Born Jan. 3, 1876, in Guben; died Sept. 7, 1960, in Berlin. Prominent figure in the German and international workers’ movements and in the party and state organizations of the German Democratic Republic.
The son of a worker, Pieck was a carpenter by trade. He joined the woodworkers’ union in 1894 and the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1895. From 1899 to 1906 he was chairman of a district organization of the party, and from 1906 to 1910 he was secretary of the party’s city organization in Bremen. In April 1910 he was elected second secretary of the party’s Central Educational Committee and secretary of the Central Party School in Berlin. Pieck was an adherent of the party’s left wing, which was led by K. Liebknecht, R. Luxemburg, F. Mehring, and K. Zetkin, with all of whom he was closely associated. In the summer of 1913 he condemned the approval of military expenditures by the Social Democratic faction in the Reichstag. After the beginning of World War I, he joined the struggle against the annexationist policies of German imperialism and against the policy of Burgfrieden, or civil truce, of the party’s right-wing leaders. Pieck was arrested several times. Along with Liebknecht and Luxemburg, he made a substantial contribution to the cause of uniting the left-wing Social Democrats. After the Great October Socialist Revolution in Russia, he called on the German working class to make use of the revolution’s experience. In November 1918 he entered the central leadership of the Spartacus League. He took an active part in preparing and carrying out the November Revolution of 1918 in Germany.
Pieck was one of the founders of the Communist Party of Germany (CPG). At the party’s Constituent Congress, which was held from Dec. 30, 1918, to Jan. 1, 1919, he was elected a member of the Central Committee of the CPG; he remained a member right up to the formation of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. He belonged to the party’s Marxist-Leninist nucleus, which, led by E. Thälmann, waged a consistent struggle against H. Brandler’s right-opportunist group and later against the “ultra-leftists.” Pieck made an important contribution to the transformation of the CPG into a mass party. From 1921 he was repeatedly elected to the Prussian landtag. From 1928 he was elected to the Reichstag, and from 1929, to the Berlin municipal council and the Prussian state council. He utilized the parliamentary rostrum of the bourgeois state to carry on propaganda for the political program of the CPG. At the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in 1928, he was elected to the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI). In 1931 he became a member of the Presidium and the Secretariat of the ECCI.
After the establishment of the fascist dictatorship in Germany in 1933, Pieck worked for the creation of a united front against fascism. In accordance with a decision of the Central Committee of the CPG, he left Germany in May 1933. Together with F. Dahlem and W. Florin, he formed in Paris the leadership abroad of the CPG. At the Seventh Congress of the Comintern in 1935, he presented the report of the ECCI. He fought for the implementation of the Popular Front policy and for the development of a broad antifascist movement. At the Brussels Conference of the CPG in 1935, Pieck was elected chairman of the party’s Central Committee. At that conference, he showed the need for the creation of a united workers’ front and a popular antifascist front in Germany. In a report at the Bern Conference of the CPG, which was held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1, 1939, he called on all patriotic forces to unite to save the German people from the danger of war, and he spoke in support of the program for a new, democratic republic in Germany.
During World War II, Pieck denounced German imperialism’s claims to world domination and called on the German people to overthrow the fascist dictatorship and take their fate into their own hands. As one of the leaders of the national committee Free Germany, which was established in the USSR in 1943, he carried on much explanatory work among German prisoners of war in the USSR, particularly among senior officers and generals.
After the liberation of the German people from fascism, Pieck took an active part in the work to democratize and denazify Germany and to eliminate the consequences of fascist rule. He played an important role in ending the schism in the workers’ movement, in unifying the CPG and the Social Democratic Party in the eastern part of Germany, and in the creation of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in April 1946. From 1946 to 1954, Pieck and O. Grotewohl were cochairmen of the new party. Between 1949 and 1960 he was a member of the Politburo of the Central Board and later of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the party. He was president of the German Democratic Republic from its formation in October 1949. He was a tireless fighter against war, for peace and security among nations, for the construction of socialism in the German Democratic Republic, and for the strengthening of friendship and cooperation between the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and the CPSU and between the peoples of the German Democratic Republic and the USSR.
Pieck was granted the title of Hero of Labor in 1951. He was awarded the Order of Karl Marx, the gold order For Services to the Fatherland, the Banner of Labor, and other orders.
WORKSGesammelte Reden und Schriften. vols. 1-3, 5. Berlin, 1959-72.
Reden und Aufsätze: Auswahl aus den Jahren 1908-1950, vols. 1-4. Berlin, 1950-55.
Der neue Weg zum gemeinsamen Kampf für den Sturz der Hitlerdiktatur. Berlin, 1957.
Im Kampf um die Arbeitereinheit und die deutsche Volksfront, 1936-1938. Berlin, 1955.
Zur Geschichte der Kommunistischen Partei Deutschlands: 30 Jahre Kampf. Berlin, 1949.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. proizv. Moscow, 1956.
REFERENCESPieck, W. Bilder und Dokumente aus dem Leben des ersten deutschen Arbeiterpräsidenten. Berlin, 1955.
Pieck, W. Gedenkbuch. Berlin, 1961.
Vosske, H. Wilhelm Pieck. Leipzig, 1974.
Hufeld, D. W. Pieck: Bibliographie. [Rostock, 1960.]
V. I. TSAPANOV