German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) Part II

By | October 13, 2021

With the decision to build socialism (proclaimed at the 2nd party conference, July 9-12, 1952), the SED took a decisive step towards bringing the GDR into line with the economic and social order of the USSR. In the spirit of so-called democratic centralism, the five federal states and their organs were abolished by a law of July 23, 1952 in favor of 14 new “districts”. The state’s share in the industrial sector was constantly increasing; the first “agricultural production cooperatives” (LPG) were set up. The school was supposed to form personalities who were capable of building socialism; the university was supposed to form academics who were supposed to reject “cosmopolitanism” and “bourgeois objectivism”. The forced social restructuring was accompanied by an ideological offensive that declared war on large parts of society; the churches were exposed to increased repression. On May 26/27, 1952, control strips and restricted zones were set up on the inner-German demarcation line, which had now become the inner-German border. With the »Kasernierte Volkspolizei« (KVP), the SED laid the foundations of an army from July 1952. Learn more about Germany and Europe, please click

The oppressive political conditions and the critical supply situation triggered growing unrest in the population, and the death of Stalin (March 5, 1953) in the SED triggered insecurity. Under the slogan “New Course” (9.6.1953), the party decided to modify its policy (above all to improve the standard of living). A drastic increase in labor standards (May 28, 1953), which practically amounted to a reduction in wages, triggered demonstrations that led to an uprising in Berlin (East) and many other cities on June 17, 1953, among others. Leipzig, Görlitz, Halle (Saale), Brandenburg, Magdeburg, led (June seventeenth). The economic objectives turned into demands for the resignation of the government and for free elections throughout Germany. The uprising developed its own dynamic and brought the SED’s system of rule to the brink of collapse.

After the suppression of the uprising by Soviet troops, the USSR proclaimed the sovereignty of the GDR on March 26, 1954 (with reservations in accordance with the four-power agreements on Germany). The SED then switched to more flexible methods of rule without questioning the basic structures of the social system. The social consequences of government intervention were given a greater priority than before; at the same time, the party and state leadership intensified the persecution of oppositional forces. Many participants in the uprising were arrested (over 6,000 people). In the SED, Ulbricht was able to eliminate internal party opponents and thus consolidate his leadership position. In 1953, M. Fechner became Minister of Justice who had spoken out in favor of the right to strike, relieved the Politburo members F. Dahlem and W. Zaisser (at the same time Minister for State Security) and Rudolf Herrnstadt (* 1903, † 1966), editor-in-chief of the SED organ »New Germany«, from their functions. The de-Stalinization initiated in the USSR in 1956 led to fierce reform debates in the GDR, but not to the dismantling of Stalinist leadership practices. Ulbricht used the socially critical approaches for his conspiracy theories to finally eliminate his critics. In 1957/58 the Politburo member K. Schirdewan and the Minister for State Security E. Wollweber lost their offices. With actions against »revisionist deviants« (show trials against W. HarichW. JankaGustav Just [* 1921, † 2011] and others) as well as other coercive measures, amongst others. against E. Bloch and P. Huchel, the anti-Stalinist opposition among intellectuals inside and outside the party should be silenced.

Between 1953 and 1961, the communist leadership continued to transform the economic and social order along the lines of the Soviet model; With the development of the new property regime in the economic constitution, state and cooperative property was constantly expanding at the expense of the private sector. This shift took place at different speeds in the individual branches of industry. If the basic industry had long been in the hands of the state, it was not until 1960 that agriculture was fully transferred to collective ownership. Under heavy pressure on medium-sized companies, the communist leadership achieved the formation of production cooperatives (PGH) or state participation in private companies. To support the SED’s system of rule, The USSR had returned the SAG companies to the GDR by 1954 and waived reparations (1/1/1954). Despite the improvement in the supply, the economic situation of the people, who were strongly impressed by the better supply situation in the Federal Republic of Germany, remained depressing (it was not until 1958 that the ration cards were abolished). The flow of refugees decreased from around 331,000 (1953) to around 184,000 (1954), but rose again in 1955 (around 252,000) (Soviet zone refugees).

After the GDR government had already recognized the Oder-Neisse line as the German eastern border in the “Görlitz Treaty” of July 6, 1950 and had joined the Council for Mutual Economic Aid (Comecon) in the same year, it also grew into that of the USSR in terms of foreign policy led the Eastern Bloc system and became a founding member of the Warsaw Pact (May 14, 1955). Just as the western victorious powers gradually released the Federal Republic of Germany into independence within the framework of the European economic and defense alliance (1955/56), so the USSR – especially after the failure of the four-power efforts to find a joint solution to the German question (1954/55) – granted the GDR with sovereign rights from: On May 21, 1953, the Soviet Control Commission converted it into the “High Commission of the USSR in Germany”; It officially declared the GDR to be sovereign on March 25, 1954 and – after declaring the state of war with Germany ended on January 25, 1955 – in the “Treaty on Relations between the GDR and the USSR” (September 20, 1955) formally granted it the Independence, but reserved certain rights with regard to Germany and Berlin. N. S. Khrushchev in Berlin [East] on July 26, 1955) based on the existence of two German states (two-state theory) and on the preservation of the “socialist achievements” in the event of reunification.

German Democratic Republic (1949-1990) 2