Despite its middle name, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was a Communist dictatorship from the day it was founded on 7 October 1949. This is hardly disputed by historians. When East Germans went to the polls, they could not change their government or even alter the balance of forces within it. The Marxist— Leninist ‘Socialist Unity Party of Germany’ (SED) always occupied a hegemonic position within the political system and its ‘leading role’ was enshrined in the 1968 and 1974 constitutions. As for the so-called bourgeois parties and mass organizations, they were satellites of the Communists. Before 13 August 1961 the only way of voting meaningfully was with one’s feet, but even that possibility was removed once the Berlin Wall went up. Power was concentrated in the SED Politburo, often referred to as the ‘Council of Gods’ [39: 192]. The entire state was structured hierarchically in accordance with the Leninist principle of ‘democratic centralism’, the media was tightly controlled, the rule of law was more honoured in the breach than the observance, there was no separation of powers, and independent societal organizations were heavily proscribed.
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