... by Ernie Trory

Chapter Fifteen - A new Constitution

Walter Ulbricht with FDJ members

ON THE 6TH APRIL 1968, a plebiscite was held in which 94.49 per cent of all people in the GDR eligible to vote decided in favour of a new constitution. Their votes were cast after the draft constitution had been discussed at 750,000 meetings, attended by 11 million people, during which 12,494 suggestions had been submitted leading to 118 changes in the preamble and in 55 of the articles. In the final voting, it can be truly said that the people of the GDR decided in favour of socialism.

The new constitution, still extant, proceeds from the achievements of the people under the leadership of the working class and its Marxist-Leninist party in the period of the construction of socialism. It is directed towards the creation of a developed socialist society with political power firmly in the hands of the working class in alliance with the co-operative farmers and other working strata of the population. The Constitution avows a policy of peace and calls for all-round co-operation and friendship with the Soviet Union and with the other socialist countries. It outlaws militarist and revanchist propaganda, warmongering and the dissemination of racial and national hatred. It enshrines such fundamental human rights as the right to live in peace, the right to work and the right to security in sickness and old age. The right to work is guaranteed by the socialist ownership of the means of production and by the planned growth of the socialist productive forces and labour productivity.

In the imperialist world, such abstract rights as liberty, equality and fraternity exist only on paper. Karl Marx long ago recognised the impossibility of reconciling the right to liberty for all with the right to private ownership of the means of production. As recently as the 22nd May 1971, in the USA, it was reported in the New Republic that an American serviceman, by name John Dippel, had been refused permission to circulate a leaflet among his fellow soldiers because it included an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence. In justification of his action in refusing the request, Dippel's commander, a certain Major Hugh T. Henson, wrote: "To be painfully blunt, the Declaration of Independence is a subversive document."

There are no fewer than 4O international agreements on human rights now operating with the approval of the United Nations. All of them have been ratified by the German Democratic Republic; but because of the nature of its social system, the USA has only been able to ratify ten of them. It cannot ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (already ratified by 46 countries) because Article 6 proclaims the right to work. It cannot ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ratified by 44 countries) because Article 7 proclaims the right of women to equal pay for equal work, and because Article 20 bans propaganda for war, which some Americans consider to be a restriction on freedom of speech. As to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (ratified by 88 countries), this has not been ratified by the US Senate because it is afraid it would be accused of violating it by the Navajo, Sioux and Iroquois Indians, who recently, in July 1978, demanded an end to the policy of hounding them to death and issued a statement saying:

"The clear-cut policy of genocide in the last century continues in more sophisticated forms in this century." They fear also that they would be accused of failing to punish the crimes of genocide committed by Lieutenant Calley and others who wiped out peaceful inhabitants in Vietnam, claiming that in the east people had a different attitude to life and set less value on it. No wonder Andrew Young, US Ambassador to the United Nations, expressed his disappointment on the 11th August 1978, at America's meagre contribution in this field on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.

In the GDR, as in all socialist countries, unemployment is unknown; but in the developed capitalist countries alone 20 million people are deprived of their right to work. In the GDR, the qualitative standard of medical treatment is constantly improving and is free to all. The care of elderly citizens is the responsibility of the state. Pensions are constantly reviewed as the prosperity of the country increases, and there are numerous organisations catering for pensioners in the social and cultural fields. Death from hypothermia, a commonplace in Britain, is quite unknown in the German Democratic Republic. Social legislation in the GDR is based on the declared aim of the government to increase the material standard of living.

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