East Germany Table of Contents
According to SED statutes, the party congress is the supreme organ of the SED. Since 1971 congresses have been held every five years, the most recent being the Eleventh Party Congress in April 1986. In theory the party congress sets policy and elects the leadership, provides a forum for discussing the leadership's policies, and undertakes activities that serve to legitimize the party as a mass movement. It is formally empowered to pass both the Party Program and the Statute, to establish the general party line, to elect the members of the Central Committee and the members of the Central Auditing Commission, and to approve the Central Committee report. Between congresses the Central Committee may convene a party conference to resolve policy and personnel issues.
In the spring of 1971, the Eighth Party Congress rolled back some of the programs associated with the Ulbricht era and emphasized short-term social and economic problems. The SED used the occasion to announce its willingness to cooperate with West Germany and the Soviet Union in helping to solve a variety of international problems, particularly the future political status of Berlin. Another major development initiated at the congress was a strengthening of the Council of Ministers at the expense of the Council of State; this shift subsequently played an important role in administering the Main Task program. The SED further proclaimed that greater emphasis would be devoted to the development of a "socialist nationalist culture" in which the role of artists and writers would be increasingly important. Honecker was more specific about the SED's position toward the intelligentsia at the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee, where he stated: "As long as one proceeds from the firm position of socialism, there can in my opinion be no taboos in the field of art and literature. This applies to questions of content as well as of style, in short to those questions which constitute what one calls artistic mastery."
The Ninth Party Congress in May 1976 can be viewed as a midpoint in the development of SED policy and programs. Most of the social and economic goals announced at the Eighth Party Congress had been reached; however, the absence of a definitive statement on further efforts to improve the working and living conditions of the population proved to be a source of concern. The SED sought to redress these issues by announcing, along with the Council of Ministers and the leadership of the FDGB, a specific program to increase living standards. The Ninth Party Congress initiated a hard line in the cultural sphere, which contrasted with the policy of openness and tolerance enunciated at the previous congress. Six months after the Ninth Party Congress, for example, the East German government withdrew permission for the singer Wolf Biermann to live in East Germany. The congress also highlighted the fact that East Germany had achieved international recognition in the intervening years. East Germany's growing involvement in both the East European economic system and the global economy reflected its new international status. This international status and the country's improved diplomatic and political standing were the major areas stressed by this congress. The Ninth Party Congress also served as a forum for examining the future challenges facing the party in domestic and foreign policy. On the foreign policy front, the major events were various speeches delivered by representatives of West European Marxist-Leninist parties, particularly the Italian, Spanish, and French, all of which expressed in varying ways ideological differences with the Soviet Union. At the same time, although allowing different views to be heard, the SED rejected many of these criticisms in light of its effort to maintain the special relationship with the Soviet Union emphasized by Honecker. Another major point of emphasis at the congress was the issue of inter-German détente. From the East German side, the benefits were mixed. The East German regime considered economic benefits as a major advantage, but the party viewed with misgivings the rapid increase in travel by West Germans to and through East Germany. Additional problems growing out of the expanding relationship with West Germany included conflict between Bonn and East Berlin on the rights and privileges of West German news correspondents in East Germany; the social unrest generated by the "two-currency" system, in which East German citizens who possessed West German D-marks were given the privilege of purchasing scarce luxury goods at special currency stores (Intershops); and the ongoing arguments over the issue of separate citizenship for the two German states, which the SED has proclaimed but which Bonn as of 1987 had refused to recognize.
During the Ninth Party Congress, the SED also responded to some of the public excitement and unrest that had emerged in the aftermath of the signing of the Helsinki Accords, the human rights documents issued at the meetings of the 1975 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Before the congress was convened, the SED had conducted a "People's Discussion" in order openly to air public concerns related to East Germany's responsibility in honoring the final document of the Helsinki conference.
The Tenth Party Congress, which took place in April l981, celebrated the status quo; the meeting unanimously re-elected Honecker to the office of general secretary, and there were no electoral surprises, as all incumbents except the ailing seventy- six-year-old Albert Norden were returned to the Politburo and the Secretariat. The congress highlighted the importance of policies that had been introduced or stressed at the two previous congresses and that had dominated East German life during the 1970s. As in the past, Honecker stressed the importance of the ties to the Soviet Union. In his closing remarks, he stated: "Our party, the SED, is linked forever with the party of Lenin, [the CPSU]." A delegation led by Mikhail Suslov, a member of the Politburo of the CPSU and his party's leading ideologue, represented the CPSU at the SED congress. Honecker reiterated earlier positions on the relationship between the two Germanies, stressing that they are two sovereign states that have developed along different lines since World War II and that their differences must be respected by both sides as they continue efforts toward peaceful coexistence despite membership in antagonistic alliances. In his speeches, Honecker, along with other SED officials, devoted greater attention to Third World countries than he had done in the past. Honecker mentioned the continually increasing numbers of young people from African, Asian, and Latin American countries who receive their higher education in East Germany, and he referred to many thousands of people in those countries who have been trained as apprentices, skilled workers, and instructors by teams from East Germany.
The bulk of the Central Committee report delivered at the opening session of the congress by the general secretary discussed the economic and social progress made during the five years since the Ninth Party Congress. Honecker detailed the increased agricultural and industrial production of the period and the resultant social progress as, in his words, the country continued "on the path to socialism and communism." Honecker called for even greater productivity in the next five years, and he sought to spur individual initiative and productivity by recommending a labor policy that would reward the most meritorious and productive members of society.
The Eleventh Party Congress, held April 17-21, 1986, unequivocally endorsed the SED and Honecker, whom it confirmed for another term as party head. The SED celebrated its achievements as the "most successful party on German soil," praised East Germany as a "politically stable and economically efficient socialist state," and declared its intention to maintain its present policy course. East Germany's successes, presented as a personal triumph for Honecker, marked a crowning point in his political career. Gorbachev's presence at the congress endorsed Honecker's policy course, which was also strengthened by some reshuffling of the party leadership. Overall, the Eleventh Party Congress exhibited confidence in East Germany's role as the strongest economy and the most stable country in Eastern Europe. Gorbachev praised the East German experience as proof that central planning can be effective and workable in the 1980s.
Official statements on the subject of foreign policy were mixed, particularly with respect to East Germany's relations with West Germany and the rest of Western Europe. Honecker's defense of his policy of "constructive dialogue" appeared in tune with Gorbachev's own calls for disarmament and détente in Europe. However, the SED leadership made it unequivocally clear that its foreign policy, including relations with West Germany, would remain closely coordinated with Moscow's. Although Honecker's criticism of West Germany was low key, Gorbachev's was sharp, attacking Bonn's participation in the United States Strategic Defense Initiative and the alleged "revanchism" in West Germany. However, after a final round of talks with Gorbachev, Honecker signed a hard-line communiqué that openly attacked the policies of the West German government. Overall, Gorbachev's statements suggested that the foreign policy emphasis would be on a common foreign policy adhered to by all members of the Warsaw Pact under Soviet direction. Until the Eleventh Party Congress, East German leaders had maintained that small and medium states had a significant role to play in international affairs. As a result of Soviet pressure, such statements have disappeared from East German commentary on foreign policy.
Günther Tschacher, an official in the Academy of Social Sciences of the SED Central Committee, echoed the new thinking on domestic policy in a West German interview, when he remarked that although the SED is enthusiastic about Gorbachev's reforms in the Soviet Union, it does not necessarily consider these applicable to East Germany. Tschacher flatly rejected the notion that the Soviet Union's new course is necessarily relevant for East Germany, stating that this would "run counter to the independent policy of each party." He claimed it had become an established fact that "each party develops its policy independently."
Data as of July 1987
East Germany Table of Contents