Constitution of East Germany

The Constitution of East Germany refers to the constitution of the German Democratic Republic, commonly known as East Germany. Its original constitution was promulgated on 7 October 1949. It was heavily based on the "Weimarer Reichsverfassung", (Weimar Constitution)[1] such that the GDR would be a federal and democratic republic. In 1968 the East German government called for a new constitution. This new constitution was based on socialist principles, political unitarism, and collective leadership. There were further amendments to the 1968 constitution in 1974. With the political events of 1990, there were attempts to draft a new constitution. These efforts never materialized due to the dissolution of East Germany and its absorption into the Federal Republic.

Admiralspalast in Berlin, site of the German People's Congress where the first GDR constitution was drafted.

1949 constitutionEdit

Constitution of the German Democratic Republic
Draft of the GDR constitution, March 1949
Presented19 March 1949
Ratified30 May 1949
Date effective7 October 1949
Federal constitutional republic
Unitary constitutional republic
Head of state(1949-1960)
President of the Republic
ChambersUpper House: Länderkammer
Lower House: Volkshammer
ExecutiveCouncil of Ministers led by the Minister President
JudiciarySupreme Court
FederalismYes (1949-1952)
Commissioned byGerman People's Congress

The German People, imbued with the desire to safeguard human liberty and rights, to reshape collective and

economic life in accordance with the principles of social justice, to serve social progress, and to promote a

secure peace and amity with all peoples, have adopted this Constitution.

— Preamble to the 1949 Constitution[2]

Fundamentals of State AuthorityEdit

The constitution begins by declaring the indivisibility of the German people as a nationality, and supremacy of the Laender in politics. The federal government is to be limited in its authority to issues which affect the whole of the nation, all other affairs will fall to the states. Berlin is declared as the capital of the Republic.[3]

The people are declared as the true source of political authority. Citizens therefore have the right to engage in political life at the local, county, and national level. This participation includes the right to vote in elections, referendums, and initiatives. Citizens also have the right to stand for election, and have the right to enter into public life whether it be political office or in the administration of justice. Citizens also have the right to petition the government.[4]

Due to the authority emanating from the people, the constitution states the government must serve the common welfare of the people. This includes their personal liberty, providing for the general peace, and protecting democracy. Those people who are elected to office are ultimately responsible to their representative body and not to their individual party.[5]

The constitution of the Republic is declared as the basis for all governmental action and the government must abide by its principles. The people have the right to resist any action which takes place outside of these principles. The people of the Republic and the government are also subject to international laws and statutes.[6]

The Rights of the CitizenEdit

The second section of the constitution deals with the rights of citizens. All citizens are declared equal before the law. However a citizen convicted of a felony is disqualified from certain rights and privileges, including the right to vote and hold public office. Gender equality is enshrined and any law which limits the equality of women is abolished.[7]

Citizens have the right to personal liberty, privacy of the home and of the mail, and the right to live where they choose. Citizens have the right to freedom of expression within constitutionally applicable laws. This includes the freedom to assemble peacefully and unarmed. No person shall have these freedoms infringed based on their employment.[8]

The constitution declares the freedom of the press from censorship. No citizen may be extradited, nor can non-citizens be extradited provided they are engaged in struggle similar in principle to the constitution. Citizens have the right to emigrate, and any changes to this law must be applicable to the whole nation and not on an individual basis. People have the right to free ethnic education and development. No person shall be deprived of using their native language in the judicial system, education, or politics.[9]

Citizens are free to form societies and associations. Associations which are aligned with constitutional principles and which support democracy may be permitted to stand candidates for election.[10]

The people have a right to labor organizing, and recognized trade unions have the right to call a strike action. The right to work is guaranteed. Every worker is entitled to recreation, annual vacation leave, sick leave and old age pension. Sundays, holidays, and May 1st are protected by law as days of rest. Citizens also have by right social insurance which provides for health, old age assistance, motherhood assistance, disability, etc. These rights shall be exercised through trade unions and work councils. All people have the right to a social insurance which provides for health, old age assistance, motherhood assistance, disability assistance, etc.[11]

The Economic OrderEdit

The economy of the Republic is to be structured from the principles of social justice and the need to provide all people with an existence of human dignity. The constitution declares the economy must benefit the whole people and that each person will receive their fair share of the yield of production. Free enterprise is permitted as long as it fits within this scope.[12]

The government will support co-operatives and the development of farmers, traders, and craftsmen. The economy is to be overseen by legislative bodies and it is the task of public officials to supervise and implement this economic plan. Private property is guaranteed by the state if it can exist within this scope. Inheritance is also guaranteed with inheritance tax being determined by law. Any restrictions on private property must be imposed only for the benefit of the general public.[13]

Property and enterprises owned by war profiteers and Nazis is to be appropriated by the state without compensation. All monopolistic enterprises which seek to control production are to be abolished and prohibited. Large estates over 100 hectares are to be dissolved and redistributed without compensation.[14]

Farmers are guaranteed ownership of their land, and intellectual workers are guaranteed rights by the state.[15]

All mineral and exploitable resources are to be transferred to public ownership. The state shall ensure their use for the benefit of the whole of society.[16]

Every citizen and family is entitled to a healthy and suitable dwelling. Considerations shall be made for victims of fascism, resettled people, severely disabled people, etc.[17]

Property and income shall be progressively taxed with consideration made for family obligations.[18]

1968 constitutionEdit

Constitution of the German Democratic Republic
Ulbricht signing the new constitution, 8 April 1968
Original titleVerfassung der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (German)
Presented6 April 1968
Ratified8 April 1968
Date effective9 April 1968
SystemUnitary socialist republic
Head of stateStaatsrat
ExecutiveCouncil of Ministers headed by the Chairman of the Council

Imbued with the responsibility of showing the whole German nation the road to a future of peace and socialism, in view of the historical fact that imperialism, under the leadership of the United States of America and in concert with circles of West German monopoly capital, split Germany in order to build up West Germany as a base of imperialism and of struggle against socialism, contrary to the vital interests of the nation, the people of the German Democratic Republic, firmly based upon the achievements of the anti-fascist, democratic and socialist transformation of the socialist system, unitedly carrying on its working classes and sections the work and spirit of the Constitution of October 7, 1949, and imbued by the will to continue unswervingly and in free decision on the road of peace, social justice, democracy, socialism and international friendship, have given themselves this Socialist Consitution.

— Preamble to the 1968 Constitution[19]

At the Seventh Party Congress of the SED in April 1967, Ulbricht called for a new constitution, declaring that the existing constitution no longer accorded "with the relations of socialist society and the present level of historical development". A new constitution was needed to conform with the Marxist–Leninist belief in the progression of history and the role of the working class led by the SED. The new constitution would also reflect the role of the state as the party's main instrument in achieving the goal of a socialist and eventually communist society. A commission in the Volkskammer was tasked in December 1967 to draft a new constitution. Two months later the commission produced a document, which, after "public debate", was submitted to a plebiscite on April 6, 1968. Approved by a 94.5 percent margin, the new Constitution went into effect three days later on 9 April 1968.

While the 1949 constitution was at least superficially a liberal democratic document, the 1968 constitution was a fully Communist document. Modeled closely on the 1936 Soviet Constitution, it integrated all the constitutional changes that had taken place since 1949 into a new "socialist" framework, but it reduced certain rights provided in the earlier version. Article 1 of the 1968 constitution began with the words, "The German Democratic Republic is a socialist state of the German nation. It is the political organization of the workers in the cities and in the countryside, who jointly under the leadership of the working class and their Marxist-Leninist party will realize Socialism."

While the old document made no mention of the SED, Article 1 of the new constitution unequivocally declared that "the leadership of the state is to be exercised through the working class and its Marxist-Leninist party"—the SED. The 1949 constitution had declared Germany a "democratic republic", whereas the new one described East Germany as a "socialist state of the German nation". Under the old constitution, power derived from "the people", while Article 2 of the new Constitution stated that power emanated from "the worker in city and country".

Significant changes introduced into the 1968 document included:

  • Article 6, which committed the state to adhere to the "principles of socialist internationalism" and to devote special attention to its "fraternal ties" with the Soviet Union
  • Article 9, which based the national economy on the "socialist ownership of the means of production"
  • Article 20, which granted freedom of conscience and belief
  • Article 21, which maintained that the "basic rights" of citizenship were inseparably linked with "corresponding obligations"
  • Article 47, which declared that the principle of "democratic centralism" is the authoritative maxim for the construction of the socialist state

The 1968 document effectively codified the actual state of affairs that had prevailed in the GDR for two decades. It was one of Ulbricht's last significant victories before his ouster in 1971.

1974 amendmentsEdit

1974 amendment, signed by Chairman of the Council of State Willi Stoph.

With the rise of Erich Honecker in May 1971 and the increasing international recognition of the GDR, the regime attempted to abandon the concept that the GDR was the sole legitimate government of the entire German nation. Instead, the policy of Abgrenzung (demarcation) was instituted, with the desired effect of creating a separate GDR national identity. As a result, the 1968 constitution was amended by the Volkskammer on 27 September 1974 to delete the reference to the German nation; indeed, the use of the word "German" was cut back almost to a bare minimum. The amended document increased the emphasis on solidarity and friendship with the Soviet Union. In practice, however, ties between East Germans and their West German countrymen increased, in part due to the policies of Ostpolitik and détente followed by both East and West during the 1970s.

Article 1 of the 1974 constitution began with the words, "The German Democratic Republic is a socialist state of workers and farmers. It is the political organization of the workers in the cities and in the countryside under the leadership of the working class and their Marxist-Leninist party."

1989–90 proposalsEdit

In the wake of the Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the constitution was significantly revised in November 1989 to prune out its Communist character. Most notably, Article 1, which effectively gave the SED a monopoly of power, was deleted.

In April 1990, the democratic forum Runder Tisch (Round Table) developed a proposal for a new GDR constitution to reflect the democratic changes that swept across the GDR. However, by that time, the newly freely-elected Volkskammer (parliament) was moving in the direction of outright unification with the Federal Republic, and so the draft constitution went nowhere.

See alsoEdit

Constitutions of GermanyEdit



  1. ^[permanent dead link]
  2. ^
  3. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.2)
  4. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.2)
  5. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.2)
  6. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.2-3)
  7. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.3)
  8. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.3)
  9. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.3-4)
  10. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.4)
  11. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.4-5)
  12. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.5)
  13. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.5)
  14. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.5)
  15. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.6)
  16. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.6)
  17. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.6-7)
  18. ^ (Us State Department 2015, p.6-7)
  19. ^

External linksEdit

  This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies document: "East Germany".