January 28, 2014

"I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs."

"I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this," said Pete Seeger, in 1955, subpoenaed to testify before a thing we used to have called the House Un-American Activities Committee. They thought he was a Communist, and he was a communist. "With a small 'c,'" he liked to say. He'd been a Communist with a capital C too, but he'd quit, and he said he should have quit earlier.

His group The Weavers had been a success, with records like "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine" (1951), but getting called a communist — and actually being one — wrecked the commercial path forward.
Mr. Seeger was indicted in 1957 on 10 counts of contempt of Congress. He was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to a year in prison, but the next year an appeals court dismissed the indictment as faulty. After the indictment, Mr. Seeger’s concerts were often picketed by the John Birch Society and other rightist groups. “All those protests did was sell tickets and get me free publicity,” he later said. “The more they protested, the bigger the audiences became.”
By then, the folk revival was prospering. In 1959, Mr. Seeger was among the founders of the Newport Folk Festival. The Kingston Trio’s version of Mr. Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reached the Top 40 in 1962, soon followed by Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “If I Had a Hammer,” which rose to the Top 10.
Much more in the long NYT article at the link, including his education at Harvard; his encounter with the folklorist Alan Lomax, and, through Lomax, Lead Belly; his alliance with Woody Guthrie, traveling around playing for migrant workers in 1940; his WWII-era group the Almanac Singers, who played anti-war and then antifascist songs; campaigning for presidential candidate Henry Wallace in 1948; his central place in the great folk music revival circa 1960; playing "We Shall Overcome" at Civil Rights Movement rallies; and getting betrayed by Bob Dylan.

Imagine experiencing nearly a century of American history from such a central place. What a lucky man. Pete Seeger lived to be 94.

66 comments:

Chuck said...

I remember well, being an undergraduate at the University of Michigan some years after Ann Althouse graduated. Years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. And seeing all of the campus kiosks plastered with flyers for meetings and seminars to protest the innocence of the Rosenbergs, and of course concerts at The Ark, where Pete Seeger frequently played. It was taken as a matter of faith, that the Rosenbergs were victims and the Red Scare era was the purest of evil. Heck, Arthur Miller (playwright of "The Crucible") had won a Hopwood Prize as a Michigan undergrad and they named the campus theater after him.

Trouble was, the Rosenbergs really were Soviet nuclear spies. And as Pete Seeger discovered, Stalin and Mao really were some of the worst people in the world presiding over some of the worst social systems in the history of the world. And as we all later discovered, communism failed disastrously everywhere it was attempted. Fighting communism looks at least as good, after all these years, as Pete Seeger might.

Bob R said...

On the plus side, he wrote one of the best introductory Banjo instruction books in the days before Tapes, DVDs, and YouTube.

On the minus side, he was a vocal supported of Joe Stalin and the Soviet Union long after the gulags and De-Kulakization became well known.

If you look at the art and ignore the artist, you can enjoy a lot more art.

mesquito said...

A lifetime spend supporting tyrannies that would happily shoot you for what you think and say.

Stalin's loyal little troubadour.

Henry said...

In his autobiography the great country blues harmonica player Sonny Terry called Pete Seeger one of the finest men he'd ever known.

That counts for a lot in my book.

It is small h humanity he recognized.

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Imagine experiencing nearly a century of American history from such a central place. What a lucky man.

Lucky? Perhaps. But to no avail, and so, wasted.

He saw all that. Actions. Consequences. And learned nothing from it. Near the very end, he participated in Occupy.

Pete Seeger. Frequently wrong, never in doubt.

mesquito said...

And is there a sound more cringingly whitebread as 1950s folk music?

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Pete Seeger's performance of Waste Deep in the Big Muddy on the Smothers Brothers show can be credited as the nail in the coffin for LBJ's 1968 reelection bid.

WestVirginiaRebel said...

He did apologize, and performed for Solidarity supporters. I think he, like many in his generation, was disillusioned by Stalin and the Soviet Union.

I didn't really listen to his music that much when I was younger; growing up in the Seventies and Eighties he was more someone my parents listened to.

campy said...

His stepmother wrote better music.

Carol said...

That whole folk music fad we boomers woke up to was the brainchild of communists and their red diaper babies. They knew we could be influenced by the the Authentic Voice of the Proletariat.

Still, reds like John Hammond found us some pretty good alternatives to the usual top 10 pap.

Patrick said...

It is a shame that he was unable to see the connection between little c communism and fascism. Also, his attempt to unplug Dylan was the epitome of both. Nevertheless, he brought a fair amount of joy into the world, which counts for something.

Tarrou said...

"Anti-war and then anti-fascist"???? So a craven opportunist then, who opposed the war when it was easy, and jumped on the train when public opinion shifted.

Greg Hlatky said...

@Tarrou, not an opportunist, just following the party line. Anti-war after the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, anti-fascist after July 22, 1941. Just like all the Communist lickspittles for Stalin.

Brian said...

Given the 100 million+ worldwide death-toll of Communism - far exceeding that off Naziism, and continuing decades after the cult of Naziism was extinguished in World War II - it's a disgusting achievement of the Left that it's still somewhat socially acceptable to be a Communist (or a communist, for that matter).

Pete Seeger - an evangelist for monstrous evil - was human filth. I kind of regret that I'm an atheist, so I can't fully imagine him burning in hell.

John Lynch said...

I give people a pass for being Communists before 1939. After that, anyone who remained a Communist was either stupid or evil. By that time, the terror, the gulags, the Spanish Civil War, and the Nazi-Soviet pact had revealed what Stalin and the Party were really about. After that, Communists were either deluding themselves about the truth or didn't care about the truth because the cause was just. Pete Seeger was pretty clearly in the latter category. It's pretty evil to believe that killing millions is OK as long as history moves forward.

The Communist Party USA was run from Moscow. There's overwhelming evidence of that. All the self-rightous preening of American Communists about freedom of conscience falls flat with me because they were knowing tools of a totalitarian state.

That being said, there was no danger of Communists taking over America. We have a First Amendment, and Pete Seeger posed no national security risk. There should have been no government involvement with his life. The blacklisting I care much less about, because holding extreme political views has always carried a cost and he got around it anyway.

Tank said...

Henry said...

The great country blues singer, Sonny Terry, ....

You mean that GREAT blues harp player and country blues singer, Sonny Terry.

One of my blues heroes.

Respectfully revised.

tim in vermont said...

"Waist Deep in the Big Muddy" is a song that often springs to mind when discussing the ACA.

Funny how often little c communism ends up as big C Communism once they actually get power, and the world has seen the results.

fivewheels said...

It's hard to look at people like this with the right perspective. I suppose the defense is, hey, do we have to hold one little mistake like treason against someone for a lifetime?

I don't know what it was like to see Communism in the 1930s and '40s. Was it somehow appealing? It's easier to see the evil in hindsight now, or even in, say, 1975 when I figured it out at 7 years old, but was it obvious in those early days? Well, it was obvious to a lot of people.

One of the conditions of forgiveness is always genuine repentance. His regrets seem more hand-in-the-cookie jar, rather than, "My god, I took orders from mass murderers and aided one of the most evil enterprises in human history, what have I done?" I'm not quite as sympathetic to, "Perhaps I should have stopped working for a foreign government to propagandize against my own country a little earlier."

But seriously, foolish people get fooled, I suppose. What are we supposed to do about that?

Donald Douglas said...

Got you linked up here, Althouse: 'Communist Folk Singer Pete Seeger Dies at 94'.

Henry said...

@Tank -- You're right. I revised and reposted and now that I'm not trying to post from phone, I've deleted my first wrong-headed comment. I also spelled Seeger wrong in that one.

When I taught myself to play harmonica, Sonny Terry was one of the first bluesmen I studied. The book is The Harp Styles of Sonny Terry. The first half is his life story. The second half provides lyrics and tablature for many of his songs.

MadisonMan said...

All ordinary citizens should stand up to Congress like he did. We'd be a lot better off.

Illuninati said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Illuninati said...

It is not over yet. David Horowitz has experienced Communism from the inside. Here is his assessment of the danger we still face.

"I was driven by two urgencies: a desire to persuade those still on the left of the destructive consequences of the ideas and causes they promoted; and second, the frustration I experienced with those conservatives who failed to understand the malignancy of the forces mobilized against them. Most conservatives habitually referred to leftists who were determined enemies of America’s social contract as “liberals.” In calling them liberals, conservatives failed to appreciate the Marxist foundations and religious dimensions of the radical faith or the hatreds it inspired. And they failed to appreciate the left’s brutal imposture in stealing the identity of the intellectually pragmatic, patriotic, anti-totalitarian “Cold War liberals” whose influence in American political life they began killing off in 1972 with the McGovern coup inside the Democratic Party.1"

Horowitz, David (2013-11-05). The Black Book of the American Left: The Collected Conservative Writings of David Horowitz: 1 . Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

tim in vermont said...

Ironic how under even little c communism, his personal beliefs would no longer be a "private matter."

John Lynch said...

The closest non-lefty comparison I can come up with is Richard Strauss. He didn't actually join the Party, though.

fivewheels said...

Yeah, Tim, as with the Hollywood 10, I've never been sympathetic to the view that it's in any way heroic to champion a right that you are actively working to deny every single other citizen.

And yeah, Seeger was a lucky man. He was damned lucky his dreams of big or small "c" communism never came true, thanks to the good people who opposed him and all he stood for.

Bill R said...

Re: Anti-war and Anti-Fascist.

Not exactly. He was opposed to any American involvement in World War II when Stalin and Hitler had a "non-aggression pact" to carve up Europe between them.

When Hitler reneged on the deal and invaded the USSR, Seeger flipped in an instant and was all "Second Front Now".

He was always and ever a slavish toady for the party line right up until the day when there was no longer a party.

And to all you atheists who can't picture him burning in hell, I'm a Roman Catholic and I promise you he's being sodomized by Joseph Stalin at this very moment. Trust me on this one.

ken in sc said...

I read someone who referred to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie as part of the”Folk Music Scare” of the 60s.

virgil xenophon said...

Well, the waterfront's been pretty much covered. My old friend from Harry's Place days, mesquito scores with both comments, and I totally assoc. myself with comments by Tarrou, Hlatky, Brian, tim-in-vermont, fivewheels and Bill R. Hard to improve on the collective comments...as mesquito points out, if our "loyal little troubadour" "small c" guy had gotten his wishes, we'd have all been shot. What did Ayers, et al, contemplate? Perhaps 25 million?
Lots of egg-shells..

virgil xenophon said...

Oh, I also feel I simply must comment on the tone of AA's post. Unless I'm badly misreading her, her "What a lucky man." comment is hard to construe as otherwise than a cringing celebratory approval of the man and his causes. And PLEASE don't tell me it's simply objective description of history from an academic distance once removed.

He died at 94. As far as I'm concerned that reprehensible creature lived 94 years too many..

Jim said...

Oh that Elia Kazan could be forgiven for naming names as easily as Seeger is for toeing the Stalinist line.

sean said...

In addition to being an apologist for mass murder, Seeger was a loser. (A category Prof. Althouse, in her capricious way, sometimes disdains and sometimes valorizes.) His side lost. History hasn't turned out at all the way he wished and hoped, the forces he supported have been defeated, and the ideals he espoused have failed.

Historical defeat must have been especiall galling for a historical materialist.

Salamandyr said...

" his WWII-era group the Almanac Singers, who played anti-war and then antifascist songs;"

This right here is why I can't respect any of the mid 20th Century communists, big or little "C" for the purity of their beliefs.

They didn't have any, despite the prettiness of their words in front of an improper government committee.

jr565 said...

"He did apologize, and performed for Solidarity supporters. I think he, like many in his generation, was disillusioned by Stalin and the Soviet Union."


Wow how big of him. Still clung to the same beliefs though.its not that the ideas were wrong its just that Stalin didn't do it right.
No, the problem is Stalin did it exactly right. So, he can go from a Communist to a communist, but at the end of the day he learns nothing.

Jim said...

Sort of the Leni Riefenstahl with a banjo.

jr565 said...

John Lynch wrote:
I give people a pass for being Communists before 1939. After that, anyone who remained a Communist was either stupid or evil. By that time, the terror, the gulags, the Spanish Civil War, and the Nazi-Soviet pact had revealed what Stalin and the Party were really about. After that, Communists were either deluding themselves about the truth or didn't care about the truth because the cause was just. Pete Seeger was pretty clearly in the latter category. It's pretty evil to believe that killing millions is OK as long as history moves forward.

its not just the atrocities that they don't learn from. Its the inefficiencies they don't learn from either. How did communism help the proletariat? You'd think a Pete Seeger, who lived a long life seeing communism fail to deliver n its promises wouldn't jump on board the Occup Wall Street bandwagon. You'd think his experience in life would give him some wisdom.
But no, a socialist to the end.

jr565 said...

Pete Seegers net worth - about $4.2 million. How very socialist of him.

http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celeb/singer/pete-seeger-net-worth/

All I know is, based on what the dems tell me, you're rich if you have more than 250,000 dollars. So this guy is rich. If the revolution came and we were appropriating rich guys money, he'd be one of the guys we'd appropriate the money from. Just because he's down with the proletariat wouldn't spare him from their wrath.
The guillotine was used for noble and poor alike.
I love when rich people like Pete Seeger, or Bill Ayres (who's daddy was a CEO of a major company) or a John Lennon or an actor like Sean penn start in with the socialism.
Made rich through capitalism, living privileged lives, and now biting the hand that feeds.
It wasn't socialism that brought them their riches, and they could give all their money away to the proletariat and live like them. But they don't.

Shouting Thomas said...

Seeger's followers in the Hudson Valley, and particularly among musicians, are still communists, although they imagine they are not.

I don't have much to do with his commie music faction, for the obvious reasons.

The music scene of the commies is pretty clunky, but that's just my opinion. I suspect it always was pretty clunky, but adolescence made it seem that it wasn't to a lot of people back in the day. I listened to Seeger long ago and decided he wasn't worth the time, but other people see it differently.

In the Hudson Valley, Seeger is thought of as the guy who saved the Hudson River from predatory capitalism. Whether that is true or not, I don't know. Before my time.

During my time, Seeger has been the hero of the anti-development of any kind crew.

James Wolf said...

http://www.steynonline.com/6003/the-lion-sleeps-tonight

Another reason to view him with contempt.

DaTechGuy said...

Is a" little 'c' Communist" anything like a "little 'n' Nazi" or a "little 'k' KKK member"?

Jim said...

His "apology" for supporting Stalin wasn't exactly an apology either. He supposed that he should apologize for supporting Stalin in the way that all white men should apologize for slavery, taking Native American lands, etc.

Wrong. There is ZERO equivalence between a sin committed by an ancestor and one committed by you personally.

His apology was more along the lines of "I'm sorry you took it wrong." than it was "I'm sorry I did it."

And even that apology was decades after the truth was known. He fully supported Stalin when it mattered. He only gave his apology-esque dodge years later when he had faded into irrelevance.

And let us not forget that even given his "apology," he still inserted the communist lines back into "This Land Is Your Land" when he performed at Obama's inauguration.

So, was he sorry? Never. Should he be forgiven for his knowing support of such staggering brutality? Never.

After all, I hear Hitler was a pretty good artist. Maybe we should just overlook that whole genocide thing....you know, in the name of art appreciation.

Ridiculous.

Peter said...

John Lynch said, "I give people a pass for being Communists before 1939."

Yet some had to wait until the tanks rolled into Hungary in 1956. And insisted that although the USSR was brutal, socialism (leading to communism) had never really been tried- i.e., they remained true believers.

BTW, You can find the full text of Paul Robeson's eulogy to Stalin here:


http://www.northstarcompass.org/nsc9804/robeson.htm

John Ronan said...

what a sad day, one of the last great American heroes of my parents generation. rest in peace, pete, and thank you for all you did for America.

SMGalbraith said...

At that time, Seeger was an unapologetic Stalinist. If Stalin had ordered him to talk, he'd talk. Stalin and the CPUSA told him not to talk. So he didn't.

The only principle that guided him were Communist ones. That is, whichever served the Party. At the same time that HUAC was holding hearings, the Soviets were having show trials where people were forced to confess crimes against the state.

Seeger defended those trials at the time.

Yes, later he admitted his mistakes. But let's not kid ourselves: The only reason he refused to talk was because his masters in Moscow told him so.

labradog said...

What a slew of pigs, in the comments section.

Michael said...

Funny that the commenters who are lying about and attacking Seeger support the kind of people they claim he supported: terrorists, killers, bigots, and mass murderers. At least he learned and understood. The commenters are demonstrating that treason is alive and well.

Donald Douglas said...

@Michael: Seeger was a Communist, was he not? Be done with it. If you like Communists fine. But don't go attacking people pointing out the truth as "terrorists" or whatever.

SMGalbraith said...

At that time Seeger was a Stalinist. He refused to talk because the CP of the USA, controlled by Moscow, told him not to talk. If they said talk, he'd talk. Whichever served the party.

Seeger was against the US getting involved in Europe when the Soviets told him so. And when the Soviets supported our involvement he turned around on a dime and changed his view.

If you want to criticize me for condemning a Stalinist, please do so.

I welcome it. More.

SMGalbraith said...

Seeger apologized and supported Josef Stalin. For decades.

I condemn him for doing so.

And I'm the traitor?

Now that's rich.

wildswan said...

I used to listen to Pete Seeger back in the day and to some extent his songs formed my moral conscience. For instance - If I Had a hammer. And so when I saw that abortion was the murder of innocent helpless human beings I felt compelled to speak up and I often wished that I had a bell i.e., could really ring out a warning. I understand now that Pete Seeger along with many others like Cuomo would drive me right out of America if they could. But still I keep thinking of all the helpless unborn being murdered and I wish I had a hammer to hammer out justice.

So, goodbye Pete Seeger. If I ever get a hammer, I will hammer in the morning, in the evening and all day long for justice for the unborn as you instilled in me.

fivewheels said...

Ed Driscoll: "Until Pete Seeger’s death at 94 last night, he was perhaps the last man alive to say that he supported Hitler, Stalin, and Ho Chi Minh. That’s quite the totalitarian trifecta."

Look, it's not nice to slam the guy when he dies, but we're not at his funeral, and his family's not here. If we're assessing a man and his life, how can you ignore how wrong he was? When you look back, how could that not stand out?

And let's be honest, if you have family members who are part of the 100 million death toll of his cherished philosophy, it tends to focus the mind. If it seems a bit personal ... maybe it is.

Kevin Hayden said...

The Communist party of the 1936-49 era, when Seeger was assocociated with it, was promoting labor rights and civil rights in their pronouncements, particularly the US party active on college campuses.

It was those issues that attracted Seeger and many others in the entertainment industry. As well, Seeger was a strong proponent of stopping Hitler and Stalin was viewed as crucial to that, by such "pro-Communists" as FDR, Truman and Churchill. Only his annexation policies seemed to trouble the US and British governments of the era, not his failed agricultural policies nor his brutal treatment of the Ukrainians and political opponents. From mid 1945 through 1950 was when that government support faded away; the same period that Seeger fell away. And he argued with other entertainers whose support continued after that.


But it doesn't bother me if some wish to demonize an American for holding an opinion that never harmed anyone. Closemindedness is also a right Americans have.

And anyone who doesn't 'get' what Seeger was really about, well, I just feel sorry for them. Some people cannot appreciate talent, or flowers or food either.

John said...

I grew up with Pete Seeger music in the 50's. My aunt, a Columbia prof, had some sort of part time gig with Folkways records And used to send us dozens of records each year. So far back that some were 10" 33RPM.

I still have a lot of early Pete Seeger Also Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl.

My kids grew up with several albums of Pete Seeger singing childrens songs.

A couple years back i bought a 4 disk set of the Best of...

His politics were appalling. His politics in his music was appalling.

But I still love listening.

For those too young to know: It was not McCarthy who went after Seeger and the others. It was the House Un-American Activities Committee (Yes, I know that is not the correct name but it is the one everyone knows it by)

Mostly chaired by Democrats.

John Henry

I really liked the mus

John said...

Brian said:

Given the 100 million+ worldwide death-toll of Communism - far exceeding that off Naziism, and continuing decades after the cult of Naziism was extinguished in World War II - it's a disgusting achievement of the Left that it's still somewhat socially acceptable to be a Communist (or a communist, for that matter).

That 100mm attributable to Communism/Socialism needs to include the 12mm murdered under German National Socialism.

Never forget that they were socialists. Never use the term Nazi.

The main reason the west began using Nazi was because Hitler et al were giving socialism a bad reputation.

John Henry

John said...

I think this is one of my favorite Seeger pieces. Ode to Joy played on a Banjo.

http://youtu.be/8HOIyqXIc8Q

John Henry

John said...

Oops, didn't realize that version had lyrics. Typical Pete Seeger lyrics

Didn't even know there were words to it.

The version on the CD is just music.

John Henry

Jippyhound said...

You are all sad, angry little people who hear monsters under the bed and conspiracies on the winds.

It's a shame we can't move past this nonsense. It was nonsense then (as well as tragically un-american) to publicly try and censure americans for their private thoughts and beliefs. Now it's just pathetic and boring.

Be. Better. People.

Jippyhound said...

You are all sad, angry little people who hear monsters under the bed and conspiracies on the winds.

It's a shame we can't move past this nonsense. It was nonsense then (as well as tragically un-american) to publicly try and censure americans for their private thoughts and beliefs. Now it's just pathetic and boring.

Be. Better. People.

President-Mom-Jeans said...

I'm glad the evil old fuck is dead, and sad that he lived so long.

Jippyhound said...

Yes, President Mom Jeans,

Our long national nightmare is over. Finally, the dark lord who played the banjo and cleaned up a river has rebounded to his fiery lair. Why oh why did 'real america' let this go on as long as it did?

Again, what is wrong with you people?

mccullough said...

Let's all fly the hammer and sickle at half-mast for Pete. Communism only killed nearly 100 million during his life. Small c communism means Pete was copacetic with only 20 million getting killed. Sanctimonious Pete Seeger. I prefer Solzhenitsyn

Jippyhound said...

Ok. Communists. 100 million people. Sure. Whatever you say.
The Nazis were all ostensibly christian. Between the actual nazis and the good & Godly Catholic and Lutheran Germans who did the actual murdering between 1939-45, they give your 100 million-people-killing-commies a run for the money. In six years the good christians nearly bested what it took the commies 90 years to do.

gregq said...

"He did apologize, and performed for Solidarity supporters. I think he, like many in his generation, was disillusioned by Stalin and the Soviet Union."

Oh, bullshit. His "apology" was a joke, full of "everyone else was worse than me".

He was anti-fascist, then Stalin signed a pact with Hitler, so he became anti-war, then Hitler invaded Russia, and all of a sudden he was pro-war and anti-fascist.

He was an evil sleazy little shit of a dictator suck-up. The only thing he was sorry about was that it became obvious to every decent human being that communism was evil.

SMGalbraith said...

One can have supported worker's rights and a fairer country and not support Josef Stalin. You did not need to do both.

Seeger should be applauded - as he has - for the former; but he needs to be criticized - as some don't want to do - for the latter.

Lots of Americans supported a fairer and better country during that period without supporting an evil twisted ideology that would have made the lives of the poor worse off.

Just because Seeger wanted a better world doesn't give him a pass for everything else.



jr565 said...

His love of Communism ran so deep that he changed his war stance precisely when Hitler broke its pact with Russia.
Prior to this he was doing the standard anti war anti west stance with his song John Doe where he sang:
"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."
Then after butlers shenanigans that record was pulled back and another one was put out in its place with the lyrics:

Now, Mr. President
You’re commander-in-chief of our armed forces
"The ships and the planes and the tanks and the horses
I guess you know best just where I can fight . . .
So what I want is you to give me a gun
So we can hurry up and get the job done!"

What a difference a new set of marching orders makes.