"Leipzig 1958. Während der Spartakiade der Armeen."
The scaffolding on a building site in the city of Leipzig in 1958 is carrying the following
slogan: "Our main economic task: equalling and overtaking the West German level of per-capita
consumption by 1961". These words describe, almost literally, the programme which was concluded
at the 5th party conference of the ruling „Socialist Unity Party“. An upward economic trend in
East Germany, at the same time as a downturn in the Federal Republic, had given rise to hopes
of future economic success. This went along with a more general optimism among the leaders of
the Eastern bloc after the Soviet Union had successfully sent a sputnik round the earth and
thereby proven its strength in the field of modern technology in 1957. However, given the fact
that the level of per-capita consumption in East Germany was 25% behind the Western figure (and
productivity as much as 30% behind), the aim to outdo West Germany within three years was
utterly unrealistic from the start. In 1961, the GDR had not only lost sight of this goal but
also suffered from a renewed economic crisis, which together with renewed mass escapes
threatened the very existence of the state.
In retrospect, this so-called "main economic task" seems remarkable because it shows that, by treating West Germany as a model and defining consumption as a desirable goal, official propaganda was actually drawing attention to the weakness of the Eastern "alternative".