The East German uprising of 1953

Posted On: Saturday - January 9th 2021 11:24PM MST
In Topics: 
  Commies  History  Socialism/Communism  World Political Stupidity

A few months back some unz commenter mentioned the uprising in East Germany for a few days in the long ago summer of 1953. (The war in Korea would be "settled" in another month, and Ike Eisenhower had only been President for 5 months - that's how long ago.) I'd never heard of it before, even though I do know some history of the Cold War.

This was pretty interesting reading, here on Wiki. In case the younger Peak Stupidity readers (if we haven't pissed them off too bad) don't know anything about the Cold War in Europe, let me give a short bit of background:

Just after the end of World War II, by 1946 anyway, it was clear that the Communist USSR and the US were enemies already. It was also clear that the USSR would not give up any land that it had taken while defeating the Nazis and other Axis countries. The "Iron Curtain", a term coined by Winston Churchill (or his speechwriter), had descended, and was in place north to south from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic Sea. This means that the countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia (peacefully divided into Czechia and Slovakia 28 years ago), Hungary, Yugoslavia (split into an ungodly number of pieces, also in the early 1990s), Albania*, Romania, and Bulgaria were all under the Soviet influence. "Influence" sound too mild, though. These countries may as well have been part of the USSR, militarily speaking. Communism of sorts was installed in all of them. They were the "East Bloc".

I left out one country though. Whatever portion of Germany the Russian Army had taken, they also kept. Since they came from the east, it was the eastern portion of Germany that was made Communist, with that weird exception of West Berlin, 120 miles inside East Germany, which had been formed from the American, British, and French controlled zones in place when the city fell in May 1945.

These countries all had to suffer from Communism for 45 years or so, which was better than the situation for the poor Russians (and Ukrainians, Belorussians, and the 3 Baltic countries), who had to endure it for over 70 years. That's 3 generations growing up under the poverty, oppression, and other stupidity.

There were uprisings against the strangling yoke of Communism in a number of these countries - Hungary and Czechoslovakia being cases in 1956 and 1968, respectively. They didn't take.

The economic situation in East Germany had gotten bad in 1952 due to, well, the usual Communist stupidity that is to be expected. Wiki describes it:
The result of this change in the GDR's economic direction was the rapid deterioration of workers' living standards, which lasted until the first half of 1953, and represented the first clear downward trend in the living standard of East Germans since the 1947 hunger crisis. Travel costs rose as generous state subsidies were cut, while many consumer goods began to disappear from store shelves. Factories were forced to clamp down on overtime: in the context of a now restricted budget, the wage bill was deemed excessively high. Meanwhile, food prices rose as a result of both the effects of the state's collectivization policy – 40% of the wealthier farmers in the GDR fled to the West, leaving over 750,000 hectares of otherwise productive land lying fallow – and a poor harvest in 1952. Workers' cost of living therefore rose, while the take-home pay of large numbers of workers – many of whom depended on overtime hours to make ends meet – was diminishing. In the winter of 1952–53, there were also serious interruptions to the supply of heat and electricity to East Germany's cities.
To try to solve the problems and with Stalin having just died, a "New Course" was prescribed by the USSR for the East German economy. It wasn't left up to the Germans. It was an end to forced collectivization, and a switch from subsidization of heavy industry to subsidization of consumer goods. It was still a top-down 5-year plan. You can't please everyone this way, as you can with a free market, so workers were not happy. It was then that they started strikes and demonstrations:
On 12 June, the next day, 5,000 people participated in a demonstration in front of Brandenburg-Görden Prison in Brandenburg an der Havel.

On 14 June, more confusion followed as an editorial in Neues Deutschland condemned the new work norms, yet in that very same issue, news articles praised workers who had exceeded the new norms in contradiction to the editorial.

On 15 June, workers at the Stalinallee "Block 40" site in East Berlin, now with their hopes raised about the possibility that the work norms would be rescinded, dispatched a delegation to East German Prime Minister Otto Grotewohl to deliver a petition calling for a revocation of the higher work norms. However, Grotewohl ignored the workers' demands.
The full-bore uprising happened on June 16th, and I'll let the reader go to the Wiki page for that.

The word spread. Protests were held in 24 big East German cities.

The demand was initially about a certain type of pay scale, called the "norm", which was obviously too low. Just as during the Tiananmen Square protest, 36 later in China, once you go all out like this, marching in the streets and confronting government officials, you may as well go in for a pound rather than just a penny. Some of the demands were about the re-forming of a different political party. No, you just don't do that under Communsim.

The Soviet Union didn't wait even till the next day to make the decision to send in the tanks.

The Soviet army with its infantry and tanks arrived in E. Berlin on the morning of the 17th. Not all of the Soviet soldiers complied with orders to attack the troublemakers. At the end of it, 10,000 people had been detained, and 32 - 40 people were executed.

What's this post got to do with ANYTHING, the reader may very well ask. Well, I already had the pictures saved, so... More importantly, the East German uprising of 1953 is just another example of an uprising that failed. That is, most of them. The lesson is to not let things go so far to begin with. Once it goes so far, the tools (as in guns and ability to safely organize) have been taken away. It's hard to have a successful uprising, it seems, as the time to reverse course has passed. Communism and any other kind of Totalitarianism must be nipped in the bud. Just nip it! Nip it, Andy! /Barney Fife]

We are at that nip it stage in America right now. Peak Stupidity included a very famous passage from a famous book in our post Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Gulags and avoidance thereof. We'll just include it again:
And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be cracking the skull of a cutthroat.
Nip it in the bud!

* Albania was a bit of an even weirder deal, a place like N. Korea where nobody knew what kind of really stupid shit was going on and how deep in Communist hole they were. It was a bit more independent from the USSR, but that didn't make it any better. OTOH, Austria, even though part of "the West" was just a little closer to the East Bloc.

Monday - January 11th 2021 9:10AM MST
PS: Mr. Hail, besides the street named after that uprising, I noted on Wiki that the West Germans had a holiday on this day. After reunification the eliminated that holiday and now have a holiday on reunification day instead.

Perhaps the cucked-out Germans came out to see Obama, but I'd have been thrilled to come out and hear Mr. Reagan's "tear down this wall" speech or any other by the man.
Monday - January 11th 2021 6:16AM MST

After this 1953 revolt, the West German regime renamed West Berlin's main prestige boulevard (in then-"former central Berlin"), the "17th of June Street," specifically in honor of the failed revolt. This is the street leads to the Brandenburg Gate. Reagan's famous Berlin Wall speech was on this street, 17th of June Street.

The naming was remind the world that the East Berlin communist regime was complicit in violently putting down its own people, the imagery of which was an ongoing propaganda windfall, as the West German state did not violently suppress protestors. Classic "negative legitimacy" (they're bad, but we're not as bad, so we're good).

The example of "17th of June 1953," and West Germany (plus the wider NATO bloc)'s use of it, may also be proof that popular revolts tend to "always win," even when losing, even when losing in a dramatic fashion. Other examples of this are plenty. The humiliation of the US federal government on January 6, 2021, is another example of something similar, despite the frantic overreaction by the same against its domestic opponents.

(The "Strasse des 17. Juni" was, more lately, the site of late November mass protest against virus lockdowns, in which the authorities attacked protestors with water cannon and arrested hundreds.) ("17th of June Street" is also the site of major events and gatherings. I think that time Obama turned out a million Germans to listen to him, it was on this boulevard. They also get huge numbers on any New Year's Eve, exception during the wacko lockdown regime.)
Sunday - January 10th 2021 1:13PM MST
PS The Finns are a very admirable people, and they have not engaged in national suicide to the same extent as their former colonial overlords the Swedes. The Swedish view of Finland is that of an older brother to their idiot younger one. Not fair, but there you go. Also, about 6% of the population of Finland is ethnically Swedish, remnants, mostly, of the old ruling class. There's a series of videos about the 'finlandsvenskar' by a very fetching young lady who calls herself CatCad. Many are in English.

As for WWII, the Finns were technically an Axis power, but their military operations were confined to getting back what had been lost in 1939-1940. Marshall Mannerheim (a finlandsvensk) also refused German requests to hand over their Jews, all 15 or so of them who lived in Finland.

As I recall The Bridge at Andau is one of the few Michener books that is nonfiction.
Sunday - January 10th 2021 12:47PM MST
PS: Mr. Blanc, I really hope that is the case. I do think the lefties in this countries are "useful idiots" in the more literal sense of "idiot" than were the ones a century ago in Russia. I don't know about the Chinese useful idiots - it sure got pretty stupid during the cultural revolution period.

Mr. Ganderson, you were talking about a book, not a movie, so sorry. I'm kinda of booked up on books to read, and I take it that it's a novel, not a history (which I'd enjoy more). Re Finland and the ice war. Back when the Germans had the huge city of St. Petersburg (not gonna use the Commie name) surrounded, there were these original Ice Truckers that helped supply the city via a road made across the big lake (in Finland, I think). I read a book, "The 900 Days" on the siege. It was pretty awful.

Sunday - January 10th 2021 10:33AM MST
PS Mr. Moderator: Finland during Cold War times was a way better place to live than Yugoslavia- pretty typical Euro-socialist country. (a reminder that, as our pal the Z man points out, that Euro socialism can work OK in small homogeneous, high trust societies)

Yugoslavia was NOT a Soviet satellite, although for those living there it was probably a distinction without a difference, mostly because Tito had conquered the country back from the Nazis before the Red Army arrived.
Sunday - January 10th 2021 10:00AM MST
PS: Alarmist, I like your old hashtag #SecurityKabuki. Sounds all Cold-Warish, thoughI know Kabuki is Japanese.

I had the TSA stop me for one of those P-38 can openers recently. It'd been in my luggage for, I dunno, about 10 years or more, and it was so buried that I had to help the guy find it! After he was worried about that curvy 3/4" blade, I talked about the 4" edge on the crash axe for a bit.

You know, I've got a good quick post on my friend's bringing a Glock .40 to security line at the hub airport one time. It was inadvertent. Thank you for the reminder.
Sunday - January 10th 2021 9:56AM MST
PS I’d say that the Russkis’ intent was pretty clear in 1944 during the Warsaw uprising. Ganderson is right to mention the Hungarian revolt of 1956. That event led to a lot of Lefties giving up on the Soviet Union and the CPUSA. Yes, all those uprisings were suppressed. But each one led to further loss of legitimacy of the Communist regimes. People couldn’t beat it, yet, so they became internal exiles. Regimes are doomed when a significant proportion of the population submits only out of fear. The Leftist regime in the US will suffer the same fate. Half of us submit only because we’re too weak to seriously resist them. And a good portion of their half hate each other. Once Whitey is gone, they’ll start tearing each others’ livers out. Of course, the republic that our ancestors built will be long gone by then. However, we might be able to salvage some pieces of it.
Sunday - January 10th 2021 9:56AM MST
PS: Crap, I'd forgotten Finland, with it being too far north and off the map I was looking at, Mr. G! As you wrote, it wasn't totally East Bloc, per se, I guess. Maybe like Yugoslavia?
Sunday - January 10th 2021 9:54AM MST
PS: Thanks for the correction, Mr. Ganderson. I fixed it in the post. The funny thing was, I had thought one of these 2 events was in the 1950's, but then duckduckgo went overboard in helping me. My first search was about the Czech one, and then, with "1968" still in the search bar, DDG said, yeah, sure, something about Hungary in1968. I was too hasty.

I appreciate all movie recommendations, especially old ones, in which I can be pretty sure there's no exasperating PC. I will try to find "Bridge at Andau" along with "One, Two, Three".
Sunday - January 10th 2021 8:53AM MST
PS. Mr. Alarmist- I give Slow Joe 2 years before he’s Arkancided
or turfed out on 25th Amendment grounds. Kam probably wanna run for 2 more terms. We’ll have our first Prostituto-American president.

DiBlasio makes Dinkins look like Guliani .
The Alarmist
Sunday - January 10th 2021 7:59AM MST

@Ganderson ... I left the Air Force to pursue a career in NYC, in the Dinkin years, and my running joke to my colleagues was that I spent years fighting communism just to end up moving to it. I can only imagine what state DiBlasio will leave it in.

One other thought, since we’re all on communism right now: Trotsky made Stalin possible, but eventually that made it necessary for Trotsky to be pushed out and ultimately to be eliminated. Such will be the way under Harris. Biden will reprise the role of Lenin in this theater. Those poor Kulaks in Flyover Country better take heed.
Sunday - January 10th 2021 7:58AM MST
PS. One of the words that was used a lot during the Cold War was “Finlandization”, used to describe Finland’s relationship with its giant neighbor to the east. The Finns weren’t behind the Iron Curtain, but they had to make concessions to the Russkies- Austria was sort of in the same boat- not an ideal situation, but it could have been a hell of a lot worse. Many people used the term slightly negatively- “look at the poor Finlanders, they’re all Finlandized,” but I’d wager the Poles, Czechs, Hungarians, etc, would have loved to be in the same boat as the Finns and Austrians. BTW the Finns gave the Russkies one heck of a bloody nose during the Winter War in 1939-40- my guess is that made the Cold War period better for the Finlanders. If want to see real, as opposed to sports hatred, catch a Finland- Russia hockey match. Old animosities die hard! ( Finland, along with Canada are the only two countries I know of where ice hockey is the number one sport) There is a significant ethnic Finnish population in Russian Karelia, although some say that Karelian is a separate language, others say it’s a Finnish dialect. The city of Petrozavodsk is bilingual.
A little Scandinavian history for a Sunday morning.
The Alarmist
Sunday - January 10th 2021 7:48AM MST

Ha-ha funny. Do find it. If the screnes with “Sitzenmachen” doesn’t have you laughing, perhaps you’ll love the way they corrupt the die-hard communist boyfriend the boss’ daughter has fallen for.

I managed to make a flight into Tempelhof a few months before they shut it down. One can only wonder how the folks living around it put up with all the noise during the Airlift. Nowadays flying in Germany is particulary regulated to minimise noise.

When my wife and I came back to fly home, they insisted on running us through the same security line used for the commercial pax. So, my wife has a couple bottles of cola, and they look at the airport worker accompanying us to the ramp, then at me and I say, “I’m the pilot in command .. it’s OK.” And I hand them my papers, which included the receipt for the very steep landing fee. Airport worker then confirms it is OK. So they let her through. Then they object to my pocket knife. Same comment, same result, but it left me wondering why they would bother to raise the issue after they had already seen my papers... just following procedure, I guess. #SecurityKabuki
Sunday - January 10th 2021 7:33AM MST
PS. Small niggle Mr Moderator: the Hungarian Uprising was in 1956. The Bridge at Andau, by the very underappreciated James Michener is about this event. I read it a long time ago, when I was still somewhat of a commie, so I don’t know how well it holds up. I should say that even in my commie days I didn’t have much time for the Soviets. I flirted with the “ Hey! That Mao guy is not so bad” school of comsimpery, but it didn’t take. The 6 years I spent working in NYC during the reign of King Dinkins did more to turn me to the dark side than anything.

And Dieter- I for one like the word “slacky” and plan on using it . Vielen Dank!
Sunday - January 10th 2021 6:39AM MST
PS: Mr. Kief, the adjective is just plain "slack", with no "er". English sucks, doesn't it, unless you spent a lot of time hearing/reading it from age zero on! Using "Slack" to describe a person was a big thing in the 1980s, I just recalled, Dieter, at least among my crowd.

Mr. Alarmist, once Patton had left (and been "dispatched with", the way I hear it*), I don't think the Russians had much to worry about, invasion-wise. Germany being split up and under American and Russian control was the main reason. All the rest weren't big powers, and Tito had a lid on Yugoslavia. Maybe that's your point though, keeping the lid on. I think it's more an economic/military power thing. The USSR had expanded it's Communist territory, and to areas (E. German, for example) with useful populations (as opposed to Angola or somewhere).

Are you saying the movie "One, two, three" was stupid funny or good funny? If it's the latter, I'll try to find it. My favorite subject in the Cold War is the Berlin Airlift. I read one book about it, and when I was in Berlin years ago, I walked about 20 miles around headed (roughly) to Templehof Airport. Alas, it's been gone for some years now. Can you imagine Flying in enough coal (barely) for heat for 2,000,000 people?

* I'm not a fan of Bill O'Reilly by any means, but my brother said his "Killing Patton" book is pretty good.
Sunday - January 10th 2021 6:27AM MST
PS: Well, it's a whole lot easier to have a successful uprising/revolution like this when the threat from the Big Red Bear is gone. The USSR had broken up by this time, Dieter and Alarmist. (I'm sure you both know that.). Were it 3 years earlier, would the East Germans have been pulled out of those seats and shot in the streets by Russian or E. German troops?

I do agree that the patriots this past week had no plan, and it would have been much better had their been a scene like you describe, Alarmist. It was spur of the moment though.
The Alarmist
Sunday - January 10th 2021 3:49AM MST

I concur with Mr. Kief ... 1989 was the more interesting protest. As I posted at UR, if the protestors had filled all the seats of “the Peoples’ House” and the corridors waving a few placards saying “We are the people” and just sat there until the police and military would carry them out, they’d probably still be there until inauguration day. Wow, can imagine the hysterics on CNN?

With regard to the Soviet occupation and Eastern Bloc, the fact that the Russians were tired of Europeans invading them played no small part in keeping these countries under their firm grip.

If you want a Cold War 1.0 laugh centred around Berlin, find yourself a view to a movie called “One, Two, Three” starring Jimmy Cagney.
Dieter Kief
Sunday - January 10th 2021 1:16AM MST
PS Ok Mr. Achmed. But öh - there was a_successful_ uprising in East Germany with no guns and - excuse me - shit (= other explosive stuff) involved at all. - A very polite and articulated*** and incredibly successful uprising. It destoyed the state then by - excuse me again for my language, but I'm rather serious here - by depotentializing it's - legitimacy.

*** The Go-In at the Capitol might qualify as somewhat polite (at least not really aggressive), but as far as the articulate part of it goes, it was a bit slacky, wasn't it? - A suggestion: The East Germans created a thoughtful slogan: Wir sind das Volk! - We are the people!

Not sure - is slacky a word - adverb derived from slacker?
WHAT SAY YOU? : (PLEASE NOTE: You must type capital PS as the 1st TWO characters in your comment body - for spam avoidance - or the comment will be lost!)