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

Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 10 tables, 17 figures Published: July 2006

Author: Steven Pfaff

European Studies > Eastern Europe and Russia, Politics > Political Science, Sociology

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.


“. . . a very engaging book. . .” — Feiwel Kupferberg, Slavic Review

“[A]n important and impressive contribution to the analysis of the crisis and transformation processes in East Germany. . . . By combining the skeleton of a "social mechanism" with the flesh of "event history" it provides a "dense description" of post-totalitarian state crises, popular protest movement and "revolution" following the best traditions in historical sociology. In doing so, the study is also worth reading for students who do not favour the collective action theory or related Rational Choice approaches. It transcends the single case of East Germany and will stimulate broader debate in the field.” — Raj Kollmorgen, Canadian Journal of Sociology

“[T]his is a fine study that breaks new empirical and theoretical grounds in political science. It shines illuminating light on the continuing problem of racial inequality. In a sharp manner, it raises the thorny question of whether political equality is possible without economic parity. This book shows that rhetorical tricks claiming colorblindness dry up like a raisin in the sun when confronted with historical and structural realities.” — Jamie K. McCallum, Mobilization

“Pfaff has produced a vital and important work, impressively underscoring, above all, the key role played by the flight and emigration movement in the decline of the GDR . . . . [A] masterpiece of historical sociology and the study of communism.” — Jens Gieseke, Central European History

“Pfaff’s theoretical synthesis is both ingenious and intuitively plausible. . . . Exit-Voice Dynamics is essential reading for anyone who wants to know how emigration and protest can conspire to undo tyranny just when it seems most stable.” — Jeremy Staughn, American Journal of Sociology

“Pfaff’s work contributes to our understanding of both exit-voice dynamics and the complexities of that revolution.” — Michael L. Hughes, German Studies Review

“The book should be read closely by students of Germany for its fine grained analysis and by those interested in methodological insights into the application of quantitative and qualitative approaches.” — John K. Glenn, Contemporary Sociology

“This is an excellent study is several respects: it provides a very rich and vivid account of the German revolution. It sometimes reads like a suspenseful thriller. The mixture of statistical analysis and narrative evidence from a great variety of sources . . . is rarely found in literature. . . . My recommendation is: if you want to read a fascinating narrative of a unique revolution with a sound empirical and theoretical underpinning, then Steven Pfaff’s book is a ‘must’.” — Karl-Dieter Opp, Social Forces

“This work of sociology by Steven Pfaff adds to our understanding of why East Germans became so suddenly, so forcefully, and so effectively oppositionist in the autumn of 1989. . . . Readers will revel in the detailed descriptions of political and social phenomena.” — John K. Cox Ph.D., International Social Science Review

Exit-Voice Dynamics and the Collapse of East Germany is a highly original contribution to the study of Communism’s collapse and the role of collective action in political change. Its mixture of quantitative and qualitative evidence is unprecedented.” — Jeffrey Kopstein, author of The Politics of Economic Decline in East Germany, 1945–1989

“Steven Pfaff offers a bold sociological explanation of the collapse of Communism in East Germany. On the basis of detailed protest data, he explores the dynamics of ‘exit’ and ‘voice’ in eroding popular ‘loyalty’ to the Marxist dictatorship.” — Konrad H. Jarausch, editor of Dictatorship as Experience: Towards a Socio-Cultural History of the GDR

“With a simple yet incisive theoretical perspective, Steven Pfaff casts a bright light on the crisis of East German Communism, the ‘exiting crisis’ and popular rebellion of 1989, the marginalization of leftist activists, and the turn to nationalism and German reunification. This is the best theoretical analysis of the East German revolution that I have read. Pfaff’s model of exit-voice dynamics is also a major contribution to the literature on collective action and revolutions.” — Jeff Goodwin, author of No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945–1991


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

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

Table of Contents Back to Top
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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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3765-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3752-2
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