Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


On October 7, 1949, the formation of the German Democratic Republic as an independent socialist state superimposed on the Soviet Zone of Occupation in Germany was announced. There may be reason to doubt the degree of Soviet devotion to the survival of an independent East German state at the time; however, there is no doubt that Ulbricht intended to make his state work and survive. Although independence had been declared, the republic did not receive full sovereignty until 1955. It still had no peace treaties with former enemies, and ultimate authority still lay with the occupying Soviet forces.

Ministry of the Interior and the Soviet Control Commission

The new status required some changes in the structure of the governing apparatus of the country and in its relationship with its occupying power. The degree of direct Soviet involvement in day-to-day affairs diminished after independence was declared, and for this and other cosmetic reasons the SMAD became the Soviet Control Commission. The former German administrations that had been agencies of the SMAD became ministries of the new government. The new Ministry of the Interior evolved from the German Administration of the Interior and maintained its former directorates and functions.

Although statehood brought many changes in the structure and functioning of the East German government, only one was of immediate and particular importance for national security. With the formation of the republic, all justification for maintaining political and administrative ties with the West was effectively abolished. Politically this meant that officials acceptable to the West no longer had to be tolerated and could be removed from positions of authority. It also justified measures designed to establish loyalty to an independent, socialist East German state among the population. Administratively the country and the government could be restructured to facilitate policy without concern for the reaction of Western powers. The new state sought to ensure its survival by centralizing authority and eliminating all sources of potential power other than those of the ruling party. These changes represented a clear-cut move toward a Soviet-style dictatorship.

Political centralization was marked by another traditional Soviet device, the establishment of the National Front, the umbrella organization that facilitates control of all political parties and mass organizations. Gradually, the emphasis of the National Front shifted from antifascist to pro-Soviet. As a mark of this shift, 1950 saw what might be called "the second purge," a Soviet-style purge of the membership of the SED, in which all members turned in their party cards. After careful examination, cards were reissued to those deemed fit. The most common reason for refusing to reissue a card was the charge that the cardholder was a West German agent. In practice, the weight of the purge fell most heavily on Jews and those communists who had spent the war in the West. In the case of the Jews, the purge reflected events taking place in the Soviet Union. In the case of communists from the West, the purge strengthened Ulbricht's hand against other party factions.

Along with attempting to improve national security through political and military means, East German leadership also worked to create a formal military and police structure. Although the Soviet Union and its East European allies may have been less enthusiastic about the creation of East Germany's armed forces than they were about the creation of the republic itself, the state needed the trappings of nationhood, including armed forces, if it was to be recognized as legitimate.

Data as of July 1987