The Anti-Stalin Songbird


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":

"I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe / 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 / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast) / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Do this job, no questions asked) / I got the Big Joe Blues."

Seeger tells Radosh that "the basic mistake [with the Soviet Union] was Lenin's faith in [Party] DISCIPLINE!" Well, that's one way of putting it. It could also be argued that Lenin's basic mistake was his insatiable bloodlust; his murderous hatred of the so-called rich peasant class. Take this memo, from August 1918, in which Lenin outlines the level of "discipline" to be used against those "revolting" against collectivization:

"Comrades! The revolt by the five kulak volost's must be suppressed without mercy. The interest of the entire revolution demands this, because we have now before us our final decisive battle "with the kulaks." We need to set an example. 1) You need to hang (hang without fail, so that the public sees) at least 100 notorious kulaks, the rich, and the bloodsuckers. 2) Publish their names. 3) Take away all of their grain. 4) Execute the hostages? in accordance with yesterday's telegram. This needs to be accomplished in such a way that people for hundreds of miles around will see, tremble, know, and scream out: let's choke and strangle those blood-sucking kulaks. Telegraph us acknowledging receipt and execution of this.

Yours, Lenin"

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. Indeed, in his biography Seeger does make a fifty-years-too-late partial repudiation of his Sovietophilia, but drops in a string of moral equivalence in the following sentences:

"I'll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a 'hard driver' and not a supremely cruel misleader. I guess anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Moslems by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. could consider apologizing for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Khan. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern white Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps.

I eagerly await Seeger's next record, which will doubtless include a song denouncing himself.

Cato's executive VP David Boaz on "Stalin's songbird" here.