“Out to the First of May!”

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.

"May, Labour, Peace": Soviet May Day greeting card circa 1985.

“May, Labour, Peace”: Soviet May Day greeting card circa 1985.

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.”


  1. Yes! Happy May Day all comrades! Thanks for your very interesting blog, I myself have an interest in GDR since I think it was a pivotal place and time for socialism, a real life experiment to prove or disprove the socialist utopia. I am by no means an ultra-conservative anti-socialist, I think perhaps had the Politburo and GDR not reigned with iron fists, and given the lower levels of industry and government some freedom of choice, it might have turned out much better perhaps something like Canada used to be. In any case, I look forward to all your posts and “May” you and all loved ones have a great May Day!

  2. Maybe they should have renamed it “loyalty day”. Brecht’s quip about the government dismissing the electorate and choosing a new, more amenable, one evokes all kinds of thoughts and emotions given the “real existierende” world in which we live today.

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