Socialist Equality Party (Germany)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Germany)

The division of Germany

119. The division of Germany was an important precondition for both the stabilisation of European capitalism and the maintenance of control over the working class. Fears of an overly powerful Germany had characterised the history of Europe since 1871. Now, the Federal Republic was only half the size of the erstwhile German Reich. A quarter of its territory had gone to the Soviet Union and Poland, and another fifth constituted the GDR. The Federal Republic’s population was only slightly higher than that of France, Italy or Great Britain. This was the prerequisite for its integration into an economic alliance with its western neighbours that would finally develop into the European Union. The German working class, with its long Marxist tradition, had been split apart. In the GDR, the SED suppressed any independent political movement from below. In the FRG, the SPD declared its total obeisance to capitalism, exploited the repression of the East German working class in its propaganda and encouraged anti-communism, while at the same time suffocating any attempt at a joint mobilisation of workers in the east and west of the country. In 1953, the SPD prevented any spread of the workers’ uprising from East to West Berlin. In 1956, when Soviet troops moved in to crush the Hungarian workers’ revolt, and great numbers of West Berlin workers marched in solidarity towards the Brandenburg gate, the former SAP functionary and later German Chancellor Willy Brandt (SPD) personally held them back. With the onset of Brandt’s Ostpolitik, the SPD leadership developed close links with the SED, while the West German government assisted the GDR regime with billions in credit.

120. The ruling bureaucracy of the GDR was highly conscious of its antagonism to the socialist strivings of the working class. This was reflected in the fact that the GDR was not founded in the name of socialism. Instead, the emphasis was placed on nationalism. Conscious attempts were made to integrate right-wing forces; former members and officers of the NSDAP were given amnesties and permitted to found their own party, the NDPD (National Democratic Party of Germany). The founding manifesto of the parliament of the GDR bore the title “The National Front of democratic Germany” and made no mention of socialism as an aim of state policy. Between 1948 and 1951, the SED expelled from its ranks several tens of thousands of former workers and old communists who had links to the revolutionary past of the KPD and the working class, as well as former social democrats. They were replaced with faithful party apparatchiks. At the start of the 1950s, the great majority of the SED membership consisted of functionaries from the party, state and industry. It was only after the bureaucracy had secured its dictatorship that the SED announced it would proceed with the “planned establishment of the foundations of socialism in the GDR”.

121. However, the GDR lacked the most elementary conditions for the construction of a socialist society: workers’ democracy and access to the world economy. If it could not be established “in a single country” in the much bigger Soviet Union, socialism could certainly not be built in the GDR, with its 17 million inhabitants. This fact was not altered by the GDR’s economic relations with other Eastern European countries, which remained little developed and subject to bureaucratic arbitrariness. The fundamental problems of the GDR fully emerged as the economic situation gradually began to improve. The construction of a highly developed industrial society required access to the technology and division of labour of the world economy. The bureaucracy sought to resolve this problem by establishing close relations with the FRG. Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik enabled the GDR to acquire Western loans and technology, while West Germany obtained new markets for its products in the east. The GDR’s foreign trade with capitalist countries began to grow much more rapidly than its trade with COMECON countries. At the end of the 1970s, 30 percent of GDR trade was with the West, including 10 percent with the FRG. The country increasingly developed into an extended workbench for West European industry, and the result was a definite improvement in living standards. The lack of consumer goods visibly eased. But by utilising the resources of the world economy, the GDR became vulnerable to its fluctuations and crises. It was not able to keep up with the rapid growth in labour productivity augured by computer technology and the globalisation of production. Between 1973 and 1986, the GDR’s world share of industrial exports fell from 3.9 to just 0.9 percent, while its dependence on Western loans increased. The economic situation appeared increasingly hopeless.

122. The SED rejected a revolutionary perspective for the West German working class. In the mid-1960s, the party endeavoured to cut off East German workers from the militant struggles and protests carried out by workers and students in the FRG. At the peak of these struggles, in 1968, a deal was reached between East Germany and the West German Justice Ministry to readmit the banned KPD under the new name DKP. The DKP, which remained politically and financially dependent on the East German bureaucracy, bitterly opposed revolutionary movements in West Germany and functioned as a police force for the trade union bureaucracy.

123. Official West German propaganda presented the FRG as an exemplary democratic state. But the Federal Republic was just as little the result of the democratic completion of the bourgeois revolution as the Weimar Republic had been. Its founding was accompanied by the rehabilitation of the old elites, who were needed in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. After the conviction of some prominent Nazis in the Nuremberg trials, legal proceedings against war criminals ceased. Likewise, de-nazification measures in the state apparatus. Business magnates who had been condemned were allowed to keep their fortunes and continue their activities. In the legal apparatus, no one at all was brought to account. In business, the judiciary, the administration, and in the universities of the Federal Republic, one could find numerous former pillars of the Nazi regime.

124. The mass of the population was excluded from direct involvement in the establishment of the new state. There was no elected constituent assembly; the Grundgesetz was written by an expert committee and then ratified by the state parliaments. There was no popular vote. The Grundgesetz contains numerous restrictions on the sovereignty of the people. The tradition of Prussian authoritarianism was expressed “in restrictions of the lawmakers and of the voters’ will that are probably without parallel in any other democratic constitution”.[1] Thus, parties can be banned for being unconstitutional and fundamental rights forfeited. Certain Grundgesetz articles possess an eternal character and cannot be changed either by the people or by parliament. The core of democracy is defined not as the protection of the citizen from arbitrary state actions, but as the protection of the state from the will of the people. The state embodies “wehrhafte Demokratie” (militant democracy) and is obliged to oppose the will of the people and “to protect majorities from themselves in that it may withdraw certain inalienable values and freedom-securing institutions from their will”.[2] This was justified with the thesis of the “collective guilt” of the German people for the crimes of National Socialism.

125. The authoritarian tendencies of the Grundgesetz found their sharpest expression in the banning of the KPD in 1956 and the Emergency Laws adopted by the CDU/CSU and SPD in 1968, at the height of the French general strike. The KPD prohibition “was a political decision, arising from the anti-communist state doctrine of the young Federal Republic”.[3] After pages of quotes from Marxist classics, the Federal Constitutional Court declared “Marxism-Leninism” to be incompatible with the “free democratic basic order as defined by the Grundgesetz”. It thereby created a precedent for the ruthless persecution of any political tendency that invokes revolutionary Marxism and fights against capitalism. Approximately 7,000 KPD members received prison sentences, some for several years. In some cases, the courts considered it an aggravating circumstance if the accused had already been locked up in the Third Reich for KPD membership. KPD members were banned from following their profession (Berufsverbot) and had their passports withheld; communist students were not permitted to take their university exams. Parents had their child care accreditation revoked because of their political views. Survivors of the war had their legal pension payments cancelled; compensation for those who had suffered injustice under the Nazis was refused, disallowed or had to be paid back. The Emergency Laws, which still apply today, gave the government the power to set aside constitutionally guaranteed basic rights and establish a semi-dictatorial regime.


Heinrich August Winkler, Der lange Weg nach Westen. Zweiter Band. Deutsche Geschichte vom ‘Dritten Reich’ bis zur Wiedervereinigung, Munich 2000, p. 133.




Christoph Seils, Geist der NS-Zeit, ZEIT online 17.8.2006.