How East Germany’s Stasi Perfected Mass Security

The state has a monopoly on violence. Nevertheless, violent repression harms government credibility and alienates public assistance in the long run. A more subtle and effective method to exercise power is to surveil the population and to prevent open manifestations of discontent.

This short article analyzes the case of the of the German Democratic Republic’s (DDR) Ministry for State Security (MfS), likewise called the Stasi. The thesis is that an effective monitoring routine makes making use of open violence less urgent due to the fact that the population is nudged to discipline itself.

Guard and Sword of the Celebration

A guard and a sword form the symbol of the MfS, which is modeled on the emblem of the Cheka, the Soviet secret authorities. Discipline and commitment to the Socialist Unity Celebration (SED) of the DDR were the core values of the Stasi. Members of the secret authorities saw themselves as first-class associates who might use security, propaganda, and mental horror to secure the power of the communist program.

One of the specifying minutes of the Stasi’s history was the basic strike of June 17, 1953, which stimulated widespread demonstrations among the East German working class. The MfS failed to visualize the turmoil and needed to quelch it with the assistance of Soviet tanks and the imposition of martial law. Since the incident, the mission of the Stasi became to surveil society to prevent new open symptoms of dissent versus the judgment of the SED.

Relentless Personal Privacy Offenses

The MfS developed one the most prevalent monitoring devices in human history. In 1981, Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi from 1957 to 1989, mentioned:

In its consistent effort to clarify “who is who” the MfS– with its chekist forces, indicates and approaches– has to recognize people’s real political attitudes, their ways of thinking and behaving … to clarify ways … offering a response to who is an enemy; who is taking on a hostile and negative attitude; who is under the impact of hostile, negative and other forces and may end up being an opponent; who may catch enemy affects and enable himself to be exploited by the opponent; who has embraced a wavering position; and who can the party and the state depend upon and be dependably supported by.

Numerous DDR residents collaborated actively with the MfS. In 1989, near the end of the communist program, the Stasi used about ninety-one thousand individuals, or one out of every 180 residents. After 1968, the MfS relied greatly on unofficial collaborators, whose role was to report every major and minor sign of resentment and resistance against the SED. Informal partners were hired after being thoroughly surveilled by the MfS to guarantee total commitment to the routine. They were well trained and utilized fake identification to penetrate work environments and communities. Among the 180,000 unofficial collaborators used by the MfS in 1989, four thousand sneaked into opposition groups to spread out incorrect rumors and create chaos. The case of Wolfgang Schnur is emblematic of the reach of the Stasi, as he was one of the most popular legal representatives who represented political dissidents. As an unofficial partner, nevertheless, he frequently exploited his position to betray his clients.

In the eighties, the Stasi carried out in between 2 hundred thousand and 4 hundred thousand security checks and examinations each year. The main targets were “political ideological diversion” and “political underground activity.” The Stasi’s eyes were focused on all social, cultural, and economic organizations of the DDR. Its employees were granted access to all the information they required concerning people, including tax assessments, savings account, and health files. The Stasi released all type of mass security strategies, such as telephone wiretaps, acoustic room monitoring, and postal espionage; they even collected body smell samples, which were utilized to train sniffer canines.

Information about SED enemies might be used by the Stasi for psychological warfare. MfS undercover representatives often spread out false and deceptive rumors among opposition groups to tear individuals apart, ruin trust, and impart worry. Targets of secret authorities security experienced inexplicable obstacles both in their individual lives and in their careers. Jeopardizing info was also utilized to blackmail individuals and to require them to team up with the secret police, despite the fact that the MfS preferred to utilize representatives who were totally persuaded of the righteousness of their work.

Many Stasi workers and partners signed a promise of loyalty to the communist program, got a brand-new alias, and began a new life. Opting out of the system was incredibly challenging and featured a big price in regards to individual freedom and credibility. On the other hand, working for the Stasi granted advantages, like a great income, dedicated shopping centers, and the awareness of becoming part of the breathing organ of the DDR. In the end, the strength of collectivism lies in the capability to make individuals forget privacy and liberty in the name of a superior, totalizing good.

Motion Control

Among the primary tasks of the MfS was to manage the DDR border. Formally, the frontier line was under the jurisdiction of the People’s Cops and of border agents, but the Stasi was invested with the duty of surveilling both citizens and the other authorities departments. MfS employees typically camouflaged themselves as border agents so as not to arouse suspicion, and the scope of their power increased significantly after the building and construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and after the detente contracts of the 1970s.

Stasi agents oversaw the monitoring of both individuals’s and goods’ motions throughout the border. The case of the Business Coordination (KoKo) branch of the ministry for foreign trade is emblematic. KoKo was established in 1966 and was run by Alexander Schalck-Golodkowski, a Stasi officer. Among its objectives was to ensure the unified management of DDR foreign trade companies. Through its unconventional operations, KoKo was able to smuggle Western items and Western hard currency into the DDR, producing about twenty-five billion West German marks throughout its existence.

Among the most profitable activities was the sale of political prisoners to Western authorities. Of the eighty-seven thousand political dissidents who were arrested in the DDR in between 1963 and 1989, about thirty-three thousand were offered to Western authorities. West German authorities also paid the DDR to release more than 2 hundred thousand emigration authorizations. KoKo operations were performed in trick, and prisoners typically did not know why they were launched. This shows that population security and state secrecy often go together. Still, understanding of the prisoner exchanges began dripping out after 1972 and challenged the DDR program substantially.


Security programs are defined by unbalanced visibility. While the behaviors and even the thoughts of the population become increasingly more visible to state authorities, monitoring operations must remain as secret as possible. Still, individuals are likely conscious that they are constantly under some monitoring, so that they police their own habits out of fear of being caught by state agents.

After the repression of the basic strike of 1953, the DDR leadership comprehended that to preserve power for a long period of time, it required to pivot far from open violence and toward a more subtle type of population control. The massive monitoring device of the MfS served this purpose rather effectively for almost forty years, during which fairly couple of individuals expressed their opposition vocally. Although the MfS was never as supreme and omniscient as it forecasted itself to be, it had the ability to mythologize itself and to make certain that the population got used to security and the absence of personal privacy.

Eventually, the inefficiencies of the East German communist devices came to the surface, and the mass surveillance plan of the MfS was eliminated. Nowadays, nevertheless, surveillance is becoming significantly prevalent and reliable since of technological developments. While Stasi monitoring strategies were analog, modern surveillance is mostly digital.

Although the DDR was in some way separated from around the world markets, contemporary state organizations can count on the partnership of big tech companies. It is not just traditional totalitarian routines but likewise Western democracies that have actually discovered only too well the lesson that personal privacy offenses and extensive security are a lot more reliable than open violence in safeguarding power.

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