This Machine Loves Communists: Happy 140th Birthday, Pete!

In honor of yet another Pete Seeger birthday, a roundup of previous Reason pot-shots at the cuddly old commie's politics, awful back catalog of NLF ballads, and his difficult 2007 decision to denounce Josef Stalin.

First up, Nick Gillespie on Seeger's performance at the Obama inauguration:

So the Los Angeles Times headlined its big story about yesterday pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial with this misleading title: "Big stars rock the Lincoln Memorial." Sure, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Beyonce, etc. were all there and are indeed all big rock stars. But so was folk mummy Pete Seeger, who is the musical equivalent of spinach. He's the Jeff Lynne of folk; always somehow in the room but clearly nobody's favorite. (And let's not even get into his questionable reaction to Dylan going electric)...

And if you need more reasons to dislike Seeger (besides his discography of course), there's his suspiciously timed turnabout regarding U.S. entry into World War II. As part of the Stalinist singing group, the Almanac Singers, Seeger recorded an album lobbying against U.S. involvement in the war while the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had a peace treaty. Once Hitler invaded Russia, the band pulled their album from the market and issued a pro-war one

Brian Doherty, in a blog post wonderfully titled "If I Had a Hammer (And Sickle), excerpts a column from David Boaz on "the old, but still interesting, topic of why the modern press gives commies better press than they give Nazis, hooked to the New Yorker's recent Pete Seeger profile."

Jesse Walker on the folkery-fakery and irritating earnestness of Steve Earle's recent records, in the fine tradition of Seeger:

The song is called "Steve's Hammer (For Pete)," and it's not hard to figure out who Pete is: The folk singer Pete Seeger was slinging the same bludgeon when he wrote "If I Had a Hammer" in 1949. The left-libertarian critic Dwight Macdonald once said that Seeger favored "all the right Causes from getting out of Vietnam to getting into ecology. But they're folkery-fakery for all that." Earle, 53, is a gifted songwriter, and he made some of the finest country and rock records of the '80s and '90s. But he's come down with Seeger's folkery-fakery disease.

Back in 2007, I wrote about Seeger's slightly delayed disavowal of Josef Stalin:

Banjo-pickin' lefty Pete Seeger has written a song condemning Stalin-sixty-plus years after his death. According to historian Ron Radosh, Seeger sent him a letter acknowledging his pro-Soviet credulity, agreeing that on his guided tours of the country he "should have asked to see the gulags." Seeger attached the lyrics to a new song about Stalin, "The Big Joe Blues"...

Last week, the New York Times defended Seeger against Radosh's charge that the singer was only now repenting. Under the unironic headline "This Just In: Pete Seeger Denounced Stalin Over a Decade Ago," Times journo Daniel Wakin says that "Mr. Seeger, 87, made such statements years ago, at least as early as his 1993 book, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" In the book, he said in a 1995 interview with The New York Times Magazine, he had apologized "for following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader."

At least as early as 1993? Merely a "cruel misleader?" Not exactly a full-throated condemnation, Dan.

Speaking of Radosh, who learned banjo from Seeger, he reminds his blog readers of this 1995 piece from Reason.com columnist Steve Chapman, "America Honors its Troubadour of Totalitarianism":

He was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements, but his agenda was not quite the same as that of Eugene McCarthy or Jesse Jackson. In 1970, he wrote a song celebrating the North Vietnamese dictator Ho Chi Minh that included these memorable lines: "He educated all the people, he demonstrated to the world: If a man will stand for his own land, he's got the strength of 10."...

For his entire career, Seeger's art has been a weapon in the service of a cause that has produced more suffering, destroyed more lives and piled up more corpses than any other form of government in human history.

Somehow, a few nice tunes don't seem to make up for all that.

Happy birthday, comrade!

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  • ||

    BTW, has anyone else noticed that Pete Seeger is a lousy singer and an utterly mediocre banjo picker?

    -jcr

  • JB||

    The New York Times? You mean the newspaper that white-washed Stalin?

    I look forward to the demise of that trash-heap.

  • Mike Laursen||

    You know, if you're trying to influence people not to believe stupid things like "Stalin was a great guy", you want to cheer them on when they change their mind, not snark at them for taking a long time to change their mind.

  • Pepe||

    Replace Stalin with Hitler and try to say the above comment with a straight face.

  • JP||

    Aw, let the old guy die in peace. Plenty of entertainers have said a lot stupider things, and at least he had the excuse of growing up at a time when communism's epic fail was not so obvious.

  • MaterialMonkee||

    Right I'm Welsh

    as in from Wales

    Communism is sort of like my heritage

    My Grandad was hardcore union, coal miner and shit

    I'm a libertarian

    But basically When you're welsh there's one Pinko who's like a hero to everyone

    Paul Robeson

    he was a twat right for teh whole Stalin shit

    but basically
    he was like a national hero in wales

    As a Welshman I feel fuckin proud that basically we made teh first film where an African American was treated like a hero

    with no stereo-typical shit

    Proud valley

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Proud_Valley

    us welsh are well proud of that

    I'm like the most right wing fucker you'll meet


    but basically

    there are some Pinkos who are alright


    Paul Robeson
    is one a dem

  • anarch||

    "If a man will stand for his own land private property set aside for public use, he's got the strength of 10."

  • Paul||

    Why would a communist be performing at the Obama inauguration?

  • Paul||

    Dylan going electric



    Drink!

  • Stalin||

    "BTW, has anyone else noticed that Pete Seeger is a lousy singer and an utterly mediocre banjo picker?"

    True, but he sure can suck a dick.

  • ||

    Dammit Dylan, get back here with my whiskey. I'm supposed to take a drink.

  • ||

    Why would a communist be performing at the Obama inauguration?



    You must be new here...

  • Grandpa Withers||

    "Paul Robeson"

    Funny you should mention him, because he popped into my mind before I read your post. What Robeson said and did with regard to communism is fucked up, but over the years I've come to wonder that if I were treated the way blacks were treated in America in his day (and before then, WEB Dubois'day) I might delude myself into thinking that some other system of governance, despite it's obvious flaws, was somehow preferable. But then I smoke weed.

  • Grandpa Withers||

    Damn you Big Homonyms!!!

  • ||

    When Robeson visited the soviet union, you can be quite sure that what he saw was very carefully controlled by his handlers. He wasn't a deliberate liar like Walter Duranty; he was a believer who was shown only the things that would reinforce his belief.

    -jcr

  • Uncle Joe||

    Fuck Seeger for losing faith in me in 1993. Send that traitor to the gulag!

    Love,

    Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Why would a communist be performing at the Obama inauguration?"

    Because that's where he feels most at home.

  • dhex||

    "BTW, has anyone else noticed that Pete Seeger is a lousy singer and an utterly mediocre banjo picker?"

    i'd disagree on both counts. he's no john fahey, if you're going for top shelf americana (and i sometimes am), but he's not terrible at all.

    regarding the original post: worrying about the politics of musicians is kind of dumb. i might draw the line at skrewdriver or some of that retarded heathen folk euro-nationalist shit, but if it rocks (or drones, or buzzes, or stutters) then that's more or less the extent of my exchange with the musicians.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Replace Stalin with Hitler and try to say the above comment with a straight face.

    OK, I'll let your Godwin slide and do ask you ask:

    You know, if you're trying to influence people not to believe stupid things like "Hitler was a great guy", you want to cheer them on when they change their mind, not snark at them for taking a long time to change their mind.

    Kept a perfectly straight face when I typed that.

  • High Every Body||

    Why would a communist be performing at the Obama inauguration?

    LOL

  • ||

    I lost all respect for Seeger when he let chevy use his song to sell them trucks.

  • ||

    Thanks for reminder about Seegar's past.

  • Mark||

    @ dhex I like my top shelf Americana as much as the next guy, but when I learn that Seeger was writing songs about Ho Chi Minh, I have to ask myself, WTF? What is so American about that? Wasn't Lyndon Johnson doing more or less the same thing, at the same time, as Ho Chi Minh right here in the U.S. of A?

    It's kinda like The English Patient, by Michael Ondaatje, being acclaimed as "the great Canadian novel". Set mostly in Italy, with a cast of characters that aren't really Canadian, surely something more representative could have been found.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. "The great Canadian novel" is a contradiction in terms, dubious accomplishment etc.

  • High Every Body||

    I lost all respect for Seeger when he let chevy use his song to sell them trucks.

    That is the only thing I know to respect him for.

  • dhex||

    mark - americana refers to style, not content.

  • ||

    Seeger has to have made a crap-ton of scratch from that idiotic "This land is your land" stealth-socialist anthem that every grade-school music class (mine included) was made to sing back in the '60s and '70s.

    Do you suppose he distributed all those clams equally for the greater glory of the masses?

    I can forgive the Stalin business, but my hatred for "This land is your land" still burns like the fires of ten thousand suns.

  • mark||

    @dhex: Point taken:) I'm more frustrated with the cognitive dissonance on display than anything else. Seeger gets the best of everything: musically, he can claim the homespun, "authentic", uneducated, pragmatic blue-collar experience, while lyrically he can take his cues from a more cosmopolitan, educated, ideological, white-collar experience.

  • ||

    I can forgive the Stalin business, but my hatred for "This land is your land" still burns like the fires of ten thousand suns.

    I couldn't agree more. Public school in the hippy 70's was a crock.

  • Mark||

    @ screamer & trouble

    It was a crock well into the eighties as well - I can remember being forced to sing that damn song ad nauseum during our school assembly in the mornings.

  • ||

    "You know, if you're trying to influence people not to believe stupid things like "Stalin was a great guy", you want to cheer them on when they change their mind, not snark at them for taking a long time to change their mind."

    If a person can look at a mass-murderer/enslaver like Joe Stalin for 40 years and finally conclude that he had a few flaws, that person is beyond redemption. One must first have a mind in order to change it. At this point, all I want is for Seegar to rot in hell alongside his idol, Stalin, for his life's work in promoting Stalin's bloody brand of evil, using words like "freedom" and "justice" to do so.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Nah. It's common for people, even otherwise intelligent people, to put boxes around beliefs they hold when those beliefs are echoed by and help them fit in with their friends, family, or employer. For Pete Seeger believing in socialism was part of his whole scene. For others, it's their religion or their political views.

  • ChrisO||

    He needs to form a group called the Useful Idiots.

  • Cato The Elder||

    Wrong Communist.

    "This Land is Your Land" was by Woody Guthrie, not Comrade Seeger.

    Comrade Guthrie wrote in the early 1940's, and it was popular when I was in government school back in the late 1950s.

    People sang it back then as though it were a patriotic anthem ... and they still do. Though people don't really pay much attention to lyrics and chants, their words do influence their beliefs. Even though "This Land is My Land" basically sucks, it was an enormous propaganda success. It took a few decades, but Americans now truly believe its sentiment.

  • ||

    I thought the reference to Chevy using Seeger's song was a play on Chevy trucks using Bob Seeger's "Like a Rock" in their commercials.

    I was having a pretty good laugh until "This Land is Your Land" was mentioned. I had forgotten about that, even though as mentioned above that song was written by Woody Guthrie.

  • ||

    I stand corrected, but I really did think it was a collaboration between the two red folkies.

    I guess I was traumatized by the Great Folk Scare of 1969.

  • ||

    "This land is your land" was good for some grade-school-age lyrical fun though:

    "This land is my land,
    "This land ain't your land,
    "Get the hell off my land,
    "Go find your own land", etc.

  • dhex||

    "Seeger gets the best of everything: musically, he can claim the homespun, "authentic", uneducated, pragmatic blue-collar experience, while lyrically he can take his cues from a more cosmopolitan, educated, ideological, white-collar experience."

    granted. sometimes you're in the right place at the right time. he certainly worked for it, if nothing else.

  • jester||

    Let's bash Patti Smith now. Just for the fuck of it.

  • ||

    The Seattle PBS station always hauls out that two-hour drool-fest about the Seeger thing whenever they decide to have a fund-raising campaign. Nobody needs to know anything else about Seattle.

  • Adam||

    Jeff Lynne IS my favorite. So don't make sweeping generalizations

  • ||

    Before I even knew who Pete Seeger was I was annoyed by his songs, thanks to one of our first grade teacher back in the early 60s in New York, who would force Seeger's folk songs and others churned out on the left during the 30s down our throats by making us sing them over and over and over in auditorium (the woman looked old enough to be part of the International Workers of the World corps back during WWI, and later was the only teacher not to walk out during the UFT's battle with the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school board over racial quotas in '68, so anyone who thinks political indoctrination in public schools is a new phenomenon, think again).

  • ||

    What an astounding display of ad hominem? Isn't this R E A S O N magazine? lol

  • ||

    So..."libertarians"....what is it?

    Are public schools and "propaganda" and all those great gouts of commie pinko folk singers a massive plot to turn Merika into a nation of pussies?

    Was the propaganda a success or not? YOu only need to look out the window at the piles of dead bodies in streets, the red diapers, and those dirty government commie projects like streets and fire departments to know that the fucking socialists have finally taken over.

  • Folkways Recordings||

    As part of Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday celebration, Smithsonian Folkways, the nonprofit record label of the national museum, is inviting everyone to Sing-Along-With Pete!

    http://www.folkways.si.edu

    You can also share your birthday messages on Facebook .Get two free downloads from the new box set from www.folkways.si.edu

    http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=10367554814&topic=8423

    Happy Birthday Pete!

  • Cato The Elder||

    How appropriate that the national museum would be promoting Pete Seeger's "music" at REASON on May 1st!

    Happy May Day, Pete!

  • ||

    Well, his sister Peggy is worse. Woody Guthrie was a LOT worse, although arguably more talented.

    And in spite of his Com-symp beliefs, he has written some good songs. For example, my Israeli-born daughter thinks "Waist Deep In The Big Muddy" translated into Hebrew would make a great commentary on the folly of the Oslo Agreement.

  • Liberty1stThenUnion-PH||

    "David Boaz on "the old, but still interesting, topic of why the modern press gives commies better press than they give Nazis..."
    could be because many jews were bolsheviks, far beyond their per capita %, and many jews in germany were commmunists or sympathizers and seen as enemies of the german socialists/italian fascists.
    And according to manny friedman, http://blogs.timesofisrael.com.....the-media/ , jews have powerful control over mainstream media themes. And judaism coming into existence prior to aristotle and the concept of the "rights of man", they hold political ideas closer to statism/collectivism/progressivism/communism than individualism (although clearly not the only ones, there are many communist/utopian christians, pagans, atheists, etc) therefore the media is loath to treat communists and german socialists (NAZIs) the same. We learn from "The Chief Culprit" and "Icebreaker" by Suvorov as well as many others, that the Soviets from the 1920s onward, just as bensen and kennedy show in Lincoln's Marxists, believed that the collapse of the west (and resistance to communism) could only happen in larger nation states and after hitler had exhausted europe. It is also alleged that the US was pulled into WW1 by influence from seditious german zionist jews in trade with britain for israel.

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