An Animal History of East Germany's Rise and Fall
- PUBLISHED: June 2020
- SUBJECT LISTING: History / Environmental History, Environmental Studies, Food, History / European History
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 296 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 19 b&w illus., 1 map
- SERIES: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
- ISBN: 9780295747309
The pig played a fundamental role in the German Democratic Republic’s attempts to create and sustain a modern, industrial food system built on communist principles. By the mid-1980s, East Germany produced more pork per capita than West Germany and the UK, while also suffering myriad unintended consequences of this centrally planned practice: manure pollution, animal disease, and rolling food shortages.
The pig is an incredibly adaptive animal, and historian Thomas Fleischman uncovers three types of pig that played roles in this history: the industrial pig, remade to suit the conditions of factory farming; the wild boar, whose overpopulation was a side effect of agricultural development rather than a conservation success story; and the garden pig, reflective of the regime’s growing acceptance of private, small-scale farming within the planned economy.
Fleischman chronicles East Germany’s journey from family farms to factory farms, explaining how communist principles shaped the adoption of industrial agriculture practices. More broadly, Fleischman argues that agriculture under communism came to reflect standard practices of capitalist agriculture, and that the pork industry provides a clear illustration of this convergence. His analysis sheds light on the causes of the country’s environmental and political collapse in 1989 and offers a warning about the high cost of cheap food in the present and future.
Authors & Contributors
Thomas Fleischman is assistant professor of history at the University of Rochester.
[A] fascinating and exhaustive study...An excellent storyteller, Fleischman has produced a very well-written book that will be useful togeneral readers and specialists alike.- Choice
[D]escribe[s] the shifting, meaningful relationship between hogs and humans, a relationship worthy of our attention.- Ohio Valley Review
Communist Pigs gives historians in many fields much to think about: the German Democratic Republic, the Eastern Bloc, Cold War diplomacy, late-twentieth-century capitalism, German reunification, industrial agriculture, environmentalism, and the pig. Fleischman convincingly argues that pigs’ centrality to the GDR’s trade with foreign nations, organization of internal priorities, and creation of challenges for the regime to grapple with makes them an effective lens for studying these histories, and succeeds in challenging ideological interpretations of the Cold War’s outcome and of global capitalism’s legacies.- H-Net
A fascinating study of politics, nature, and agriculture in the former East Germany after World War II. This is a really key contribution.- Deborah Fitzgerald, author of Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture
Who knew that the pig would be a great subject around which to construct an entwined history of socialist economics and international relations? Like the extraordinarily adaptable animal that it showcases, Fleischman’s well-written study ranges widely and digs deeply.- Donna T. Harsch, author of Revenge of the Domestic: Women, the Family, and Communism in the German Democratic Republic
One of the most innovative books of German history I’ve read in years.- Quinn Slobodian, editor of Comrades of Color: East Germany in the Cold War World
A compelling and beautifully written book. Fleischman’s analysis complicates our standard narrative of the GDR as being defined by the environmental pollution it left behind, and shows how the problems it encountered run deeper than the Cold War. By looking at its history through the prism of an animal—the pig—we learn a tremendous amount that we had not previously known. This is an original and important contribution to a growing field of political ecology in history.- Eli Rubin, author of Amnesiopolis: Modernity, Space, and Memory in East Germany