Pete Seeger, 'Totalitarian Troubadour'
For some liberals, there really are no adversaries to their left. President Obama’s statement Tuesday on the death of folk singer Pete Seeger at age 94 was remarkable. Seeger was a talented singer, but he was also an unrepentant Stalinist until 1995, when he finally apologized for “following the [Communist] party line so slavishly.” You’d think Obama might have at least acknowledged (as even Seeger did) the error of his ways. Instead, Obama celebrated him only as a hero who tried to “move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.”
“Over the years, Pete used his voice – and his hammer – to strike blows for worker’s rights and civil rights; world peace and environmental conservation,” said Obama. “We will always be grateful to Pete Seeger.” Not even a hint that the “world peace” Seeger was seeking was one that would have been dominated by the Soviet Union.
I found Seeger a highly talented musician who raised American folk music to a new standard. But, as with other artists – the Nazi-era filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and the fascist poet Ezra Pound – an asterisk must be placed beside their names for their service in behalf of an evil cause.
As historian Ronald Radosh wrote: “Seeger would sing and give his support to peace rallies and marches covertly sponsored by the Soviet Union and its Western front groups and dupes – while leaving his political criticism only for the United States and its defensive actions during the Cold War.” Radosh, an admirer and onetime banjo student of Seeger’s, says he is grateful Seeger ultimately acknowledged the crimes of Stalin.
The next year, Pete Seeger, a member of the Young Communist League, lent his support for the effort to stop America from going to war to fight the Nazis. The Communist-party line at the time was that the war between Britain and Germany was “phony” and a mere pretext for big American corporations to get Hitler to attack Soviet Russia. The album Seeger and his fellow Almanac Singers, an early folk-music group, released was called “Songs for John Doe.” Its songs opposed the military draft and other policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
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.
We can honor Seeger the singer and mourn his passing. But at the same time we should respect the power that popular culture has over people and warn against its misuse. The late Andrew Breitbart lived largely to remind us that culture is upstream of politics — our culture is a stream of influence flowing into our politics.
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