Chapter Ten - The German Democratic Republic
MEANWHILE, IN THE SOVIET ZONE, events were proceeding in full accord with the Potsdam agreement and other decisions of the four powers. As a result of united action, the working class and anti-fascist forces everywhere were creating democratic organs of self-administration which were recognised by the Soviet military authority as organs of power. Based on relevant decrees passed by the provincial administrations in September 1945, tens of thousands of farm workers, peasants, resettlers and craftsmen of varying political tendencies, received a total of 3,298,082 hectares of land expropriated from 7,136 large landowners, active nazis and war criminals.
In Saxony (in the Soviet zone) a draft law was published on the 25th May 1946 expropriating "the entire property of the Nazi Party and its organisations and the enterprises and undertakings of war criminals, leaders and active champions of the Nazi Party and the Nazi state; and also the enterprises and undertakings which actively served the war crimes." In a plebiscite held on the 30th June, this draft received 77.62 per cent of all votes cast. Similar laws were passed by other provincial administrations both in the Soviet zone and in the Western zones.
Side by side with the struggle for land reform and for the nationalisation of "cartels, syndicates, trusts and other monopolistic arrangements" as a means of "eliminating the present excessive concentration of economic powers" - to quote from the text of the Potsdam agreement - there developed in all zones a struggle for the unification of the working class. As early as July 1945, a bloc of anti-fascist, democratic parties had come into being in which the Communist Party of Germany, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the Christian Democratic Union and the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany had been represented. In carrying through the land reform and in building up democratic administrative organs, communists and social democrats drew closer together and in April 1946, as a result of this unity of action, a single Marxist-Leninist party of the working class was formed. Speaking at the unifying congress, Wilhelm Pieck, representing the Communist Party of Germany, said:
"The closing of the rift in the German working class and the merger of both parties into the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. is an event of enormous historical importance for the German working-class movement and for the entire German people."
*Known in Germany by the initials SED (Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschland).
Unfortunately, this unification was only possible in the Soviet zone of Germany. In the Western zones, the right-wing social democrats, led by Dr. Kurt Schumacher, broke away from their fellow social democrats in the Soviet zone and formed a separate party which retained its old name and rejected unification with the Communist Party.
In face of the threatened division of Germany into two separate states, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany adopted "An Appeal for a German People's Congress for Unity and a Just Peace." This was strongly supported in all four zones and on the 6th and 7th November 1947, the First People's Congress met in Berlin. Although the leaders of the bourgeois parties in the Western zones (including the Social Democratic Party) refused to take part, 650 delegates from the Western zones participated. It was the first all-German representation since the end of the war. The Congress demanded a plebiscite on democratic unity and the formation of a central government. It also named a delegation to present its point of view to the ill-fated Conference of Foreign Ministers held in London from the 25th November to the 15th December 1947, but the Conference refused to receive the delegation.
On the 17th and 18th March 1948, the Second People's Congress met in Berlin. Again there was a big representation from the Western zones (more than 500 delegates) despite difficulties arising from the opposition of the Western powers. This time the Congress decided to hold a referendum for a plebiscite on the unity of Germany. The referendum was conducted from the 23rd May to the 13th June. Despite the banning of the referendum in the American and French zones, and serious impediments in the British zone, 14,776,000 German citizens (about 40 per cent of those eligible to vote) demanded a plebiscite.
The Third German People's Congress was elected on the 15th and 16th May 1949 by secret ballot. These elections were free and direct in the Soviet zone; but in the Western zones, the population was prohibited from taking part. Nevertheless, 528 delegates from the West joined with 2,000 delegates from the Soviet zone in electing a new German People's Council. In the belief that it might still be possible to form a united government for the whole of Germany, the newly-elected German People's Council drafted a proposed constitution. After its publication, the draft was discussed in more than 9,000 meetings as well as in newspapers and periodicals. A total of 503 amendments and a further 15,000 statements of points of view were submitted to the Constitution Commission of the German People's Council. As a result of this popular discussion, 52 of the 144 articles of the Constitution were amended.
After the formation of the Federal German Republic on the 7th September 1949, millions of Germans (east and west) looked to the German People's Council for a lead, demanding the formation of a democratic republic based on the constitution adopted by the Third German People's Congress. On the 4th October, the Executive Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany resolved "to enter into discussions with the other democratic parties and mass organisations on the formation of a provisional government for a democratic German republic." On the same day, it adopted a programme which became the foundation of the joint struggle ofnall patriotic forces under the leadership of the working class for the democratic re-unification of Germany. On the 5th October, the Presidium of the German People's Council and the Bloc of Anti-fascist Democratic Parties called upon the German People's Council to turn itself into a Provisional People's Chamber, in accordance with the constitution adopted by the Third German People's Congress, and to establish a constitutional government of the German Democratic Republic. On the 7th October 1949, the German People's Council responded by proclaiming the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a peace-loving, democratic state from which fascism, militarism, revanchism and racial hatred had been banished for ever. For the first time in history, there was at last the possibility of building socialism in Germany.
On the 15th October 1949, only eight days after the founding of the German Democratic Republic, diplomatic relations were established with the Soviet Union. It was the beginning of an unshakeable alliance that was to become the cornerstone of the foreign policy of the new democratic republic. In 1950, the GDR waS admitted to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), formed in 1949 to achieve broader economic co-operation between the people's democracies (initially Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Rumania) and the USSR.
On the home front, economic and industrial development was the order of the day from the very beginning. The young republic did not have the backing of the American monopolies, as did the FRG, so the building up of its own heavy industry and the expansion of its basic materials industry became priorities of a very high order. To this end, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany worked out the draft of a first five-year plan, which it submitted to the government. This was adopted by the People1s Chamber on the 1st November 1951.
By 1952, the foundations of socialism were already being laid in the GDR, despite attempts by the West German industrialists and financiers to disrupt its democratic and economic development. Whilst big enterprises were being built as a basis for the socialist transformation, craftsmen, tradesmen and even small and medium businessmen were beginning to participate in the overall plan. Many of the craftsmen joined together in production co-operatives and it was not long before the first agricultural co-operative also came into being. All this led to increased output, which in turn improved the services and supplies available to the people.
Speaking to the Second Conference of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany on the 9th July 1952, Walter Ulbricht, First Secretary of the Central Conunittee of the Party and Chairman of the Council of State of the GDR, said: "The creation of the foundations of socialism corresponds to the requirements of the economic development and the interests of the working class and all working people. Under the leadership of the working class, the German people ...will implement the great ideas of socialism in the German Democratic Republic."
On the subject of relations with the Soviet Union he had this to say:
"The construction of socialism in the German Democratic Republic is taking place under favourable conditions, for we can utilise the great experiences of the struggle for socialism in the Soviet Union and in the people's democracies. We daily have before our eyes the glorious example of the construction of communism in the Soviet Union. The peoples liberated by the Soviet Union as the result of the Second World War need no longer solve the question of the construction of socialism in one country; they build socialism with the aid of the great achievements of the Soviet people and within the framework of the world economic system of socialist states."