Stalinism and survival: The political motives of Walter Ulbricht
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Walter Ulbricht was a German-born Communist functionary whose modest beginnings as a carpenter in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) eventually culminated in his leadership of the post-WWII Socialist Unity Party (SED) of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). Ulbricht officially joined the Weimar-era Communist Party of Germany (KPD) in 1920, quickly working his way into positions of leadership under the patronage of Ernst Thalmann, Chairman of the KPD. He was elected to the Central Committee of the KPD and went on to attend the International Lenin School of the Comintern in 1924, where he cemented his place as a loyal adherent of Stalin’s ideology. From that time until the end of World War II, Ulbricht worked for the Comintern as a leading German Stalinist, giving him a certain level of authority within the KPD, as Soviet endorsement was considered the highest honor. Walter Ulbricht further garnered prestige during the time he served in the Spanish Civil War, where he worked clandestinely to eliminate Trotskyites opposing Stalin’s control of the international communist movement. Ulbricht fled Nazi persecution in 1937 and spent his exile in the Soviet Union as a prominent agent provocateur; he was groomed by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) to serve as a driving force for the post-war reconstruction of Germany under communist administration. He returned to his homeland in 1945 to begin his Soviet-issued mission: purging Social Democrats from positions of power and facilitating the creation of the merged Socialist Unity Party of Germany, built specifically with adherence to Stalinism as a cornerstone of the organization. Following Stalin’s death in 1953, Ulbricht maintained his authoritarian political beliefs despite the Soviet-led policy of destalinization. Walter Ulbricht would enshrine himself as the unquestioned leader of the SED and the GDR for over twenty years, through the begrudging non-interference of Nikita Khrushchev. Ulbricht held absolute authority over East Germany until his voluntary withdrawal from party leadership after a political coup in 1971that was staged by his protégé Erich Honecker and officially endorsed by the adversarial new Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev.
This thesis seeks to investigate and deductively answer the following questions: Was Walter Ulbricht genuinely motivated in his politics by the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, or was he a power-driven individual who was driven more by personal opportunism? What strategies did Ulbricht use during the height of Stalin’s reign to ensure his political survival and advancement? What about Ulbricht made him willingly participate in the more dastardly aspects of Stalinization in Germany? What factors allowed Ulbricht to be so successful in his domination of the German communist movement? How did Ulbricht emulate the example that Joseph Stalin had set for building and maintaining an authoritarian communist regime?
It is the conclusion of the author that Walter Ulbricht knowingly maneuvered from Democratic-Socialism, to Marxism-Leninism, to hardline Stalinism by cunningly entrenching himself in whatever political ideology he thought would progress his own career at the time. Ulbricht successfully emulated Stalinization in his creation of the SED and GDR, allowing him not only the title of First Secretary of the party, but also the eventual prestige of being a national leader in control of his own territory. He did so by utilizing the Stalinist devices of inner-party paranoia, unquestioning loyalty to the hierarchical structure, and the elimination of political undesirables. A cutthroat ability to pursue personal gain, the submissive mentality of the German “Old Communists” to party authority, and substantial personal support from Joseph Stalin allowed Walter Ulbricht to succeed in his political career.
The models of analyses in this work include: (1) review of pertinent literature; (2) biographical overview of Ulbricht’s political career; (3) a biographical review of the individual’s life and political career, which the author feels is a necessary inclusion in order to fully comprehend the thesis subject; (4) the deductive findings of the author cumulating in the thesis argument body, brought about through guided interpretation of the subject and progressive understanding; (5) and finally the conclusion.