The development of the GDR 1949 - 1971

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Political developments in the GDR

  • 1949 Constitution established the GDR as a liberal state, that guaranteed fundamental rights, a seperation of powers and a democratically elected Parliment.
  • After Soviet pressure, elections were delayed for a year to allow the SED to expand its power base.
  • December 1949 - The East German Supreme Court and Department of Public Prosecutions set up and a Ministry of State Security (responsible for state police - Stasi) set up in 1950. This enabled dissent to the SED to be weeded out and prosecuted. Heavy handed terror tactics were employed.
  • SED infilrated the FDGB and the FDJ. 
  • Before the elections, the SED convinced the CDU and LDP to join with it in a 'National Front'. The three parties drew up a list of candidates offering the same policies. (official statistics uphold that 99.72% voted for the unity list). The SED only won 25% of the vote.
  • 1952 - Lander were abolished and replaced with 14 Bezirke and SED control was extended further.
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Walter Ulbricht

  • Became Party Secretary in 1950 and dominanted politics until 1971
  • In the early years, his position was far from certain. He had to deal with constant pressures from the USSR along with disputes within his own party.
  • In the late 1940s and early 1950s were riddled with examples of brutal suppression of dissenters.
  • Mass purge of the SED in 1948 and 1951. Suspected 'deviants' were subject to social and political exclusion or worse. Further 'factionalsim' within the SED was dealt with 1956-1958
  • By the end of the 1950s, Ulbricht's position was far more secure as central control had been tightened, due to the political bias of the judiciary and the introduction of the Stasi in 1950.
  • In 1952 Ulbricht dissolved the 5 Lander and created 14 new 'districts' or 'bizirche', where the leaders were responsible for all administrative matters as well as acting as local party cheifs.
  • Hungarian uprising of 1956 also secured Ulbrict's position as he demonstrates a hard-line approach.
  • The Berlin wall in 1961 gave through to greater personal security for Ulbricht. Younger and more qualified 'experts' were brought in.
  • From the mid-1960s, Ulbricht suffered with ill-health and so Honecker had the opportunity to exert influence and became the new leader in 1971.
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Walter Ulbricht 2

  • Immense power but lacked Charisma.
  • Sustained his position because it was in the interest of the USSR to keep him there.
  • The 'ruling class' were very small, but there were a large number of political functionaries involved in the running of the state. However, the majority possesed very little power and few priviledges. They often had no personal control over their own careers and suffered pressures and stress.
  • There was no personal life for a high-ranking official.
  • Stalin's death in 1953 made Ulbricht more vulnerable as the new leadership favoured dente with the West
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Riots of June 1953

  • Caused by a number of factors. Ulbricht's May Directive increased quotas for workers by 10%. Enforced Socialism led to a mass exodus of the population depressing the economy. Workers resented the low wages, high taxation and rising food prices. Farmers resented the low prices they were recieving for their crops and late fines. Independant buisness men feared nationalisation.
  • Shook the confidence of the  SED elite and authority placed in Ulbricht.
  • Riots spread to more than 400 cities. As they spread they became more political in characters and began to demand the abolition of quotas, demonstraters began to demand more fundamental changes such as free elections.
  • Eventually Ulbricht had little choice but to back down on the May Directive, but on 17th June USSR sending in tanks.
  • There was severe fighting in places including the Potsdammer Platz.
  • USSR took the view that any thought of liberalising East German internal policies had to be abandoned.
  • SED and national bloc parties were were purged, around 20,000 civil servants were sacked as well as 50,000 lesser party members.
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Economy and Society

  • Main commitment was to build a new worker's state.
  • The old land-owning class and professional business men and factory owners had to disappear in order to create a Marxist-Leninist state.
  • The USSR continued to demand heavy reparations - 25% of all industrial goods until 1950. Even after this the SED could only determine the course of the economy with reference to the USSR and then COMECON.
  • GDR was cut off from supplies of coal and steel and had limited natural resources
  • Loss of labour to the West proved a drain
  • State planning involved changes in management of factories and collectivisation which led to dislocations and difficulties.
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Industry

  • 213 SAGS were set up by the USSR to extort reparations, including factories in chemicals, mechanicals, engineering, electronics and others.
  • Most other plants were turned into VEB's or 'people's enterprises' which accounted for 76% of total industrial production.
  • 5 year plans were launched on a soviet model and ambitious targets were set to give an impression of progress.
  • 1950 - First five year plan promised to double the output of the 1936 level. It emphasised heavy industry and demands of remiliterisation. 
  • 1950 - GDR joins COMECON and so by 1951, 76% of its trade was directed towards the soviet bloc.
  • Accurate figures are hard to find, but it is thought that the steel industry met its targets.
  • 3.25 million expellees allowed for profit, although they were on less generous terms than the West
  • 1952 - The SED declared that the GDR was ready for 'the building of socialism' but attempts to increase production led to the uprising of 1953.
  • 1956 - the second 5 year plan introduced regionalised specialisation, but failed. In 1959 it was quietly abandoned and replaced with a seven year plan with ambitious targets in energy, chemicals and engineering. Ulbricht claimed this would lead the GDR to overtake the FRG with a higher consumtion of foodstuffs per capita.
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Industry 2

  • Although it brought some initial success, its targets were unrealistic and another downturn in the 1960s meant the plan was abandoned in 1962.
  • Was growing at 3% a year, contrasted with the FRG's 8% a year.
  • Little heed was paid to supply and demand, the plans were often out of date before they were implemented. Employers would not invest in equipment and lowered standards. With fixed prices for goods and an emphasis on quantity over quality, the state encouraged shoddy workmanship. Wages were permanently low.
  • By 1961 Ulbricht was forced to build a wall to prevent mass exodus. This gave the GDR new-found confidence and so in June 1963 the New Economic System, which introduced a more flexible approach to economic planning was launched. It permitted some decentrilisation. Profit incentives and greater decision-making powers were given to middle managers to ensure profitbabilty of goods.
  • However, in the wake of the 'prague spring' in Czech 1968, the system was abandoned in favour of increased centrilisation. 
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Agriculture

  • Two waves of collectivisation in 1952 and 1960.
  • Former independant farmers and farm labourers were forced to become members of collectives
  • By 1959, 45% of agriculture was collectivised.
  • By 1960 85% of agriculture was collectivised.
  • Initially detrimental to production, the lack of food supplies contributed to the 1953 uprising.
  • Lack of fertiliser and shortage of livestock reduced supplies of milk, cheese and meat. 
  • Rationing had to be reintroduced in 1961.
  • However, in the 1970s, the situation improved as the GDR became more self-sufficent.
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The attempt to impose State Socialism

  • GDR had promised a 'workers paradise' and offered its workers reasonable security in employment, housing and other welfare services. Foodstuffs, housing and transport were substantially subsidised.
  • 'Workers' faculties were set up to provide those from disadvantaged backgrounds with the oppertunity to enter higher education.
  • Efforts were also made to help women enter and remain in the workforce.
  • All workers were compelled to belong to a national trade organisation, the FDGB.
  • This gave workers some protection by arbitrating in disputes and organising holidays. However, it acted as a mouthpiece for the SED and ensured government decrees were carried out.
  • There were no 'classes' but there were still salary differentials. Some top doctors, engineers, scientists and communists commanded comparitively high wages, but for the masses, wages remained low.
  • Unemployment was seen as asocial and punishable. School children were given a weekly school day at production plants. 
  • Some factories had hospitals and nurseries. Those who exceeded work norms were rewarded, those who failed to meet them were punished.
  • Professional positons were only available to political conformists.
  • Communism brought upward social mobility for some, but 'class enemies' often fled 
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Youth and Education

  • Youth activities were strictly controlled and monitored by SED party officials.
  • Only officially sanctioned youth groups were permitted, such as the FDJ established in 1946.
  • Membership was open to 14-25 year olds. It was voluntary, but became essential for advancing educationally.
  • The control over recreational and sport facilities and entertainment meant education was worthwhile.
  • The Young Pioneers was set up for 6-14 year olds and nearly all children had joined by the 1960s.
  • Other groups included the GST set up in 1952 specialising in sport facilities.
  • East German school children were indoctrinated with Marxist Leninism. Private schools were abolished by 1946.
  • 1959 - a system of comprehensive schools and national curriculum were established - Marxist lenisism was a compulsory subject. An emphasis was placed on practical work and experience. At every level acheivement targets were set and teachers were subject to close supervision.
  • There were various routes into higher education including sixth forms and a range of elite schools for special talents in sport, music or children of the political elite.
  • Schools and unis were viewed as vehicles for producing a supply of workers. 
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Youth and Education 2

  • Occasional Youth protests at uni's and 'deviant' behaviour included symbols of Americanisms such as blue jeans and rock n' roll.
  • Western influence was labelled 'agitation hostile to the state'
  • Membership rates of the youth organisations was high.
  • Youth behaviour was much better than their counterparts in the West.
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Women

  • Equality of the sexes had always been an important goal of communist societies. The GDR constitution of 1949 had guaranteed this equality, including the right to work and recieve equal pay.
  • Constitution of 1968 went further, proclaiming that work was a 'duty'.
  • By 1977, 87% of women were employed.
  • The 'socialist woman' was often burdened with traditional family duties too.
  • 1965 - A Family Code called on men to shoulder their share of the household chores.
  • Social legislation allowed for a day off work a month for housework. Women also had shorter working hours, longer leaves, and benefits for children. Sometimes grocery stores and laundries were even provided in workplaces.
  • However, many women found themselves forced to take lower-paid unskilled jobs, hardly any made the higher tiers of politics.
  • There were higher rates of divorce and children born out of marriage, which indicated higher economic independance, but there were also high rates of remarriage, which suggests economic dependance.
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Culture

  • Socialist Realism.
  • Cultural activities were controlled by the state and measured on their contribution to raising socialist awareness.
  • Jazz, Western Literature and Modern Art were dismissed as decadant and irrelevant.
  • All East German culture was subject to censorship, and all had a political agenda.
  • Only Church publications escaped the full rigor of the censor's scrutiny.
  • In 1959 there was an attempt to forge closer relationships between the manual workers and the arts. Workers were encouraged to 'take up their pens' and writers encouraged to experience manual work.
  • Culture was no often little more than propoganda. They procalimed the socialst message of love and friendship with the USSR.
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The Church

  • Catholics remain a quiet minority but the protestant churches provided a forum for opposition which was hard for the SED to ignore.
  • Ulbricht tried to weaken the churches in the 1950s by removing church influence in education, making the church youth organisation illegal which had limited effect.
  • The church continued to run old people's homes, childcare facilities, hospitals and other essential services, but eventually Western ties were broken as the Cold War escalated.
  • In July 1958 an agreement was made where the church could be allowed to exist as a seperate body to the state and respect the 'development towards socialism' but the state had to accept that every citizen was entitled to freedom of belief and conscience.
  • The relationship remained uneasy, but in 1969 German protestants decided to form their own seperate East German church to work within (rather than against or alongside) the state which paved the way for better relations.
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Impact of Economic and Social change

  • By 1955 the GDR was the wealthiest country in the Eastern bloc but attempts to surpass the economic boom in the West failed.
  • Mass exodus of people to the West.
  • No escape from the ideology of the state
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