Repression, Redistribution and the Problem of Authoritarian Control: Responses to the 17 June Uprising in Socialist East Germany

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Abstract

Theories of authoritarianism assert that autocratic governments follow repressive and redistributive policies which impede mass mobilization, mitigate economic grievances and prevent regime instability. However, policy formulation and implementation remain opaque and under-theorized elements of authoritarian politics. I argue that the mix of repressive and redistributive policies chosen by a regime is a function of intra-elite conflict between hard-liners and soft-liners. The power of the two factions and their influence on policy evolve as members of the elite learn to judge the comparative advantages of the regime in repression and redistribution. Hard-liners will be ascendant in regimes with a comparative advantage in repression, while soft-liners will be ascendant in regimes with a comparative advantage in redistribution. I illustrate these arguments with an account of the East German regime’s response to the 17 June uprising in 1953, including analysis of an original data set on secret police informants and food supplies after the unrest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)68-92
Number of pages25
JournalEast European Politics and Societies
Volume31
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

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German Democratic Republic (GDR)
repression
redistribution
regime
elite
food supply
faction
authoritarianism
mobilization
police
politics
economics

Keywords

  • authoritarianism
  • democratization
  • Germany
  • redistribution
  • repression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this

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abstract = "Theories of authoritarianism assert that autocratic governments follow repressive and redistributive policies which impede mass mobilization, mitigate economic grievances and prevent regime instability. However, policy formulation and implementation remain opaque and under-theorized elements of authoritarian politics. I argue that the mix of repressive and redistributive policies chosen by a regime is a function of intra-elite conflict between hard-liners and soft-liners. The power of the two factions and their influence on policy evolve as members of the elite learn to judge the comparative advantages of the regime in repression and redistribution. Hard-liners will be ascendant in regimes with a comparative advantage in repression, while soft-liners will be ascendant in regimes with a comparative advantage in redistribution. I illustrate these arguments with an account of the East German regime’s response to the 17 June uprising in 1953, including analysis of an original data set on secret police informants and food supplies after the unrest.",
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