Until Pete Seeger’s death at 94 last night, he was perhaps the last man alive to say that he supported Hitler, Stalin, and Ho Chi Minh. That’s quite the totalitarian trifecta.
As PJM’s own Ron Radosh — who in his younger days took banjo lessons from Seeger! — wrote in the New York Sun in 2007:
[In] August 1939 Hitler and Stalin signed a pact and became allies. Overnight the communists took a 180-degree turn and became advocates of peace, arguing that Nazi Germany, which the USSR had opposed before 1939, was a benign power, and that the only threat to the world came from imperial Britain and FDR’s America, which was on the verge of fascism. Those who wanted to intervene against Hitler were servants of Republic Steel and the oil cartels.
In the “John Doe” album, Mr. Seeger accused FDR of being a warmongering fascist working for J.P. Morgan. He sang, “I hate war, and so does Eleanor, and we won’t be safe till everybody’s dead.” Another song, to the tune of “Cripple Creek” and the sound of Mr. Seeger’s galloping banjo, said, “Franklin D., Franklin D., You ain’t a-gonna send us across the sea,” and “Wendell Willkie and Franklin D., both agree on killing me.”
The film does not tell us what happened in 1941, when — two months after “John Doe” was released — Hitler broke his pact with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. As good communists, Mr. Seeger and his Almanac comrades withdrew the album from circulation, and asked those who had bought copies to return them. A little later, the Almanacs released a new album, with Mr. Seeger singing “Dear Mr. President,” in which he acknowledges they didn’t always agree in the past, but now says he is going to “turn in his banjo for something that makes more noise,” i.e., a machine gun. As he says in the film, we had to put aside causes like unionism and civil rights to unite against Hitler.
For years, Mr. Seeger used to sing a song with a Yiddish group called “Hey Zhankoye,” which helped spread the fiction that Stalin’s USSR freed the Russian Jews by establishing Jewish collective farms in the Crimea. Singing such a song at the same time as Stalin was planning the obliteration of Soviet Jewry was disgraceful. It is now decades later. Why doesn’t Mr. Seeger talk about this and offer an apology?
According to the film, one of Mr. Seeger’s greatest accomplishments was his tour with third-party Presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace in 1948. Viewers are told only that Wallace was a peace candidate opposed to the America-created Cold War, and that he was falsely accused of being a communist. Nowhere do we learn that Wallace’s campaign was in fact a Communist Party-run affair, and that had he been elected, Wallace announced he was going to appoint men to his Cabinet who we now know were bona fide Soviet agents. Instead, we are asked to assume that every position taken by the old pro-Soviet left wing has been proved correct.
Given his lengthy career from shilling for the Hitler and Stalin non-aggression pact to dropping by Occupy Wall Street one night in 2011, Seeger was arguably “America’s Most Successful Communist,” as Howard Husock dubbed him in 2005 at City Journal:
It was no surprise last year when rock stars, led by Bruce Springsteen, barnstormed battleground states for John Kerry, and no surprise that, save for a handful of country singers, George W. Bush could count on no similar support from pop performers. After all, American music stars are overwhelmingly left-liberal, and often publicly so—from punk rockers Green Day, who recently recorded American Idiot, a “George W. Bush Rock Opera,” to Grammy-winning blues rocker Bonnie Raitt, who once dedicated an album to “the people of North Vietnam.” Asked why President Bush’s iPod featured songs by singers who’d campaigned against him, White House advisor Mark McKinnon dryly observed: “The fact is that any president who would limit themselves to pro-establishment musicians would have a pretty small collection.”
The conventional wisdom holds that it was ever so—that American popular musicians have always been leftists, and that music-as-radical-politics has stretched across the decades, expressing the nation’s social conscience. The late New Left chronicler Jack Newfield, for instance, celebrated a “native tradition of an alternative America” that included not just such openly activist musicians as Woody Guthrie but also apparently non-political singers like Hank Williams and Mahalia Jackson.
Yet this “native tradition” is a myth. Until quite recently, popular music’s prevailing spirit was apolitical: “It has a good beat, you can dance to it, I give it a 95,” as fifties teens gushed about new records on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The politicization of American pop dates from the 1960s, but it grew out of a patient leftist political strategy that began in the mid-1930s with the Communist Party’s “Popular Front” effort to use popular culture to advance its cause.
One figure stands out in this enterprise: the now-86-year-old singer, songwriter, “folk music legend,” and onetime party stalwart, Pete Seeger. Given his decisive influence on the political direction of popular music, Seeger may have been the most effective American communist ever.
“Given his decisive influence on the political direction of popular music, Seeger may have been the most effective American communist ever,” Husock writes. Read the whole thing.
Seeger preached non- violence and considered himself a man of peace yet he aped the party line for a murderous totalitarian ideology. In the end that makes him a hypocrite. Seeger and his comrades on the Old Left and many in the New Left too, were what Lenin called useful idiots. Western dupes, who could be counted on to provide uncritical support for the Soviet Union thereby providing the rope that would eventually hang them.
Stalin is dead and gone and the smoking embers of the Soviet Union lie on the ash heap of history, but Seeger’s useful idiocy and hypocrisy remains.
At Barack Obama’s inauguration Seeger, along with Springsteen led a rendition of “This Land is Your Land” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The tune is often referred to as a moving song of unity. However, that wasn’t how Guthrie intended it. In fact, it was a protest song written as a communist response to Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. Lost in the wash of history is that many, who perform it deliberately leave out part of Guthrie’s original lyrics.
As I went rumbling that dusty highway
I saw a sign that said “private property”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing
This side was made for you and me
In the squares of the city, in the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office, I see my people
And some were stumbling and some were wondering
If this land was made for you and me
However, Seeger reinserted that Marxist ode to taking private property back into the inaugural performance and his birthday concert.
HBO a for-pay cable channel struck a $2.5 million dollar deal with Obama’s inaugural committee to air the concert. HBO broadcasted free of charge that weekend, but you had to have cable or satellite to see the show. If you want to view clips of Seeger and Springsteen singing This Land is Your Land on YouTube, you can’t because HBO… asserted its property rights and demanded the clips be removed.
Seeger’s useful idiocy and hypocrisy know no bounds.
This morning at his DaTechGuy blog, Peter Ingemi is succinct: “If only Leni Riefenstahl was a Communist like Pete Seeger…”
…perhaps Morning Joe & the MSM would have remembered & celebrated her the day she died as they did Pete Seeger today.
Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10 to college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.
For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.
Pete Seeger defended communism during the cold war and aided our enemies at a time when Americans were fighting.
During that same time Communism slaughtered 100 million people living under it and enslaved hundreds of millions more.
On the show they mentioned Seeger as a “Communist with a small ‘c’ ” Perhaps Democrat National Committee member Bill Connor should have described himself as a “KKK member with a small ‘k’ ” or Riefenstahl as a “Nazi with a small ‘n’ “?
I will acknowledge his skill as a singer & a songwriter and influence on American Music those are historical facts but I would no more celebrate his life than I would Riefenstahl.
In justifying his lifetime in support of Communism, Seeger once told the New York Times:
“I like to say I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.”
At least until the NKVD knocked upon their door.
Update: At Power Line, Scott Johnson decodes Mr. Obama’s encomium to Seeger: “‘Worker’s and civil rights; world peace and environmental [conservation]’ — they’re shibboleths and euphemisms requiring translation. If nothing else, Seeger’s career provides a useful key to the translation.”
Earlier: The Evil of Banality.
More: Seeger “long spoke out against private wealth and the capitalist system, but his talents earned him millions all the same. He gave some of his fortune away but ‘a recent estimate of his net worth pegged it at $4.2 million,’ according to Bloomberg.com,” Christian Toto adds at Big Hollywood.
Welcome Hot Air and Commentary readers; elsewhere at PJM, Rick Moran takes a much more nuanced look at Seeger than my start of the day slab of raw red meat: “Is It Possible to Love the Artist, but Hate His Politics?”
Read the whole thing.