Constitution of the German Democratic Republic (1968)
In 1968, the communist government of the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) wrote a new constitution for the Cold War nation. Its previous constitution, written in 1949 by the leaders of the Soviet occupation zone in Germany, was at least superficially a liberal constitution that guaranteed a large number of political rights. It continued the traditional division of Germany into federal states, or Länder, and presented itself as the democratic successor to Hitler' Nazi regime.
However, East Germany was from the start under the control of the Soviet army and the communists, who under Joseph Stalin’s direction wasted no time in establishing a totalitarian state. Very quickly, the country developed centralist tendencies, and the constitution rapidly became a dead-letter. In 1967, Walter Ulbricht, East Germany’s communist leader, declared that the 1949 constitution was not compatible “with the relations of socialist society and the present level of historical development” and therefore needed to be scrapped. A government-appointed commission drafted a new constitution and after a short period of “public debate”, the new document went into effect.
Unlike the 1949 constitution, the 1968 constitution did not make any pretense about being democratic. It was a fully communist document, modeled after the 1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union. The document explicitly gave the communists complete control over the country, and banned any opposition parties.
Carried by the responsibility to show the whole German nation the way to a future of peace and socialism,
in view of the historical fact that imperialism under the leadership of the USA, in agreement with circles of West German monopoly capital, has divided Germany in order to build West Germany into a base for imperialism and the struggle against socialism, which is contrary to the vital interests of the nation,
the people of the German Democratic Republic,
firmly founded on the achievements of the anti-fascist-democratic and the socialist upheaval of the social order,
united in its laboring classes and strata, carrying forward in its spirit the work of the Constitution of 7 October 1949, and filled with the will to continue unflinchingly on the path of peace, social justice, democracy, socialism and friendship among peoples,
have given us this socialist constitution.
On October 7, 1974, as a result of the GDR’s rapprochement policy, the preamble was replaced by the following: “In continuation of the revolutionary traditions of the German working class and based on the liberation from fascism, the people of the German Democratic Republic, in accordance with the processes of historical development of our epoch, have realized their right to socio-economic, state and national self-determination and are shaping the developed socialist society. Filled with the will to freely determine its destiny, to continue unwaveringly on the path of socialism and communism, peace, democracy and friendship among peoples, the people of the German Democratic Republic have given themselves this socialist constitution."
Section I: Fundamentals of the Socialist Social and State Order
Chapter 1: Political foundations
The German Democratic Republic is a socialist state of the German nation. It is the political organization of the working people in town and country, who together realize socialism under the leadership of the working class and its Marxist-Leninist Party.
The capital of the German Democratic Republic is Berlin.
The state flag of the German Democratic Republic consists of the colors black-red-gold and bears the national emblem of the German Democratic Republic in the center on both sides.
The national emblem of the German Democratic Republic consists of a hammer and compasses surrounded by a wreath of ears of corn, the lower part of which is entwined with a black-red-gold band.
All political power in the German Democratic Republic is exercised by the working people. Man is at the center of all efforts of socialist society and its state. The social system of socialism is constantly being perfected.
The firm alliance of the working class with the class of cooperative farmers, the members of the intelligentsia and the other strata of the people, the socialist ownership of the means of production, the planning and management of social development according to the most advanced findings of science form inviolable foundations of the socialist social order.
The exploitation of man by man has been eliminated forever. What the people’s hands create is the people’s own. The socialist principle “To each according to his ability, to each according to his achievement” is realized.
The conformity of the political, material and cultural interests of the working people and their collectives with the social requirements is the most important driving force of socialist society.
The alliance of all forces of the people finds its organized expression in the National Front of Democratic Germany.
In the National Front of Democratic Germany, the parties and mass organizations unite all the forces of the people in common action for the development of socialist society. In this way they realize the coexistence of all citizens in the socialist community according to the principle that everyone bears responsibility for the whole.
In October 1974 the National Front of Democratic Germany was renamed the National Front of the German Democratic Republic and this article was correspondingly amended. In February 1990, just before the country’s first and only democratic elections, the National Front was dissolved.
All power serves the welfare of the people. It ensures its peaceful life, protects the socialist society and guarantees the planned increase of the standard of living, the free development of man, preserves his dignity and guarantees the rights guaranteed in this constitution.
The citizens of the German Democratic Republic exercise their political power through democratically elected people’s representations.
The people’s representations are the basis of the system of state organs. They shall base their activities on the active participation of the citizens in the preparation, implementation and control of their decisions.
At no time and under no circumstances may organs other than those provided for in the Constitution exercise state power.
The German Democratic Republic, faithful to the interests of the German people and the international obligation of all Germans in its territory, has eradicated German militarism and Nazism and pursues a foreign policy serving peace and socialism, international understanding and security.
The German Democratic Republic shall cultivate and develop, in accordance with the principles of socialist internationalism, all-round cooperation and friendship with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the other socialist states.
The German Democratic Republic supports the aspirations of the peoples for freedom and independence and cultivates cooperation with all states on the basis of equality and mutual respect.
The German Democratic Republic strives for a system of collective security in Europe and a stable peace order in the world. It is committed to general disarmament.
Militaristic and revanchist propaganda in any form, warmongering, and expressions of religious, racial, and ethnic hatred will be punished as crimes.
The state authorities shall ensure the inviolability of the territory of the German Democratic Republic, including airspace and territorial waters, as well as the protection and use of the continental shelf.
The German Democratic Republic shall organize national defense and the protection of socialist order and the peaceful life of its citizens. The National People’s Army and the other organs of national defense shall protect the socialist achievements of the people against all external attacks. The National People’s Army maintains close armed brotherhood with the armies of the Soviet Union and other socialist states in the interests of preserving peace and safeguarding the socialist state.
The generally recognized rules of international law, which serve peace and peaceful cooperation among peoples, are binding on the state power and every citizen. The German Democratic Republic will never undertake a war of conquest or use its armed forces against the freedom of another people.
The establishment and maintenance of normal relations and cooperation between the two German states on the basis of equality are national concerns of the German Democratic Republic. The German Democratic Republic and its citizens also strive to overcome the division of Germany imposed on the German nation by imperialism, to bring the two German states gradually closer together until their unification on the basis of democracy and socialism.
Chapter 2: Economic foundations, science, education and culture
The national economy of the German Democratic Republic is based on socialist ownership of the means of production. It develops in accordance with the economic laws of socialism on the basis of socialist production relations. The socialist relations of production came into being as a result of the struggle against the monopoly capitalist economic system, whose aggressive and adventurous policies have so far brought only misfortune to the German nation. By disempowering the monopolies and large landowners, by abolishing the capitalist profit economy, the source of the war policy and the exploitation of man by man was eliminated. Socialist property has proved its worth.
The national economy of the German Democratic Republic serves to strengthen the socialist order, to constantly improve the satisfaction of the material and cultural needs of the citizens, the development of their personality and their socialist social relations.
In the German Democratic Republic the principle of planning and management of the national economy as well as of all other social spheres shall apply. The national economy of the German Democratic Republic is a socialist planned economy. The economic system of socialism combines central state planning and management of the basic issues of social development with the individual responsibility of socialist commodity producers and local state organs.
The determination of the monetary and financial system is the responsibility of the socialist state; duties and taxes are levied on the basis of laws.
Foreign trade, including foreign trade and currency, is a state monopoly.
Socialist property exists as the property of the people in society as a whole, as the common property of working collectives in cooperatives, and as the property of social organizations of citizens.
It is the duty of the socialist state and its citizens to protect and increase socialist property.
The personal property of citizens and the right of inheritance shall be guaranteed. Personal property shall serve to satisfy the material and cultural needs of citizens.
The rights of authors and inventors shall enjoy the protection of the socialist State.
The use of property and of authors' and inventors' rights shall not be contrary to the interests of society.
Mineral resources, mines, power stations, dams and large bodies of water, the natural resources of the continental shelf, major industrial enterprises, banks and insurance institutions, nationally owned property, traffic routes, means of railroad, maritime and air transport, postal and telecommunications installations shall be national property. Private ownership thereof shall be inadmissible.
The socialist State shall ensure the utilization of the people’s property with a view to achieving the highest possible result for society. The socialist planned economy and socialist economic law shall serve this purpose. The use and management of the people’s property shall be carried out in principle by the people’s own enterprises and state institutions. The state may transfer its use and management by contract to cooperative or social organizations and associations. Such transfer shall serve the interests of the general public and the increase of social wealth.
The equipment, machinery, installations, buildings of agricultural, craft and other socialist cooperatives, as well as the livestock of agricultural production cooperatives and the results obtained from the cooperative use of land and cooperative means of production shall be cooperative property.
The use and operation of private economic enterprises and institutions for profit-making purposes must satisfy social needs and serve to increase the welfare of the people and the wealth of society.
The close cooperation of socialist and private economic enterprises and institutions shall be encouraged by the State. In accordance with social requirements, private enterprises may, upon application, accept State participation.
Private-sector associations for the purpose of establishing economic power shall not be permitted.
By October 1974 all privately-owned businesses in the GDR has been abolished. It was henceforth illegal for any person to start their own company or to employ others. Accordingly, this article was amended to read: “Private economic associations for the purpose of establishing economic power shall not be permitted. Small crafts and other commercial enterprises based mainly on personal labor shall operate on a legal basis. In the exercise of their responsibility for socialist society, they shall be encouraged by the State."
The soil of the German Democratic Republic is one of its most precious natural resources. It must be protected and used rationally. Land used for agriculture and forestry may only be withdrawn from its intended purpose with the consent of the responsible state organs.
In the interest of the welfare of citizens, the State and society shall provide for the protection of nature. The preservation of the purity of waters and air, as well as the protection of the flora and fauna and the scenic beauty of the homeland, shall be ensured by the responsible organs and shall also be the responsibility of every citizen.
Expropriations shall be permitted only for charitable purposes on a legal basis and against adequate compensation. They may be carried out only if the charitable purpose sought cannot be achieved in any other way.
Science and research and the application of their findings are essential foundations of socialist society and shall be promoted by the State in all directions.
By means of the uniform socialist educational system, the German Democratic Republic shall ensure for all citizens a high level of education corresponding to the ever-increasing social requirements. It enables citizens to shape socialist society and to participate creatively in the development of socialist democracy.
The German Democratic Republic shall promote science and education with the aim of protecting and enriching society and the lives of its citizens, mastering the scientific and technological revolution, and ensuring the continuous progress of socialist society.
Any abuse of science directed against peace, international understanding, life and human dignity is prohibited.
Socialist national culture is one of the foundations of socialist society. The German Democratic Republic promotes and protects socialist culture, which serves peace, humanism and the development of the socialist human community. It fights imperialist unculture, which serves psychological warfare and the degradation of man. The socialist society shall promote the cultural life of the working people, cultivate all the humanistic values of the national cultural heritage and world culture, and develop the socialist national culture as the cause of the whole people.
The promotion of the arts, the artistic interests and abilities of all working people and the dissemination of artistic works and achievements are the duties of the state and all social forces. Artistic creation shall be based on a close connection between the creators of culture and the life of the people.
Physical culture, sports and tourism as elements of socialist culture serve the all-round physical and spiritual development of the people.
Section II: Citizens and Communities in Socialist Society
Chapter 1: Basic rights and duties of citizens
The German Democratic Republic guarantees all citizens the exercise of their rights and their participation in the management of social development. It guarantees socialist legality and legal certainty.
Respect for and protection of the dignity and freedom of the personality are imperatives for all state organs, all social forces and every individual citizen.
Free from exploitation, oppression and economic dependence, every citizen shall have equal rights and diverse opportunities to develop his abilities to the fullest extent and to unfold his powers unhindered by his own free will for the good of society and for his own benefit in the socialist community. In this way he realizes the freedom and dignity of his personality. The relations of citizens shall be characterized by mutual respect and assistance, by the principles of socialist morality.
The conditions for acquiring and losing citizenship of the German Democratic Republic shall be determined by law.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the same rights and duties, irrespective of nationality, race, ideological or religious confession, social origin, and position. Freedom of conscience and belief shall be guaranteed. All citizens are equal before the law.
Men and women shall have equal rights and legal status in all spheres of social, state and personal life. The advancement of women, especially in professional qualification, is a social and state task.
Young people shall be particularly encouraged in their social and professional development. They shall have every opportunity to participate responsibly in the development of the socialist social order.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic has the right to participate fully in shaping the political, economic, social and cultural life of the socialist community and the socialist state. The principle “Work with, plan with, govern with!” applies.
The right to co-determination and co-design is guaranteed by the fact that the citizens:
- democratically elect all organs of power, participate in their activities and in the planning, management and shaping of social life;
- are able to demand an account of their activities from the people’s representatives, their deputies, and the heads of state and economic organs;
- express their wishes and demands with the authority of their social organizations;
- be able to address their concerns and proposals to social, state and economic organs and institutions; and
- express their will in referenda.
The realization of this right of co-determination and co-design is at the same time a high moral obligation for every citizen. The exercise of social or state functions shall enjoy the recognition and support of society and the state.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic who has reached the age of 18 on the day of the election is entitled to vote.
Every citizen may be elected to the local People’s Representatives if he has reached the age of 18 on the day of the election. He may be elected to the People’s Chamber if he has reached the age of 21 on the day of the election.
The conduct of elections by democratically formed election commissions, popular debate on the basic questions of politics, and the nomination and examination of candidates by the voters are indispensable socialist electoral principles.
In October 1974 the second paragraph was amended to read: “Every citizen may be elected to the People’s Chamber and to local people’s councils if he or she has reached the age of 18 on the day of the election."
The protection of peace and of the socialist Fatherland and its achievements is the right and honorary duty of the citizens of the German Democratic Republic. Every citizen is obliged to serve and perform for the defense of the German Democratic Republic in accordance with the law.
No citizen may participate in acts of war and their preparation which serve the oppression of a people.
The German Democratic Republic may grant asylum to citizens of other states or stateless persons if they are persecuted for political, scientific or cultural activities in defense of peace, democracy, the interests of the working people, or for their participation in the social and national liberation struggle.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic has the right to work. He shall have the right to a job and to choose it freely according to social requirements and personal qualifications. He has the right to wages according to the quality and quantity of work. Man and woman, adults and young people have the right to equal wages for equal work performance.
Socially useful activity is an honorable duty for every citizen capable of work. The right to work and the duty to work form a unity.
The right to work is guaranteed:
- by the socialist ownership of the means of production;
- by the socialist planning and management of the social reproduction process;
- by the steady and planned growth of the socialist productive forces and of labor productivity;
- through the consistent implementation of the scientific-technical revolution; and
- through continuous education and training of citizens; and through the uniform socialist labor law.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic has the same right to education. The educational institutions shall be open to everyone. The unified socialist education system shall ensure continuous socialist education, training and continuing education for every citizen.
The German Democratic Republic shall ensure the advancement of the people to a socialist community of all-round educated and harmoniously developed people, imbued with the spirit of socialist patriotism and internationalism, and possessing a high level of general and specialized education.
All citizens have the right to participate in cultural life. It is becoming increasingly important under the conditions of the scientific and technological revolution and the increase in intellectual requirements. For the full development of the socialist personality and for the growing satisfaction of cultural interests and needs, the participation of citizens in cultural life, physical culture and sports shall be encouraged by the state and society.
In the German Democratic Republic there is a general ten-year compulsory secondary education, which is to be fulfilled by attending the ten-class general secondary school. In certain cases, high school education may be completed in vocational training institutions or in the training and further education of working people. All young people shall have the right and duty to learn a profession.
Special education and training institutions shall exist for children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.
The solution of these tasks shall be ensured by the State and all social forces in joint educational work.
The State shall ensure the possibility of transition to the next higher level of education, up to the highest educational institutions, universities and colleges, in accordance with the principle of achievement, social requirements and taking into account the social structure of the population.
There shall be no school fees. Education allowances and freedom of learning materials shall be granted according to social considerations.
Direct students at universities, colleges and technical schools shall be exempt from tuition fees. Scholarships and study grants shall be awarded on the basis of social considerations and merit.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic has the right to express his or her opinion freely and publicly in accordance with the principles of this Constitution. This right shall not be restricted by any service or employment relationship. No one may be discriminated against when exercising this right.
Freedom of the press, radio and television shall be guaranteed.
In practice, this right was ignored by the communist government. The press was censored and under complete government control.
All citizens shall have the right to peaceful assembly within the framework of the principles and objectives of the Constitution.
The use of the material conditions for the unimpeded exercise of this right, of assembly buildings, streets and places of rallies, printing presses and means of communication shall be guaranteed.
In practice, this right was ignored by the communist government. Because this right was limited to the “principles and objectives” of the constitution, any protests deemed anti-socialist or anti-government in nature were banned. Citizens who engaged in protests were often arrested by the Stasi, East Germany’s infamous secret police.
Citizens of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right of association in order to realize their interests in accordance with the principles and objectives of the Constitution through joint action in political parties, social organizations, associations and collectives.
In practice, this right was ignored by the communist government.
The personality and freedom of every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall be inviolable.
Restrictions shall be permissible only in connection with criminal acts or curative treatment and must be justified by law. The rights of such citizens may be restricted only to the extent that this is legally permissible and unavoidable.
In order to protect his freedom and the inviolability of his personality, every citizen shall be entitled to the assistance of state and social organs.
In practice, this right was ignored by the communist government.
Postal and telecommunications secrecy shall be inviolable. They may be restricted only on a legal basis if the security of the socialist state or criminal prosecution so requires.
In practice, this right was ignored by the communist government. The second sentence of this article was used to authorize unprecedented, boundless surveillance of virtually the entire East German population.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right, within the limits of the law, to freedom of movement within the territory of the German Democratic Republic.
In practice, this right was ignored by the communist government.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall be entitled to legal protection by the organs of the German Democratic Republic when residing outside the German Democratic Republic.
No citizen of the German Democratic Republic may be extradited to a foreign power.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right to leisure and recreation.
The right to leisure and recreation shall be guaranteed:
- by the legal limitation of daily and weekly working hours,
- by an annual vacation with full pay, and
- by the planned development of the network of nationally owned and other social recreation and vacation centers.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right to protection of his health and labor.
This right shall be guaranteed by the planned improvement of working and living conditions, the care of public health, a comprehensive social policy, the promotion of physical culture, school and popular sports, and tourism.
On the basis of a social insurance system, material security, free medical assistance, medicines and other medical benefits in kind shall be provided in case of illness and accidents.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right to social welfare in old age and disability.
This right shall be guaranteed by increasing material, social and cultural care and assistance to old and incapacitated citizens.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right to housing for himself and his family in accordance with national economic possibilities and local conditions. The State shall be obliged to realize this right by promoting housing construction, preserving the value of existing housing, and exercising public control over the equitable distribution of housing.
There shall be legal protection in the event of dismissal.
Every citizen shall have the right to inviolability of his home.
Marriage, family and maternity shall be under the special protection of the State.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right to respect, protection and promotion of his marriage and family.
This right is guaranteed by the equal rights of men and women in marriage and family, by the social and state support of citizens in the consolidation and development of their marriage and family. Families with many children, single mothers and fathers shall enjoy the care and support of the socialist state through special measures.
Mother and child shall enjoy the special protection of the socialist State. Pregnancy leave, special medical care, material and financial support for births and child allowances shall be provided.
It shall be the right and the noblest duty of parents to bring up their children to be healthy and cheerful, capable and all-round educated people, citizens conscious of the State. Parents are entitled to close and trustful cooperation with the social and state educational institutions.
Every citizen of the German Democratic Republic shall have the right to profess a religious faith and to engage in religious activities.
The churches and other religious communities shall organize their affairs and carry on their activities in accordance with the Constitution and the legal provisions of the German Democratic Republic. Further details may be regulated by agreements.
East Germany was a constitutionally atheist state, and the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) distrusted religion. In spite of the constitution’s protection of religious faith, Christians and the evangelical church faced widespread discrimination at all levels of society. Students who were known to come from religious families, or who were religious themselves, were often denied the opportunity to attend a university and were forced into menial jobs.
Citizens of the German Democratic Republic of Sorbian nationality shall have the right to cultivate their mother tongue and culture. The exercise of this right shall be encouraged by the State.
Chapter 2: Farms, towns and municipalities in socialist society
Socialist enterprises, cities, towns and municipalities are, within the framework of central state planning and management, autonomous communities in which citizens work and shape their social conditions. They shall ensure the exercise of the fundamental rights of citizens, the effective combination of personal and social interests, and a diverse social-political and cultural-spiritual life. They are protected by the Constitution. Interference with their rights can be made only on the basis of laws.
In the enterprise, whose activity is the basis for the creation and increase of social wealth, the working people shall participate in the management directly and with the help of their elected bodies. Further details shall be regulated by laws or statutes.
In order to increase social productivity, associations and societies may be formed by state organs, enterprises and cooperatives, and other forms of cooperative collaboration may be developed.
The cities, municipalities and associations of municipalities of the German Democratic Republic shall create the conditions necessary for the constant improvement of the satisfaction of the material, social, cultural and other common needs of the citizens. To solve these tasks, they shall cooperate with the enterprises and cooperatives in their area. All citizens shall participate in this through the exercise of their political rights.
Responsibility for the realization of the social function of towns and municipalities shall rest with the people’s representatives elected by the citizens. They shall decide on their own responsibility on the basis of the law. They shall be responsible for the rational use of all the assets of the people at their disposal.
Chapter 3: The trade unions and their rights
The free trade unions, united in the Free German Trade Union Confederation, are the comprehensive class organization of the working class. They shall safeguard the interests of workers, employees and members of the intelligentsia through comprehensive co-determination in the State, the economy and society.
The trade unions are independent. No one may restrict or hinder them in their activities.
Through the activities of their organizations and organs, through their representatives in the elected organs of state power and through their proposals to the state and economic organs, the trade unions shall play a decisive role in
- in the shaping of socialist society,
- in the planning and management of the national economy
- in the realization of the scientific and technological revolution,
- in the development of working and living conditions, health and safety at work, work culture, and the cultural and sporting life of the working people.
The trade unions work in the enterprises and institutions on the elaboration of the plans and are represented in the social councils of the associations, people-owned enterprises and in the production committees of the enterprises and combines. They organize the permanent production consultations.
Trade unions shall have the right to conclude agreements with state organs, with factory managements and with other organs of economic management on all matters concerning the working and living conditions of working people.
The trade unions shall take an active part in shaping the socialist legal system. They shall have the right to initiate legislation and to exercise social control over the observance of the rights of working people guaranteed by law.
The trade unions shall manage the social insurance of workers and employees on the basis of the self-government of the insured. They shall participate in the comprehensive material and financial provision and care of citizens in case of illness, occupational injury, disability and old age.
All state organs and economic managers shall be obliged to ensure close and trustful cooperation with trade unions.
Chapter 4: Socialist production cooperatives and their rights
Agricultural production cooperatives are voluntary associations of peasants for joint socialist production, for constantly improving the satisfaction of their material and cultural needs, and for supplying the people and the national economy. On the basis of the law, they shall shape their working and living conditions on their own responsibility.
Through their organizations and their representatives in state organs, agricultural production cooperatives shall actively participate in state planning and management of social development.
The State shall help agricultural production cooperatives to develop large-scale socialist production on the basis of advanced science and technology.
The same principles shall apply to the socialist production cooperatives of fishermen, gardeners and craftsmen.
Section III: Structure and System of State Management
The structure and activity of state organs shall be determined by the objectives and tasks of state power set forth in this Constitution.
The sovereignty of the working people, realized on the basis of democratic centralism, shall be the fundamental principle of the State structure.
Chapter 1: The People’s Chamber
The People’s Chamber shall be the supreme organ of state power in the German Democratic Republic. It shall decide in its plenary sessions on the fundamental questions of state policy.
The People’s Chamber shall be the sole constitutional and legislative body in the German Democratic Republic. No one can restrict its rights.
In its activities the People’s Chamber shall realize the principle of unity of decision-making and implementation.
The People’s Chamber shall determine by laws and resolutions, finally and bindingly for everyone, the goals of the development of the German Democratic Republic.
The People’s Chamber shall lay down the main rules for the interaction of citizens, communities and state organs and their tasks in the implementation of state plans for social development.
The People’s Chamber shall ensure the implementation of its laws and decisions. It shall determine the principles of the activities of the State Council, the Council of Ministers, the National Defense Council, the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General.
The People’s Chamber shall elect the Chairman and members of the State Council, the Chairman and members of the Council of Ministers, the Chairman of the National Defense Council, the President and judges of the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General. They may be dismissed by the People’s Chamber at any time.
The People’s Chamber shall confirm state treaties of the German Democratic Republic and other treaties under international law insofar as they amend laws of the People’s Chamber. It shall decide on the denunciation of such treaties.
The People’s Chamber shall decide on the state of defense of the German Democratic Republic. In case of urgency, the Council of State shall be entitled to decide on the state of defense. The chairman of the State Council shall proclaim the state of defense.
The People’s Chamber may decide to hold referendums.
The People’s Chamber shall consist of 500 deputies elected by the people for a term of 4 years by free, universal, equal and secret suffrage.
In October 1974 the term was extended to 5 years.
The People’s Chamber shall elect a Presidium for the duration of the election period. The Presidium shall consist of the President of the People’s Chamber, a Deputy President and other members.
The Presidium shall be responsible for chairing the plenary sessions. Further duties shall be regulated by the Rules of Procedure of the People’s Chamber.
The deputies of the People’s Chamber shall perform their responsible duties in the interests and for the benefit of the entire people.
The Deputies shall promote the participation of citizens in the preparation and implementation of laws in cooperation with the committees of the National Front of Democratic Germany, social organizations and state organs.
Deputies shall maintain close contact with their constituents. They shall be obliged to heed their suggestions, comments and criticisms and to ensure that they are dealt with conscientiously.
Deputies shall explain the policies of the socialist State to the people.
In October 1974 the National Front of Democratic Germany was renamed the National Front of the German Democratic Republic and this article was correspondingly amended.
Deputies to the People’s Chamber shall be obliged to hold regular office hours and debates and to report to the electorate on their activities.
A deputy who grossly violates his duties may be dismissed by the electors in accordance with the procedure established by law.
Deputies to the People’s Chamber shall have the right to participate in the meetings of local people’s assemblies in an advisory capacity.
Each deputy of the People’s Chamber shall have the right to address questions to the Council of Ministers and to each of its members.
All state and economic organs shall be obliged to assist the deputies in the performance of their duties.
Deputies to the People’s Chamber shall enjoy the rights of immunity. Restrictions on personal liberty, house searches, seizures or prosecutions shall be permitted against deputies of the People’s Chamber only with the consent of the People’s Chamber or, in the period between its sessions, with the consent of the Council of State. The decision of the Council of State shall require confirmation by the People’s Chamber. Deputies to the People’s Chamber shall be entitled to refuse to testify about persons who entrust them with facts in their capacity as deputies or to whom they have entrusted such facts in the course of their duties as deputies, as well as about such facts themselves.
Deputies shall not suffer any professional or other personal disadvantages as a result of their activities as deputies. They shall be released from their professional activities to the extent required for the performance of their duties as deputies. Salaries and wages shall continue to be paid.
The People’s Chamber shall form committees from among its members. They shall be responsible, in close cooperation with the electorate, for deliberating on draft laws and for constantly monitoring their implementation.
The committees may request the presence of the competent ministers and heads of other State organs in their deliberations for the purpose of providing information. All State organs shall be obliged to provide the Committees with the necessary information.
The Committees shall have the right to call upon experts for permanent or temporary assistance.
The People’s Chamber shall convene no later than the 30th day after its election. Its first session shall be convened by the Council of State.
The sessions of the People’s Chamber shall be public. At the request of at least two-thirds of the deputies present, the public may be excluded.
The People’s Chamber shall constitute a quorum if more than half of the deputies are present.
The People’s Chamber shall pass its resolutions by majority vote. Laws amending the Constitution shall be adopted if at least two-thirds of the elected Deputies vote in favor.
Before the end of the electoral period, the People’s Chamber shall be dissolved only by its own resolution.
Such a resolution shall require the consent of at least two-thirds of the elected Deputies.
New elections to the People’s Chamber shall be held no later than on the 60th day after the end of the electoral period or on the 45th day after its dissolution.
The right to introduce bills shall be vested in the deputies of the parties and mass organizations represented in the People’s Chamber, the committees of the People’s Chamber, the Council of State, the Council of Ministers and the Free German Trade Union Confederation.
In preparation for the sessions of the People’s Chamber, the Council of State shall deal with bills and examine their constitutionality.
The committees of the People’s Chamber shall discuss the draft laws and submit their views to the plenum of the People’s Chamber. They shall be supported in their activities by the Council of State.
Draft fundamental laws shall be submitted to the people for discussion before they are passed. The results of the popular discussion shall be evaluated in the final version.
Laws passed by the People’s Chamber shall be promulgated in the Law Gazette by the Chairman of the Council of State within one month.
Laws shall enter into force on the 14th day after their promulgation, unless they provide otherwise.
Chapter 2: The State Council
The Council of State, as an organ of the People’s Chamber, shall perform all fundamental tasks arising from the laws and resolutions of the People’s Chamber between sessions of the People’s Chamber. It shall be responsible to the People’s Chamber for its activities.
The Chairman of the Council of State shall represent the German Democratic Republic in international law. The Council of State shall decide on the conclusion of state treaties of the German Democratic Republic. They shall be ratified by the Chairman of the State Council. The State Council shall denounce state treaties.
The State Council shall consist of the Chairman, the Vice-Chairmen, the members and the Secretary.
The chairman, the deputies of the chairman, the members and the secretary of the State Council shall be elected by the People’s Chamber at its first session after the new election for a period of 4 years.
After the end of the electoral period of the People’s Chamber, the State Council shall continue its activities until the election of the new State Council by the People’s Chamber.
The Chairman, the Vice-Chairmen, the members and the Secretary of the Council of State shall take the following oath upon taking office in the People’s Chamber:
“I swear that I will devote my strength to the welfare of the people of the German Democratic Republic, uphold its Constitution and laws, fulfill my duties conscientiously, and do justice to everyone.”
The Chairman shall direct the work of the Council of State.
The Council of State shall deal with submissions to the People’s Chamber and arrange for their discussion in the committees of the People’s Chamber.
The Council of State shall convene sessions of the People’s Chamber by resolution of the People’s Chamber or on its own initiative.
The State Council shall be obliged to convene the People’s Chamber at any time if at least one third of the deputies so request.
In October 1970 this article was amended to read: “On behalf of the People’s Chamber, the State Council shall support the local people’s representations as organs of the unified socialist state power, promote their democratic activity in shaping the developed socialist society, and exert influence on the preservation as well as the constant consolidation of socialist legality in the activity of the local people’s representations."
The State Council shall regulate the basic tasks arising from the laws and resolutions of the People’s Chamber by means of decrees. They shall be submitted to the People’s Chamber for confirmation.
Decrees and resolutions of the State Council shall be legally binding.
The Council of State shall interpret the Constitution and laws in a binding manner, unless this is done by the People’s Chamber itself.
This article give the ruling party the ability to enact laws and decrees, as well as interpret the constitution, without needing the parliament to agree. In practice, the People’s Chamber passed very broad laws setting out the basic parameters of state policy, which the State Council then had broad authority to implement. This is unlike the practice in most Western democracies, where the executive branch is bound by the written text of the law. Note also that the State Council – and not a court – has the authority to interpret whether laws violate the constitution. This meant that there was no check on the authority of the government of any kind in East Germany.
The Council of State shall call the elections to the People’s Chamber and to the other Representations of the People.
The Council of State shall make fundamental decisions on matters of national defense and security. It shall organize national defense with the assistance of the National Defense Council.
The State Council shall appoint the members of the National Defense Council. The National Defense Council shall be responsible to the People’s Chamber and the State Council for its activities.
The State Council shall, on behalf of the People’s Chamber, exercise permanent supervision over the constitutionality and legality of the activities of the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General.
The Chairman of the Council of State shall appoint and dismiss the authorized representatives of the German Democratic Republic in other states. He shall accept letters of accreditation and recall of representatives of other states accredited to him.
The Council of State shall determine military ranks, diplomatic ranks and other special titles.
The State Council shall establish state orders, awards and honorary titles, which shall be conferred by its chairman.
The State Council shall exercise the right of amnesty and pardon.
Chapter 3: The Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers shall organize, on behalf of the People’s Chamber, the fulfillment of the political, economic, cultural and social tasks of the socialist state, as well as the defense tasks assigned to it. It shall be a collective body.
The Council of Ministers shall prepare scientifically based forecasts, organize the shaping of the economic system of socialism, and guide the planned development of the national economy.
The Council of Ministers shall work on the basis of the laws and resolutions of the People’s Chamber and the decrees and resolutions of the Council of State. It shall issue decrees and adopt resolutions within the framework of the laws and decrees.
The Council of Ministers shall direct, coordinate and control the activities of ministries, other central state organs and district councils in accordance with the findings of organizational science.
The Council of Ministers shall decide on the conclusion and termination of international treaties concluded in its name.
The chairman of the Council of Ministers shall be proposed by the chairman of the Council of State to the People’s Chamber and shall be charged by it with the formation of the Council of Ministers.
The chairman and the members of the Council of Ministers shall be elected by the People’s Chamber for a term of 4 years after the new election.
The Chairman and the members of the Council of Ministers shall be sworn in by the Chairman of the Council of State on the Constitution.
The Council of Ministers shall consist of the Chairman, the Deputy Chairmen and the Ministers. It shall be headed by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
The Council of Ministers shall form the Presidium of the Council of Ministers from among its members. It shall be headed by the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
Each minister shall be responsible for the area of responsibility assigned to him.
The activities of the Council of Ministers shall be the responsibility of all its members.
The Council of Ministers shall be responsible and accountable to the People’s Chamber.
After the expiration of the electoral period of the People’s Chamber, the Council of Ministers shall continue its activities until the election of the new Council of Ministers by the People’s Chamber.
Chapter 4: Local People’s Deputies and their Organs
The local people’s assemblies shall be the organs of state power elected by the citizens entitled to vote in the districts, counties, cities, boroughs, municipalities and associations of municipalities.
The local people’s assemblies shall decide on the basis of the laws, on their own responsibility, on all matters concerning their territory and its citizens. They shall organize the participation of citizens in shaping political, economic, cultural and social life and shall cooperate with the social organizations of working people.
The activities of local people’s councils shall be directed toward increasing and protecting socialist property, constantly improving the working and living conditions of citizens and promoting the social and cultural life of citizens and their communities, raising citizens' socialist consciousness of the state and the law and safeguarding public order, consolidating socialist legality and safeguarding citizens' rights.
Local people’s assemblies shall adopt resolutions which shall be binding on their organs and institutions and on the people’s assemblies, communities and citizens of their area. Such resolutions shall be published.
The local people’s assemblies shall have their own revenues and shall dispose of their use.
To discharge its responsibilities, each local people’s representative body shall elect its council and commissions. The members of the Council shall, as far as possible, be deputies. Members who are not deputies may also be appointed to commissions.
The Council shall ensure the development of the activities of the people’s representation and organize the management of social development in its area of responsibility. It shall be responsible to the People’s Representation for all its activities and accountable to the higher Council. The Council shall be a collective body.
The commissions shall organize the informed participation of citizens in the preparation and implementation of the decisions of the People’s Representation. They shall monitor the implementation of laws, decrees, ordinances and decisions of the People’s Representation by the Council and its specialized bodies.
Local People’s Deputies may form associations for the joint performance of their duties.
The functions and powers of local people’s assemblies, their deputies, commissions and their councils in districts, counties, cities, boroughs, municipalities and associations of municipalities shall be determined by law.
Section IV: Socialist legality and administration of justice
Socialist society, the political power of the working people, their state and legal order shall be the fundamental guarantee for the observance and realization of the Constitution in the spirit of justice, equality, fraternity and humanity.
Society and the state guarantee legality through the involvement of citizens and their communities in the administration of justice and in social and state control over the observance of socialist law.
The accountability of all leaders in the State and the economy to the citizens is guaranteed by a system of accountability.
Laws and other generally binding legal provisions of the German Democratic Republic shall be published in the Law Gazette and elsewhere.
Legislation of local people’s assemblies and their organs shall be published in an appropriate form.
Legislation shall not contradict the Constitution. The Council of State shall decide on doubts as to the constitutionality of legal provisions of the Council of Ministers and other state organs.
Despite this article’s claims about the supremacy of the constitution, the government routinely ignored the political rights that it guaranteed to citizens.
The administration of justice shall serve the implementation of socialist legality, the protection and development of the German Democratic Republic and its state and social order. It shall protect freedom, peaceful life, the rights and dignity of people.
Combating and preventing criminal offenses and other violations of the law are common concerns of socialist society, its state and all citizens.
The participation of citizens in the administration of justice shall be guaranteed. It shall be determined in detail by law.
The generally recognized norms of international law on the punishment of crimes against peace, against humanity and war crimes shall be directly applicable law. Crimes of this kind are not subject to the statute of limitations.
Jurisdiction shall be exercised in the German Democratic Republic by the Supreme Court, the district courts, the county courts and the social courts within the scope of the functions assigned to them by law. In military criminal cases, the Supreme Court, the military courts and the military tribunals shall exercise jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court shall be the highest judicial body.
The Supreme Court shall direct the administration of justice by the courts on the basis of the Constitution, laws and other legal provisions of the German Democratic Republic. It shall ensure the uniform application of the law by all courts.
The Supreme Court shall be responsible to the People’s Chamber and, between its sessions, to the Council of State.
Paragraph 3 of this article confirms that there was no judicial independence in East Germany. Courts were ultimately accountable to the People’s Chamber and to the Council of State and, therefore, to the SED. Because of this, courts were generally pliant and obedient, and virtually never questioned the communist government.
Only those who are loyal to the people and their socialist state and possess a high degree of knowledge and life experience, human maturity and strength of character may be judges.
The democratic election of all judges, lay judges and members of social courts shall ensure that the administration of justice is carried out by women and men of all classes and strata of the people.
All judges, lay assessors and members of social courts shall be elected by the people’s assemblies or directly by the people. They shall report to their electors on their work. They may be dismissed by their electors if they violate the Constitution or the laws or otherwise grossly fail in their duties.
Judges, jurors and members of the social courts shall be independent in their administration of justice. They shall be bound only by the Constitution, laws and other legal provisions of the German Democratic Republic.
The lay judges shall exercise the function of a judge in full and with the same voting rights as professional judges.
In order to safeguard the socialist social and state order and the rights of citizens, the Office of the Public Prosecutor shall, on the basis of the laws and other legal provisions of the German Democratic Republic, watch over strict observance of socialist legality. It protects citizens from violations of the law. The Office of the Public Prosecutor shall lead the fight against criminal offenses and ensure that persons who have committed crimes or misdemeanors are brought to justice.
The Office of the Public Prosecutor shall be headed by the Prosecutor General.
The prosecutors of the districts and counties and the military prosecutors shall be subordinate to the Prosecutor General.
The prosecutors shall be appointed and dismissed by the Prosecutor General; they shall be responsible to him and bound by his instructions.
The Prosecutor General shall be responsible to the People’s Chamber and, between sessions thereof, to the Council of State.
Criminal liability shall be determined by the laws of the German Democratic Republic.
An act shall entail criminal liability only if such liability was established by law at the time of the commission of the act, if the perpetrator acted culpably, and if guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. Criminal laws shall not have retroactive effect.
Criminal prosecution shall be possible only in accordance with criminal laws.
The rights of the citizen may be restricted in connection with criminal proceedings only to the extent permitted by law and unavoidable.
Only the judge shall decide on the admissibility of pre-trial detention. Arrested persons shall be brought before the judge not later than the day following their arrest.
The judge or the public prosecutor shall, within the scope of their responsibility, at any time examine whether the conditions for pre-trial detention still exist.
The public prosecutor shall notify next of kin of the arrested person within 24 hours after the first judicial interrogation. Exceptions may be made only if notification would jeopardize the purpose of the investigation. In such cases, notification shall be made after the grounds for endangering the investigation have ceased to exist.
No one shall be deprived of his lawful judge.
Courts of exception shall be inadmissible.
Every citizen shall have the right to be heard in court.
The right of defense shall be guaranteed throughout criminal proceedings.
Every citizen shall have the right to address petitions (suggestions, indications, requests or complaints) to the people’s deputies, their deputies or to state and economic organs. Social organizations and communities of citizens shall also have this right. They shall not suffer any disadvantage as a result of exercising this right.
The organs responsible for decision-making shall be obliged to process the submissions of citizens or communities within the period prescribed by law and to notify the applicants of the result.
The Council of Ministers shall have jurisdiction over appeals against decisions of central bodies of the Council of Ministers.
The Council of State shall have jurisdiction over appeals against managerial decisions of the Council of Ministers, the Supreme Court or the Prosecutor General.
Appeals against decisions of local state organs shall be heard by the head of the organ which made the decision appealed against. If the head does not change the decision, the complainant shall be entitled to appeal to the Appeals Committee of the competent people’s representation.
The duties and rights of the Appeals Committees shall be regulated by decree.
Articles 104 and 105 were deleted as part of the constitutional changes in October 1974.
For damage caused to a citizen or his personal property by unlawful actions of employees of State organs, the State organ whose employee caused the damage shall be liable.
The conditions and procedure of State liability shall be determined by statute.
Section V: Final provisions
The Constitution shall be directly applicable law.
The Constitution may be amended only by the People’s Chamber of the German Democratic Republic by a law expressly amending or supplementing the text of the Constitution.