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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Erich Honecker on the formation of the GDR, October 7, 1949



October 7 marks the anniversary of the formation of German Democratic Republic in 1949. Having come into being as a result of the Second World War and postwar European development, the GDR became one of the fraternal countries of the socialist community. The supreme principle of its policy was the good of humanity, anti-imperialism, peace and friendship among peoples. The story about how and in what circumstances this great outpost of peace and socialism in Europe arose was told by Erich Honecker, who was an outstanding party leader and statesman of the GDR, in his autobiographic book "Aus meinem Leben" (From My Life) and republished in the English language Soviet magazine Socialism: Theory and Practice in 1983. Honecker was General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party and Chairman of the State Council of the GDR at the time.


Sadly, of course, the GDR and its tremendous accomplishments were swept away during the reactionary European counter-revolutionary wave of 1989-1991. Honecker died in 1994.


Text:


In the life of each nation there are events whose historical significance and grandeur become more and more obvious as time passes. One of such events is no doubt the formation of the German Democratic Republic. The rise of the first socialist state of workers and peasants on German soil, as proved by historical development in the course of more than three decades, was a decisive turn in the history of the German people. Moreover, it was a turning point in the history of Europe.


THE BEGINNINGS


This fact, now recognized by many political figures of various trends outside our country, was realized only by a few people three decades ago. For myself and my comrades on the Board of the SED (1) (from the summer of 1946 it sat in Unity House on Prenzlauer Tor, now occupied by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the SED Central Committee) each of the historic days of October 1949 was filled with the struggle to implement a strategy which would take account of the real situation prevailing in Germany and, at the same time, indicate to our people the road to the socialist future. Those were days of heated discussions with workers, peasants, scientists and art workers and, naturally, especially with young people. For it was a question of the creation of a state which was to become a state of working people and their younger generation.


At that time we had frequent meetings with our allies in other parties of the democratic bloc. In frank talks, we jointly sought ways of winning broad support from among all classes and strata for this new state, ways of establishing a national front that would bring all the democratic and patriotic forces of our people together.


We had to wage fierce polemics with reactionary politicians. They opposed the creation of the first worker and peasant state in German history and collaborated with the forces that clutched at the past. In September 1949 they created an imperialist German state -- the Federal Republic of Germany.


Since the liberation from nazism in May 1945 we have traversed a road of deep transformations. Those were years of strenuous labour, many privations, and a constant fierce struggle against reactionary forces.



LAW-GOVERNED HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT


In October 1949 we created the first German state whose road was fully mapped out by the character and laws of the new historical epoch of the transition from capitalism to socialism which was opened in 1917 by the Great October Socialist Revolution. The formation of the German Democratic Republic reflected the changes that had taken place in the world balance of forces after the historic victory of the Soviet people over Hitler nazism. The rise of the worker and peasant state on German soil enhanced the influence of socialism in Europe and was a serious setback for world imperialism. The emergence of the GDR made the prospect of turning Europe into a continent of peace and security more likely.


The formation of the GDR became historically necessary due to a number of national and international causes. From the moment of liberation from nazi domination in May 1945 we anti-fascists fought with might and main to establish a united peaceful and democratic German state.


Our struggle for the creation of such a state on an anti-fascist, democratic basis fully met the aims of the anti-Hitler coalition and the Potsdam agreement. I have to bring these facts to the fore because as far back as the years of the Second World War the ruling circles in the USA, Britain and France had made diverse plans for the fragmentation of Germany. As an example I will name just one, the ill-famed Morgenthau plan. (2) Whatever the intentions might have been behind this and other plans, say, the urge to oust German monopoly capital as an undesirable competitor on the world market and in the struggle for world domination, all of them had this in common: they ignored the vital interests of the German people. The fact that. not one of these plans was incorporated into the 1945 agreements of the Allied powers goes exclusively to the credit of the Soviet Union which consistently advocated a peaceful, democratic future for the German people.


In the east of Germany, as a result of profound anti-fascist, democratic transformations, the foundation was laid for the German state based on peace, genuine democracy and social progress. True to the Potsdam agreement, the Soviet Union gave comprehensive aid to this state.


WHO LED GERMANY TO ITS DIVISION!


It is not surprising therefore that the forces of reaction, restoration and revanchism opposed the formation of such a German state.


When the imperialist powers and the monopoly circles in the Western zones saw that revolutionary changes in our zone were well under way despite all difficulties, they realized that the creation of a united imperialist Germany was already impossible. They took a step fraught with grave consequences for the entire German nation, for democracy and social progress, for peace and security in Europe. On January 1, 1947, the British and American occupation zones (3) were united to form Bizonia; the Economic Council of Bizonia was formed. Those were the first steps towards the creation of a separate West-German state.


Neither the big landed estates nor monopoly capital were eliminated in the Western zones, though at the referendum in Hessen on December 1, 1946, almost 72 per cent of the electorate declared in favour of this and appropriate laws and statutes were adopted in the majority of West-German lands. The reactionary state apparatus, bourgeois bureaucracy and entrepreneurs' unions were left almost intact and reactionary ideology was again in wide circulation.


In February 1948 Bizonia's administration was reorganized to become a separate government. Then the military authorities of the USA and Britain issued an instruction on complete suspension of trade, railway freight traffic and transit communications between the Western and the Soviet occupation zones. A monetary reform was announced in the Western zones and soon extended to the Western sectors of Berlin. After the historically established economic community was destroyed and the socio-economic separation of the Western zones became an actual fact, the single German currency was abolished.


On August 1, 1948, came the merger of the French occupation zone with the American-British territory into a Trizonia and lastly, on September 1, 1948, they instituted the so-called Parliamentary Council. In May 1949, contrary to the votes of the representatives of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), it adopted the Basic Law drafted behind the back of the people. It was based on the Occupation Statute of April 8, 1949 and was in crying contradiction with the Potsdam agreement. (4) When the Bundestag was constituted on September 7, 1949 in Bonn and a coalition government led by Konrad Adenauer (5) formed from representatives of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the German Party, this actually meant Germany's division. A no minor share of responsibility for this was borne also by the right-wing SPD leaders.


In 1948 I again, and for the last time, made a trip to the Western zones and at meetings and rallies spoke of the danger of Germany's division and the need to avert it through a broad popular movement. In Duisburg Max Reimann and I addressed meetings.(6) Taking the opportunity, I visited also my parents, brother and sisters in Wiebelskirchen in the Saar.(7)


THE MOVEMENT FOR UNITY


The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) and other democratic parties and mass organizations did their utmost to reserve Germany's unity as soon as the first signs of its division appeared. On the SED's initiative, the movement of the People's Congress for Unity and Just Peace arose at the end of 1947. It brought citizens from all walks of life together and enjoyed the support of numerous followers in the Western zones. But the Western occupation authorities proscribed this movement and persecuted its participants.


I was a delegate at the First German People's Congress which met in Berlin on December 6 and 7, 1947, at the Ger-man Opera House. There were 2,215 representatives from all anti-fascist, democratic parties, trade unions and other mass organizations, production councils, representatives of the peasantry, of the scientific and cultural workers from all parts of Germany. The Congress was the first nationwide representative organ of the German people after the Second World War. It called for the institution of a central German government from representatives of all democratic parties and for holding elections to the National Assembly. It supported the proposal for holding a referendum on the question of Germany's political and economic unity repeatedly put forward by the SED. The delegation elected by the Congress of which I was a member was to submit to the Council of Foreign Ministers, (8) which was meeting from November 25 to December 15, 1947, in London, the German people's view concerning the conclusion of the peace treaty and restoration of Germany's state unity. However, it was denied entry into Britain. This threw light on the stand taken by the Western powers. But still more indicative was the fact that the foreign ministers of the Western countries opposed the Soviet Union's proposal for concluding a democratic peace treaty with Germany and immediately forming a German government. They pressed for a revision of the Potsdam agreements.


When in the spring of 1948 it became still more evident that the Western powers allied with the reactionary circles of the Western zones were systematically destroying Germany’s unity in all social spheres, the acute need for self-aid arose. This task was accomplished by the Second People’s Congress held on March 17-18, 1948. | was among the members of the German People’s Council formed by this People’s Congress and was also a member of its Presidium. The Congress decided to hold a nationwide poll on the referendum concerning the question of Germany's unity.


From May 23 to June 13, 1948, about 14.7 million electors put their signatures to the poll lists. This totaled 38 per cent of the electorate in all zones. Despite the ban imposed by the American, British and French military administrations on conducting the people's poll, about 1.5 million citizens in the Western zones likewise added their signatures. Thus, legal prerequisites were created for the referendum. On July 7, 1948, we, members of the Presidium of the German People’s Council, carefully studied the results of the nationwide poll and applied to the Supreme Commanders of the occupation forces of the four powers for permission to hold the referendum. Significantly enough, the military administrations of the Western zones did not even take note of this application. It was supported only by the Soviet Military Administration in Germany.


DENUNCIATION OF THE SEPARATE ACTIONS


In the Soviet Union and the countries of people's democracy the patriotic forces of our people had reliable allies in the struggle for unifying the country on a democratic foundation. The conference of the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, held in Warsaw on June 23-24, 1948, denounced the separate talks conducted by the Western powers in London from February to March and from April to June 1948 and the results of these talks as a gross violation of the agreements reached by the states of the anti-Hitler coalition. The conference demanded joint actions of the four occupying powers with the aim of ensuring complete demilitarization of Germany and preventing the restoration of German-imperialism’s war potential. The conference supported the People’s Congress movement and its striving to create a democratic government, expressing readiness to conclude with such a government a peace treaty on the basis of inter-national law as provided in the Potsdam agreement.


At the Paris session of the foreign ministers of the USSR, USA, France and Great Britain, which opened on May 23, 1949, the Soviet delegation again strongly opposed the policy of division of the country pursued by the Western powers. It demanded a return to the principles of the Potsdam agreement, the drafting of a peace treaty and the withdrawal of the occupying troops, and proposed to receive a delegation of the German People's Council. Wide circles of the German people warmly responded to the Soviet proposal.


In the spring of 1949 the struggle for a unified democratic German state entered a decisive stage. On May 15 and 16, 1949, direct general elections by secret ballot to the Third German People's Congress were held in the Soviet zone and in the democratic sector of Berlin. Bans and persecution made it impossible to hold free and democratic elections in the Western zones and Western sectors of Berlin.



BY THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE


Of the more than 12.8 million electors who participated in the elections over 7.9 million, or almost two-thirds, voted for the joint list of candidates submitted by all political parties and mass organizations. I was one of the elected candidates.


The Third German People's Congress met in Berlin on May 29-30, 1949. It elected a new People's Council and ap-proved the draft of the Constitution of the German Democratic Republic. This draft, in the making of which I too happened to participate, was prepared in the course of 1948 on the initiative of the SED and was submitted for discussion by the people in all parts of Germany.


In contrast to the Bonn Basic Law drafted behind closed doors and behind the backs of working people, our draft Constitution was discussed openly, on a broad and democratic basis. The people discussed it at meetings, in newspapers and over the radio. Some 15,000 resolutions and 503 proposals with amendments and supplements were forwarded to the German People's Council. The 1,969 delegates of the Third People's Congress from all occupation zones appealed to the German people to organize a mass movement with the aim of preventing the state secession of the Western zones and their incorporation into the system of imperialist pacts directed against the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.


The People's Congress movement grew in strength and began to develop into a general national front. It united all sections of the population from the working class to the patriotically-minded bourgeoisie.


On October 4, 1949, the SED Board took a decision to discuss with other democratic parties and mass organizations the question of formation of a provisional government for the German Democratic Republic. It adopted the document "The National Front of Democratic Germany and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany" which became a common platform for the patriotic forces of the German people.


The Presidium of the German People's Council and the bloc of anti-fascist, democratic parties decided at their joint session to convene the German People's Council in Berlin on October 7, 1949. It was to adopt a decision of historic im-portance. At the plenary meeting of the SED Board on October 4, 1949, mentioned above, SED Chairman Wilhelm Pieck (9) said: "We have long been thinking of whether we should put forward the proposal of forming the government of the German Democratic Republic...The situation is so serious that this step has become necessary.” Millions of working people in the Soviet occupation zone demanded the immediate establishment of the German Democratic Republic at their meetings and demonstrations, and in resolutions and letters to the SED and the German People’s Council. The parties and mass organizations could not but reckon with this demand of millions. In a letter forwarded to the German People’s Council | expressed the hope, on behalf of the Free German Youth, that steps would be taken without delay to form an all-German government.




AN AGE-OLD DREAM REALIZED


What many people in our country dreamed of, including our younger generation, became a reality in October 1949.


We had the alternative before us: either to strengthen the anti-fascist, democratic state and steadily carry out revolutionary transformations on the road to socialism or renounce the anti-imperialist, democratic gains and permit the restoration of the monopoly-capitalist regime. Quite naturally, we settled this question in favour of the former and created our worker and peasant state. This met the requirements of the epoch of the worldwide transition from capitalism to socialism. Mindful of the lessons of this century, in the course of which German imperialism twice unleashed devastating world wars, we set the aim of creating a state in which the socio-economic, political and spiritual roots of imperialism, militarism and fascism would be extirpated once and for all. Power must be in the hands of the working people and the supreme foreign policy principle must be peace and friendship among peoples.


On October 7, 1949, the German People’s Council met in session in Berlin under the chairmanship of Wilhelm Pieck. On the proposal of the SED and other parties of the bloc and mass organizations, the People’s Council was reorganized into a Provisional People’s Chamber of the German Democratic Republic. The deputies approved the Constitution adopted by the Third German People’s Congress. It embedded in law the results of the anti-fascist democratic transformations carried out after the liberation from nazism. Revolutionary gains became constitutional principles: exercise of state power by the working class allied with the working peasantry and other working people, removal of monopoly capital and big landlords from power, creation of the public sector in the national economy, affirmation of the role of trade unions as the biggest class organization. "The Fundamental Rights of the Younger Generation” proclaimed in 1946 became constitutional principles too. For the first time in German history the Constitution guaranteed the unlimited right of young people reaching the age of 18 to participate in state life, the right to work, education, rest and leisure and happiness.


Just as for all those involved in the historic act of the proclamation of the GDR, it was a memorable event for me too. What the revolutionary German working class movement and the finest sons of our people fought for for a long time was now becoming a reality.


According to the Constitution, the candidate for the post of Prime Minister was nominated by the biggest faction of the People’s Chamber. The SED named its Chairman Otto Grotewohl (10) for this post. He was instructed to form the government.


On the instruction of the government of the USSR, Army General V. I. Chuikov, (11) Supreme Commander of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, on October 10, 1949, handed over to the state organs of the GDR the functions of government which until then were performed by the Soviet Military Administration. This step of the CPSU and the Soviet government was a new manifestation of the Soviet Union's internationalist policy in relation to the German people.


Editor’s Notes


1. SED—Socialist Unity Party of Germany formed in April 1946 in the eastern part of Germany as a result of a merger on the principles of revolutionary Marxism of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The SED led a bloc of democratic parties and organizations, which also included the Democratic Farmers’ Party of Germany (DBD), the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD) and the National Democratic Party of Germany (NDP). In the western part of Germany the reactionary circles of the German bourgeoisie, the Western occupying powers and right-wing leaders of social democracy prevented the unification of workers’ parties. The Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party continued to exist there as independent parties. The programme adopted by the Social Democratic Party in 1959 officially declared its complete rejection of Marxism.


2. Morgenthau plan—the plan for the postwar division and decentralization on Germany advanced by US Secretary of Treasury Henry Morgenthau in.


3. After the defeat of Hitler Germany its territory was divided into four occupation zones -- three in the Western part (the American, British and French zones) and one, Soviet zone, in the eastern part of Germany.


4. The Potsdam agreement was signed at the conference of the heads of government of the main victor powers in the Second World War -- the USSR, the USA and Great Britain -- which met in Potsdam (near Berlin) from July 17 to August 2, 1945. It envisaged demilitarization and denazification of Germany, fixed the amount of reparations, defined Poland's Western frontier, confirmed the transfer to the USSR of Kénigsberg and the adjacent area and a number of other measures aimed at preventing the future emergence of a hotbed of war danger in this part of Europe.


5. Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) -- Chairman of the Christian Democratic Union in the postwar period; Federal Chancellor of the FRG from 1949. He pursued the course for remilitarization of the FRG and the revival of nazism, for the revision of the postwar settlement in Europe.


6. Max Reimann (1898-1977) -- prominent figure in the German and international communist movement, in 1948-1954 Chairman, from 1954 First Secretary and from 1971 Honorary President of the KPD Board.


7. The Saar region in the FRG, bordering on France. After the Second World War it was part of the French occupation zone of Germany and on January 1, 1957 it was incorporated in the FRG.


8. The Council of Foreign Ministers was instituted in 1945 by a decision of the Potsdam conference as an international organ composed of the Foreign Ministers of the USSR, the USA, Great Britain, France and China for carrying out preparatory work for a peaceful settlement after the end of the Second World War. It held six sessions, the last one in 1949.


9. Wilhelm Pieck (1876-1960)—prominent figure in the German and international communist movement, one of the founders of the KPD (1918) and the SED (1946), first President of the GDR (from 1949).


10. Otto Grotewohl (1894-1964), prominent figure in the German and international communist movement, one of the founders and in 1946-1954 one of the two co-chairmen of the SED; from 1949 was a member of the SED CC Political Bureau and Prime Minister of the GDR.


11. Vasily Chuikov (1900-1982) -- Soviet army leader, from 1955 Marshal of the Soviet Union.


A chapter from Erich Honecker’s book From My Life, Moscow, Politizdat, 1982 (in Russian)

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