Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries > German Democratic Republic (East Germany)
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 780-781
The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Following World War II and the division of Germany into occupation zones for the major Allied Powers, the Soviets allowed political groups in their eastern zone to prepare for the founding of a separate German state. The major party organization to emerge was the Socialist Unity Party (SED), which was formed in 1946 from a fusion of the Communists and Social Democrats. Four minor parties were led by the SED in a National Front, which backed a series of People's Congresses resulting in the preparation and adoption of a constitution for the German Democratic Republic (GDR) by May 1949. By the end of the year, a provisional legislature was formed and Wilhelm Pieck was named president of the republic. The first government was headed by Otto Grotewohl (SED) and involved a coalition of all the parties in the National Front.

Soviet participation in the GDR government remained direct and active for several years thereafter, with Soviet withdrawal from GDR domestic politics coming in a series of stages. In March 1954, after declaring the end of war reparations from GDR, the Soviets recognized the GDR as a sovereign state. Although the GDR became a signatory of the Warsaw Pact in May 1955, it was not accepted as a full member until January 1956.

By the end of 1957, twelve Communist countries had recognized the GDR and established some form of diplomatic relationships with its government. Following Pieck's death in 1960, the executive branch was reorganized with the presidency replaced by a Council of State. Walter Ulbricht, first secretary of the SED, was named first chairman of the council. Grotewohl continued as prime minister throughout our period, always heading a coalition government composed of all the original parties of the National Front, dominated by the SED.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Although the German Democratic Republic has more parties than most of the parties in our study, it also has one of the most stable party systems. All five of the original parties continued through 1978, and no new parties were formed

Original Parties, Continuing

 631 Socialist Unity Party. Despite the existence of four other parties, the SED is clearly the dominant party in the GDR. Walter Ulbricht headed both the party and the state until 1971, when Eric Honecker took over as party secretary. When Ulbricht died in 1973 he was succeeded as head of state by Willi Stoph. In 1976, Honecker replaced Stoph as head of state, thus reuniting the top state and party posts in one person.

632 Christian Democratic Union. Allied with the SED in the National Front of Germany, the CDU has continued in the legislature with its allotment of seats under the Front

633 National Democratic Party. Also in the National Front, the NDPD plays its part by appealing to ex-Nazi party members and sympathizers.

634 Liberal Democratic Party. The LDPD is intended to attract those inclined toward notions of civil liberties.

635 Democratic Peasant's Party. The DBD has the role in the Front of communicating with farmers.


The four lesser parties in the GDR are clearly not autonomous organizations, but they are not meaningless from the standpoint of government. Their function has been described as serving as transmission belts for disseminating information to various segments of society. It is unlikely that any of these organizations will mobilize governmental opposition in the near future.

[For party politics in East Germany since 1962, see the unified Germany essay by Kimberly A. Allan]

1. Our study of party politics in East Germany is based on a file of 970 pages from 58 documents, all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by John C. Thomas. Raymond Duvall used the file to code the East German parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Our consultant was Arthur Hanhardt.