September 3, 2007

Pete Seeger recants on Communism

Wow! From the New York Sun:
Seeger Speaks and Sings Against Stalin
Pete Seeger, America's best-known and most influential folksinger, wrote me a letter a few days ago. I did not expect to hear from him. Last June, I wrote in these pages about the new documentary on his life. The article ran under the headline "Time for Pete Seeger To Repent."

My complaint was that the film, good as it is, did not give a completely honest account of Mr. Seeger's politics. The filmmaker, Jim Brown, interviewed me on camera, but he did not include any of my critical remarks in the final version. In my interview, I pointed out that Mr. Seeger had been a lifelong follower of the Communist Party, changing his songs and his positions to be in accord with the ever-changing party line. He attacked the blacklist of the 1950s, which kept him off the air, but never seems to have said anything about Stalin's death list. As Martin Edlund has written in The New York Sun, Mr. Seeger has always been inseparable from his social mission. Much of it deserves praise - he was at the forefront of the struggle for civil rights - but much of it must be condemned and not hidden from sight.

In particular, I said that Mr. Seeger had supported Stalin's tyranny for so many years yet had never written a song about the Gulag. Yet some acknowledgment of his former support would have been appropriate, especially considering the songs he has sung about the Nazi death camps, which he often introduces by saying, "We must never forget."

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."
It never ceases to amaze me how otherwise intelligent people could get brainwashed into thinking that Communism was really about equality for all. It is not, has never been and any society set up under these ideas quickly devolves into brute thuggery and corruption. Posted by DaveH at September 3, 2007 4:06 PM

By your definition, the U.S. must be communist: brute thuggery and corruption. And I guess Venezuela, then, is NOT communist. Have you actually read any Marx, Lukacs, Marcuse, Jameson? No? Don't write, then.

Posted by: Anthony Cristofani at January 24, 2009 9:44 AM
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