Tom Lehrer pays a richly deserved tribute to all those battlers against injustice who enter combat armed only with banjos and camouflaged with nothing but broken grammar and plaid shirts. Good stuff.
Returning to the subject of Pete Seeger, I looked through many of the essays and tributes to him trying to learn when, or whether, he ever regretted his years as a loyal Communist during the era of Stalin. Did he break with his old comrades after the Budapest Uprising, or the Berlin Wall, or the Prague Spring? Or anything at all?
No such luck.
According to a New York Times article from 2007, the best Seeger ever did in the way of a denunciation was this:
But in fact, Mr. Seeger, 87, made such statements [denunciations of Stalin] 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.”
His 1993 book? Stalin died in 1953. Couldn't Seeger have come to a conclusion a little sooner than 1993?
I've read that Seeger joined the Communist Youth League in 1936, and the main Communist Party USA in 1941. So, he spent up to 17 years of his Party career under the leadership of Stalin. (I say ‘up to’ because Seeger never made clear exactly when he left the Party.) That should have been enough time to develop an opinion of the man.
What was Stalin up to in those days? Well, he was sponsoring the great purges and show trials in which the Party, government, and Red Army leaderships, plus the peasants, the intellectuals, and foreign minorities were terrorized and decimated. That news made the papers, even the New Masses, so I assume Seeger was well aware of it all.
What else? Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary and Marxist theorist, original member of the Soviet Politburo and founder of the Red Army, who had been exiled by Stalin in the 1902s, was assassinated in Mexico City on Stalin's orders.
Then there was World War II and Stalin’s pact with Hitler (1939 to 1941), followed by his invasion and annexation of Poland and Lithuania.
Right after the war there was the hostile take-over by the Soviet Union of Eastern European states, followed by the violent suppression of the East German uprising of 1953, which started with labor strikes. In Poland, there was the Poznań uprising in 1956, also a labor strike. Also in 1956, there was the huge uprising in Hungary which ended in the abolition of the Hungarian Communist Party, the calling of multi-party elections, and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact – in fact, a counter revolution - which was brutally suppressed by a Russian military invasion. I know Seeger must have heard about that.
To be fair, since Stalin died in 1953, it was his successors who were directly to blame for everything that happened in 1956. Of course, also in 1956, came the famous denunciation of Stalin by Nikita Khrushchev to the Twentieth Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His speech "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences" was published in the West, including in the New York Times. It made quite a splash.
Surely Seeger read about Khrushchev's speech. Didn’t the crimes of the Stalin era make an impression on him? I guess not, if it was only in 1993 that Seeger expressed some small criticism of Stalin.
A supremely cruel misleader. That’s it? After spending thirteen years as a loyal Communist while Stalin was alive, and with the benefit of another forty years of hindsight after Stalin’s death, that’s all Seeger had to say about the man?
So tell me … if Leni Riefenstahl, sometime around 1984, had told an interviewer that Hitler was “a supremely cruel misleader,” would she have then been welcomed back to the human race, and become a fit subject for film criticism or, say, an NPR profile about all her fascinating artistic pursuits since WWII? At the least, would Jodie Foster finally be able to make the Riefenstahl biographical film she is rumored to be developing? I don't think so.
I mean, 1993? Really? Why even bother making such a ridiculously mild ‘denunciation’ at such a comically late date? Not only had Stalin been dead for forty years, but the Soviet Union itself had ceased to exist by the time Seeger wrote his book.
It’s like Seeger waited until he was the last Communist still standing before he let rip with that tiny diss.
Where have all the commies gone, long time passing?I hesitate to speak ill of the dead. But given that we've talking about the last unrepentant follower of Stalin, I ask myself, when will we ever learn to shun the propagandists of left-totalitarianism the same as we do their counterparts on the right and elsewhere?
Where have all the commies gone, long time ago?
Where have all the commies gone?
Gone to grave yards every one