University of Exeter
E-Mail: n.richardson-little [at] exeter.ac.uk
Hydrocarbon Socialism: East Germany in the Age of Oil
This project examines the history of East Germany’s fraught relationship with oil. The ruling SED was trapped between domestic energy sources and conversion processes that steadily poisoned the natural environment, and unreliable international sources of oil. While the USSR’s supply of petroleum could provide the GDR – at times of cheap supply and high international prices – with both energy and a source of hard currency, the SED was always at the mercy of global market prices and domestic Soviet imperatives. While East Germany sought to collaborate with friendly nations in the Middle East and Africa to secure foreign sources of oil, independent of Soviet patronage, these ventures failed due to a lack of resources and political instability. In seeking to compete with West German production and consumption levels without matching resources, the SED eventually turned to high-polluting local sources of coal and extraordinarily toxic liquefaction processes. The combination of severe shortages and environmental devastation, two factors closely tied to oil politics, helped to spur on the mass emigration and civic unrest that ultimately undermined SED control by 1989.