Country Listing

East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


In the early 1950s, problems within the country were causing dissatisfaction among East German citizens. These problems included confusion within the ruling SED following the death of Stalin, economic pressures resulting from collectivization, payment of reparations, an increasingly disadvantageous comparison with West Germany, and resentment of Soviet presence and influence. Eventually these factors combined to trigger a spontaneous general uprising that started in East Berlin on June 17, 1953, and rapidly spread throughout much of the country. The rebellion was quickly suppressed by Soviet troops on June 17. This short but intense episode had far-reaching effects on the evolution of the national security system.

The uprising taught the Soviets that the socialist revolution imposed from without had not been accepted by the German people. The absorption of this lesson brought fundamental changes to the status of the country. Recognizing that its economic policy of reparations was dangerous and that communism would not be a significant force in a unified neutral Germany, the Soviet Union shelved plans for German reunification and made a political and economic commitment to the survival of East Germany as a political entity.

For its part, the Ulbricht government also was forced to recognize that it lacked legitimacy in the eyes of its own people. In the short run, the most notable response was what could be called "the third purge" in the summer of 1953. This purge resulted in changes in the top ranks of the SED, including replacement of Zaisser, the minister of state security. During the remainder of the summer, 12,000 men of all ranks and grades were dismissed from the People's Police for "unreliability."

The uprising, which raised doubts in the Soviet Union about the dependability of the young republic, also resulted in intensified supervision by the Soviet military, recall of MiG-15s destined for the new air force, and curtailment of training and other programs. The Soviets continued to restrict military development in East Germany until the early 1960s, when the country appeared politically and socially stable enough to receive full support.

Thus East Germany's national security organization was unable to pass its first serious test. Faced with an internal threat, its security organs failed to prevent or suppress the uprising. The shock of events, however, had the effect of forcing both the East German and the Soviet leadership to commit themselves to the difficult tasks necessary to make the state viable.

Data as of July 1987