Monday, September 3, 2007
Glenn Reynolds has it right about Pete Seeger and Communist tyranny.
When I was a freshman at Columbia - long, long ago - my father once came to New York for the day, and since there was a Pete Seeger concert at Barnard that night, I bought tickets for us both, thinking my father would enjoy the old-leftiness of it all. Old Left my father was, but Seeger's very first number was "a folk song of the Jewish people in Birobidjan in the Soviet Union". (You have to imagine that oddly canting, yet upper class voice of Seeger's, announcing this.) My father was furious, loudly said "What kind of Stalinist crap is this??", stood up, and insisted that we both walk out immediately. Which we did.
Over the course of the twentieth century, there were certainly a very few Socialists and others on the Left, including the far Left, who weren't shills and cheerleaders for the Soviet and other Communist regimes - as Seeger perennially was. Yet as Reynolds says, Pete Seeger may now acknowledge a bit more about the reality of Communism than many on today's Left can yet bring themselves to do. Very few among the Left's leaders, and fewer still among the rank-and-file believers, have ever made a reckoning, in any intellectual or emotional depth, with the horrors of twentieth century Communism - or indeed with the disasters of "post-Liberation" Third Worldism.
By "serious reckoning", I don't mean verbal self-protection like "Of course Stalin was terrible. But..." As in, "But weren't we wonderful to bring an end to the Vietnam war?" - i.e. to ensure Communist victory there. Or, "And wouldn't it be awesome if we could do the same (mutatis) in Iraq?"
P.S. Birobidzhan was Stalin's black-humour "homeland" for the Jews: a tiny, isolated, desolate tract on the Manchurian border in the Soviet far east. It might have become Stalin's Auschwitz, if the plans to "deport" all the Jews there had come to pass. But Stalin died - or was bumped off by his nervous comrades-in-arms - just as the post-war anti-semitic campaign in the USSR was coming to a head in 1953.
UPDATE: In the comments section, "Bleepless" and "Punditarian" point out something I hadn't known - but should have figured: when World War II began in Europe, Party-liner that he was, Pete Seeger sang songs against America fighting the Nazis. With the Hitler-Stalin Pact, this was perfectly consistent with Communist pro-Nazi policy worldwide. These ditties of Seeger's were withdrawn, of course, when Hitler betrayed his ally and invaded the USSR. Here is the text of one of Seeger's songs, from March 1941:
Franklin D., listen to me,
You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea,
'Cross the sea, 'cross the sea, You ain't a-gonna send me 'cross the sea.
You may say it's for defense,
But that kinda talk that I'm against.
I'm against, I'm against,
That kinda talk ain't got no sense.
Lafayette, we are here, we're gonna stay right over here...
Marcantonio is the best, but I wouldn't give a nickel for all the rest...
J. P. Morgan's big and plump, eighty-four inches around the rump...
Wendell Wilkie and Franklin D., seems to me they both agree,
Both agreed, both agreed,
Both agree on killin' me.
You might want to take a long, hot shower now.