Post-War East Germany

[Excerpted from East Germany: A Country Study, Glenn E. Curtis, ed. (Washington, D. C.: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, 1992).]


Postwar Government

At the Yalta Conference, held in February 1945 before the capitulation of the Third Reich, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union agreed on the division of Germany into occupation zones. Estimating the territory that the converging armies of the western Allies and the Soviet Union would overrun, the Yalta Conference determined the demarcation line for the respective areas of occupation. Following Germany's surrender, the Allied Control Council, representing the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, assumed governmental authority in postwar Germany. The Potsdam Conference of JulyAugust 1945 officially recognized the zones and confirmed jurisdiction of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (Sowjetische Militradministration in Deutschland--SMAD) from the Oder and Neisse rivers to the demarcation line (see fig. 6). The Soviet occupation zone included the former states of Brandenburg, Mecklenburg, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia. The city of Berlin was placed under the control of the four powers.

Each occupation power assumed rule in its zone by June 1945. The powers originally pursued a common German policy, focused on denazification and demilitarization in preparation for the restoration of a democratic German nation-state. The Soviet occupation zone, however, soon came under total political and economic domination by the Soviet Union. An SMAD decree of June 10 granted permission for the formation of antifascist democratic political parties in the Soviet zone; elections to new state legislatures were scheduled for October 1946. A democraticantifascist coalition, which included the KPD, the SPD, the new Christian Democratic Union (Christlich-Demokratische Union--CDU), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LiberalDemokratische Partei Deutschlands --LDPD), was formed in July 1945. The KPD (with 600,000 members) and the SPD (with 680,000 members), which was under strong pressure from the Communists, merged in April 1946 to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands--SED). In the October 1946 elections, the SED polled approximately 50 percent of the vote in each state in the Soviet zone. In Berlin, which was still undivided, the SPD had resisted the party merger and, running on its own, had polled 48.7 percent of the vote, thus scoring a major electoral victory and decisively defeating the SED, which, with 19.8 percent, was third in the voting behind the SPD and the CDU.

The SMAD introduced an economic reform program and simultaneously arranged for German war reparations to the Soviet Union. Military industries and those owned by the state, by Nazi activists, and by war criminals were confiscated. These industries amounted to approximately 60 percent of total industrial production in the Soviet zone. Most heavy industry (constituting 20 percent of total production) was claimed by the Soviet Union as reparations, and Soviet joint stock companies (Sowjetische Aktiengesellschaften--SAGs) were formed. The remaining confiscated industrial property was nationalized, leaving 40 percent of total industrial production to private enterprise. The agrarian reform expropriated all land belonging to former Nazis and war criminals and generally limited ownership to 100 hectares. Some 500 Junker estates were converted into collective people's farms, and more than 3 million hectares were distributed among 500,000 peasant farmers, agricultural laborers, and refugees.

Soviet and Western cooperation in Germany ended with the onset of the Cold War in late 1947. In March 1948, the United States, Britain, and France met in London and agreed to unite the Western zones and to establish a West German republic. The Soviet Union responded by leaving the Allied Control Council and prepared to create an East German state. In June 1948, the Soviet Union blockaded Berlin in an effort to incorporate the city into its zone.

The Soviet Union envisaged an East German state controlled by the SED and organized on the Soviet model. Thus Joseph Stalin called for the transformation of the SED into a Soviet-style "party of the new type." To that end, Stalin named the Soviet-trained German communist Walter Ulbricht as first secretary of the SED, and the Politburo, Secretariat, and Central Committee were formed. According to the Leninist principle of democratic centralism, each party body was subordinated to the authority of the next higher party body. Ulbricht, as party chief, essentially acquired dictatorial powers. The SED committed itself ideologically to Marxism-Leninism and the international class struggle as defined by the Soviet Union. Many former members of the SPD and some communist advocates of a democratic "road to socialism" were purged from the SED. In addition, the Soviet Union arranged to strengthen the influence of the SED in the antifascist bloc. The middle-class CDU and LDPD were weakened by the creation of two new parties, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NationalDemokratische Partei Deutschlands--NDPD) and the Democratic Peasants' Party of Germany (Demokratische Bauernpartei Deutschlands--DBD). The SED accorded political representation to mass organizations and, most significant, to the party-controlled Free German Trade Union Federation (Freier Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund--FDGB).

In November 1948, the German Economic Commission (Deutsche Wirtschaftskomission--DWK), including antifascist bloc representation, assumed administrative authority. On October 7, 1949, the DWK formed a provisional government and proclaimed establishment of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Wilhelm Pieck, a party leader, was elected first president.

Integration into the Soviet System

The years 1949 to 1955 were a period of Stalinization, during which East Germany was politically consolidated as an authoritarian Soviet-style state under SED leadership. Ulbricht and the SED controlled the National Front coalition, a federation of all political parties and mass organizations that technically preserved political pluralism. The 1949 constitution formally established a democratic federal republic and created the States Chamber and the People's Chamber. The People's Chamber, according to the constitution the highest state body, was vested with legislative sovereignty. The SED controlled the Council of Ministers, however, and reduced the legislative function of the People's Chamber to that of acclamation. Election to the People's Chamber and the state legislatures (later replaced by district legislatures) was based on a joint ballot prepared by the National Front; voters merely registered their approval or disapproval. The SED imposed conformity to Marxist-Leninist ideology on the educational system, the press, social organizations, and cultural institutions. In order to guarantee the party's dominance within the state, all members of the SED who were active in state organs were obliged to carry out party resolutions. The State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst- -SSD) and the Ministry of State Security monitored public life with a broad network of agents and contributed to eliminating opposition and regimenting political and social affairs.

The Third Party Congress of July 1950 emphasized industrial progress. The industrial sector, employing 40 percent of the working population, was subjected to further nationalization, which resulted in the formation of the Publicly Owned Enterprises (Volkseigene Betriebe--VEBs). These enterprises incorporated 75 percent of the industrial sector. The First Five-Year Plan (1951- 55) introduced centralized state planning; it stressed high production quotas for heavy industry and increased labor productivity. The pressures of the plan caused an exodus of East German citizens to West Germany. In 1951 monthly emigration figures fluctuated between 11,500 and 17,000. By 1953 an average of 37,000 men, women, and children were leaving each month.

Stalin died in March 1953. In June the SED, hoping to pacify workers with an improved standard of living, announced the New Course. The New Course in East Germany was based on the economic policy initiated by Georgi Malenkov in the Soviet Union. Malenkov's policy, which aimed at improvement in the standard of living, stressed a shift in investment toward light industry and trade and a greater availability of consumer goods. The SED, in addition to shifting emphasis from heavy industry to consumer goods, initiated a program for alleviating economic hardships. This led to a reduction of delivery quotas and taxes, the availability of state loans to private business, and an increase in the allocation of production material.

The New Course did not, however, alleviate the burden of the East German workers. High production quotas and spiraling work norms remained in effect, and the discontent of the workers resulted in an uprising on June 17, 1953. Strikes and demonstrations erupted spontaneously in major industrial centers. The workers demanded economic reforms and called for deStalinization and an end to the Ulbricht regime. The East German People's Police and the Soviet Army suppressed the uprising, in which approximately 500 participants were killed.

In 1954 the Soviet Union granted East Germany formal sovereignty, and the Soviet Control Commission in Berlin was disbanded. By this time, reparations payments had been completed, and the SAGs had been restored to East German ownership. The five states formerly constituting the Soviet occupation zone also had been dissolved and replaced by fifteen districts (Bezirke) in 1952; the United States, Britain, and France do not recognize the fifteenth district, East Berlin. East Germany began active participation in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) in 1950. In 1956 the National People's Army (Nationale Volksarmee--NVA) was created, and East Germany became a member of the Warsaw Pact.

Collectivization and Nationalization of Agriculture and Industry

In 1956, at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev repudiated Stalinism. Although Ulbricht remained committed to Stalinist methods, an academic intelligentsia within the SED leadership demanded reform. To this end, Wolfgang Harich, the main spokesman for de-Stalinization, issued a platform advocating a democratic and parliamentary road to socialism. But Harich had misjudged the temper of the times and the power of Ulbricht; in late 1956, he and his associates were quickly purged from the SED ranks and imprisoned.

An SED party plenum in July 1956 confirmed Ulbricht's leadership and presented the Second Five-Year Plan (1956-60). The plan employed the slogan "modernization, mechanization, and automation" to emphasize the new focus on technological progress. At the plenum, the regime announced its intention to develop nuclear energy, and the first nuclear reactor in East Germany was activated in 1957. The government increased industrial production quotas by 55 percent and renewed emphasis on heavy industry.

The Second Five-Year Plan committed East Germany to accelerated efforts toward agricultural collectivization and completion of the nationalization of the industrial sector. By 1958 the agricultural sector still consisted primarily of the 750,000 privately owned farms that comprised 70 percent of all arable land; only 6,000 Agricultural Cooperatives (Landwirtschaftliche Produktionsgenossenschaften--LPGs) had been formed. In 1958-59 the SED subjected private farmers to quota pressures and sent agitation teams to villages in an effort to encourage "voluntary" collectivization. The teams used threats, and in November and December 1959 resisting farmers were arrested by the SSD. By mid-1960 nearly 85 percent of all arable land was incorporated in more than 19,000 LPGs; state farms comprised another 6 percent. By 1961 the socialist sector produced 90 percent of East Germany's agricultural products. An extensive economic management reform by the SED in February 1958 included the transfer of a large number of industrial ministries to the State Planning Commission. In order to accelerate the nationalization of industry, the SED offered entrepreneurs 50-percent partnership incentives for transforming their firms into VEBs. At the close of 1960, private enterprise controlled only 9 percent of total industrial production. Production Cooperatives (Produktionsgenossenschaften--PGs) incorporated one-third of the artisan sector during 1960-61, a rise from 6 percent in 1958.

The Second Five-Year Plan encountered difficulties, and the regime replaced it with the Seven-Year Plan (1959-65). The new plan aimed at achieving West Germany's per capita production by the end of 1961, set higher production quotas, and called for an 85 percent increase in labor productivity. Emigration again increased, totaling 143,000 in 1959 and 199,000 in 1960. The majority of the emigrants were workers, and 50 percent were under 25 years of age. The labor drain, which had exceeded a total of 2.5 million citizens between 1949 and 1961, resulted in the August 1961 SED decision to build the Berlin Wall.