Origins of a Spontaneous Revolution

East Germany, 1989
Karl-Dieter Opp, Christiane Gern, and Peter Voss
Explains the extraordinary collapse of Communist East Germany


November 1989: East Germans danced on the Berlin wall and the Communist regime began to collapse. A unique revolution occurred: changes were brought about by peaceful, spontaneous demonstrations. No group organized the famous gatherings of thousands of people at the Karl Marx Square in Leipzig on October 9, 1989.

Why did so many citizens participate although they risked their lives? Why were the demonstrations peaceful? How was it possible that so many people demonstrated without any organization? What part did the church and opposition groups play in the emergence of the revolution? Why didn't the government crack down the demonstrations? How did political events such as the liberalization in Eastern Europe influence the demonstrations?

In a readable and accessible style, Origins of a Spontaneous Revolution provides an explanation of this revolution based in rational actor theory. The authors support their arguments with documents, jokes, and a unique data set: one year after the revolutionary events a representative survey of 1300 Leipzig residents was conducted focusing exclusively on the revolutionary period.

This book will be of interest to sociologists and other social scientists such as historians and political scientists.

Karl Dieter Opp, Peter Voss, and Christiane Gern are members of the faculty of the Institute of Sociology, University of Hamburg.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . an illuminating collection of data and observations about what motivated the citizens who participated in the East German revolution."
    —Jeffrey Gedmin, American Enterprise Institute & the New Atlantic Initiative, Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 1999
  • "This book is a very welcome early offering in what is sure to be a growing literature which asks whether the unprecedented European revolutions of 1989 challenge, or confirm, existing social science perspectives on individual and group behavior. As such, it will be of interest to an audience far beyond the bounds of German studies."
    —Susan E. Scarrow, Journal of Politics
  • "This is a book rich in material and ideas, with a complex, nicely-differentiated and satisfying line of argument."
    Political Studies

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • figures, tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10575-5

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.