Communism in the GDR

By: Flo

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What is the GDR? How did it come about?

After the culmination of World War II, a defeated Germany was occupied & broken up into four zones, each zone administered by the Allied Powers (the winners). Upon the combination of the zones belonging to the Western Powers (the US, Great Britain, & France) into the Federal Republic of Germany, the Soviet Union responded by forming the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the east.

"In the GDR people were required to acknowledge an assortment of fictions as fact. Some of these fictions were fundamental, such as the idea that human nature is a work-in-progress which can be improved upon, & that Communism is the way to do it. Others were more specific: that East Germans were not the Germans responsible for the Holocaust; that the GDR was a multi-party democracy; that socialism was peace-loving." - Anna Funder, Stasiland

Communism in East Germany

Soviet authorities slowly transferred administrative responsibility to German communist leaders beginning in 1948. The GDR was often described as a “satellite state” of the Soviet Union. As this communist influence remained in the GDR through the entirety of the Cold War, the economy - meant to bridge the wealth disparity between individuals through the elimination of private property & business - prompted many to flee. East Germany experienced a high rate of exodus coupled with an extremely low birth rate, not the best combination. Young workers with a higher education sought more recognition & better opportunity & escaped to the West. This growing loss of skilled workers was intended to be curtailed with the building of the Berlin Wall, keeping East Berliners in.

Why did the GDR fall?

Essentially, the fall of communism in the GDR can be attributed to the reform efforts of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the stubbornness of Eastern communist leaders, & ultimately the will of the people. The GDR’s government, led by Erich Honecker (*pictured right*) after 1971, counted on Soviet support & resilience to continue & save the communist regime. With Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalizing of the Soviet regime as the new head of the USSR & anti-communist movements gathering strength in Central & Eastern Europe, the GDR appeared to be an invincible fortress with a solid communist foundation, supported by the army & a vast band of secret police, the “Stasi”. However, Gorbachev was wary of military intervention in the West & attempted to persuade his communist counterparts to embrace reform. Honecker strictly refused, but at this point he was outnumbered. Egon Krenz replaced Honecker as leader of the Communist Party & Hans Modrow, in favor of reform, became the head of the East German government. This changing of hands had come a little too late, though. The people had spoken - German demonstrators in the east demolished the Berlin Wall - a structure that had come to represent more than just the separation of East & West - in 1989, eager to “shop the window of the West.” To appease the people, GDR leaders soon promised free elections, leading to the inevitable defeat of socialism. Lothar de Maizière, a Christian Democrat, became the new head of government, declaring himself & his state in favor of a unified Germany, to be included in NATO & the European Community. The reunification of Germany would be determined & finalized by Western leader Helmut Kohl in the next year. Communism & the GDR ceased to exist.