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".
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“.