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East Germany

Ideology and Politics

The SED's most important connective tissue remains MarxistLeninist ideology. Ideology has retained an overriding significance even in the Honecker era, where it has played the role of an integrating and mobilizing force in society. Ideology determines the norms of conduct, guides social and political action, and integrates the leadership elite. In the SED's proclamations on the "unity of ideology, party, and economy," ideology appears first. Since the Ninth Party Congress in 1976, three factors have been linked and defined as "characteristic of the nature of party work." Even at the Tenth Party Congress in 1981 when Honecker reversed the order and spoke of the "unity of politics, economy, and ideology," he still emphasized the significance and the "superiority of Marxist-Leninist ideology."

The SED considers itself fraternally linked to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU); it considers the attitude toward the CPSU and the Soviet Union to be "a criterion of loyalty toward Marxism-Leninism." An "uncompromising struggle" against all appearances of "anti-Sovietism" is mandatory for all party members.

One of the foremost concerns of both the Ulbricht and the Honecker regimes has been the stabilization and legitimation of SED rule in East Germany. Upon its formation in 1949, the East German regime was a provisional political entity that lacked legitimacy in the eyes of most of its citizenry. Unlike the communist parties in Eastern Europe, the SED generally has been able to avoid major internal conflict since the last massive party purge initiated by Ulbricht in 1957. The erection of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the promulgation of the New Economic System at the Sixth Party Congress in January 1963, and the emergence of a generation of political leaders that had matured in East Germany since the war were all factors that helped stabilize SED rule in the country.

The first major event of the 1970s occurred when Ulbricht, who had been party leader during the two previous decades, was forced to relinquish his control over the SED in May 1971; he was allowed, however, to retain his chairmanship of the Council of State and full membership in the Politburo until his death in August 1973. Ulbricht's replacement, Erich Honecker, brought about a series of changes in party policy. Among the more important was the SED's declaration that East Germany had abandoned its goal of national reunification with West Germany, which Ulbricht had consistently stressed and codified in an article of the 1968 Constitution. Honecker also emphasized East Germany's special relationship with the Soviet Union. Under Ulbricht the SED had proclaimed that its brand of socialism was equal to that of the Soviet Union, and Ulbricht had clashed with Moscow over a number of issues, including the question of relations with West Germany and the Soviet Union's relations with other East European states. When Honecker assumed leadership of the SED in the spring of 1971, this conflict came to an abrupt end. On April 15, 1971, the SED Politburo declared that the directives of the Twenty-fourth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow in 1971 were of "general theoretical and political importance" and were binding on the SED in its search for solutions to the "basic question of the creation of a developed socialist society in the GDR." This policy ended the long-standing divergence between the SED's and the CPSU's interpretation of Marxism-Leninism. Concepts that had originated under Ulbricht, such as the understanding of socialism as a "relatively independent socioeconomic system developing on its own base," the "developed social system of socialism," and the "socialist human community" were cast aside. Instead, the Honecker regime spoke of a "developed socialist society" and in 1973 introduced the expression "real existing socialism," which eventually became the hallmark of the Honecker era.

At the Ninth Party Congress in May 1976, the notion of a harmonious "socialist human community" in which class differences were almost obliterated was superseded by the idea of a "class society of a special type." Honecker resurrected the class nature of society by emphasizing the leading role of the working class and, by extension, its vanguard, the party. Late in the Ulbricht era, the regime magnified the significance of the Council of Ministers and the Council of State as regulators of economic and social life and downgraded the party's function to a supervisory role. By contrast, Honecker once again reversed the relationship between the party and the state.

Honecker spoke of a new "social phase" beginning under his leadership, and he made it clear that the role of the SED would increase. The SED's "chief task" was to ensure all-around growth in social and economic well-being. These improvements would result from "increasing efficiency, scientific-technical progress, and higher labor productivity." The scientifictechnical revolution of the 1960s was to become scientifictechnical progress in the 1970s. The leadership considered it necessary to close the ever increasing gap in living standards between those with technical skills and those without. Thus, in the mid- and late 1970s, the party brought science and technology increasingly under its wing. Numerous scientific councils were created and attached to the East German Academy of Sciences, the Academy of Social Sciences of the Central Committee of the SED, and other party organizations. Because the establishment of these scientific councils allowed the SED to plan, coordinate, and supervise research topics and outcomes much more comprehensively, in the 1970s the party became the main integrative force in the domain of science and technology.

The Honecker era also has seen a steady increase in the use of the instruments of coercion--the civil and political police and the military--and in the 1980s these sectors consumed an ever growing proportion of the national budget. The trend indicates that greater influence by the security and defense organs has paralleled the increase of the party's power.

Data as of July 1987

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