Happy May Day! This traditional working class holiday was the political and social highlight of the East German calendar for Party loyalists and a day off for everybody else. Regardless of the city or town, May Day in the GDR was marked with a parade by workers (attendance mandatory!) and the armed forces past a grandstand of Party notables after which the authorities rewarded this display of open loyalty with a well-lubricated street festival.
Watching this clip from the last May Day of the SED-era below, it strikes me that May Day 1989 could well have been the last time the GDR leadership was able to project their power without earning any pushback. Indeed, days after this holiday, citizens groups monitoring the country’s municipal elections were able to demonstrate conclusively, for the first time, that the results had been manipulated. This event put the Party on the defensive and helped fuel the frustration and dissatisfaction which would come to a head later that year.
As The Internationale plays in the background and Erich Honecker and Erich Mielke review a march past by members of the Combat Groups of the Working Class, the host on GDR television tells viewers: “The GDR will support every honest disarmament agreement, but it will continue to defend each of its socialist achievements.”