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What Happened to the Ruling Party of East Germany?

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Previous: What Happened to the East German Security Police (Stasi) and the Internal Police?

Transformation of the Ruling Party of East Germany

The state apparatus of East Germany was all under the command of the ruling party of East Germany, the SED (Socialist Unity Party). 

Gysi 1989

Gregor Gysi in 1989

Since unification, the party was renamed “Party of Democratic Socialism” (PDS) and “re-invented” by its social-democratic faction, headed by Gregor Gysi. Then, in 2005, it formed an electoral alliance with a West German movement, Labor and Social Justice – the Electoral Alternative (WASG), which was a reaction to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) going rightward. Then, in 2007 the two factions – WASG and PDS - merged into a single party, “The Left” (Die Linke). Since that time, the party is the third largest party in Germany in parliament (in 2013 elections), after the Christian Democratic Union (of Angela Merkel), and the Social Democrats. 

In more detail:

Flagge der SED.svg

The red flag of the SED bears the SED logo, which portrays the handshake between Communist Wilhelm Pieck and Social Democrat Otto Grotewohl when their parties merged in 1946.

“The communist party that ran East Germany was the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands–SED). Founded in 1946, the SED controlled the government and the electoral process and supervised the omnipresent State Security Service (Staatssicherheitsdienst–Stasi). To be considered for important positions in East German government and society, membership in the party was a requirement” (Country-data).

Wikipedia continues the story:

“During the second session of the SED’s final party conference on 16 December 1989 the party accepted a proposal from Gregor Gysi that the party adopt a new name, “Party of Democratic Socialism”, to distance the reformed party from its communist past. The proposal came directly after a speech from Michael Schumann highlighting the injustices perpetrated under the SED, and distancing the conference from certain high profile party leaders – notably Erich Honecker and Egon Krenz. Above all Schumann’s speech opened the way for the party to reinvent itself, using a phrase that was later much quoted: “We break irrevocably with Stalinism as a system!”,[10][11] A brief transitional period as the SED/PDS followed. By the end of 1989, the last hardline members of the party’s Central Committee had either resigned or been pushed out, followed in 1990 by 95% of the SED’s 2.3 million members.”

The PDS, headed by Gysi, adopted a kind of a social-democratic stand on social issues, which the mainstream “Wikipedia” labels as “political responsibility” and “pragmatic, rather than ideological party”. In 2000, Gysi resigned, following a lost policy debate with party leftists.

Die Linke
Wikipedia writes :

Since German reunification, the PDS has frequently been the target of suspicions that leading members were connected with East Germany’s secret police, the Stasi. Shortly after the 2005 federal election, Marianne Birthler, the official in charge of the Stasi archives, accused the Left Party of harboring at least seven former Stasi informants in its newly elected parliamentary group”.

Spiegel, in 2007 “Letter from Berlin”, writes: “Germany’s political elite are concerned that the Left Party may not be completely committed to democracy. Fully 40,000 of the Left Party’s 72,000 members were previously members of East Germany’s Communist Party, the SED.»

Bundestag 2009 Linke.svg

Election results for "The Left" in 2009 elections. Notice marked difference between East and West Germany in support for "The Left".

On “
The Left party” Wikipedia writes:

The party is the most left-wing party of the four represented in the Bundestag, and has been called far-left by German government authorities and different international media.[7][8][9] Some of its internal factions are under observation by some states’ or the federal Verfassungsschutz (constitutional protection) authorities on account of suspected extremist tendencies.[13] In Bavaria, the entire party is under surveillance”.

“The Left includes many different factions, ranging from communists to social democrats. In March 2007, during the joint party convention of Left Party and WASG, a document outlining political principles was agreed on. The official program of the party was decided upon by an overwhelming majority at the party conference in October 2011 in Erfurt, Thuringia.

The party’s fiscal policies are based on Keynesian economics, originating from the 1930s when governments responded to the Great Depression. The central bank and government should collaborate with expansionary fiscal and monetary policies in order to ameliorate business cycles, to support economic growth, and to reduce unemployment. Wage rises in the private sector should be determined through the productivity growth, the target inflation rate of the European Central Bank, and master contracts.

The party aims at increasing government spending in the areas of public investments, education, research and development, culture, and infrastructure, as well as increasing taxes for large corporations. It calls for increases in inheritance tax rates and the reinstatement of the individual “net worth” tax...

The financial markets should be subject to heavier government regulation, with the goal, among others, to reduce the speculation of bonds and derivatives. The party wants to strengthen anti-trust laws and empower cooperatives to azismzede the economy. Further economic reforms shall include solidarity and more self-determination for workers, a ban on gas and oil fracking, the rejection of privatization and the introduction of a federal minimum wage”.

“Concerning foreign policy, The Left calls for international disarmament, while ruling out any form of involvement of the Bundeswehr outside of Germany. The party calls for a replacement of NATO with a collective security system including Russia as a member country…

The Left supports further debt cancellations for developing countries and increases in development aid, in collaboration with the United NationsWorld Trade OrganizationWorld Bank, and diverse bilateral treaties among countries. The party supports reform of the United Nations as long as it is aimed at a fair balance between developed and developing countries. All American military bases within Germany, and if possible in the European Union, enacted within a binding treaty, shall be dissolved…

The party has a mixed stance towards the recent Ukraine crisis. Gregor Gysi has described Russia as “state capitalist”, and the party has called Russia annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine “illegal”. However, Gysi has noted that “older” elements of the party have a strong penchant for Russia and the Soviet Union.[34] The party declared in May 2014 that Ukraine shouldn’t receive any kind of support from Germany as long as it is ruled by “fascists”.[35] A number of party members have been very supportive of Russian interests, and deputies of the party supported and observed the referendum held by the pro-Russian groups in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea."

In short, we see a capitalist reformist party, a new incarnation of German Social Democrats, somewhat similar to "Independent Social Democrats" of 1917. Perhaps, within the party there is its own "Spartacist" faction.  

In spite of its muddled program, “The Left” is gaining power. British “The Telegraph” writes in 2014:

“The Left Party, widely seen as the successor to the SED, East Germany’s communist party, is expected to head the government of a German state for the first time since reunification, after the Social Democrats voted to enter a coalition with them in the state of Thuringia…

The state – the birthplace of the composer Bach and home to the city of Weimar, where Goethe and Schiller worked – was part of communist-ruled East Germany until reunification.

The Social Democrats, Mrs Merkel’s coalition partner at the national level, have voted to reject an alliance with her Christian Democrats in Thuringia, in favour of becoming junior partner in a government headed by the Left Party. The expected coalition would be completed by the Greens”.

Hence, we see a coalition of “The Left”, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens in Thuringia.

SW

Sahra Wagenknecht

The split of the German society, between the East and the West, is reflected in the on-going struggle between leaders of "The Left" party, Sahra Wagenknecht, formerly of West German WASG, and Gregor Gysi, formerly of East German SED. The two strongly distrust each other and almost never appear together on stage.

In short, we can say that the East German ruling party has not been repressed, but has transformed itself into the 3rd largest party in unified Germany, and has made a comeback to power in some former East German states.

Surely, after this we can not say that the East German state apparatus has been completely repressed. 

Next: Differences Between East and West German Societies After Unification

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