Saturday, September 01, 2007

No fool like an old fool: Pete Seeger.

As the saying goes: “There’s no fool like an old fool.” Peter Seeger is 87.

The New York Times reports on an incident between Seeger and Ronald Radosh a former Leftist who has converted his previous fanaticism into its opposite -- now he spends a lot of his time worrying about communists from forty years ago. A bit late in my opinion. History is important but so is the history George Bush is creating right now!

Radosh released a letter he received from Seeger where the “folk singer” and Communist activist tells Radosh: “I think you’re right, I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in U.S.S.R.” And a few months ago Seeger wrote a song which attacked Stalin with some rather juvenile lyrics -- Seeger was always lauded more for his radical politics than for any real talent. Seeger's "lyrics" go:
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.
Radosh was thrilled to have the letter confirming his new religion and praised Seeger for seeing the light. The New York Times writes: “But in fact, Mr. Seeger, 87 made such statements years ago...” Years ago? Sounds like a long time.

Considering that Stalin's genocidal tyranny was well documented beginning in the 1930s, when did Mr. Seeger see the light? Seeger was born in 1919. So the many crimes of Stalin were already known by the time Mr. Seeger had become an adult. Seeger says his father got him involved in the Communist Party but left the party in 1938. So daddy stopped being a communist while Seeger was still a teen. Seeger, however, joined the Communist Party in 1942, long after his father allowed his membership to lapse. So blaming daddy for that step seems a bit of a stretch. Seeger says he “drifted” out of the party only in the 1950s. He didn’t drift out of the ideology.

Seeger made a habit of being in lockstep with the Stalinists most of his life, ignoring the mounting pile of bodies until decades after Stalin had finally been ushered into the grave. Dave Boaz chronicles some of the life of Seeger in The Guardian. Boaz notes that Seeger was so slavish a follower of Stalin that he flip-flopped on cue. First, like most Communists he was an ardent opponent of Hitler demanding the U.S. do more to stop the Nazi leader.

Then the Stalin-Hitler pact comes out and Russia and Nazi Germany are allies. So Seeger writes another juvenile ditty attacking Roosevelt for being too keen to go to war against the Nazis.
Franklin D, listen to me, You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea. You may say it's for defense That kinda talk ain't got no sense.
The Stalin-Hitler period of co-operation ended as each was trying to jockey into position to dominate the other. And once it ended Seeger’s principled stand for “peace” ended as well. And he wrote new lyrics to go with new position. It should be noted that a lot of Stalinists, at the time, were disillusioned about his snuggling up with Hitler. Seeger wasn't one of them.
Now, Mr. President We haven't always agreed in the past, I know But that ain't at all important now What is important is what we got to do We got to lick Mr. Hitler, and until we do Other things can wait. In other words, first we've got a skunk to skin.
So his prowar position became antiwar when Stalin and Hitler were on the side, switched back to prowar when they weren’t and the, come the Cold War, he was an avid peacenick again. Does one discern a pattern?

Seeger’s poor English in his songs was meant to give the illusion that he was just a working class lad speaking for the common man. In reality his origins were anything but. His father, Charles, was a graduate of Harvard and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who later taught at Yale, the New School for Social Research and Juilliard. Pete’s “working class” stepmother was Ruth Crawford Seeger, a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a composer. Seeger himself attended an exclusive prep school and then went on to Harvard for two years before dropping out. No doubt “ain’t” was popular at such elite institutions.

Seeger and others on the Left worked to hijack the illiterate songs of rural America. This folk tradition had little to do with political protest and the idea was to confiscate this traditional, rural style of singing and turn it into a tool that could be used to promote the “Popular Front” idea of the Stalinists of the day.

So when did Seeger actually admit that he was a supporter of a genocidal maniac? The New York Times reveals it was only in 1993 that he first admitted such a thing. That was 60 years after Stalin’s crimes were chronicled for the public.

Long before Seeger joined Comrade Stalin’s crusade Gareth Jones was writing about the true conditions in Soviet Russia: “What are the industrial difficulties? The first is the weakness of workers from lack of nearly all foods except bread. Meat is exceedingly scarce. All fats are almost impossible to obtain unless one is a manual worker or a member of the Communist party. Even a manual worker is rarely able to get enough. The bad quality of the goods produced under the Five-Year Plan is another drawback.” And Jones wasn’t the only one.

In 1929 William Henry Chamberlin wrote: “Certainly the things which the average Western European or American associates with the phrase "civil liberties," freedom of speech and press for all citizens, freedom of political organization, guaranties against arbitrary search and arrest, are completely nonexistent in Russia to-day.” In a passage sure to warm the heart of George Bush, Chamberlin wrote: “The writ of habeas corpus does not run in Russia. Anyone suspected of a political or economic offense may be arrested, held in prison for an indefinite period and finally exiled, sentenced to a term of imprisonment or even, in rare and extreme cases, executed...” Chamberlin soon learned it excutions were not rare or religated only to extreme cases. In 1944 he wrote about the intentional starvation in the Ukraine.

The reality is that when people dedicate themselves to an ideology there is always the danger of being unwilling to see the evil in the face of those who come from the same ideological tradition. This is true for every ideology that I can think of, without exception.

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