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The Dynamics of Informational Cascades: The Monday Demonstrations in Leipzig, East Germany, 1989–91

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2011

Susanne Lohmann
Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles
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This article analyzes the dynamics of turnout and the political impact of five cycles of protest, consisting of forty-two mass demonstrations that occurred on Mondays in Leipzig over the period 1989–91. These demonstrations are interpreted as an informational cascade that publicly revealed some of the previously hidden information about the malign nature of the East German communist regime. Once this information became publicly available, the viability of the regime was undermined. The Monday demonstrations subsequently died a slow death as their informational role declined.

Research Article
World Politics , Volume 47 , Issue 1 , October 1994 , pp. 42 - 101
Copyright © Trustees of Princeton University 1994

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1 Baumann, Eleonore et al., eds., Der Fischer Weitalmanach: Sonderband DDR (The Fischer world almanac: Special volume GDR) (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990), 150.Google Scholar German expressions are translated by the author.

2 Christoph Hein, cited in Schneider, Wolfgang, ed., Leipziger Demontagebuch: Demo Montag Tagebuch Demontage (Leipzig dismantlingdiary: Demo Monday diary dismantling) (Leipzig: Gustav Kiepenheuer, 1990), 8.Google ScholarWorld Politics 47 (October 1994), 42–101.

3 Tarrow, Sidney, Struggle, Politics, and Reform: Collective Action, Social Movements, and Cycles of Protest, Western Societies Program Occasional Paper no. 21 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Center for International Studies, Cornell University, 1989).Google Scholar

4 This expression comes from Bikhchandani, Sushil, Hirshleifer, David, and Welch, Ivo, “A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change as Informational Cascades,” Journal of Political Economy 100 (October 1992).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 The theory of relative deprivation is developed by Gurr, Ted Robert, Why Men Rebel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970).Google Scholar The following is a partial list of works associated with the theory of political opportunity structure: Tilly, Charles, From Mobilization to Revolution (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1978)Google Scholar; Taylor, Michael, “Rationality and Revolutionary Collective Action,” in Taylor, , ed., Rationality and Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988)Google Scholar; Tarrow (fn. 3).

6 Hirschman, Albert O., Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Response to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970)Google Scholar; Granovetter, Mark, “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior,” American Journal of Sociology 83 (May 1978)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Oliver, Pamela and Marwell, Gerald, “A Theory of the Critical Mass I: Interdependence, Group Heterogeneity, and the Production of Collective Action,” American Journal of Sociology 91 (November 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Marwell, Gerald and Oliver, Pamela, The Critical Mass in Collective Action: A Micro-social Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kuran, Timur, “Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Revolution,” Public Choice 61 (April 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, “Now out of Never: The Element of Surprise in the East European Revolution of 1989,” World Politics 44 (October 1991); DeNardo, James, Power in Numbers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chong, Dennis, Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).Google Scholar

7 Lohmann, Susanne, “Rationality, Revolution and Revolt: The Dynamics of Informational Cascades,” Graduate School of Business Working Paper no. 1213 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University, December 1992).Google Scholar

8 Oberschall, Anthony, Social Conflict and Social Movements (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973)Google Scholar; McAdam, Doug, “Micromobilization Contexts and Recruitment to Activism,” in Klandermans, Bert, Kriesi, Hanspeter, and Tarrow, Sidney, International Social Movement Research, vol. 1 (Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1988)Google Scholar; McCarthy, John D. and Zald, Mayer N., “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory,” American Journal of Sociology 82 (May 1977)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Uhlaner, Carole J., “Rational Turnout: The Neglected Role of Groups,” American Journal of Political Science 33 (May 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Chong (fn. 6).

9 Indeed, he applies the theory of exit, voice, and loyalty to the East German revolution; see Hirschman, , “Exit, Voice, and the Fate of the German Democratic Republic: An Essay in Conceptual History,” World Politics 45 (January 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 Schelling, Thomas develops a similar model in Micromotives and Macrobehavior (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), chap. 7.Google Scholar

11 On the role of group heterogeneity for collective action, see also Olson, Mancur, The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965)Google Scholar, chap. 2; Hardin, Russell, Collective Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982), chap. 5.Google Scholar

12 DeNardo, (fn. 6), 107.Google Scholar

13 Ibid., 217.

14 Two seminal articles on signaling games are Spence, Michael, “Job Market Signaling,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 87 (1973)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Crawford, Vincent P. and Sobel, Joel, “Strategic Information Transmission,” Econometrica 50 (November 1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar The application of signaling games to political settings in reviewed by Banks, Jeffrey S., Signaling Games in Political Science (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood, 1991).Google Scholar

15 In the standard signaling game the message space is given by the real line or a finite set of numbers, and the sender's message to the receiver consists of a real number or an element of the set.

16 Lohmann (fn. 7); idem, “A Signaling Model of Informative and Manipulative Political Action,” American Political Science Review 87 (June 1993); idem, “Information Aggregation through Costly Political Action,” American Economic Review 84 (June 1994).

17 See McKelvey, Richard D. and Ordeshook, Peter C., “Elections with Limited Information: A Fulfilled Expectations Model Using Contemporaneous Poll and Endorsement Data as Information Sources,” Journal of Economic Theory 36 (June 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bikhchandani, Hirshleifer, and Welch (fn. 4). These models are reviewed in more detail in Lohmann (fn. 7).

18 Olson (fn. 11).

19 Ledyard, John O., “The Pure Theory of Large Two-Candidate Elections,” Public Choice 44, no. 1 (1984).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20 Such a synthesis is formally developed in section A of the mathematical appendix.

21 Susanne Lohmann analyzes competitive political pressures in “A Signaling Model of Competitive Political Pressures,” Economics and Politics (forthcoming).

22 Such a synthesis is sketched in section B of the mathematical appendix.

23 A more complex model would allow individuals to make inferences about the repressiveness of the regime based on their interaction with police and state security forces during demonstrations.

24 Granovetter, Mark, “Economic Action and Social Structure: The Problem of Embeddedness,” American Journal of Sociology 91 (November 1985), 481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

25 Piven, and Cloward, , Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (New York: Pantheon, 1977).Google Scholar

26 For a more detailed account of the history of the GDR as well as relevant references, see Lohmann, Susanne, “The Dynamics of Informational Cascades: A Study of the East German Revolution” (Manuscript, UCLA, 1994).Google Scholar

27 Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung Berlin, ed., Handbuch DDR-Wirtschaft (Handbook GDR economy), 4th ed. (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1984), 141Google Scholar; Mayer, Thomas and Thumann, Günther, “German Democratic Republic: Background and Plans for Reform,” in Lipschitz, Leslie and McDonald, Donogh, eds., German Unification: Economic Issues, International Monetary Fund Occasional Paper no. 75 (Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, December 1990), chap. 3.Google Scholar

28 The Leipzig data are documented in Friedrich, Walter, “Mentalitätswandlungen der Jugend in der DDR,” Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (supplement to Das Parlament) B16–17/90 (1990).Google Scholar The polls of the Central Institute for Youth Research were typically conducted in written form and in groups to guarantee anonymity. The polls were not representative by the standards of Western public opinion research; but they usually involved large samples (>1,000) and random selection within large units such as large state enterprises, school districts, and the like.

29 These numbers are provided by Diedrich, Torsten, Der 17. Juni 1953 in der DDR (June 17,1953, in the GDR) (Berlin: Dietz, 1991), 293–96.Google Scholar The officially announced number of deaths was twenty-five. Archive materials that became available after German unification suggest that hundreds may have died; see Der Spiegel, “SED Akten über den 17. Juni 1953 entdeckt: ‘Der mit dem Bart muβ weg,’” June 14, 1993, pp. 65–69; and Mitter, Armin and Wolle, Stefan, Untergang auf Raten: Unbekannte Kapitel der DDR-Geschichte (Decline in installments: Unknown chapters of the history of the GDR) (Munich: C. Bertelsmann, 1993), chap. 1.Google Scholar

30 Kinzer, Stephen, “Ex-East German Leader Convicted of Vote Fraud but Not Punished,” New York Times, May 18, 1993, p. A4.Google Scholar

31 Baumann, et al. (fn. 1), 151.Google Scholar

32 Empirical support for the argument that the Gorbachev-induced change in the political opportunity structure lowered the costs of protesting in the GDR is provided by Johnson, Carsten, “Massenmobilisierung in der DDR im Jahre 1989: Der Wandel der politischen Opportunitätsstruktur und die Dynamik des Massenprotestes” (M.A. thesis, Free University of Berlin, 1992).Google Scholar

33 For general background, I rely on a special edition of Baumann et al. (fn. 1) and the day-by-day account of the events of fall 1989 in Links, Christoph and Bahrmann, Hannes, Wir sind das Folk: Die DDR im Aufbruch: Eine Chronik (We are the people: The breaking up of the GDR: A chronicle) (Berlin: Aufbau; Wuppertal, Germany: Peter Hammer, 1990).Google Scholar The Leipzig Monday demonstrations are documented and described in Forum Leipzig, Verlag, ed., Von Leipzig nach Deutschland (From Leipzig to Germany) (Leipzig: Forum, 1991)Google Scholar; Leipzig, Neues Forum, ed., Jetzt oder nie: Demokratie Leipziger Herbst ′89 (Now or never: Democracy fall in Leipzig ′89) (Munich: C. Bertelsmann, 1990)Google Scholar; Schneider (fn. 2); Tetzner, Reiner, Leipziger Ring: Aufzeichnungen eines Montagsdemonstranten (Leipzig Ring: Records of a Monday demonstrator) (Frankfurt am Main: Luchterhand, 1990)Google Scholar; Wielepp, Christoph, “Montags abends in Leipzig,” in Blanke, Thomas and Erd, Rainer, eds., DDR: Ein Staat vergeht (GDR: A state vanishes) (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1990)Google Scholar; and Breitenborn, Uwe and Rink, Dieter, “Die Leipziger Montagsdemonstrationen: Wandlungen einer basisdemokratischen Institution,” Blätter für Deutsche und Internationale Politik (May 1991).Google Scholar I also utilize newspaper articles published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Leipziger Volkszeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, and The Week in Germany, as well as newspaper articles documented in taz [tageszeitung], ed., DDR Journal zur Oktoberrevolution: August bis Dezember 1989 (GDR journal on the October revolution: August to December 1989), 2d ed. (Berlin: S.d., 1990); and taz, ed., DDR Journal Nr. 2: Die Wende der Wende: Januar bis März 1990 (GDR journal no. 2: The turning point of the political change: January to March 1990) (Berlin: S.d. 1990). Public opinion poll data are documented in Föster, Peter and Roski, Günter, DDR zwischen Wende und Wahl: Meinungsforscher analysieren den Umbruch (GDR between political change and elections: Public opinion researchers analyze the radical change) (Berlin: Links Druck, 1990)Google Scholar; Gerth, Michael and Grahl, Robert, “Zur quantitativen Auswertung der Demo-Befragung vom 8.10.1990” (Manuscript, Leipzig, 1990)Google Scholar; Breitenborn, Uwe, “Auswertung Demo-Umfrage in Leipzig (März 1991)” (Manuscript, Leipzig, 1991)Google Scholar; and Der Spiegel, ed., Das Profil der Deutschen: Was sie vereint, was sie trennt (The profile of the Germans: What unites them, what separates them), special issue of Der Spiegel, no. 1 (1991). East German election results are provided in Thomas R. Cusack and Wolf-Dieter Eberwein,, “The Endless Election: 1990 in the GDR,” International Relations Research Group Working Paper no. P91–302 (Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, 1991). A more detailed analysis of the Leipzig demonstrations and further references are provided in Lohmann (fn. 26).

34 Wielepp (fn. 33), 72; Links, and Bahrmann, (fn. 33), 140.Google Scholar

35 The largest single demonstration took place in East Berlin on November 4; however, in the fall of 1989, turnout in Leipzig was highest, both in the aggregate over time and in terms of percentage of local population mobilized.

36 Opp and his coauthors suggest that the Leipzig setting is a perfect example of a focal point in a coordination problem; see Opp, Karl Dieter, “DDR ′89: Zu den Ursachen einer Spontanen Revolution,” Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 43, no. 2 (1991)Google Scholar; idem, “Spontaneous Revolutions: The Case of East Germany in 1989,” in Kurz, Heinz D., ed., United Germany and the New Europe (Cheltenham, England: Edward Elgar, 1993)Google Scholar; Opp, Karl Dieter and Gern, Christiane, “Dissident Groups, Personal Networks, and Spontaneous Cooperation: The East-German Revolution of 1989,” American Sociological Review 58 (October 1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Opp, Karl Dieter, Voβ, Peter, and Gern, Christiane, Die volkseigene Revolution (The revolution owned by the people) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1993).Google Scholar

37 Tetzner, (fn. 33), 16.Google Scholar

38 Links, and Bahrmann, (fn. 33), 30.Google Scholar

39 Ibid., 88.

40 Wielepp, (fn. 33), 76.Google Scholar

41 Schneider, (fn. 2), 8.Google Scholar

42 See Lohmann (fn. 26).

43 Leipziger Volkszeitung, September 26,1989, p. 10.

44 Ibid., October 17,1989, p. 1.

45 This conclusion is supported by public opinion polls conducted in September and October 1990, according to which 42% of East Germans lacked the confidence to make a fresh start by moving to West Germany; see Der Spiegel (fn. 33), 15. Similarly, a sample of GDR citizens who emigrated between August and November 1989 was questioned in December 1989 and January 1990, revealing some of the risks involved in moving to the West; 35% of the emigrants seeking a job had failed to find employment at the time of the poll; in 22% of the cases the emigrants' jobs were unrelated to their GDR qualifications; and 19% of the sample was considering returning to the GDR sometime in the future; see Köhler, Anne, “1st die Übersiedlerwelle noch zu stoppen?Deutschland-Archiv 23 (March 1990), 428–29.Google Scholar

46 An informational cascade argument suggests that these poll results could have provided an additional source of information for the general public and thereby affected the path of the East German revolution. However, I believe that such informational effects are negligible: the mass public was by and large unaware of these poll results.

47 The percentage numbers add up to more than 100% because the respondents were allowed to express support for more than one party.

48 German Information Center, ed., “Monday Demonstrations to Continue ‘Under New Management’,” Week in Germany, April 12, 1991, p. 2.Google Scholar

50 The claim that the expected cost of participation attained a maximum in this demonstration is based on the subjective assessments of participants revealed in diaries and documentation covering the Leipzig demonstrations.

51 The complementary role played by exit and voice in the East German revolution is also noted by Pollack, Detlef, “Das Ende einer Organisationsgesellschaft,” Zeitschrift für Soziologie 19 (August 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

52 DeNardo (fn. 6).

53 Tarrow, Sidney, ”‘Aiming at a Moving Target’: Social Science and the Recent Rebellions in Eastern Europe,” Political Science and Politics 24 (March 1991), 17.Google Scholar

54 See also section B of the mathematical appendix.

55 Interestingly, a negative relationship between organization and the strength of protest also shows up in the Italian and West German protest data analyzed by Tarrow, Sidney, Democracy and Disorder: Protest and Politics in Italy, 1965–1975 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)Google Scholar; and Koopmans, Ruud, “The Dynamics of Protest Waves: West Germany, 1965–1989,” American Sociological Review 58 (October 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar In their data the peak in the total number of protests coincides with the peak in the number of unorganized protests.

56 Corey, Scott, “Crisis in the Study of Revolution” (Paper presented at the meetings of the American Political Science Association, September 1992), 8.Google Scholar

57 For simplicity, I assume that the individuals do not discount the future. The results of the analysis would not be affected qualitatively if this assumption were relaxed to allow for some discounting.

58 The loss function could be modified to include a term that reflects the losses generated by the incumbency of the status quo regime in periods 1,…, T. However, the addition of this term would not change the individuals' political action decisions, since their actions or abstentions cannot affect these losses.

59 Lohmann (fn. 21) develops a variant of the model in which proponents of the status quo may choose to take counteracting political action, albeit in a static setting.

This specification of the individuals' political action strategies restricts them to using pure strategies. The pure strategy cutpoint equilibrium characterized here does not exist for a subset of the parameter space. In this case, a mixed strategy equilibrium may arise. Lohmann (fn. 21) sketches the mixed strategy solution, albeit for a static setting.

60 A more complex model would explicitly analyze the individuals' regime support strategies; compare Lohmann (fn. 16, 1994).

61 Kreps, David H. and Wilson, Robert, “Sequential Equilibria,” Econometrica 50 (July 1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar Lohmann (fn. 16, 1994) discusses the equilibrium concept in more detail.

62 The intuition underlying the results can be conveyed by the analysis of this special case. The more general case of 0 <T<∞ is analyzed in Lohmann (fn. 7), albeit in an otherwise simpler setting.

63 I restrict attention to the case in which The alternative case in which is easily derived along the lines developed here.

64 As before, I restrict attention to the case in which The alternative case in which is easily derived along the lines developed here.