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Ulbricht, Walter (1893–1973)

Subject History

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631209379.1999.x


First Secretary of the communist Social Unity Party (SED) in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) (1950–71). The son of a Saxon tailor, he completed his training as a cabinet‐maker before joining the German Social Democratic Party in 1912. He served in the army in the First World War and became a member of the Communist Party soon after it was formed in 1918. Ulbricht became a full‐time party employee and sat in the Reichstag as a communist deputy from 1928–33. When Hitler came to power he went to the Soviet Union, returning to Germany in 1945 to re‐establish the communist party there. A poor orator and colourless personality, he was an excellent organizer. When the SED was formed Ulbricht was a leading figure in it long before the GDR was formed in 1949. Then as General Secretary (changed to First Secretary in 1954) he established communist control of East Germany through the nomenklatura (the privileged élite he placed in the top party and government jobs) and the Stasi, the secret police which eventually kept files on over six million people and had a network of nearly two million informers. Ulbricht adopted the Soviet system of democratic centralism: all decisions were made by the Politburo, which the parliament then confirmed. No dissent was allowed. The public was indoctrinated in Marxism through state control of the media and education. In 1960 Ulbricht became Chairman ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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