Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Pete Seeger-No Hagiographies For A Regretful Ally of Stalin
I tend to like Pete Seeger's music but the glossing over of his deep Communism in his obituaries creates a false impression and is of a piece with the journalistic effort to exaggerate the Right's falings and white wash the Left's. There is no nice way to say it--for all/most of his life Pete Seeger was a willing supporter of the Party and idea that killed over a 100 million people in the last century. Stalin, Mao and Ho were all great guys according to him. He simply outlived Communism. Nor can he hide under the "peace" banner. There was never criticism of a Communist war and he was never for any peace that the Communists were not pushing. Here are two songs--one before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union (and while Stalin was divvying up Poland)--but after France and Britain were at war--and one after Stalin was attacked. Pete Seeger song on involvement in WW 2 before the Nazi’s attacked the USSR: Franklin D, listen to me, You ain’t a-gonna send me ‘cross the sea. You may say it’s for defense That kinda talk ain’t got no sense. Pete Seeger song after Hitler invaded the USSR Now, Mr. President You’re commander-in-chief of our armed forces The ships and the planes and the tanks and the horses I guess you know best just where I can fight … So what I want is you to give me a gun So we can hurry up and get the job done! FDR was too anti-Nazi for Seeger until the Fuher attacked another death house state. Similiarly he railed against the attempt to save South Vietnam from Communist forces but said nary a word when they put hundreds of thousands to the Sea and the Sword. Pete Seeger was a troubadour and sang many a catchy tune. But his beliefs were not for an America any decent person would want to live in. Update: I do want to align myself with the more charitable commentary at, well Commentary. http://www.commentarymagazine.com/ on Pete Seeger. I had also forgotten until reminded by the above article that, in fact, Pete Seeger was not an "unapologetic" former Communist where Stalin is concerned. The incomparable former red and powerful anti-communist and historian Ron Radosh learned to play the banjo from Seeger as a red diaper baby in the 50's and reaquainted himself with him later in life very movingly. http://www.nysun.com/arts/seeger-speaks-and-sings-against-stalin/61666/ This part is worth quoting: So I felt some trepidation when I got Mr. Seeger's letter. Surely he was angry, or at the least peeved, by my article. I had been a banjo student of his in the 1950s and regarded Mr. Seeger as my childhood hero and mentor. But for decades since then, I have been publicly identified as an opponent of much of what he has believed — that the Rosenbergs were innocent, for example, or that Fidel Castro was a friend of the poor. I almost fell off the chair when I read Mr. Seeger's words: "I think you're right - I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in [the] USSR." For years, Mr. Seeger continued, he had been trying to get people to realize that any social change had to be nonviolent, in the fashion sought by Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Seeger had hoped, he explained, that both Khrushchev and later Gorbachev would "open things up." He acknowledged that he underestimated, and perhaps still does, "how the majority of the human race has faith in violence." More importantly, Mr. Seeger attached the words and music for a song he had written, "thinking what Woody [Guthrie] might have written had he been around" to see the death of his old Communist dream. Called "The Big Joe Blues," it's a yodeling Jimmie Rodgers-type song, he said. It not only makes the point that Joe Stalin was far more dangerous and a threat than Joe McCarthy - a man Mr. Seeger and the old left view as the quintessential American demagogue - but emphasizes the horrors that Stalin brought. "I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe," the lyrics read. "He ruled with an iron hand / He put an end to the dreams / Of so many in every land / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast) / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Do this job, no questions asked) / I got the Big Joe Blues." Mr. Seeger continued in his letter to me: "the basic mistake was Lenin's faith in [Party] DISCIPLINE!" He often tells his left-wing audiences, he said, to read Rosa Luxemburg's famous letter to Lenin about the necessity of freedom of speech. And despite all of my criticisms of Mr. Seeger over the years, he ended warmly, saying: "You stay well. Keep on." I was deeply moved that Mr. Seeger, now in his late 80s, had decided to acknowledge what had been his major blind spot - opposing social injustice in America while supporting the most tyrannical of regimes abroad. Mr. Seeger rarely performs anymore. But if he does, and if he sings this song, I suspect that few in the audience would have any idea of what it is about. And I doubt that any other singer today would cover it. Only an audience composed entirely of the now-aging old left veterans would understand it instantly. Undoubtedly, many of them would be shocked.