In the late 1950s, the Party leadership used its influence over the mass organizations to
initiate a variety of campaigns that aimed at creating mass support for their ambitious
plans in terms of economic performance and in terms of changing the structure of society.
These campaigns went along with numerous competitions, with slogans such as „Arbeite mit,
Plane mit, Regiere mit“ („take part in the work, take part in the planning, take part in
the government“) or „Greif zur Feder, Kumpel!“ („take up your pen, miner/mate (synonymous
in German)“), " Für Frieden, Wohlstand, Glück, decken wir den Tisch der Republik" ("For
peace, welfare and happiness, we are setting the table for the republic’s birthday“), and
"Pionierexpreß der guten Taten" ("Pioneer express train of good deeds").
At the Fifth Conference of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) in 1958, it was decided to
'complete the foundations of socialism by 1965'. Such abstract formulas contrasted
strikingly with the complex nature of society. However, these slogans did not simply
express wishful thinking on the part of the ideologists; they also served strategic aims.
The Communist leadership was under pressure on the one hand to make life in East Germany
more attractive in order to stop mass escapes, and on the other hand to catch up with the
Soviet Union in terms of social change. The main aims for the near future were to complete
the collectivization of agriculture and to increase living standards by promoting the
production of consumer goods. However, these aims turned out to be conflicting, as many
farmers chose to leave the country, and the resulting shortage in the provision of
agricultural products fuelled dissatisfaction with the regime in general.
The leadership relied on several campaigns in order to motivate people to put the ambitious
economic and political aims into practice. Thus a campaign was started to promote chemical
industry under the slogan: "Chemistry provides us with bread, welfare and beauty". Chemical
industry was considered a key factor in the plan to outdo the West German economy (see also
Picture 30). At the same time, the ruling party SED went ahead with restructuring the
educational system. In 1958, a new law on university education was passed, followed by the
law on the "Socialist restructuring of the school system" in 1959, which created the
so-called polytechnical school: a universal 10-year schooling, usually with a focus on
science and work experience in industry. Artists and writers were addressed, too and given
the task of creating a "Socialist national culture". The so-called "Bitterfeld Way", named
after a conference which took place in the industrial town of Bitterfeld in 1959, meant that
authors spent time working in factories in order to write about the life of 'the proletariat'.
Workers, in turn, were encouraged to write creatively, under the motto „Greif zur Feder,
Kumpel!“ („take up your pen, miner/ mate“).
Through membership in mass organisations, nearly every individual was addressed by one or
more campaigns. The only union which existed, the FDGB (Free German Trade Union), promoted
competitions for the title "Brigade der sozialistischen Arbeit" – „team of the socialist way
of working“. The Free German Youth, FDJ, committed themselves to so-called "youth projects"
to help build up the economy. Children who were member of the "Pioneers" fulfilled minor
tasks that were considered publically useful, such as collecting old newspapers for recycling,
and their activities were recorded in so-called "red books of good deeds".
This mobilisation served economic aims but also aimed at creating mass support for the project
of building up „socialism“. It is hard to judge whether the ruling party SED believed that they
could arouse real enthusiasm this way or whether they hoped merely to create an illusion. The
resulting politicization of life was as all-embracing as it was superficial. People in the GDR
were probably not very impressed by the "Ten commandments of socialist morality" which the
Communist leader Walter Ulbricht proclaimed in 1958; but hardly anyone could escape membership
in mass organisations and ideological involvement in daily life – unless they openly went into
The selection of photos for the section „Mobilisation“ is not limited to the campaigns of the
late 1950s. They show a variety of situations where the population is incited to play an active
role in society, with the price of political complicity. Also relevant in this context are the
sections „Parades“ and „Slogans“.