All hail Stalin
Pete Seeger is finally dead, at 94. There were many things to dislike about Seeger most notably his unrepentant communism and support of Stalin, which he spewed to school children and their gullible parents for decades. From a former musical student of his, Ron Radosh’s review of a cinematographic hagiography:
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?
When the blacklist came to an end — of course the film concentrates on his victimization in those dark years — Mr. Seeger finally reached millions of Americans who, during the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam, came to believe there was never any merit to anti-communism, that it was the same as McCarthyism. Mr. Seeger went to visit North Vietnam in 1972, and came away ecstatic about the beautiful country and the peace-loving people there. We hear nothing about the political prisoners, the boat people, or about Ms. Baez’s lone protest after the war’s end against political oppression on the part of those she called “aging Stalinist leaders,” a protest that Mr. Seeger, for once, took no part in. Instead we see the video of him singing his anti-war hit, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”
In the film, Mr. Seeger says he slowly drifted away from the Communist Party because he didn’t like its top-down organization. He does not address the policies for which it stood. He never pauses to criticize the communist regimes he once backed, nor the few that still exist, like Castro’s prison camp in Cuba. Mr. Seeger’s cries for peace and his opposition to every American foreign and military policy (even ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan) show that he has learned little from the past. Mr. Brown’s film lionizes him, and lets viewers believe that his old causes were on target, that his
Speaking of “lionizing”, how about ol’ Pete ripping off an impoverished African composer for the rights to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and claiming it as his own? Seeger needed the money to buy a hammer, you see, to strike down greedy capitalists – what would a dirt-farmer an ocean away do with cash except waste it on food?
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh indeed.