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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Socialist Unity Party of Germany formed April 21, 1946

Rally for the tenth anniversary of the formation of the German Democratic Republic, 1959

The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) was formed at a conference in Berlin, April 21 1946. It emerged as a merger between the Communist Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party of Germany in the eastern part of Germany.

The SED would play the central role in the creation of the socialist workers' state, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949 and would serve in a leadership role in the GDR until the counter-revolutionary European wave and the overthrow of socialism in 1989.

We have republished an informative look at the history of the SED from 1946 until 1979 from the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979):

Stamp in honour of the 20th Anniversary of the formation of the SED, GDR 1966

Socialist Unity Party of Germany

(Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands; SED), a party founded in April 1946 through the merger, on the basis of Marxism, of the Communist Party of Germany and the Social Democratic Party of Germany. The Socialist Unity Party plays the leading role in the state affairs and public life of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The founding congress of the SED, held in April 1946, adopted the programmatic document “The Principles and Goals of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.” The document provided for the eradication of fascist and militarist vestiges in Germany, for the punishment of war criminals, for the elimination of postwar dislocation, for the comprehensive democratization of public life, and for the dissolution of the capitalist monopolies and nationalization of the basic means of production. It also supported the struggle to build a united, democratic, and peace-loving Germany. In addition, it held out a clear perspective for the future—the building of socialism. The founding congress also adopted party rules and elected a central executive committee, headed by joint chairmen W. Pieck and O. Grotewohl.

At its creation, the SED was envisaged as a united party of the entire German working class. However, the unification of the workers’ parties in West Germany was blocked by right-wing Social Democratic leaders, and SED activity in that part of the country was banned by the Western occupation authorities.

The Second Congress of the SED, held in September 1947, undertook to intensify the struggle for the economic and political unity of Germany on democratic foundations. In the face of the imperialist circles and West German rightist Social Democrats’ active pursuit of a policy of a divided Germany, the congress demanded a nationwide referendum on Germany’s form of government and the creation of administrative bodies for Germany as a whole. The congress also outlined measures for further restoration of the war-torn economy and consolidation of the antifascist-democratic order in the eastern part of Germany, called attention to the need to educate party members in the spirit of Marxism-Leninism, and oriented the party toward struggle against opportunist distortions of the party line.

As a result of the SED’s extensive work of organization and political education, done in cooperation with the antifascist-democratic parties and mass organizations and with the active support and help of the USSR, Nazism and militarism were thoroughly eradicated in the eastern part of Germany. The First Conference of the SED, held in January 1949, outlined a broad range of measures for transforming the SED into a party of a new type and for raising the level of ideological and organizational work. With the formation of the GDR on Oct. 7, 1949, the SED led the working people’s struggle for consolidation of the new state, development of the national-democratic foundations of state power, and peaceful transformation of the antifascist-democratic revolution into socialist revolution. The prewar level of industrial production was reached in mid-1950.

The Third Congress of the SED, which met in July 1950, approved the first five-year plan for the national economy of the GDR for the period 1951-55. It reelected Pieck and Grotewohl to the party chairmanship. At the same time, in accordance with the new party rules it adopted, it introduced the post of general secretary; W. Ulbricht was elected general secretary of the Central Committee of the SED, serving in this capacity until 1953 and as first secretary of the Central Committee from 1953 to 1971. The Second Conference of the SED, which met in July 1952, put forward the task of planned construction of the foundations of socialism in the GDR. It outlined a policy of expansion and reinforcement of the socialist sector in industry and socialist reorganization of the countryside and handicrafts production.

The Fourth Congress of the SED, which met in March and April 1954, noted that the socialist transformation in the GDR was progressing successfully and adopted the programmatic document “The Road to the Solution of the Vital Problems of the German Nation.” It adopted new party rules more consonant with the changed circumstances; in particular, it dropped the election of the two chairmen of the SED, until then required by the party rules. The Third Conference of the SED, which met in March 1956, confirmed the directives for the second five-year plan (1956-60).

The Fifth Congress of the SED, which met in July 1958, reviewed the GDR’s progress. It outlined the party’s next tasks in developing the economic foundations of socialist society and socialist production relations in the GDR, and it defined the party’s tasks in the struggle to preserve peace. The Sixth Congress of the SED, which met in January 1963, noted that socialist production relations had come to prevail in the GDR and that the foundations of socialism had been laid. It adopted a party program—a program of comprehensive construction of socialism in the GDR that defined the specific tasks of the SED in the coming historical period.

The Seventh Congress of the SED, which met in April 1967, specified the tasks of building a developed socialist society in the GDR. Since two sovereign states with different social systems—the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)—had come into existence in what was once Germany, the congress stressed that relations between the GDR and FRG should be conducted on the basis of equality, the accepted norms of international law, and the principles of peaceful coexistence.

The Eighth Congress of the SED, which met in June 1971, confirmed the directives for the five-year plan for the period 1971-75. It defined as the main task of the five-year plan further increases in material and cultural standards of living, to be achieved through rapid development and through increased efficiency of socialist production, scientific and technological progress, and higher labor productivity. The congress moved ahead under the theme of stronger relations between the GDR and the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. It approved the policy of Abgrenzung between the GDR and the FRG in all spheres of public life and the normalization of relations between the two German states in accordance with the accepted principles of international law [Abgrenzung is a policy by which the GDR emphasizes the existence of the two separate and distinct German states]. In late 1972, on the initiative of the GDR, the Treaty on the Basis of Relations Between the GDR and FRG was signed, representing a step forward in the implementation of this policy. The Eighth Congress, relying on the GDR’s experience with many years of development along the socialist path, substantiated the fundamental proposition that a socialist German nation had taken shape and grown to maturity in the GDR.

The Ninth Congress of the SED, held in May 1976, assessed the fulfillment of the five-year plan for 1971-75 and confirmed the directives for the five-year plan for the period 1976-80. It adopted a new party program, which mirrored the socioeconomic shifts that had taken place in the GDR over the years and the consolidation of the GDR’s international position; it confirmed the party’s policy of strengthening its fraternal alliance and expanding all forms of cooperation with the other socialist countries. The program defines the tasks involved in further construction of the developed socialist society in the GDR and involved in the creation of the fundamental prerequisites for the gradual transition to communism. The congress also approved new party rules, which restored the post of general secretary of the party; E. Honecker was elected general secretary of the Central Committee of the SED.

Within the National Front of the GDR and the bloc of democratic parties, the SED cooperates with the Christian Democratic Union, the Liberal Democratic Party, the National Democratic Party, and the Democratic Peasants’ Party. All democratic parties in the GDR acknowledge the SED’s leading role in society and give full support to the policies of the government.

SED delegations took part in the international conferences of communist and workers’ parties in Moscow in 1957, 1960, and 1969. The SED approved the documents adopted at these conferences.

The guiding principle of the SED’s organizational structure is democratic centralism. The party is organized on the territorial and production principle. It is divided into 16 Bezirk (regional) organizations, approximately 260 Kreis (district) organizations, and more than 74,000 primary and shop organizations. The party’s highest body is the congress; between congresses, the highest body is the Central Committee, which elects from its own members a Politburo and Secretariat and confirms the composition of the Central Party Control Commission. The general secretary of the Central Committee of the SED is E. Honecker. In May 1976 the SED had 2.043 million members and candidate members.

The SED’s central press organ is the newspaper Neues Deutschland, its theoretical organ is the journal Einheit, and its journal on questions of party building is Neuer Weg.

A list of congresses and conferences of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany is given in Table 1.



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