June 12, 2007


Time for Pete Seeger To Repent (RON RADOSH, June 12, 2007, NY Sun)

The film's most egregious moment comes when it tells us that Mr. Seeger joined the Communist Party in 1939, and drifted out of it a decade later. It relates how in 1941 he joined the first folk music group, the Almanac Singers, which sang for the labor movement and the CIO. Next the film mentions that Mr. Seeger entered the Army during World War II, another sign of his patriotism.

Nowhere does this documentary describe the Almanac Singers' very first album, "Songs for John Doe." As readers of this newspaper know, 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.

A few good tunes for nursery school kids don't make up for being an agent of a murderous enemy power.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 12, 2007 7:21 AM

We see no contrition and purpose of amendment.

A Communist may repent, but until he does, there is only one way he can be a good Communist.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 12, 2007 9:43 AM

All the CW about the 20th century is based on lies and double speak. Has such a thing ever happened before? All folk heroes are villains. I despair that the truth will ever be told in such a way that the average citizen can understand it?

Posted by: erp at June 12, 2007 9:53 AM

I can't ever listen to Pete Seeger without hearing Christopher Guest's parody from the old National Lampoon Radio Hour:

The Middle-class Liberal Well-intentioned Blues

"I wish I was a Negro
With lots of Negro Soul
then I could stay true to my ethnic group
and still play rock and roll
yes if I was a funky negro
eating soulfood bar-b-q
then I wouldn't have to sing
the middle class liberal
well intentioned blues
intentioned blues, intentioned blues"

Posted by: ted welter at June 12, 2007 10:28 AM

Overnight the anti-Bush-I-for-not-marching-onto-Baghad-left took a 180-degree turn and became advocates of peace, arguing that Saddam, whom they had opposed before, was a benign power, and that the only threat to the world came from lapdog-Blair's Britain and unilateral-BushII's America, which was on the verge of fascism. Those who wanted to intervene against Saddam were servants of Big Oil.

Posted by: ic at June 12, 2007 10:41 AM

Well, to be fair I must admit it's a major accomplishment to be so wrong for so long over so many things as Mr. Seeger. Most people learn from their mistakes, or at least get called on them by others ... but infallibility is one of the fringe benefits of being a Secular Liberal Saint, I suppose.

Posted by: John Barrett Jr. at June 12, 2007 11:00 AM

"The Middle-class Liberal Well-intentioned Blues"

I love that song!

I wish I was a wetback
On a strike in a lettuce patch
Or a slant-eyed peasant with Viet-Cong
Stashed underneath my thatch
I only ever cross the picket line
To pay my union dues
And keep on singing those middle-class liberal
Well intentioned blues

File that one under "All Humor is Conservative."

Posted by: Bryan at June 12, 2007 11:54 AM