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00.1 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Capitalism without Capitalists? A Bottom-Up View of Industrial Transformation in East Germany

2000 – Katharina Bluhm


Research on the industrial transition in East Germany and its outcomes has long focused on the strategy of the Treuhand­ anstalt (IHA). According to institutionalists, David Stark and Lazlo Brust!: (1998), the powerful position of the German privatization agency was not only a result of German unification but also a function of a pathway rooted in the institutional peculiarities of the East German economy before 1989. This paper shows that neither a simple top-down perspective nor the pathway approach, as Stark and Brust!: suggested, are adequate for explaining the internal dynamic of enterprise transformation as well as the outcomes of this process. First of all, the dissolution of the former organizational structures and hierarchies was less coordinated by the 1HA than is often assumed. Often Kombinates fell apart more quickly from below than they could be dismantled from above since enterprises or their units chose the exit­ option and had good reasons to do so. Secondly, although the privatization by the 1HA resulted in the clear dominance of Western investors, the new ownership structure of East German industry as a whole could be characterized as a "capitalism without (East German) capitalists." In fact, what exists in East Germany is rather a kind of "small business capitalism" (KleinbetriebsknpitalifmllS) in which small-and medium-sized producers dominate the landscape. Finally, there was no single starting point in 1989. Two different industrial orders shaped the industrial history of the East German regions which were not destroyed between 1945-89, but rather transformed into the state socialist production system. It can be shown that these older historical patterns are relevant for transition and their outcomes as well.