The East Berlin uprising of June 17, 1953 was the first massive challenge totalitarianism met from within. It utterly destroyed the myth of the unity of state and society under Stalinism. Led by the workers, an entire society rose against its oppressors, thundering its demand for freedom and asserting its humanity. The uprising was defeated only by the intervention of the Russian army; its leadership was destroyed or dispersed. But its social and intellectual roots have not been and cannot be eradicated.
The East German Rising is, unfortunately, a much abridged translation of the original Der Aufstand (Stuttgart: Steingrueben Verlag, 1955). It is, in the main, a detailed account of what happened during the three days beginning June 16, 1953 in the industrial centers of Berlin and East Germany. The pattern of the events was everywhere the same. The news of the downing of tools by the East Berlin workers and their march upon the government and party centers led to similar movements in all the other industrial districts of the Russian zone. The strike actions, whose aims did not at first go beyond the modest demand for reductions in work norms, underwent a rapid and irresistible transformation into a revolutionary uprising with objectives of the broadest political significance. The workers had no alternative to resorting to the streets since they, like the rest of East German society, had been deprived of all genuinely representative institutions. Once they did go to the streets, however, they were faced with the baffling problem of improvising such institutions for themselves. There was a clearly felt realization that they must present a political alternative to the regime. Wherever the demonstrations reached this point before the arrival of Russian tanks, a provisional leadership was elected by acclamation. This leadership was to deal with the regime in the spirit of the mandate it received from the people assembled in the central squares.