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East German Uprising

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.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:27:55 ZULU