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

  • Susanne Lohmann (a1)

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.

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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. 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.World 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).

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).

5 The theory of relative deprivation is developed by Gurr Ted Robert, Why Men Rebel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). 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); Taylor Michael, “Rationality and Revolutionary Collective Action,” in Taylor, ed., Rationality and Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Tarrow (fn. 3).

6 Hirschman Albert O., Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Response to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970); Granovetter Mark, “Threshold Models of Collective Behavior,” American Journal of Sociology 83 (May 1978); 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); Marwell Gerald and Oliver Pamela, The Critical Mass in Collective Action: A Micro-social Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Kuran Timur, “Sparks and Prairie Fires: A Theory of Unanticipated Revolution,” Public Choice 61 (April 1989); 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); Chong Dennis, Collective Action and the Civil Rights Movement (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

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).

8 Oberschall Anthony, Social Conflict and Social Movements (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973); 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); McCarthy John D. and Zald Mayer N., “Resource Mobilization and Social Movements: A Partial Theory,” American Journal of Sociology 82 (May 1977); Uhlaner Carole J., “Rational Turnout: The Neglected Role of Groups,” American Journal of Political Science 33 (May 1989); 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).

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

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

12 DeNardo (fn. 6), 107.

13 Ibid., 217.

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

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); 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).

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.

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

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).

27 Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung Berlin, ed., Handbuch DDR-Wirtschaft (Handbook GDR economy), 4th ed. (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1984), 141; 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.

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). 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. 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.

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

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

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).

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). The Leipzig Monday demonstrations are documented and described in Forum Leipzig Verlag, ed., Von Leipzig nach Deutschland (From Leipzig to Germany) (Leipzig: Forum, 1991); Leipzig Neues Forum, ed., Jetzt oder nie: Demokratie Leipziger Herbst ′89 (Now or never: Democracy fall in Leipzig ′89) (Munich: C. Bertelsmann, 1990); Schneider (fn. 2); Tetzner Reiner, Leipziger Ring: Aufzeichnungen eines Montagsdemonstranten (Leipzig Ring: Records of a Monday demonstrator) (Frankfurt am Main: Luchterhand, 1990); 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); and Breitenborn Uwe and Rink Dieter, “Die Leipziger Montagsdemonstrationen: Wandlungen einer basisdemokratischen Institution,” Blätter für Deutsche und Internationale Politik (May 1991). 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); Gerth Michael and Grahl Robert, “Zur quantitativen Auswertung der Demo-Befragung vom 8.10.1990” (Manuscript, Leipzig, 1990); Breitenborn Uwe, “Auswertung Demo-Umfrage in Leipzig (März 1991)” (Manuscript, Leipzig, 1991); 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.

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); 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); 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); and Opp Karl Dieter, Voβ Peter, and Gern Christiane, Die volkseigene Revolution (The revolution owned by the people) (Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1993).

37 Tetzner (fn. 33), 16.

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

39 Ibid., 88.

40 Wielepp (fn. 33), 76.

41 Schneider (fn. 2), 8.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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); and Koopmans Ruud, “The Dynamics of Protest Waves: West Germany, 1965–1989,” American Sociological Review 58 (October 1993). 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.

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). 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 inline-graphic The alternative case in which inline-graphic is easily derived along the lines developed here.

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

* Financial support for this work was provided by the James and Doris McNamara Faculty Fellowship 1991–92, and generous research assistance and field research funds were made available by the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. I would like to thank Christophe Crombez and James Reinhold for their research assistance, and Jonathan Bendor, Carsten Johnson, Timur Kuran, and Achim Ramesohl for useful comments. I am especially grateful to Miriam Golden for her careful reading of two earlier drafts of this article. Parts of this study are based on an interview with Peter Forster (cofounder of the Central Institute for Youth Research in Leipzig and former head of its department for public opinion research) in June 1992, and I thank him for his insights.

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