Walter Ulbricht


Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

(b. 30 June 1893, d. 1 Aug. 1973).

East German leader 1949–71 Born in Leipzig, he was a joiner and became a member of the SPD in 1912. Ulbricht joined the Communist Party (KPD) upon its foundation in 1919, becoming part of its leadership in 1923. After a brief period in Soviet Russia he served as a member of the parliament of Saxony (1926–8), and in 1928 was elected to the national parliament. He remained there until the Nazi ban on the KPD following the Reichstag Fire of 1933.

Ulbricht emigrated first to France and then to the Soviet Union, where he was groomed for the role he was to take up after the war when he returned to Soviet‐occupied Eastern Germany at the head of the ‘Ulbricht Group’ to reform the KPD. In 1946, he became one of the moving spirits behind a unification of the SPD and the KPD. Even though the first East German President was Wilhelm Piek, and the first Prime Minister was Otto Grotewohl, the real power in the new East Germany lay with Ulbricht, owing to his connections with the Soviet Union. He became the Communist Party leader in 1950, replaced Piek in 1960 in the office of President of the State Council, and became Chairman of the Defence Council in the same year.

Under Ulbricht, the Communist Party gained a very strong hold over the East German state and society, a fact which contributed significantly to the stability of East Germany relative to its Eastern European neighbours until the mid‐1980s. Ulbricht was bolstered by the success of the Berlin Wall, which had stopped the haemorrhage of skilled labour to West Germany. During his last years in office, he tried to steer a slightly more independent course from that of the Soviet Union. His self‐confident assertion that the GDR had advanced into a ‘model’ of socialism challenged the USSR, while his economic policies became increasingly erratic. With the consent of the Soviet Union, he was replaced by Honecker.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.