• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

SPRING FUNDRAISER

Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Pete Seeger: a Dissenting View

Following the August 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Communist Party strongly opposed the “imperialist war,” and Pete Seeger and the Almanac Singers made some great antiwar songs which were published in an album called “Songs for John Doe”:

Remember when the AAA killed a million hogs a day

It’s not hogs, it’s men today, plow the fourth one under

and another:

It was on a Saturday night, the moon was shining bright

They passed the conscription bill.

And the people they did say, many a mile a way

‘Twas the President and his boys on Capitol Hill.

 

Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt

We damned near believed what he said

He said I hate war, and so does Eleanor

But we won’t be safe ‘til everybody’s dead.

 

When my poor old mother died I was sitting by her side

A-promising to war I’d never go.

Now I’m wearing khaki jeans and I’m eating army beans

And I’m told that J.P. Morgan loves me so.

 

I have wandered over this land, a roamin’ working man

No clothes to wear and not much food to eat.

Now the government foots the bill, gives me clothes and feeds me swill

Gets me shot and puts me underground six feet.

 

Nothing could be wrong if it keeps our country strong

We gotta get tough to save democracy.

So though it may mean war we must defend Singapore,

This don’t hurt you half as much as it hurts me.

After the Nazis invaded Russia, the Party line changed and the Almanac Singers began beating the drums for war: “Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?” When the U.S. entered the War they became patriots: “It’s gonna take everybody to win this war.” “Me and the landlord may not agree, but when a burglar breaks in you quit fighting with the landlord and throw him out. “ (Some missing words here, but the point is clear.)

He later stated (I think in his autobiography) that his stance between August 1939 and June 1941 had been a mistake. His heart was never in it, and he was happier when the U.S. declared War on the Axis Powers, the U.S and Russia were allies, and he could once again feel at one with prevailing opinion. I like his 1939-1941 view more than than his stance after 1941, when the Party upheld the no-strike pledge (“quit fighting with the landlord”), opposed the 1942 Negro March on Washington Movement and the Puerto Rican independence movement (both of which undermined “national unity”), and kept silent about Japanese internment. (No doubt he came to regret the latter.) Even after he left the CP (around 1958), he remained what he had always been (with the exception of the twenty-two months between August 1969 and June 1941) a proponent of the Popular Front. In short, he was a “progressive” (or, as Alex Cockburn might have called him, a “pwogwessive”).

In an article on CounterPunch Clancy Sigal writes about the antiwar songs. He recalls being “dragged before the leftwing bishops and commanded to shut my mouf  because FDR’s ‘President New Deal’ had changed to ‘President Win the War.’ Overnight neither for love nor money could you find a trace of John Doe in any radical book or record store.” Sigal, more generous than I, suggests we “remember Pete before he became America’s folkie grandfather welcomed to the White House by presidents.”

A google-search for “Songs for John Doe” brings up the Almanac Singers, with Seeger’s inimitable banjo and vocal, performing “Twas on a Saturday night.” One of the commenters remarks that Seeger spent seventy years trying to live down that song. (In the late fifties at a concert I asked him to sing one of the antiwar songs. He declined, saying he didn’t know it.) Another (probably an old Schachtmanite) accuses Seeger of “slavish, bootlicking subservience to Stalin’s foreign policy line.” I can’t tell whether he is referring to the antiwar or the prowar songs – maybe both.

Seeger faced loss of livelihood and even prison for standing up for what he believed. He lent his voice and strength to many good causes over the years; and yet, even though I enjoyed his music and many of the songs he sang have become part of me, I cannot bring myself to join in the celebrations of his life. Why? Because the standard I apply to those I take seriously is not simply their support for peace, civil rights, labor and the environment, but their willingness to oppose the misleaders within those movements, and that, so far as I know, he never did. I guess some would call me sectarian.

Noel Ignatiev is the author of How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995), and co-editor, with John Garvey, of the anthology Race Traitor (Routledge, 1996). He can be reached at noelignatiev@gmail.com

 

 

More articles by:

Noel Ignatiev is the author of How the Irish Became White (Routledge, 1995), and co-editor, with John Garvey, of the anthology Race Traitor (Routledge, 1996).  He blogs here. He can be reached at noelignatiev@gmail.com

May 25, 2020
Marshall Auerback
If the Federal Government Won’t Fund the States’ Emergency Needs, There is Another Solution
Michael Uhl
A Memory Fragment of the Vietnam War
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
Make a Resilient, Localized Food System Part of the Next Stimulus
Barrie Gilbert
The Mismanagement of Wildlife in Utah Continues to be Irrational and a National Embarrassment.
Dean Baker
The Sure Way to End Concerns About China’s “Theft” of a Vaccine: Make it Open
Thom Hartmann
The Next Death Wave from Coronavirus Will Be the Poor, Rural and White
Phil Knight
Killer Impact
Paul Cantor
Memorial Day 2020 and the Coronavirus
Laura Flanders
A Memorial Day For Lies?
Gary Macfarlane – Mike Garrity
Grizzlies, Lynx, Bull Trout and Elk on the Chopping Block for Trump’s Idaho Clearcuts
Cesar Chelala
Challenges of the Evolving Coronavirus Pandemic
Luciana Tellez-Chavez
This Year’s Forest Fire Season Could Be Even Deadlier
Thomas Hon Wing Polin
Beijing Acts on Hong Kong
George Wuerthner
Saving the Lionhead Wilderness
Elliot Sperber
Holy Beaver
Weekend Edition
May 22, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Hugh Iglarsh
Aiming Missiles at Viruses: a Plea for Sanity in a Time of Plague
Paul Street
How Obama Could Find Some Redemption
Marc Levy
On Meeting Bao Ninh: “These Good Men Meant as Much to Me as Yours Did to You”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Shallò: 120 Days of COVID
Joan Roelofs
Greening the Old New Deal
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Still Matters
Charles Pierson
Is the US-Saudi Alliance Headed Off a Cliff?
Robert Hunziker
10C Above Baseline
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
The Fed’s Chair and Vice Chair Got Rich at Carlyle Group, a Private Equity Fund With a String of Bankruptcies and Job Losses
Eve Ottenberg
Factory Farming on Hold
Andrew Levine
If Nancy Pelosi Is So Great, How Come Donald Trump Still Isn’t Dead in the Water?
Ishmael Reed
Alex Azar Knows About Diabetes
Joseph Natoli
Will Things Fall Apart Now or in November?
Richard D. Wolff
An Old Story Again: Capitalism vs. Health and Safety
Louis Proyect
What Stanford University and Fox News Have in Common
Pete Dolack
Work is Inevitable But its Organization is Not
David A. Schultz
America and the Rise of the Chinese Century
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Fears the Nakba: How Memory Became Palestine’s Greatest Weapon
Heather Gray – Jonathan King
Coronavirus and Other US Health Threats? Fund Public Health Not Foreign Wars
Brian Cloughley
Don’t Be Black in America
Kenn Orphan
A Pandemic and a Plague of Absurdity
Matthew Stevenson
Our Friend Eugene Schulman
Richard C. Gross
The Man Who Cried Wolf
Ron Jacobs
Road Trippin’
Robert P. Alvarez
A Simple Solution for the Coronavirus Crisis in Prisons
Aadesh Ravi
The Long March of the Locked-Down Migrants
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Proliferation of Conspiracy Theories & the Crisis of Science
Nilofar Suhrawardy
The Other Side of Covid-19
Binoy Kampmark
Battles Over Barley: Australia, China and the Tariff Wars
Cesar Chelala
Donald Trump can Learn Something from Mao Zedong’s Mistakes
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail