The Worst Tribute Articles to Pete Seeger

Sunkara, whose publication has been featured in the New York Times as a great socialist vehicle, actually writes, if you can believe it, the following:

It’s not that Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a Communist.

At least Sunkara is honest. Unlike the apologists, who want to have their Seeger clean although they think much of what he fought for was morally reprehensible, Sunkara comes up with a new apology. He acknowledges communism in practice was awful, but out of power, and in America, it only did good.

Someone giving out The Daily Worker in the Bronx in 1938, he writes, “shouldn’t be conflated with the nomenklatura that oversaw labor camps an ocean away.” Doesn’t he know that the comrades in the CPUSA were at the same time justifying and rationalizing and lying about every crime committed by Stalin’s regime in the USSR? Doesn’t he know that the issue of the paper they were giving out had articles not only about labor struggles at home, but about how Stalin was creating paradise in the gulag and liberating prisoners through work?

In reality, these same American Reds were trying to teach the workers whose fights they supported that they should look to the USSR as an example of what could be built in the United States. It was more honest when William Z. Foster titled one of his early books Toward Soviet America. The party's strategy changed, but not its goals.

Sunkara says the Communists and Seeger were “on the right side of history.” Really? Was Seeger on the right side of history when he and the Almanac Singers called FDR a warmonger and urged alongside America First "no intervention in a foreign war," and when he attacked the U.S. as fascist, Britain as imperialist, and declared Nazi Germany a benign power that meant no harm to the world? As Pete sang and played: “Franklin D. Franklin D, You ain’t gonna send me across the sea.”

Then Sunkara gives us the usual line about how right the Eastern bloc was in leading the anti-colonial struggle in Asia and Africa. Think of the outcome had the USSR lasted and been able to turn South Africa into a replica of the Soviet Union, which well might have happened had the ANC -- controlled by the South African Communist Party -- succeeded in toppling the apartheid regime in the early '60s.

What does Sunkara think about the totalitarian and Sovietized regime of Mengistu in Ethiopia, one of the most brutal communist "liberation" governments in that era?

Sunkara too seems to have little knowledge of American Communist history. He too should read Haynes and Klehr, in particular their volumes on American Communism. He cites Communist Party novelist Michael Gold, black author Richard Wright, and critic Granville Hicks as examples of Communism's best. Anyone who thinks that Mike Gold had knowledge about anything of value, does not realize that Richard Wright became an anti-Communist, or knows nothing about how and why Granville Hicks changed, and attributes these people in particular with pushing FDR and the New Deal to the left, reveals only his own ignorance of history.

It is not surprising Sunkara likes Gold, since he is the man who called Seeger "the Karl Marx of the teenagers."

So Sunkara praises American Communists for playing a “largely positive role in American politics and culture.” Largely positive, like when they said the fight for civil rights had to be abandoned during WWII because everything had to be put aside to support the Soviet Union and defeat Hitler? Or that strikes should be abandoned and a no-strike pledge instituted in the factories, and that anyone opposing their policies in the labor movement should be indicted? This is precisely what the U.S. government did when it indicted and tried the Trotskyists under the Smith Act. The Communist Party provided the government lawyers with material to be used by the prosecution.

Pete supported that. But of course, when the Communists were indicted under the same Smith Act in 1948, the party proclaimed that an example of the Truman administration’s “fascist” policies.

Indeed, “The Hammer Song,” known by most as “If I Had a Hammer,” was written by Lee Hays (not Seeger) as a song to be used in defense of the indicted Communists, and not as a clarion call for brotherhood. Sunkara’s belief that the American Communists were “creative and dynamic” is so far off the mark one can only laugh at his ignorance.