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Exit, Voice, and the Fate of the German Democratic Republic: An Essay in Conceptual History

  • Albert O. Hirschman (a1)

The revolutionary events of 1989 in Eastern Europe took a special shape in the German Democratic Republic: large-scale flights of citizens to the Federal Republic of Germany combined with increasingly powerful mass demonstrations in the major cities to bring down the communist regime. This conjunction of private emigration and public protest contrasts with the way these distinct responses to discontent had been previously experienced, primarily as alternatives. The forty-year history of the German Democratic Republic thus represents a particularly rich theater of operation for the concepts of “exit” and “voice,” which the author had introduced in his book Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970). The events of 1989 are scrutinized in some detail as they trace a more complex pattern of interaction than had been found to prevail in most previous studies.

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1 Hirschman, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970).

2 Hirschman, Abwanderung und Widerspruch, trans. Walentik Leonhard (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1974).

3 For me the most stimulating contributions were several articles by Detlef Pollack, a sociologist of religion at the University of Leipzig. See in particular Pollack, “Das Ende einer Organisationsgesellschaft,” Zeitschrift für Soziologie 19 (August 1990). Pollack gives an insightful account of the events in Leipzig during the fall of 1989; he had obviously witnessed them at very close range. He points out that the events contradict my model to the extent it asserts a predominantly rival, rather than complementary, relation between exit and voice in social processes. He returns to this theme in several subsequent articles: Pollack, “Religion und gesellschaftlicher Wandel” (Religion and social change), Übergänge (June 1990); and idem, “Aussenseiter oder Repräsentanten?” (Outsiders or representatives?), Deutschland-Archiv 23 (1990), 1217–23. See also Pollack and Christiane Heinze, “Zur Funktion der politisch alternativen Gruppen im Prozess des gesellschaftlichen Umbruchs in der DDR” (About the function of politically alienated groups in the social upheaval in the GDR), in Grabner Wolf-Jürgen et al., Leipzig im Oktober (Berlin: Wichern, 1990). Other uses of the exit-voice distinction are found in Claus Offe, “Wohlstand, Nation, Republik: Aspekte des deutschen Sonderweges von Sozialismus zum Kapitalismus” (Welfare, nation, republic: Aspects of the unique German path from socialism to capitalism) (Manuscript, September 1990); and Zapf Wolfgang, “Der Zusammenbruch einer Sozialstruktur” (The collapse of a social structure) (Manuscript, February 1991). Visiting graduate students from the United States also contributed to the discussion. See Brubaker Rogers, “Frontier Theses: Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in East Germany,” Migration World 18, no. 3–4 (1990), 1217; and Torpey John, “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty in the ‘Peaceful Revolution’ in the GDR” (Paper for the 17th Symposium on the German Democratic Republic, University of New Hampshire, June 1991).

4 Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, press release no. 3, January 29, 1991.

5 Hirschman (fn. 1), 43; emphasis in original.

6 Hirschman, “Exit and Voice: An Expanding Sphere of Influence,” in Hirschman, Rival Views of Market Society and Other Recent Essays (New York: Viking, 1986), 91.

7 See the articles by Pollack cited in fn. 3.

8 Hirschman (fn. 6), 79.

9 Ibid., 89. In describing the process of slave emancipation in Cuba in the late 19th century, Rebecca Scott has shown how slaves at times adopted a mixed, exit cum voice strategy; she calls it “voice in pursuit of exit.” After 1880, when a new statute had imposed certain obli gations on slave owners with regard to treatment and payment of slave labor, a substantial number of slaves, in alliance with abolitionists, took advantage of this statute to bring charges against their masters for violations. They obtained their freedom in this manner rather than by simply “running away.” See Scott, “Dismantling Repressive Systems: The Abolition of Slavery in Cuba as a Case Study,” in Foxley Alejandro et al., eds., Development, Democracy, and the Art of Trespassing: Essays in Honor of Albert O. Hirschman (Notre Dame, Ind.: Uni versity of Notre Dame Press, 1986), 274.

10 Havel, “The Power of the Powerless,” trans. Wilson P., in Havel, Living in Truth, ed. Vladislav Jan (London: Faber and Faber, 1986), 85ff.

11 Hein Christoph, Texte, Daten, Bilder, ed. Baier Lothar (Frankfurt: Luchterhand, 1990), 42.

12 Full documentation is found in Rein Gerhard, Die protestantische Revolution, 1982–1990 (Berlin: Wichern, 1990); see also Neubert Ehrhart, “Eine protestantische Revolution,” Deutschland-Archiv 23 (May 1990).

13 Wolf Christa, who was sixteen years old when the Nazi regime collapsed in 1945, speaks of this experience in an interview in 1987–88: “My generation has early on exchanged one ideology for another.” See Wolf, Christa Wolf im Dialog (Frankfurt: Luchterhand, 1990), 26. In another interview she amplifies this theme: “Today we see—some of us, anyway—that we were in danger of exchanging one salvation doctrine for another; for it is much more difficult to develop new forms of feeling and thinking than to exchange simply (though that was not so ‘simple’ either) old articles of faith for new ones” (p. 74). This experience is also re-created in two of her finest novels, Nachdenken über Christa T. and Kindheitsmuster.

14 Bruyn Günter de, Jubelschreie, Trauergesänge (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 1991), 29.

15 Ibid., 36–37.

16 Weber Hermann, DDR: Grundriss der Geschichte, 1945–1990 (Hannover: Fackelträger, 1991), 170. This is a good general guide to the history of the GDR; other principal sources of information are the journal Deutschland-Archiv and Bundesministerium für innerdeutsche Beziehungen, Texte zur Deutschlandpolitik; Links Christoph and Bahrmann Hannes, Wir sind das Volk: Die DDR im Aufbruch (We are the people: The GDR is breaking up) (Berlin: Aufbau, 1990).

17 Bärbel Bohley in an interview with Havemann Katja, in Bohley et al., 40 Jahre DDR (Frankfurt: Büchergilde Gutenberg, 1989), 184.

18 The following account is based in part on the sources cited in fn. 16, in part on other publications cited here. See in particular Rein Gerhard, ed., Die Opposition in der DDR (Berlin: Wichern, 1989); and the Chronik der Ereignisse in der DDR (August 1989–May 1990), Edition Deutschland Archiv (1990). Interviews with Gerhard and Gudrun Rein and with Detlef Pollack in Berlin in early 1991 were most helpful. In May 1992 I spent several days in Leipzig and Dresden and talked with a number of participants in the 1989 events. I am greatly indebted to all of them and in particular to Hagen Findeis in Leipzig.

19 For the events in Leipzig, see in particular Grabner (fn. 3); Leipzig Neues Forum, Jetztoder nie: Demokratie (Munich: Bertelsmann, 1990).

20 Dönert Albrecht and Rummel Paulus, “Die Leipziger Montagsdemonstrationen,” in Grabner (fn. 3), 149.

21 The first meaning is noted in Schütt Peter, “Bleiben, damit es nicht so bleibt, wie es ist,” Deutschland–Archiv 22 (1989), 1209–13. The other interpretations (“Wir bleiben, obwohl's uns nicht gefällt” and “Uns mwerdet Ihr nicht los”) were reported by activists in interviews held in May 1992 in Leipzig.

22 Petra Bornhöft, “Ausreiser und Bleiber marschieren getrennt: Auf der Demonstration in Leipzig trennten sich die Wege: abwandern oder reformieren?” (Ausreiser and Bleiber march separately: During the demonstration in Leipzig the roads parted—to exit or to reform?), Berlin Tageszeitung. September 9, 1989, reprinted in the Tageszeitung brochure, DDR: Journal zur November-Revolution (Berlin: S.d.), 8.

23 At the end of his poem “Die Lösung” (The solution), Brecht asks: “Would it in that case / Not be simpler if the Government / Dissolved the People / And elected another?” [Wäre es da / Nicht doch einfacher, die Regierung / Löste das Volk auf und / Wählte ein anderes?] See Brecht Bertolt, Werke, Berliner und Frankfurter Ausgabe, ed. Hecht Werner et al. (Berlin: Aufbau, 1988; and Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988), 12:310.

24 The events in Dresden are chronicled in Bahr Eckhard, Sieben Tage im Oktober: Aufbruch in Dresden (Seven days in October: Upheaval in Dresden) (Leipzig: Forum, 1990).

25 Nowak Kurt, Jenseits des mehrheitlichen Schweigens: Texte vom Juni bis Dezember des Jahres 1989 (Beyond majoritorian silence: Texts from June to December 1989) (Berlin: Union, 1990), 2021.

26 A correspondingly literal use of the opposite slogan “Wir wollen raus” was reported to me during my visit to Leipzig in 1992. In October 1989, when groups of demonstrators found themselves cut off on all sides by mobile police forces, they would shout “Wir wollen rausrdquo; simply to indicate their demand to break out of the police trap. But in this case the wider meaning (we want to be free to leave the GDR) certainly antedated the narrower one. Well known by then, the wider meaning probably inspired the demonstrators to use the slogan in the narrow sense. By contrast, in the case of “we're staying here,” it is possible that, at least in Dresden, the narrow meaning preceded the wider one.

27 Links and Bahrmann (fn. 16), 16.

28 Neues Forum Leipzig (fn. 19), 82.

29 Wielepp Christoph, “Montags abends in Leipzig,” in Blanke Thomas and Erd Rainer, eds., DDR: Ein Staat vergeht (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1990), 72.

30 Dieckmann Friedrich, Glockenläuten und offene Fragen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1991), 205.

31 Büscher Wolfgang, “Warum bleibe ich eigentlich? Reaktionen der evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR auf die Ausreisewelle” (Why do I stay? Reactions of the evangelical church in the GDR to the emigration wave), Deutschland-Archiv 17 (July 1984), 684–85.

32 Darnton, Berlin Journal, 1989–1990 (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), 73.

33 Wolf (fn. 13), 77.

34 Ibid., 83.

35 Streul Irene Charlotte, “Die Kulturszene der DDR im Aufbruch,” Deutschland-Archiv 22 (December 1989), 1404.

36 Rein (fn. 18), 27.

37 Schabowski, Das Politbüro (Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1990), 62.

38 Ibid., 81.

39 Hirschman (fn. 1), 21–25.

40 Ibid., chap. 7.

41 Rein (fn. 18), 180.

42 Dieckmann (fn. 30), 64.

43 Hirschman (fn. 1), 24, 32.

44 Wolf (fn. 13), 170–71.

45 Frankfurter Rundschau, December 18, 1991, p. 7. Speech on the occasion of the award to Weizsäcker of the Heine prize for 1991.

46 Hertz, “La prééminence de la main droite: étude sur la polarité religieuse,” in Hertz, Mélanges de sociologie religieuse et folklore (Paris: Alean, 1928), 99129. The expression cited in the next sentence occurs on p. 127. The article was originally published in Revue Philosophique 68 (December 1909). For an English translation, see Hertz, Death and the Right Hand, trans. Rodney and Needham Claudia (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960).

* For useful comments on an early draft of this essay, I am much indebted to Albrecht Funk, Arthur J. McAdams, Bernhard Peters, and Rebecca Scott. See also fn. 18 for further acknowledgments.

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World Politics
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