Ulbricht, Walter

Ulbricht, Walter

(väl`tər o͝ol`brĭkht), 1893–1973, Communist leader in the German Democratic Republic. A founder of the German Communist party, he fled Germany in 1933 and went to Moscow, where he was a member of the politburo of the exiled German Communist party. Ulbricht entered Germany with the Russian troops in 1945. In 1949 he became deputy premier of the German Democratic Republic and in 1950 was named secretary-general of the Socialist Unity party, successor to the Communist party. Leader of East Germany from that time, he became chairman of the council of state in 1960. A hard-line Communist who was opposed to normalizing relations with West Germany, Ulbricht was responsible for the building (1961) of the Berlin Wall. He strongly supported close ties with the USSR and sent troops to join the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. In 1971 he was replaced as secretary-general by Erich Honecker.


See biography by C. Stern (tr. 1965).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ulbricht, Walter


Born June 30, 1893, in Leipzig; died Aug. 1, 1973, in Berlin. Figure in the German and international workers’ movement; party and state figure of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

The son of a worker, Ulbricht joined the Workers’ Youth Organization of the Socialist Party in 1908 and in 1912 enrolled as a member of the Social Democratic Party. From 1915 to 1918 he served in the army, where he was persecuted for spreading antiwar propaganda. At the end of the war, he joined the Spartacus League, becoming active in the Leipzig Council of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies during the November Revolution of 1918. He subsequently helped found a branch of the Communist Party of Germany (CPG) in Leipzig and in 1919 became a member of the party’s regional committee for central Germany, as well as editor of the newspaper Der Klassenkampf. In 1921, Ulbricht became political secretary of the party’s regional committee for Thuringia, holding that position until 1923, when he was elected a member and, later, secretary of the CPG’s Central Committee. Admitted to the Politburo of the Central Committee in 1935, he sought, together with E. Thálmann and W. Pieck, to transform the CPG into a mass Marxist-Leninist proletarian party.

From 1926 to 1928, Ulbricht was a deputy of the Landtag of Saxony. In 1928, as a candidate of the Communist Party of Germany, he was elected a deputy to the Reichstag, where he remained until 1933. Beginning in 1928, he was also a candidate member of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, where he twice represented the CPG, first from 1928 to 1929 and then from 1938 to 1943. After the establishment of the fascist dictatorship in Germany, Ulbricht continued working for the party underground, but at the end of 1933, threatened with arrest, he left Germany for the USSR. There, during World War II, he conducted reeducative work among German prisoners of war and participated in the formation of the National Committee, Free Germany.

After the fall of fascism, Ulbricht returned to his homeland, where in 1946 he helped organize the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). He served as deputy chairman of the SED from 1946 to 1949, when he became a member of the Politburo of the party’s Central Committee. He subsequently held several successive posts in the party, becoming general secretary in 1950, first secretary of the Central Committee in 1953, and finally chairman in 1971. Ulbricht’s government positions included those of deputy prime minister of the GDR from 1949 to 1955, first deputy of the Council of Ministers from 1955 to 1960, chairman of the National Defense Committee from 1960 to 1971, and, beginning in 1960, chairman of the State Council.

Ulbricht was the recipient of several state honors. The GDR conferred on him the title of Hero of Labor in 1953, 1958, and 1963, and it awarded him three Orders of Karl Marx, among others. The USSR presented him with the title of Hero of the Soviet Union in 1963 and with the Order of the October Revolution in 1968, as well as other orders.


Zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung: Aus Reden und Aufsàtzen, vols. 1-10. Berlin, 1953-71.
In Russian translation:
Kistorii noveishego vremeni. Moscow, 1957.
Razvitie germanskogo narodno-demokraticheskogo gosudarstva, 1945-1958. Moscow, 1961.
Izbrannyestat’i rechi. Moscow, 1961.
Programma sotsializma i istoricheskaia zadacha SEPG: Programma SEPG. Moscow, 1963.
Kakimputem idet Germaniia. Dresden, 1966.
K Voprosamjotsialisticheskogo stroitel’stva v Germanskoi Demokra-ticheskoi Respublike. Dresden, 1968.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.