East Germany – German Democratic Republic

East Germany - German Democratic Republic

The erection of the wall in Berlin is the premise and beginning of the definitive consolidation of the GDR. In the first place, it materially blocked the flow of refugees, which, after reaching record figures in the years 1953 (331,000) and 1956-57 (280,000, 262,000), had returned to growth at the end of the decade (1959: 144,000; 1960: 200,000), becoming overwhelming in the summer of 1961 (July: 30,000; first half of August: 47,000). Political dissent, in the strict sense, was not the only or the main reason: the desire to escape the systematic destruction of traditional forms of social and economic existence of entire classes in the course of the socialist transformation of GDR society was of great importance ( especially in 1960 the forced collectivization of agriculture), while at the same time the attraction of the economic well-being and freer forms of life of the BRD was felt. The proliferation movement (more than 2.5 million from 1949 to 1961) precipitated the demographic problem of the GDR, whose population had dropped to 17 million from 19 in 1949, and due to the strong presence of young people, technical cadres and skilled workers, of university professions, undermined any prospect of economic development. But the wall was of fundamental importance for the stabilization of the GDR not only because it eliminated these factors of weakness: it freed, in fact, the regime, in the face of international public opinion, from discrediting what was called the “plebiscite with feet” and above all it induced the population, to which the most traumatic modus vivendi with the political system created by the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands) and finally to a partial identification with the state. Later, stabilization also allowed limited liberalization processes, more modest, however, than in other socialist countries. The strong growth of the East German economy, by now secure of its workforce base and reorganized, in 1963, according to the ideas of the Soviet reformer, was of decisive importance for the aforementioned internal process as well as for the international weight of the GDR. Liebermann, with the “New Economic System” (NÖS), which introduced, with the so-called “economic levers”, economic criteria in planning, alongside and partially replacing administrative ones, and granted companies greater autonomy. From 1963 to 1967, the net product increased by one fifth, the annual share of growth was 5%; social improvements were made (short weeks, increased holidays, etc.), and education was enhanced. However, the partial revision of the NÖS produced a new growth crisis around 1969-70.

The death of President Pieck (1960) offered the occasion for an important institutional transformation: with the suppression of the presidency of the Republic, the Staatsrat was created(council of state), formally organ of parliament, in reality the directional center of this and of the whole political system of the GDR. Ulbricht (v.) Assumed the presidency, exalting, in the union with the position of first secretary of the Central Committee of the SED, the character of a center of personal power. The Staatsrat is also the fulcrum of the new constitution of 1968. This is in part the belated codification of the numerous and substantial transformations that took place in twenty years: in fact, the 1949 constitution – of a liberal-democratic type and which largely followed that of Weimar – for some time now it had no longer any confirmation in the reality of the political system, and even in a large part of the institutional order, of the GDR. But the new constitution is especially important for the ideological self-interpretation of the GDR: the SED considers 1962 as the date of the “definitive victory of the socialist relations of production” and 1963 as the beginning of the “complete and global construction of socialism”. The “socialist democracy” in an advanced stage of construction would thus have found its codification: the GDR is defined in fact in art. 1 as a “socialist state of the German nation” and establishes the leadership function of the working class and the Marxist-Leninist party; also the principle of “democratic centralism” entered the constitution according to the concept of “socialist democracy”. The other parties were not eliminated, reduced for almost two decades to auxiliary organizations of the SED, emptied of all autonomy.

The foreign policy of the GDR is characterized, even within the framework of the socialist states, by a particularly faithful alignment with the USSR. In the early 1960s the GDR was the standard bearer of a strengthening of block solidarity, both with regard to the West and in the cynosovietic dispute. Fundamental to the foreign policy of the GDR was the treaty of friendship and alliance with the USSR of 1964 (in other respects a modest substitute for the desired separate peace treaty), which took “socialist internationalism” as a fundamental criterion and foresaw, “in accordance with the principles of the international socialist division of labor”, the coordination of the two economies. The close integration of DDR economy with the Soviet one (whose character of subordination to the needs of the leading power was dramatically illuminated by the suicide of the planning manager Apel, in 1965) had as further stages the commercial agreement of 1965 and the establishment of joint commissions for the cooperation. The integration within the Comecon (v.) Was further deepened starting from 1971.

In 1966 the German Democratic Republic came to the head of the partners trade of the USSR; trade with Comecon countries made up about 2/3 of foreign trade in the 1960s and early 1970s (half of which with the USSR). “Socialist internationalism” as a fundamental principle of GDR foreign policy and the link with the USSR as a basic criterion are also established in the 1968 constitution itself; this commitment was further strengthened – more than by any other socialist state – by the constitutional revision of 1974, which declares it to be the German Democratic Republic “forever and irrevocably allied” to the USSR and “inseparable component of the community of socialist states”. In 1974 the SED stated as “principles” of “coordinated foreign policy”: “the

After the formal acquisition of sovereignty in 1955, the GDR’s foreign policy had two main objectives until 1969: increasing its weight in the Eastern bloc and international recognition outside its own bloc. This last objective was not even remotely achieved: after recognition by Yugoslavia (1957), only one country, Castro’s Cuba, established diplomatic relations with the GDR, until in 1969 the recognition by Cambodia gave rise to a series of awards, especially from Arab states. Although the Hallstein doctrine had “held”, nevertheless in the 1960s, below the level of diplomatic relations, there was a conspicuous diplomatic-commercial penetration of the GDR, especially in the Third World. If still in the Berlin crisis the GDR had not obtained the complete adhesion of the USSR to its maximum program, having to settle, instead of the transformation of West Berlin and the separate peace treaty, of the treaty concluded with the Soviet Union in 1964, however during the 1960s, internal consolidation and growing economic power, coupled with absolute loyalty in foreign policy, made the GDR rise to the role of preferential ally of the USSR. On the other hand, the GDR managed to commit the Warsaw Pact to its own intransigent line in the German question, blocking the initiative of Minister Schröder and then the Ostpolitik of the “Great Coalition”. In Karlovy Vary (1967) a “reverse Hallstein doctrine” was established, according to which, that is, the socialist states could not normalize their relations with Bonn without the establishment of interstate relations between the GDR and the BRD, the renunciation to the representation of the entire German people (Alleinvertretungsanspruch), the recognition of the borders in Europe and the annulment of the Munich treaty by the BRD. At the same time, the GDR promoted the formation of an “iron triangle”, concluding pacts of friendship and alliance with Poland and Czechoslovakia, in an anti-BRD function, to subsequently extend the network of pacts to the other Warsaw Pact states; the partners on German GDR policy. In the Czechoslovakian crisis, the GDR sided itself among the most intransigent opponents of Dubček’s new course, so much so that its influence is usually recognized as having a certain weight in favor of the decision to invade Prague (in which it actively participated); later, he not only accepted, in homage to the principle of “socialist internationalism”, placed at the center of his foreign policy, the Brezhnev doctrine, but tried to give it support under international law.

The Ostpolitik of the Brandt government represented a serious challenge for the Ulbricht leadership and for the GDR itself, where both liberal and technocratic currents had long been outlined: the ovations paid to W. Brandt in Erfurt confirmed this. The GDR initially tried to oppose the orientation of the Soviet leadership, directed towards an agreement with the social-liberal coalition. In any case, this agreement would have implied the renunciation, for the GDR, of objectives advocated for years. The attempt to oppose Moscow, also apparently in agreement with internal opposition to the CPSU (interruption of the dialogue between the two Germany in 1970), was short: recalcitrant, the GDR had to follow the orientation of the USSR. W. Ulbricht was sacrificed as the main obstacle to Ostpolitik, having to resign as first secretary. He was succeeded by E. Honecker, who carried out the substantial alignment with Soviet politics. As part of the Ostpolitik, the GDR concluded the supplementary agreements on Berlin and, with the BRD, the Grundvertrag and the communications agreement. In 1974, “permanent representations” of the BRD in East Berlin and of the GDR in Bonn were established; within the framework of Ostpolitik the GDR finally obtained that general diplomatic recognition which had constituted its fundamental objective (1973, Great Britain and France; 1974, USA) and the entry into the UN (1973). For the first time, the GDR participates as an equal in an international conference (CSCE preparatory talks, 1972-73; later the CSCE itself). With regard to the BRD, however, the GDR conducts a policy of rigid closure and ideological clash (Abgrenzung), with the aim of minimizing any incidence of détente on its internal life and any liberalizing influence (Abgrenzung), identifying the main enemy in “social democracy “.

Ulbricht’s resignation in 1971 led to a reorganization, both institutional and personal, of the top: the Staatsrat lost most of its power, due to the separation of offices, in favor of the council of ministers. After the death of Ulbricht (1973), the presidency of the Staatsrat passed to W. Stoph, president of the council of ministers since the death of Grotewohl (1964); President of the Council of Ministers became H. Sindermann, while the party leader remained in the hands of Honecker.

East Germany - German Democratic Republic