Eastern German Cooperative Farming: On the Cusp of a New Generation

in German Politics and Society
Author: Dylan Bennett
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The decline and dissolution of eastern Germany’s agricultural production

cooperatives (APCs) has been anticipated by formal economic theory since

reunification on the grounds of inefficiency.1 Yet, more recent scholarship

on the varieties of capitalism tells us that efficiency does not lead to simple

convergence of market forms, but rather that different institutional solutions

and social systems of production can achieve desired ends—including

efficiency—with varied designs.2 Today, the cooperative farm sector, underpinned

by conservative, democratic governance, persists without naiveté

and little nostalgia on the cusp of a new postcommunist generation and still

accounts for the largest share of agricultural production in eastern Germany.

Even if the cooperative farming sector follows a slow decline, the

firms will convert or persist depending less on their ability to achieve

efficiency as on their ability to maintain productive land holdings, and to

promote a new generation of management and enthusiastic members committed

not to nostalgia but toward the future of their own lives, their firms,

and their local communities. Some of the cooperatives are likely to persist

for a long time. In this article, in an effort to understand the environment

in which cooperatives face the future, I provide an eyewitness account of

the internal politics between workers and bosses, highlight survival strategies,

consider the institutional constraints and supports facing cooperatives,

and sketch portraits of the farmers who face the task of carrying the cooperative

tradition forward.

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