In view of the responsibility of our party in the current domestic and international situation, and also in view of our experience that, despite much discussion and effort, the burden caused by Comrade Walter Ulbricht’s behavior is not decreasing, but, on the contrary, increasing, we regard it as our internationalist obligation to inform the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU of the situation that has developed here and to request help in finding a solution to this complicated problem.
We are of the opinion that such a solution could involve separating the function of the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the SED from that of chairman of the Council of State of the GDR very soon and limiting Comrade Walter Ulbricht’s function to that of chairman of the Council of State of the GDR. At the same time, it would be advisable to limit the exaggerated and artificially expanded authority of the Council of State. The activities of the Council of State, which are often used today to make decisions without the Politburo, should be put under the control of the Politburo. The Council of State must suspend its activities in areas belonging entirely to the sphere of responsibility of the government of the German Democratic Republic. Our considerations should also take into account that, according to official medical opinion, Comrade Walter Ulbricht’s current workload is irresponsible. His doctors have urgently and repeatedly recommended that he work only four hours per day, relax on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, and participate in evening events only once a week for two hours. We are concerned that Comrade Walter Ulbricht does not follow this and other recommendations by his physicians. A complicated situation could thus arise both for Comrade Walter Ulbricht himself and for the party and state.
Our suggestions are also motivated by the wish to give Comrade Walter Ulbricht the longest possible opportunity to contribute to our cause. In the interest of the party and in his own personal interest, it would be desirable to find a solution as soon as possible. Otherwise, the damage to our party, which is rectifiable only with difficulty, will continue to grow. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly difficult to prevent a public airing of these differences before the party and to avoid a repudiation of his false statements.
Therefore, it would be of the utmost importance and would help us immeasurably if Comrade Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev had a conversation with Comrade Walter Ulbricht in the next few days, a conversation that would result in Comrade Walter Ulbricht asking the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany to relieve him of his duties as First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany on account of his advanced age and state of health. This matter should be resolved as soon as possible, that is, definitely before the 8th Party Congress of the SED.
In submitting this important request to you, we are operating under the assumption that since the time of Thälmann and Pieck our parties and states have always shared and still share a good, firm, steadfast readiness to fight, which is based on Marxism-Leninism. Furthermore, we hope that the resolution of this unsettling matter will contribute to further deepening all that is great and good about our relations. We await your answer and assistance.
With Communist greetings
Berlin, January 21, 1971
signed by H. Axen, G. Grüneberg, K. Hager, E. Honecker, G. Mittag, H. Sindermann, W. Stoph, P. Verner, E. Mückenberger, H. Warnke, W. Jarowinsky, W. Lamberz, G. Kleiber
Source: Mitglieder des SED-Politbüros an das KPdSU-Politbüro und Generalsekretär L.I. Breshnew, 21. Januar 1971 [Members of the SED Politburo to the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and General Secretary Leonid I. Brezhnev, January 21, 1971], SAPMO-Bundesarchiv, DY 30/J IV 2/2A/3196; reprinted in Andreas Herbst et al., ed., Die SED. Geschichte, Organisation, Politik. Ein Handbuch [The SED. History, Organization, Policies. A Handbook]. Berlin, 1997, pp. 719-21.
Translation: Allison Brown