Socialist Unity Party of Germany

The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (German: Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands, SED), often known in English as the East German Communist Party,[2] was the founding and ruling party of the German Democratic Republic (GDR; East Germany) from the country's foundation in October 1949 until its dissolution after the Peaceful Revolution in 1989. It was a Marxist–Leninist[3] communist party, established in April 1946 as a merger between the East German branches of the Communist Party of Germany and Social Democratic Party of Germany.

Socialist Unity Party of Germany
Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands
Founded21 April 1946 (1946-04-21)
Dissolved16 December 1989 (1989-12-16)
Merger ofEast German branches of KPD and SPD
Succeeded byPDS
NewspaperNeues Deutschland
Youth wingFree German Youth
Paramilitary wingCombat Groups of the Working Class
Labour wingFree German Trade Union Federation
Membership (1989)2,260,979[1]
Political positionFar-left
National affiliation
International affiliationCominform (1947–1956)
Colours  Red
Anthem"Lied der Partei" ("Song of the Party")
Party flag

Although the GDR was a one-party state,[4] some other institutional popular front parties were permitted to exist in alliance with the SED; these parties included the Christian Democratic Union, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Farmers' Party, and the National Democratic Party. In the 1980s, the SED rejected the liberalisation policies of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, such as perestroika and glasnost, which would lead to the GDR's isolation from the restructuring USSR and the party's downfall in the autumn of 1989.

The SED was officially organized on the basis of democratic centralism, a principle conceived by Russian Marxist theoretician Vladimir Lenin which conceptualized a democratic and open discussion on policy on the condition of unity in upholding the agreed-upon policies. Theoretically, the highest body of the SED was the Party Congress, convened every fifth year. When the Party Congress was not in session, the Central Committee was the highest body, but since the body normally met only once a year most duties and responsibilities were vested in the Politburo and its Standing Committee, members of the latter being seen as the top leadership of the Party and the State within the State Council of East Germany from 1960 replacing the President of the German Democratic Republic.

Ideologically, the party, from its foundation, adhered to Marxism–Leninism, a fusion of the original ideas of the philosopher and economic theorist Karl Marx, and of Lenin, introduced by Joseph Stalin in 1929, formalized as the party's guiding ideology and remaining so throughout the rest of its existence. The party pursued state socialism, under which all industries in East Germany were nationalized, and a command economy was implemented. The SED made the teaching of Marxism–Leninism and the Russian language compulsory in schools.[5] Walter Ulbricht was the party's dominant figure and effective leader of East Germany from 1950 to 1971. In 1953, an uprising against the Party was met with violent suppression by the Ministry of State Security and the Soviet Army. In 1971, Ulbricht was succeeded by Erich Honecker who presided over a stable period in the development of the GDR until he was forced to step down during the 1989 revolution. The party's last leader, Egon Krenz, was unsuccessful in his attempt to retain the SED's hold on political governance of the GDR and was imprisoned after German reunification.

The SED's long-suppressed reform wing took over the party in the autumn of 1989. In hopes of changing its image, on 16 December it renamed itself the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), abandoning Marxism–Leninism and declaring itself a democratic socialist party. It received 16.4% of the vote in the 1990 parliamentary elections. In 2007, the PDS merged with Labour and Social Justice (WASG) into The Left (Die Linke), the sixth largest party in the German Parliament following the 2021 federal election.

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