Political Activity Resumes in Germany
Chapter section from:
Airbridge to Berlin --- The Berlin Crisis of 1948, its Origins and Aftermath
By D.M. Giangreco and Robert E. Griffin
(Used with permission)
As noted earlier, the Soviets permitted political activity almost immediately after the cessation of hostilities, gave the Communist Party a head start and strong support, split the opposition by authorizing two "bourgeois" political parties, and required all political parties in the Soviet Zone to join an "anti-Fascist" blocked by the Communist KPD. At first, the Communists seemed uncertain about what policy to follow in their relationship with the Socialist SPD-whether to advocate unification of the two worker's parties or not.
The SPD national leaders were still in London awaiting permission to return to Germany when the SPD was permitted to reorganize in the Soviet Zone and Berlin. There were two factions in this newly reorganized SPD; one group favored the formation of a new party based on the principles of the British Labor Party. A second group, headed by Otto Grotewohl, favored organization of a unified worker's party and had contacted the Communist KPD with this proposal. From June 1945 to October 1945, the KPD, while not shutting the door completely to unification with the SPD, retained a reserved wait and see attitude.
Strangely, it was the first post-war elections in neighboring Austria in November 1945, which proved the determining factor. Prior to the Austrian elections, the Austrian Communists had predicted they would win as many seats as the Socialists. However, the election results proved to be a disaster for the Austrian Communists, who like their German comrades had become closely identified with the Soviet Army which had raped, looted, and terrorized the civilian populace. The Austrian Peoples Party won 85 seats, the Social Democrats 76, and the Communists only four. If there had been any doubts in the KPD concerning the necessity for unification with the SPD, they vanished overnight.(32)
From November 1945 until April 1946, when the KPD forced through the merger with the SPD in the Soviet Zone of Germany, the Communists actively campaigned for unification. At first the Communists used propaganda and political pressure. However, when the SPD still hesitated, the Communists resorted to physical pressure in the form of arrests by Soviet military authorities.
In January 1946, an SPD party conference was held in Frankfurt/Main in the US Zone and the party members over whelmingly rejected unification with the KPD. The SPD complained of Soviet pressure on SPD functionaries in the Soviet Zone, but the decisions of the SPD conference were banned from publication or even oral communication in the Soviet Zone.(33)
On March 31, 1946, a referendum on the merger was held by the SPD rank and file in the three Western sectors of Berlin and the proposed unification of the SPD with the Communist KPD was overwhelmingly defeated. The referendum was banned in the Soviet Sector of Berlin by the Soviet military authorities.
Regardless, on April 21,1946, the KPD and a renegade faction of the SPD led by Otto Grotewohl merged in the Soviet Zone to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Although nominally the former Social Democrats shared power for a short time, the SED was controlled by the Communists led by Ulbricht and Pieck. The SED became a classical Communist party organization for controlling the state and government which it does today in East Germany.
The SPD expelled Grotewohl and his followers and was permitted to continue as an independent party in Berlin. Pieck immediately labeled the SPD-Berlin a "sickman's club" and a "joke," but the joke proved to be on Pieck.
During the fall of 1946, the first local elections were held in the Soviet Zone. The SED, in spite of all its support by Soviet military authorities, control of the press and radio, and other incentives, was not able to gain a clear majority. In Berlin, where the SED had to compete with the SPD and other parties in a free election supervised by the four occupying powers, the SED suffered an overwhelming defeat. More than 92 percent of the eligible voters went to the polls with the SPD-Berlin capturing 48.7 percent of the vote, the CDU 22.2 percent, the SED 19.8 percent, and the LDP 9.3 percent. This resulted in the Berlin City Assembly consisting of 130 seats to have the following makeup: SPD 63, CDU 29, SED 26, and LDP 12.
Although the 1946 Berlin election should have resulted in the wholesale replacement of the Communist functionaries installed by the Soviet military authorities before the US, British, and French forces arrived, such was not the case. The Soviets used stalling tactics and their veto power in the Berlin Kommandatura when the City Assembly attempted to make appointments under the new Berlin constitution which had been approved by the four occupying powers prior to the election. Under the Berlin constitution, the City Assembly (legislative body) elects the Lord Mayor and the Magistrat (executive body). However, under Article 36 of the constitution, there was a stipulation that all legislative enactments and instructions of the Magistrat, and the appointment and discharge of leading officials required the sanction (approval by unanimous vote) of the Allied Kommandatura to become effective.