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“The Party, the Party, she is always right!”

Anne Applebaum, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Soviet Gulag, has just published a history of the Iron Curtain countries from 1944 to 1956.

In an article for Foreign Policy based on her new book, she writes:

In 1949, a Czech-German communist named Louis Fürnberg, fearful of being expelled from the Party, wrote a song dedicated to his comrades. Hugely admired when it was performed at the Congress of the Communist Party of East Germany, Fürnberg’s “Song of the Party” not only lengthened its author’s political life, it was adopted as the German communist party anthem. It was duly sung, with fervor, right through the 1980s. The refrain went like this:

The Party, the Party, she is always right!
And Comrades, so it will always remain…
Since he who fights for the right, is always right…
He who defends mankind is always right….
As raised to life by Lenin’s spirit, as welded by Stalin
The Party, the Party, the Party!

(Full English translation here.)

To paraphrase the kids on the “Rate a Record” segment of “American Bandstand”: It’s got a good beat, and you can march to it.

As Applebaum notes, there were many reasons why postwar East Germans might have sung such a chilling (and now easily-ridiculed) song: fear, a desire to get ahead and obtain advantages in the new Sovet-imposed system, even genuine belief:

Some would have done so because they truly believed that the Party was always right. In this period, just after the devastation of World War II — a cataclysmic crisis which caused many in both Eastern and Western Europe to doubt everything they’d ever been taught — communism seemed to some people like the only viable alternative to the fascism which had just been defeated, and to the democratic capitalism which had failed so spectacularly in the 1930s. The world had been shattered. Communism offered a better way to rebuild it.

But what are we to make of those in the West who– decades after the collapse of the whole rotten system of which this song was a part– wallow in nostalgia for it?

What are we to make of those who– while claiming to reject Stalin– belong to a party that practices “democratic centralism,” based on the idea that the Party, the Party, she is always right?