The East German uprising, 1953

A brief history of a rebellion against the Soviet government in the GDR.

Submitted by Ed on September 8, 2006

Many people have heard of the uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The 1953 East Germany rebellion was an earlier example of the working class resistance to Bolshevik domination, which saw party bureaucrats and cops strung up and a nationwide network of workers councils springing up spontaneously.

The spark for the insurrection was an attempt by the government to intensify production and lower wages. East Berlin workers immediate reaction was to down tools and walk off the job. This instinctive demonstration of militancy soon developed into a city wide strike, followed by a mass rally outside of the Government offices, with crowds chanting “Down with the Government. Down with the Volkspolizei (people’s police)” and “we don’t want to be slaves anymore, we want to be free”.

Communist Party officials, desperate to save themselves, hastily repealed the work norms, but this wasn’t enough for the demonstrators who were beginning to sense their own strength. Party members attempts to speak to the crowds were swept aside, as workers grabbed the megaphones and attacked the Party, the Bureaucracy and the cops. All over the city the working class was exerting its power and taking control. Communist Party notices were torn from the walls, government buildings were attacked, cops vanished from the streets in case they were the next to be lynched. There were attempts to liberate the prisoners in Barnimstrasze prison and messages telling of the events were relayed across the country.

The resistance soon spread; all over East Germany workers formed factory and strike committees characteristic of workers councils – in virtually every town and city a general strike was proclaimed. In Dresden a state radio station was taken over and began issuing communiqués attacking the government’s lies, in Halle the local newspaper offices were occupied, the Bitterfeld strike committee sent a telegram to E. Berlin demanding the “formation of a provisional government composed of revolutionary workers”. The workers were beginning to take power into their own hands and this was the signal for the Russian tanks to roll into East Germany.

The next ten days saw furious fighting, with mass arrests and shootings, tanks being taken out by molotovs, eventually the army regained control - but the power of working class resistance would be demonstrated again in Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968.

Anarchist Federation