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The GDR’s Failure to "Overtake without Catching Up" (July 30, 1970)

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West German industries, they say, cannot be overtaken economically with their own outdated means. They argue that research findings, licenses, patents, and ideas imported from western countries always reflect yesterday’s state of technology and the science and research of the day before that. Going faster, so the argument goes, is only possible with completely new and innovative ideas and pioneering industrial achievements, with products, product groups, and production processes whose usage requirements and cost efficiency are superior to comparable offerings on the world market and to international industrial standards.

The illusory nature of this kind of overtaking on a broad scale is familiar to people in East Berlin. Yet in order to force the success that the party elite so desperately needs, the strategy of ruthlessly concentrating science, research, national income, and investment strength on a few “structure-determining” products, product groups, and factories was developed. Accordingly, the economic and investment potential of the “GDR” was concentrated on roughly one hundred plants in 1970. Similarly, in 1969, the number of plants to be automated was limited to 87. They say that it would not correspond to the “severity of the class struggle” to sprinkle 33 billion marks of investment onto several thousand companies as though with a watering can.

Serious Consequences

This high concentration – as the SED leadership emphasizes – comes with serious consequences. With a planned investment increase of 11.4% compared to 1969, the SED shifted the bulk of investment to industry – where investments are supposed to grow by 20% in 1970 – at the expense of other areas. Furthermore, there will be rigorous concentration within industry itself. Thus, investments in the chemical industry, which is admitted to be only 40% as productive as its counterpart in the FRG, are increasing by 50%. Investments for local, infrastructural, and other social projects have been reduced even more and are only being distributed to the few structurally important ventures.

As a result, central German economic and social developments are getting distorted in a new way. A few hundred prestigious and representational centers, whose names keep appearing in the speeches and resolutions of the party leadership, are thriving on the sunny side of “GDR” socialism; tens of thousands of combines, plants, agricultural cooperatives, and communes are languishing even more pathetically on the shady side. SED propaganda calls it investing in the future – an imaginary golden future, which, to be on the safe side, refers less to the 1970s than to “extended time periods,” with an eye toward the year 2000.

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