In the early 1950s, problems within the country were causing
dissatisfaction among East German citizens. These problems
included confusion within the ruling SED following the death of
Stalin, economic pressures resulting from collectivization,
payment of reparations, an increasingly disadvantageous
comparison with West Germany, and resentment of Soviet presence
and influence. Eventually these factors combined to trigger a
spontaneous general uprising that started in East Berlin on June
17, 1953, and rapidly spread throughout much of the country. The
rebellion was quickly suppressed by Soviet troops on June 17.
This short but intense episode had far-reaching effects on the
evolution of the national security system.
The uprising taught the Soviets that the socialist revolution
imposed from without had not been accepted by the German people.
The absorption of this lesson brought fundamental changes to the
status of the country. Recognizing that its economic policy of
reparations was dangerous and that communism would not be a
significant force in a unified neutral Germany, the Soviet Union
shelved plans for German reunification and made a political and
economic commitment to the survival of East Germany as a
For its part, the Ulbricht government also was forced to
recognize that it lacked legitimacy in the eyes of its own
people. In the short run, the most notable response was what
could be called "the third purge" in the summer of 1953. This
purge resulted in changes in the top ranks of the SED, including
replacement of Zaisser, the minister of state security. During
the remainder of the summer, 12,000 men of all ranks and grades
were dismissed from the People's Police for "unreliability."
The uprising, which raised doubts in the Soviet Union about
the dependability of the young republic, also resulted in
intensified supervision by the Soviet military, recall of MiG-15s
destined for the new air force, and curtailment of training and
other programs. The Soviets continued to restrict military
development in East Germany until the early 1960s, when the
country appeared politically and socially stable enough to
receive full support.
Thus East Germany's national security organization was unable
to pass its first serious test. Faced with an internal threat,
its security organs failed to prevent or suppress the uprising.
The shock of events, however, had the effect of forcing both the
East German and the Soviet leadership to commit themselves to the
difficult tasks necessary to make the state viable.
Data as of July 1987