10. East Germany (1949-63)


Introduction to the GDR (East Germany)

The two parliamentary chambers of the GDR were the Volkskammer and the Landerkammer

Its constitution intially looked democratic as it guaranteed civil rights, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

The USSR maintained their control over the GDR via the SED and the party system, and the Stasi which were the secret people.

In theory, the decision-making power lay with the president and prime minister but it really lay with the Politburea (the highest body in the Communist Party), which was led by Ulbricht

150,000 unreliable members of the Communist Party were removed within the first two years by Ulbricht, with the backing of the Stasi. Furthermore, the Party Control Commission was created to monitor the ideologies of all remaining party members. 

It seemed as if a certain amount of party coexistance was allowed but this was only to give the appearance of democracy. In practice, all other parties had to accept SED supremacy.

The political role of the Federation of Trade Unions and the Free German Youth was to spread the ideology of the SED.

The National Front served as an umbrella under which all organisations and parties stood. Elections were held on the basis of a single list of candidates presented to the Volksgammer. As a result, the SED held an absolute majority

The courts were also used to control the GDR. Judicial appointments were made on ideological grounds - by 1950, 86% of prosecutors and 50% of judges were SED members. Criminal law was used to control opposition, and over 200,000 people were prosecuted for political crimes.

Means to Enforce the GDR Regime

The Stasi was founded in 1950 and was described as 'the sword and shield of the party'. It aimed to fight against capitalism. It was structured like an army. The dominant influence in the organisation was Mielke. The Stasi had informal members from all walks of life who could be trusted to spy on and denounce their families and friends. By the fall of the regime, the Stasi had 175,000 informal members.

In practice, there were no legal restraints on the Stasi. They opened private letters, bugged homes, searched bank statements and people's homes. People could be arrested without trials.

As well as the Stasi, the SED used the People's Police, which oversaw border control, and the National People's Army,which served as the traditional army, in order to supports its rule.

The SED sought to accelerate the 'building of socialism' between 1952 and 1953 via the abolition of the Lander states in 1952, the intimidation of the Church, and the change in direction for the education system. The Stasi was also expanded.

In 1953, a large number of the population was alienated from the regime because of its ruthless nature and the high taxes. Furthermore, there was widespread resentment among farmers due to the low prices


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