Monday, September 03, 2007

Pete Seeger, 60 Years Later

I stand in amazement and admiration. Pete Seeger has publicly repented of his support of Stalin and even written a talkin' blues song about it.

Seeger was my hero when I was a young leftie, but I became disillusioned enough to include him on my list of Ten Worst Americans a year or so ago. Guess I'll have to rethink that.


Anonymous said...

Now, if only Seeger would take some responsibility for the thousands who were killed at Stalin's hand, while Seeger's activity caused America to either be blind to that activity, or not to care.

I wonder if the peace-wanters of today who want our troops home from Iraq will ever acknowledge that Hussein was evil, and that thousands have died his hand, and the hands of his friends, who continue to foment death and destruction to thwart the development of a stable and non-oppressive government.

Anonymous said...

I remain amazed and disgusted that tyrants remain the darlings of the Left in the U.S. and in some circles in Europe.

Are those people totally blind and totally without compassion or decency?

The Oliver Stone crowd court Castro. Others applaud the memory of Che. Why? Are they daft? Do they not do much reading or research? Do they believe that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was lying?

Do they confuse some aberrant behavior by some Americans with the actual policies of communist regimes?

Enough to make stone statues cry.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

My cynical explanation: their real concern is what happens in US politics in the present. They want to be among the dominant, culture-controlling group here. Several consequences result.
1) What happens in other countries matters little.
2) What will happen to the US in the future matters little. *
3) They believe everyone else is acting from the same motive, seeking only short-term (less than two decades) political advantage, and will accept amazingly tortured and paranoid explanations for why other groups in America do what they do.

* Yes, even the environmental activists. Especially the environmental activists. People actually improving things in the environment tend to do so via technological or business solutions, rather than making people act right. This is unacceptable.

Woody said...

I hope your ten worst includes Jane Fonda.

@nooil4pacifists said...


I completely agree. As a teenage lefty, I could have been the guy in the Phil Ochs song:

I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts/
He sure gets me singing those songs.

I even mixed concert sound, and one studio session, for Seeger long ago. A clearer view came with conservatism, and disgust when I read Ronald Radosh's 2001 autobiography, Commies, which outed his Stalinist views.

The shift marked a signal change in my thinking--which Seeger's apology can't undo. You're right to confine him to your bottom ten.

Ed Darrell said...

Sure, Tomb, just as soon as you write letters of apology to all the victims of Pinochet.

Sour grapes. You're missing the point. Stalin stopped being the "darling" of Pete Seeger a long time ago. Wake up, Rip, and smell the coffee. Seeger's been singing patriotic American songs from the start. It's way past time to join in.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ed's comment is deserving of an answer. I gave an answer at his own site, which I recopy here.

You make fair points, but not convincing ones. Certainly, not everything Pete sang was anti-American - most songs avoided that issue altogether, focusing on more general statements of peace and justice, or just fun and world community. But I sang his songs: "King Henry," "Talkin' Ben Tre" "Waist Deep In the Big Muddy," "My Name Is Liza Kalvalege," "Viva La Quince Brigada," among others. The sneering tones, delivered lightly, were not an unfortunate addition to Seeger's work - they were the point.

As to patriotism, I have always thought of Pete as trying to accuse America from the standpoint of its own best values. That's patriotism of a sort, though not what we usually mean by that term. But there is a difficulty with that approach: you have to get it right, or you are just being insulting. If you adopt that method of critique of others, you must endure that method of judgment yourself. On this, Seeger fails often enough to be justly accused of hypocrisy and one-sidedness. If you wish to take a general antiwar stance when your home country is at war, cold or hot, then you have some obligation to stand up similarly for Hungary, or Czechoslovakia, or China. Otherwise, it's pretty clear who you have in mind when you are singing about war.

I grant that I can recall nothing in Seeger's work that speaks any praise of Stalin (he did write the gentle, lyricless "Mao Tse Tung" - I don't recall a gentle, lyricless "Richard Nixon"), but that is not the only standard by which we judge approval. When there actually are powerful communist leaders on the globe and you voice support of communism, you carry some obligation to distance yourself. As a point of comparison, look at all the ink that conservatives have spilt over the years making a point of distancing themselves from Joe McCarthy. I think Tailgunner Joe killed a few less people than Papa Joe, as well, which should make the need to distance oneself that much greater.

If the goal was to tell the world about peace and justice, encouraging us all to do better and live to higher standards, then it must be delivered evenhandedly, or it is just a pose, a set of values to hide behind in order to criticise one side only. Seeger was only successful at being sincere in his universality part of the time. The rest, then, deteriorates to mere pose, however well-intentioned in the imagination.

As to Friedman and Pinochet, you might check out Milton's own words on the subject before you draw quick equivalences.