‘Walter Ulbricht was a very skilful and successful leader of the GDR between 1949 and 1971’. Assess the validity of this view.
Walter Ulbricht became the first leader of the German Democratic Republic during the occupation and division period in Germany following the Second World War in 1945. He also helped the founding of the new Socialist Unity Party (SED) which was a merger of the existing KPD and SPD parties, which quickly brought about dramatic economic and social change in East Germany and imposed state socialism, or communist ideology, on the GDR. During his time as leader of the GDR, Ulbricht took steps to ensure the success of establishing the socialist state by making changes in education, the workforce, culture and the economy. It can be debated whether he was skilled and successful in every aspect as in some cases he was lucky or failed completely.
In the early days of the GDR, Ulbricht was quick to establish the SED rule when he had control of Berlin from April – July in 1945. He led groups of 10 communists from the Soviet Union to Berlin, Dresden and Mecklenburg to set up local governments and ordered them to stand as political figures, law enforcers and educators. This gave him a head start to begin his election campaign to ensure an SED victory and one party state, which he did by delaying elections and only giving a list of candidates from his party to vote for. The Stasi was also formed as the ‘shield and sword of the SED’, with roughly 1 in 6 people as informants who infiltrated schools, hospitals, places of employment, apartment buildings and even the church; arresting and killing anyone who showed any dissidence towards the new socialist state. This shows how successful Ulbricht was in establishing a socialist society in the GDR, particularly with the moves he made at the very beginning when setting up the local governments across East Germany and gave any potential political opposition little chance in the elections.