Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989
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Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989

Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989

by Steven Pfaff


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Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany: The Crisis of Leninism and the Revolution of 1989

Winner of the Social Science History Association President’s Book Award

East Germany was the first domino to fall when the Soviet bloc began to collapse in 1989. Its topple was so swift and unusual that it caught many area specialists and social scientists off guard; they failed to recognize the instability of the Communist regime, much less its fatal vulnerability to popular revolt. In this volume, Steven Pfaff identifies the central mechanisms that propelled the extraordinary and surprisingly bloodless revolution within the German Democratic Republic (GDR). By developing a theory of how exit-voice dynamics affect collective action, Pfaff illuminates the processes that spurred mass demonstrations in the GDR, led to a peaceful surrender of power by the hard-line Leninist elite, and hastened German reunification. While most social scientific explanations of collective action posit that the option for citizens to emigrate—or exit—suppresses the organized voice of collective public protest by providing a lower-cost alternative to resistance, Pfaff argues that a different dynamic unfolded in East Germany. The mass exit of many citizens provided a focal point for protesters, igniting the insurgent voice of the revolution.

Pfaff mines state and party records, police reports, samizdat, Church documents, and dissident manifestoes for his in-depth analysis not only of the genesis of local protest but also of the broader patterns of exit and voice across the entire GDR. Throughout his inquiry, Pfaff compares the East German rebellion with events occurring during the same period in other communist states, particularly Czechoslovakia, China, Poland, and Hungary. He suggests that a trigger from outside the political system—such as exit—is necessary to initiate popular mobilization against regimes with tightly centralized power and coercive surveillance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822337522
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 07/10/2006
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Steven Pfaff is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, Seattle.

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Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany

By Steven Pfa

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2006 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-3752-2

Chapter One

Exit-Voice Dynamics and Collective Action

When I do an analysis myself I never think of economics as a whole and of sociology as a whole and how the two can meet; where are the interfaces; and so on. I do it in connection with specific phenomena. And almost inevitably I find ways in which it is the intermingling that explains. -ALBERT O. HIRSCHMAN, QTD. IN R. SWEDBERG, ECONOMICS AND SOCIOLOGY

The events of 1989-90 in East Germany reveal a remarkable coincidence of emigration and protest. The archives of the GDR Interior Ministry indicate that more than fifteen hundred public protest events occurred between September 1989, when the crisis began, and March 1990, when parliamentary elections voted in a pro-unification government. Demographic reports show that in the period between the first anti-regime protests and the parliamentary elections that voted for German unity more than four hundred thousand GDR citizens (nearly 3 percent of the population) abandoned the country and fled to West Germany. (See figure 1.)

All accounts are united inseeing emigration as playing an important part in the East German revolution (see Pollack 1994; Oe 1994, 1997; Zapf 1993; Naimark 1992; Mueller 1999). The apparent correlation between exit (emigration) and voice (protest) has been widely noted, with many scholars drawing on the insights of economist Albert O. Hirschman's pioneering essay Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970) to explain it. Indeed, Hirschman's thinking profoundly influenced our understanding of 1989, as reflected in a number of scholarly treatments of the subject applying his theory, not least his own conceptual essay (Hirschman 1993; see also Brubaker 1990; Pollack 1990; Goldstone 1994b; Lohmann 1994; Mueller 1999). Yet these studies have generally only considered one side of the relationship between exit and voice, such as how emigration to West Germany before 1989 stunted the development of an opposition movement in comparison with developments in Poland or Czechoslovakia (Torpey 1995; Joppke 1995; also see Huntington 1968: 310-11) or provided "exit repertoires" that were an alternative to social movements (Mueller 1999).

In fact, nearly all perspectives in the collective action literature concur that an exit option should suppress voice by providing the rational actor with a typically low-cost alternative to protest that avoids collective action problems (MacDonald 1963; Barry 1974; Adas 1986; Blair and Jost 2003). This interpretation is reinforced by previous studies of the GDR. As John Torpey (1995: 9) says with regard to the East German intellectuals, "For their part, those who chose to leave the GDR rather than suffer the travails of the struggle for a better society naturally reduced the direct pressures on the regime to change and, perhaps equally significantly, demoralized those who wished to stay and fight the battle." In his study of the dissident movement, Christian Joppke (1995: 29) argues that "in East Germany, the equivalent to the dissident quest for the open society was exit to West Germany, where everyone who managed to cross the Wall could pick up automatic citizenship. The exit option, which could be taken only individually, neutralized the appearance of antipolitical dissidence as political claim."

The implication is evident: as the availability of exit increases, collective action should decrease. In this scenario, mass emigration would prevent a revolution. On the other hand, if the costs of collective action fall, emigration should decrease as the balance of incentives shifts from exit to voice as a means of redressing grievances. In this scenario, revolution prevents emigration (Lichbach 1994: 106). Although both of these theoretical scenarios are plausible, neither seems to capture the dynamic driving the East German revolution. Lichbach's (1994: 105) discussion of the implications of exit for the Rebel's Dilemma suggests an ambiguous role for emigration: "Without the safety valve of exit, voice is the only resort left for changing one's situation. Voice will thus be wielded by those with literally no place else to go. Moreover, as the possibility of exit increases, the best and brightest (i.e., the most motivated and best able) leave, taking the clearest voices out of the picture." When the exit option presents itself in the study of collective action, it appears as safety valve, as a factor depleting social capital, and as a last resort. But are there other possibilities?

However important emigration was for its ultimate political fate, emigration alone was unlikely to have led to the capitulation of an intransigent, orthodox Leninist regime like the GDR. During the period that emigration shook the GDR, mass mobilization went on concurrently. The historical evidence shows that, despite the importance of the emigration crisis in triggering protest and weakening the regime's grip, the East German state collapsed because of the direct pressure of the people in the streets. The great breakthroughs in the democratic revolution-the fall of Honecker in mid-October, the fall of the Berlin Wall in early November, the January 1990 announcement that free parliamentary elections would be held in March-came after massive, intensifying protests convinced regime elites that they had to change course or hasten the pace of change. And yet exit was never displaced by voice, and reformists found that efforts to restabilize the GDR were repeatedly undermined by waves of emigration. Voice vied with exit in the political arena.

What has been missing so far in the embrace of the exit-voice-loyalty thesis is a reformulation of Hirschman's concepts with clear implications for the study of social movements and collective action. Despite the widespread use of exit-voice-loyalty as a heuristic device, its application has been hampered both by conceptual imprecision and by the lack of empirical data on these separate phenomena in the same episode of collective action (see Dowding et al. 2000). As Hirschman does not clearly propose the constituent mechanisms in the relationships he describes, it is necessary to specify them. In particular, it is necessary to discern under what circumstances mass exit acts as a trigger to collective action rather than as a safety valve. When does flight spur fight and when is it only a substitute?

Specifying Exit-Voice Dynamics

Exit, Voice, and Loyalty offers a simple theory of how actors register disapproval with the unsatisfactory provision of goods and what the implications for the fate of organizations then are. Hirschman's theory combines typically "economic" action (exit) and typically "political" action (voice) with the "sociological" factor of loyalty (that is, sentiments born of identity and interests) in order to understand how actors respond to organizational decline. Hirschman's intent was to explore how market and nonmarket forces impact behavior. He argued that consumers have two basic options: they can demand a better product, or they can turn to competing firms. Exit and voice thus constitute the two alternative means of expressing grievances. In ordinary market situations, voice will generally only occur when the exit alternative is unavailable or unattractive, either because of a lack of alternatives (e.g., the firm is a monopoly) or because material investment or subjective feelings of attachment impose high costs on individual exit. In other words, redress of grievances is achieved not only by "exiting" to a more efficient provider, as is typical in open-market situations, but also through influence, complaint, and even protest, especially where material, ideal, or social investments make exit unappealing.

Clearly, different conditions shape exit and voice in politics as opposed to markets. Where exit means leaving one's homeland, it tends to be much costlier than simply changing jobs or finding a rival supplier. And the home or the destination state often removes this option by forbidding free migration. However, if they are abused, and exit is viable, highly aggrieved citizens will likely go over to a competing state (either as immigrants or as refugees). In an authoritarian state, voice would mean the expression of grievances through petition or protest. Unlike democracies that institutionalize voice (through voting, lobbying, and interest group formation), authoritarian states usually limit or ban the expression of grievances. Here, Hirschman's insight was that exit and voice are implicitly linked so that elimination of one option has implications for the other. If exit is eliminated, voice is the only way to improve one's circumstances. However, an exit option is usually the prerequisite for asserting influence: "The effectiveness of the voice mechanism is strengthened by the possibility of exit" (Hirschman 1970: 83, emphasis added). In historical practice, rulers tend to grant more concessions to those citizens with opportunities for mobility than to those that have none (North 1981). Thus whether exit or voice predominates can be explained largely by the institutional conditions that limit one or both of these options.

In an effort to adequately develop the connection between exit and voice, I offer the following basic definitions of terms: exit refers to an actor's decision to leave an organization or a state because of his or her dissatisfaction with its performance in favor of an alternative supplier; and voice refers to an actor's decision to petition or protest an organization or a state in order to replace it or to improve its performance. As noted by previous scholars, the logic of Hirschman's model suggested that the availability of an exit option would not so much spur demands for redress (voice) as it would undermine it. His fundamental insight was that exit and voice are contrasting responses to grievances that may fail to advance the same end. For one thing, when exit is easily available, it may tend to siphon o those alert and resourceful individuals who are the most ambitious and most discontented, subtracting from the reservoir of creativity and social capital remaining in the collectivity. Thus voice-"various types of actions and protests, including those meant to mobilize public opinion" (1970: 30)-is the "residual of exit" (33), that is, what is available to discontented individuals who find the exit option overly costly.

In contemplating the East German case, Hirschman (1993) refined his arguments. He explained: "Exit (out-migration) and voice (protest demonstrations against the regime) worked in tandem and reinforced each other, achieving jointly the collapse of the regime" (1993: 177). However, this revolution begotten of "exit" but driven by "voice" raises important theoretical questions that make straightforward application of the model difficult. Previously, Hirschman had argued, "In the case of any one particular firm or organization and its deterioration, either exit or voice will ordinarily have the role of the dominant reaction mode. The subsidiary mode is then likely to show up in such a limited volume that it will never become destructive. ... The job of destruction is accomplished single-handedly by the dominant mode" (1970: 33). How then did the two contrasting behaviors act "in tandem"?

Critics have long noted that Hirschman's theory does not contend with the implications of social dilemmas for voice (Barry 1974). Clearly, exit and voice are alternative responses to discontent. While the relative cost of exit and voice may vary across settings, it is generally true that under highly repressive and mono-organizational regimes exit is often a lower cost option than voice that relies on collective action. And once an individual has exited, particularly from a state, he or she is no longer available for voice. So, as a rule, easily available, low-cost exit that offers immediate improvement in one's circumstances should tend to undercut the capacity for collective action, no matter how necessary it may be from the vantage of the collectivity. Voice may arise even with an exit option present, but only if individuals are sufficiently convinced that it will be effective. Thus "voice will depend also on the willingness to take the chances of the voice option as against the certainty of the exit option and on the probability with which a consumer expects improvements to occur as a result of actions" (Hirschman 1970: 39). The implication should be fairly clear and allows us to state Proposition 1: All things being equal, the lower their cost of an exit option relative to voice options, the more actors will choose exit over voice.

Hirschman identifies loyalty as a factor that stimulates voice. It implies an ideological, material, or emotional commitment to an organization that sometimes overrides the maximization of individual interest in favor of the collectivity (see also North 1981: 45-58). Hirschman predicts that when performance is declining and there are no effective constraints on exiting, individuals without a high degree of loyalty to the organization will be motivated to leave. If loyalty is high, or incentives to remain in place are offered, individuals may be less likely to exit even when exit is a readily available option. Hirschman observed, "A member with a considerable attachment to ... [an] organization will often search for ways to make himself influential, especially when the organization moves in what he believes is the wrong direction" (1970: 77-78). Hirschman proposed that "the likelihood of voice increases with the degree of loyalty" (1970: 78). Hence, all other things being equal, individual loyalty should deter exit and spur voice.

However suggestive the concept of loyalty may be, it remains largely ambiguous in Hirschman's treatment. In the present study, loyalty is not treated as a course of action but as the dispositions and preferences that determine an actor's relative costs and benefits for voice and exit behaviors. Even if we restrict our definition, though, it is difficult to employ the concept because we often lack adequate measures of such complex sentiments or cannot be assured of its sincere expression. For example, in a repressive society such as the GDR, opinion data, voluntarism, contributions, and so on are scarce, compulsory, or prone to falsification (Kuran 1995).

Even with these qualifications in mind, we would expect that individual loyalty is most stable where it has an institutional and relational foundation in an organization that rewards compliance (Olson's "selective" incentives; see Olson 1965). Loyalty is especially likely to be robust where members are dependent on a collectivity for scarce or highly desired goods (Hechter 1987; Coleman 1990). Yet material interests alone do not determine loyalty. It is also plausible that the social incentives of community membership would motivate loyalty and, because ideologies are jointly produced goods that individuals cannot develop nor enjoy on their own (think of political philosophies, religions, and the like), ideal incentives for loyalty could also attach to groups dedicated to producing and consuming these kinds of public goods (Hirschman 1978). Accordingly, in this study loyalty refers to an actor's subjective attachment to an organization or state because of his or her material, ideal, or social investment in its success.

Hirschman recognized the importance of "alert loyalists" for reform causes. Without committed members willing to engage in public-spirited collective action for the benefit of the organization, the organization will tend either to stagnate or collapse. In other words, contrary to the way it is often treated, loyalty need not imply unreasoning emotion, unlimited contribution to the common good, reactionary hostility to change, or mute toleration of substandard performance. Loyalty is rather a set of dispositions that influences exit and voice behaviors. Because loyalists are committed, they constitute a crucial constituency or force for reform, and yet they remain capable of "reasoned calculation" (79) in their fulfillment of goals.

What Hirschman failed to consider, however, is that just such reasonable calculation can lead loyalists into social dilemmas that undercut the likelihood of concerted voice to achieve public goods. The typical loyalist will not pay unlimited costs on behalf of the cause and may abandon collective action that becomes difficult or ineffective. Indeed, Hirschman (1970: 78) acknowledges that "in the face of discontent with the way things are going in an organization, an individual member can remain loyal without being influential himself, but hardly without the expectation that someone or something will happen to improve matters." In this observation, despite his general dismissal of Olson's (1965) free-rider problem, Hirschman identifies precisely the attitude that can generate it. It is not when loyal individuals trust others to reform the organization that loyalty is politically consequential, but rather when loyalty inspires the "If I don't do it nobody else will" conviction that sustains public-spirited action even during the political doldrums or when costs are high (Oliver 1984; but see also Hirschman 1982).


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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix

Preface and Acknowledgements xi

Introduction 1

1. Exit-Voice Dynamics and Collective Action 14

2. Blocked Voice, Demobilization, and the Crisis of East German Communism 31

3. No Exit: The Niche Society and the Limits of Coercive Surveillance 61

4. Dona Nobis Pacem: Political Subcultures, the Church, and the Birth of Dissident Voice 81

5. Triggering Insurgent Voice: The Exiting Crisis and the Rebellion against Communism 107

6. Fight or Flight? A Statistical Evaluation of Exit-Voice Dynamics in the East German Revolution 142

7. Why Was There No “Chinese Solution” in the GDR? 165

8. Activists of the First Hour: New Forum and the Mobilization of Reformist Voice 190

9. Reunification as the Collective Exit from Socialism 224

Conclusion 254

Appendix: Quantitative Data and the Statistical Analysis of County-Level Exit and Voice Relationships 267

Notes 275

Bibliography 299

Index 325

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