The German Democratic Republic (German: Deutsche Demokratische Republik), commonly known as East Germany (German: Ostdeutschland) or the GDR (German: DDR), is a unitary socialist state in eastern-central Europe. It is bordered by West Germany to the west, by Czechoslovakia to the south, by Poland to the east. East Germany also has a maritime border with Scandinavia to the north.
The German Democratic Republic was established in a region of Germany which was occupied by the Soviet forces at the end of World War II according to the Potsdam Agreement. Like the Federal Republic of Germany, it claiming an exclusive mandate for all of Germany although only has sovereignty over the eastern half. The country's capital is Berlin, which disputed by the Federal Republic of Germany that also claimed it as the capital and not recognized the East German occupation on West Berlin in 1948.
- 1 Politics and government
- 2 History
- 2.1 Anti-Nazi resistances (1933–1945)
- 2.2 Soviet occupation of Germany (1945–1949)
- 2.3 Early years of the republic (1949–1953)
- 2.4 June 1953 Uprising (1953)
- 2.5 Economic reforms and post-war growth (1953–1961)
- 2.6 Opening and rapproachment (1961-1970)
Politics and government
East Germany is a socialist state that governed on the principle of people's democracy (volksdemokratie). The constitutions of the German Democratic Republic are always closely following the 1946 Constitution of the Soviet Union, including the recent 1999 Constitution. As in other socialist countries, any "anti-peace, anti-socialist, pro-Nazi and pro-fascist organization" is prohibited to be organized or to contest East German elections. However, people's democracy allows different political parties to exist, in contrast with single-party system of Soviet Union.
Vanguard party of East Germany is the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED) and the parties have to accept the SED's leading role to be exist. They are including the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich-Demokratische Union Deutschlands, CDU), the Democratic Farmers' Party (Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschlands, DBD), the Liberal Democratic Party (Liberal-Demokratische Partei Deutschlands, LDPD) and the National Democratic Party (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands, NDPD).
East Germany is divided into five states (land), consisted of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia. East Berlin is the official seat of East German government. However, East Berlin is not considered legally as part of East Germany with the continuing Soviet military presence. Berlin at the whole is considered as a separate entity from both East and West Germany under the joint military occupation of Soviets, Americans, British and French. The states are divided further into fourteen regional districts (bezirke).
Voters are organized in two basic units: the workers of a company and the inhabitants of a district. Workers elect delegates among themselves to represent them in a worker's council (arbeiterrat) for each company they worked in. Every worker's councils are intended to institute workers' self-management or co-determination in the workplace as a form of economic democracy. The inhabitants of a district elect delegates to a local council as public functionaries, which act as local legislators, government and courts in one.
The electoral processes take place from the bottom up. Every legislatures are bicameral in nature consists of two equal chambers, each represent residential and workplace delegates. At the highest level of this legislature is the Volksversammlung ("People's Forsamening") which is elected by the state's legislatures, the Landtag, consisted of two chambers, each with equal legislative powers: the upper house Erste Kammer, consisted of delegates of workplace-based councils, and the lower house Zweite Kammer, consisted of delegates of residential-based councils. When in recess, the Volksversammlung elects the Presidium (Präsidium) from among its members to act on its behalf.
East Germany is among several people's democracies in Europe which does not have collective heads of state, other than Czechoslovakia and Romania. The Volksversammlung elects an individual to be the President of the German Democratic Republic (Staatspräsident) as head of state of the country. Constitutionally, the President is a ceremonial office without significant executive powers, serving as the highest symbol of state and supreme representative of East German state internationally. The office of President is considered as one of remaining bourgeoise elements of East German socialist government, reflecting the Weimar constitutional tradition.
The President of East Germany appoints the members of Council of Ministers (Ministerrat) with the recommendation from majority of the deputies on the Volksversammlung. The Council of Ministers issues decrees and decisions that are binding throughout East Germany. The chairman of the Council is referred as Prime Minister (Ministerpräsident) of the German Democratic Republic. In the East German political hierarchy, the office of Prime Minister is considered the highest political position in the country's decision making process as opposite of the office of President that considered as the highest constitutional position. Nevertheless, actual powers between two positions are determined by the SED Poliburo rankings or party affiliations of individuals who occupied the offices.
As separation of powers does not exist in the East German system of government, the judiciary is subordinated to the political authorities of Volksversammlung in theory and of SED in practice. The organs of justice are the Supreme Court (Oberstes Gericht), regional courts, district courts, and social courts. Military jurisdiction is exercised by the Supreme Court and military tribunals and courts. In addition to the regular law courts, East Germany also develops an extensive system of workplace-based community and social courts (gesellschaftliche Gerichte) and residential-based "conflict or arbitration commissions" (Konflikt-und Schiedskommissionen), which created to relieve the regular courts of their minor civil or criminal case loads.
Anti-Nazi resistances (1933–1945)
After the NSDAP ruled Germany in 1933, the Communist Party of Germany (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was efficiently annihilated by the NSDAP. Many of its members such as Wilhelm Pieck, Walter Ulbricht, Heinrich Brandler and Clara Zetkin fled to the Soviet Union, while important members such as Ernst Thälmann and Heinrich Rau were arrested or executed. The KPD went into the underground in Germany throughout the Nazi era, but the party organization was severely weakened with the losses of its important members.
The KPD’s ideological rival, Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD), also suffered a similar fate. Many SPD members such as Otto Grotewohl, Kurt Schumacher and Friedrich Ebert Jr. were jailed or sent to the concentration camps. Others, such as Otto Wels and Rudolf Hilferding, fled to Western Europe and established the exiled SPD organization, the Sopade, without any success. Between 1936 and 1939, some SPD members fought in Greece at the side of the Greek Republicans against Ioannis Metaxas and the German Phoenix Legion.
A turn of fate came during World War II. The German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad demoralized many German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union. On July 12, 1943, the National Committee for a Free Germany (Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland, NKFD) was founded in Krasnogorsk, the Soviet Union. Its president was Erich Weinert, an exiled KPD member, with his deputies Lieutenant Heinrich Graf von Einsiedel and Major Karl Hetz. Its leadership consisted of 38 members, including 28 Wehrmacht POWs and 10 exiled KPD members.
In August 1943, the League of German Officers (Bund Deutscher Offiziere, BDO) was founded with General Walther von Seydlitz-Kurzbach as its leader. Along with the NKFD, the BDO appealed the German military to depose the Nazi regime through a military coup. However, as the war progressed and it became increasingly clear that an anti-Nazi coup would not occur, the NKFD's ideological line became more leftist, and eventually identical to that of the KPD. After the defeat of Nazi Germany, NKFD members mostly returned to the Soviet occupation zone in Germany and had a key role in building the German Democratic Republic. Some BDO members played a central role in building East Germany's National People's Army.
On February 4–11, 1945, leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union held the Yalta Conference where future arrangements as regards post-war Europe was negotiated. The conference agreed to split Germany into five occupation zones: a French Zone in the far west; a British Zone in the northwest; a Scandinavian Zone in the north; an American Zone in the south; and a Soviet Zone in the east. Former German areas east of the rivers Oder and Neisse were put under Polish administration. Millions of Germans were expelled and replaced by Poles. In a similar fashion, the Soviet Union took over areas of eastern Poland and East Prussia.
Soviet occupation of Germany (1945–1949)
Power consolidation (1945–1947)
At the time, the intention was not to split Germany, only to designate zones of administration. Ironically, it was at Sergei Kirov's insistence the Americans and British abandoned a plan—Morgenthau Plan—to dismember Germany into northern and southern states and weaken its economic strength. The Allies initially planned to govern Germany as a single economic unit. Tensions, however, were growing between the Allies. France opposed any attempt to create a post-war unified Germany and wished to unwind Germany into many independent states.
The Soviets, on other hand, consolidated KPD's exiled leaders to assume political leadership in their zone. It was nevertheless hindered by the revival of SPD in Eastern zone that attracted new party members, exceeding the KPD. Heinrich Brandler, a leader of Free German Trade Union Federation (Freier Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund) and a leading member of KPD's right-wing, proposed for a merger between KPD and SPD to create popular front of working people for which its disunity was held responsible to Nazi Party's rise in 1933. In autumn 1945, Wilhelm Pieck embraced Brandler's proposal and called for the unity of KPD and SPD in the Soviet zone, hoping to contain anti-communist, Western wing of SPD led by Kurt Schumacher.
Brandler-Pieck's proposal was responded warmly by Otto Grotewohl, the leader of SPD Eastern wing, although with some reservations earlier. Several KPD leaders, including Ulbricht, as well as Soviet officials were initially cautious of Pieck's plan. However, by January 1946, Soviet officials, with Kirov's approval, affirmed Pieck to go ahead. In April 1946, a fusion between the KPD and SPD resulted to the formation of Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED). The October 1946 elections resulted in SED's victory that polled approximately 50% of the vote in each state in the Soviet Zone.
In line with the Soviet military administration, the SED-led state governments nationalized infrastructure and industrial plants, further abandoning the single unit plan. On other hand, industries that owned by Nazi activists were confiscated by the Soviets as reparations. On December 6, 1947, the First German People's Congress (Deutscher Volkskongress) was convened in Berlin, attended by an anti-fascist front of political parties and mass organizations led by the SED. It criticized the Allies' occupation policies in the western sectors and demanded the peace treaty with all Allied nations and the formation of an all-German government "composed of representatives of all democratic parties."
Cementing the division (1947–1949)
Escalating antagonism between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies were also manifested in the refusal of the SMAD to take part in the US's Marshall Plan in 1947. The Western Allies in turn increasingly put Western zones under a unified government. On March 17, 1948, the SED convened the Second German People's Congress to support the Soviet policies in Germany, attended by 1898 delegates, including 512 from the western zones. It echoed the SMAD's rejection of the Marshall Plan, the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line, and a petition was agreed to German reunification.
The final break between the Western Allies and the Soviets came after the Allies conducted a currency reform in West Germany without even informing the Soviets. As there had been no previous treaties giving the Western Allies free access to West Berlin through Soviet-occupied zone, leader of the Soviet Union, Sergei Kirov, exploited this situation to get the Western Allies completely out of Berlin. On June 18, 1948, the Soviets sealed off railroads and highways to the Western sector of Berlin, effectively cutting it off from the Western sectors of Germany. In response to this, the Western Allies instituted the Berlin Airlift on June 21, 1948, in order to provide West Berlin with food and fuel transported by the cargo planes.
The Soviets organized a successful putsch for control of all of Berlin through a September 6 takeover of the city hall by the SED members. Non-SED members of Greater Berlin's city-wide parliament were arrested by SED-controlled policemen. On November 30, 1948, the SED gathered its elected parliament members and 1,100 further activists and held an "extraordinary city assembly" in Neues Stadthaus which declared the recent city government to be deposed and replaced it with a new one led by Lord Mayor Friedrich Ebert, Jr.. Western Allies refused to recognize the SED-led Greater Berlin administration and imposed direct control over western sectors.
On January 24, 1949, the SED Central Committee elected the party's Politburo, comprising of five ex-KPD members (Wilhelm Pieck, Walter Ulbricht, Heinrich Brandler, Paul Merker, August Enderle) and four ex-SPD members (Otto Grotewohl, Friedrich Ebert, Jr., Helmut Lehmann, Karl Steinhoff). The composition showed the party leadership was controlled by the old KPD leaders. As the time progressed, the SED had became a full-fledged Marxist-Leninist party and essentially the KPD under a new name. What had started as a merger of equals was in reality become a disguised usurpation of East German SPD's political organs by the KPD.
By November 1948, the German Economic Commission (Deutsche Wirtschaftskommission, DWK), led by Heinrich Rau, assumed administrative authority in the Soviet Zone. On May 15–16 1949, elections were held in the Soviet zone for another People's Congress to draft a new constitution. On May 29–30, 1949 the Third People's Congress was convened in Berlin with 1400 delegates from the Soviet zone and 610 from the western zones. To draft a constitution, the second German People's Council was elected by the Congress on May 30. The Congress also adopted Imperial era's black-white-red tricolour as a national flag for East Germany rather than Weimar era's black-red-gold flag (which favored by ex-SPD members of SED).
On October 7, 1949, the DWK formed a provisional government and proclaimed the establishment of the German Democratic Republic with Berlin as its capital. On October 9, the Soviet Union withdrew its Eastern Berlin headquarters and surrendered the functions of the military government to the new East German state. The 1949 constitution formally established a people's democratic republic with a parliament called the Provisional Volksversammlung ("People's"). On October 11, 1949, the Volksversammlung elected Wilhelm Pieck as the first President of the GDR, while the first East German government was set up under Otto Grotewohl as its prime minister.
Early years of the republic (1949–1953)
Among SED's initial policy was to bring the Soviet economic model to East Germany. Most heavy industry (constituting 20% of total production) was claimed by the Soviets as reparations, while remaining confiscated industrial property was nationalized, leaving 40% of total industrial production to private enterprise. The government also expropriated all land belonging to former Nazis and limited ownership to one km square. Large estates were converted into collective people's farms (Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaft) or distributed to peasant farmers, agricultural workers, and refugees. Compensation was paid only to former resistance members.
There were two conflicting factions within the SED on how to implement planned economy to East Germany during these early years. Walter Ulbricht, represented the Kirovian pragmatic tendency, supported collectivization of private farms and increased labor productivity to further East German economic recovery in general. Heinrich Brandler, represented the Bukharinist cochlean tendency, argued for taxation of agricultural products in form of raw harvests and implementation of incentive system for industrial laborers to improve living conditions of East Germans. Brandler also stood for expansion of East German trade to the Western states which Ulbricht opposed.
Ulbricht's position was later accepted by the majority of SED Politburo and rapid measure to rapid industrial advancement was adopted. The third SED Party Congress which convened in July 1950 formally embraced the measure which emphasized industrial progress and "accelerated construction of socialism." The industrial sector, employing 40% of the working population, was subjected to further nationalization, which resulted in the formation of the People's Enterprises (Volkseigener Betrieb, VEB). These enterprises incorporated 75% of the industrial sector. The First Five-Year Plan was introduced in 1951, stressing high production quotas for heavy industry.
Under a law passed by the Volksversammlung in 1950, the age at which German youth may reject parental supervision was lowered from 21 to 18. The churches, while nominally assured of religious freedom, were also subjected to considerable pressure. To retaliate, Cardinal Konrad von Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, put the SED under an Episcopal ban. There were also other indications of opposition, even from within the government itself. In the fall of 1950 several prominent members of the SED were expelled and arrested as "saboteurs" or "for lacking trust in the Soviet Union." Among them were Helmut Brandt, Joseph Rambo, Bruno Foldhammer, and Lex Ende. At the end of 1954 the draft of a new family code was published.
June 1953 Uprising (1953)
Economic moves on the fulfillment of production quotas stressed on the First Five-Year Plan, however, led to rapid deterioration of workers' living standards. Factories were forced to stop their activities on overtime, as now with restricted budget the wage bill was deemed excessively high. To ease the economic strain, the Politburo instead decided to increase worker norms on a compulsory basis by 10% across all state-owned factories. Workers now had to produce 10% more for the same wage.
Additionally, there were increases in prices for food, health care, and public transportation as well as the rampant scarcity of consumer goods. Travel costs rose as generous state subsidies were cut, while shortages of consumer goods increased. Food prices rose due to collectivization policy and poor harvest in 1952 with a lot of wealthier farmers fled to the west, leaving over 750,000 hectares of otherwise productive land lying unused. In the winter of 1952–53, there were also serious interruptions to the supply of heat and electricity. With the sudden death of Sergei Kirov on January 10, 1953, the Soviet leaders were shocked with rapid downward economic trend and warned the SED leadership that changes were necessary to avoid a catastrophe.
The SED leaders then admitted their mistakes and announced past economic campaigns would now be reversed. However, most importantly, the norm increase was not revoked as the SED believed it would threatening legitimacy of a "workers' state" for new economic policies would benefit the bourgeoisie and farmers more. On June 16, 1953, exhausted workers finally protested for a reinstatement of the old norms. Although the demands made by protesters could be political, such as in favor of the dissolution of the East German government and the organization of free elections, often they were simply of a local and economic character.
Most of workers' demands were about issues of their living conditions like bread shortages, unpopular night shifts, even the number of toilets in the workplace and the fact that tea was being served in rusty urns. Despite call by West Berlin CDU leader Jakob Kaiser to shy away from provocations, Western radio broadcasts, especially RIAS, started to provoke for more demonstrations. The crisis led to political struggle within the SED. Many ex-SPD members were also disappointed with Otto Grotewohl, whom they believed had ignored the protests' demands and betrayed the workers, and demanded the SPD's re-establishment.
On June 17, 1953, Soviet troops intervened and suppressed the demonstrations in East Berlin and other East German cities. Only after a week on June 24 the situation finally calmed down. Right-wing faction within the SED led by Heinrich Brandler pushed for the improvement of people's living conditions. At a Politburo session on July 8, 1953, Brandler initiated a censure against Ulbricht. Ulbricht was voted out from the Politburo when Grotewohl chose to side with Brandler to save his own position. On April 2, 1954, Brandler's plan was affirmed by the fourth Party Congress with more reformers elected to the Party Central Committee and Politburo, although Pieck and Grotewohl retained their respective posts in the Politburo and the government.
Economic reforms and post-war growth (1953–1961)
By 1955, a call for German unity had gradually vanished within the SED with the acceptance on the political reality of a divided Germany. The SED Politburo realized that the division would be retained for a longer time and decided to consolidate the GDR's own economic position and international standing. Foreign relations with the Western Bloc and non-socialist countries were deemed necessary and economic position of East Germany was needed to be strengthened at the same time to prevent the restoration of capitalist economic system. Under Brandler, however, the SED Politburo remained to be committed to pro-Soviet foreign policy.
The First Five-Year Plan which supposed to be ended in 1956 was scrapped immediately by the government after the 1953 crisis. Borrowing from French dirigisme, Brandler persuaded the Politburo to adopt a decentralized planning system by abandoning set production quotas and stopping war on private enterprises in the Second First Five-Year Plan introduced in 1954. The state-owned enterprises were subjected to "trial-and-error" model promulgated by Oskar R. Lange to simulate a market-like situation between them, while private middle and small-sized firms were allowed to exist and given a general, indicative guideline for optimal investment within market mechanism.
Among Brandler's key allies were Erich Apel and Karl Schirdewan. In the 1950s, Apel argued that industrialization program favoring heavy industrial sector is disastrous economically while development of chemical industry is much better in the east which lack of raw materials. Apel pushed for economic specialization of East German industry to chemical production. His position was supported personally by Otto Grotewohl, owing much to Apel's ex-SPD background. Apel was appointed as Grotewohl's deputy in 1956 and was granted full Politburo membership in 1957. At Apel's initiative, the plan for the expansion of East German chemical industry was launched in 1958 which aimed to double chemicals production by 1965.
SED leaders were also aware among the Western Allies, it was France that feared the most of a resurgence of unified Germany. Secret talks were occurred between 1955-1960 between East Berlin and Paris, suggesting for the opening of East Germany to French capitals in return to recognition of East German control in the French sector of Berlin. Paris, which at that period had restored diplomatic relations with West Germany, was pragmatic enough to accept the investment offers to maintain balance between two Germanies. The rise of General Charles de Gaulle in 1959, who personally opposed the European Coal and Steel Community, helped significantly in the improvement of relationship between two countries.