving rapidly towards a culture of democratic rights and away from their former position of being subject to real existing socialism.
Conversely, in the state of Romania, the movement away from state socialism has yet to begin in earnest. For example, the current ruling party is still based upon a communist stance and, despite the fact that it retains control over areas such as production and the media, which in some cases can be seen to be repressive, there is little will amongst the populace to effect a change at this time (Federal Research Division 2004).
However, one area that has certainly added to the differential between the two countries in terms of their movement towards a democratic culture and political environment is the location and structural differences. For example, East Germany (GDR) is situated adjacent to a Western democracy, albeit it with socialist tendencies, whereas Romania was previously surrounded by communist and socialist states. In addition, Romania has become an independent whilst the GDR has lost its independent identity within the enlarged German nation. To this extent for the GDR the dissolution of the communist based socialist environment has been a much smoother transition (Maier 1999).
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Caldwell, Peter C (2003). Dictatorship, State Planning, and Social Theory in the German Democratic Republic. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK.
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