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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger and the Income Label

Posted by on Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 9:48 AM

I only met Pete Seeger once, when I was about 18 years old and covering a scantly attended labor "teach-in" at the University of Washington for a school paper.

Seeger gave the musical convocation—maybe he and his banjo played "We Shall Overcome"? Or "Which Side Are You On?" Or the "Internationale"? Afterwards, I "interviewed" him backstage, which mostly meant me nervously asking questions while he smiled gently and spoke slowly.

I'd heard his happy, bouncing banjo as a kid in the backseat of my parents' car driving back and forth across the country (we moved a lot) but I'd only just recently begun to think of him as an American hero: a shamelessly anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-war, pro-immigrant, pro-labor environmentalist who (among many other accomplishments) had the guts to openly defy the House Un-American Activities Committee. Instead of pleading the Fifth and ducking out, as many had done, he walked in and simply said he refused to answer questions about his political and social affiliations. He was found in contempt of court and sentenced to prison time. (Sound familiar?) But an appeals court said the indictment was flawed and let him go.

And if he did run around with an axe at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, trying to chop up the electrical cords on Bob Dylan, I chalked it up to an admirable orneriness.

The two things I remember about meeting Seeger backstage were his smiling, wrinkled face—he radiated a calming confidence—and an idea he proposed. "You know how food has labels that tell you what ingredients are in it?" he asked. (I'm paraphrasing, obviously, but I remember his idea as a series of questions.)

"What do you think about a mandatory label that would show the ratio between what the boss of a company earns and what the lowest-paid workers earn? If you could see that when you went shopping, you could choose a product based on the fairness of the wages, just like you can choose food now based on the ingredients. What do you think of that?"

I said I liked it. I still do.


Comments (50) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Seeger was an unquestioning cheerleader for Stalin while he committed his atrocities, even when his contemporaries in the American socialist movement had denounced mean old Joe decades prior. No thanks.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 9:56 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 2
@ 1, you lie.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 10:10 AM · Report this
Excellent post, Brendan.

Posted by Being generous of spirit is a wonderful way to live on January 28, 2014 at 10:16 AM · Report this
"What do you think about a mandatory label that would show the ratio between what the boss of a company earns and what the lowest-paid workers earn? If you could see that when you went shopping, you could choose a product based on the fairness of the wages, just like you can choose food now based on the ingredients. What do you think of that?"

I have loved the idea of this idea for some time now (and fairness legislation built around it), but it seems doomed to failure as big businesses increasingly contract out low wage work and workers.
Posted by See, Those Poor People Arn't What You'd Call Employees on January 28, 2014 at 10:21 AM · Report this
@2 He "apologized" for his support later, much later.…

Do your homework, please.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 10:28 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 6
So you're going to link back to the link I posted that supports me and not you? You're a jenius!

Find something showing that "was an unquestioning cheerleader for Stalin while he committed his atrocities" etc etc, because the fact he quit the CP years before Stalin's death basically proves that's a lie. (See? Homework!)
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Pete Seeger? Never heard of him. Did he go electric?
Posted by Did he know which way the weatherman blew? on January 28, 2014 at 10:42 AM · Report this
@6 Stalin was committing his crime against humanity in the 1930s. Did Pete quit before then? I will help you. No. He stuck around and claimed membership in a political Party that supported the Hitler-Stalin pact to carve out Poland. I think some people died, it seems. He left after World War II. In the mean time, many contemporary socialists had denounced Joe by then, but not Pete. Being denounced by the CP-USA would have hurt his career.

So he quit sometime before 1956. When it was safe to do so, BFD. Ur in idito.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 10:46 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 9
@ 8, riiiight, because the whole world knew exactly what was going on in the most secretive and closed society the world had seen up to that point in time.

Uh huh.

And I guess, according to you, Stalin's atrocities were confined to the 30s.


Still no evidence of "cheerleading," though, eh. Being a Communist alone isn't cheerleading. Leaving the CPUSA before in the 40s is kinda the opposite, doncha think?

Anyway. It's clear that you're a diehard fanatic, and no reasonable truth or good example will shake you from your fanaticism. Even if your timeline were factually correct, all it means is that for you, a Communist (or any leftist) can NEVER come clean at any time.

So... unless your next post comes with a reliable link to an example of Pete Seeger "cheerleading" Stalin at a time when Stalin's crimes against humanity were common knowledge (e.g., sometime after the XX Party Congress in 1956, when Krushchev let the cat out of the bag), you can keep digging your hole.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 10:55 AM · Report this
@5, that doens't say he was an unquestioning cheerleader at all. Did you even read your homework?
Posted by GermanSausage on January 28, 2014 at 10:59 AM · Report this
I know it is hard to accept that your idol was paying his dues and playing footsies to and with the CP USA long after other socialists and indeed, anarchists knew full well of Stalin's atrocities-well into the 1950s. Go ahead and read the old Socialist Workers and "anarchist" papers and get back to us, because, if it isn't on the internet, it didn't happen, riiight? I guess none of these people knew, just like FDR "didn't know" either, right? But I guess if you join a political party and give them your financial and personal support, you are really not supporting their agenda, right? Because there were no choices in the USA, right?

Apologists like you are such sick people, because they don't even know that they are the banality of evil.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 11:02 AM · Report this
Cascadian 12
He did support Stalin, at a time when the extent of Stalin's atrocities were not fully appreciated. He admitted later that he was wrong to wait so long to leave the Communist Party. Lots of American and European leftists made the same mistake.
Posted by Cascadian on January 28, 2014 at 11:03 AM · Report this
Cascadian 13
According to the New York Times obituary, Seeger left CP-USA before 1950, and has said since then that he stayed a member too long.
Posted by Cascadian on January 28, 2014 at 11:04 AM · Report this
@11, "I have proof that Pete Seeger was an unquestioning cheerleader for Stalin. It's right here in this manila envelope. I'm just not going to show it to you."

Sure, Joe, sure.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 28, 2014 at 11:05 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 15
@ 11, hey look, more baseless assertions without any citations. Isn't your hole deep enough yet?
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 11:08 AM · Report this

As Cascadian pointed out, he remained a member long after...but he didn't provide a link, so he must be a liar as well.

Yes, mistakes were made, well into the 1990s.…
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Nice piece. Thanks Brendon.

As for hmmmmm and your ilk. Your ideal is to turn the USA into an American version of Putin's kleptocracy. Fuck you. You don't give a shit about democracy, freedom, or justice, only money and guns.
Posted by cracked on January 28, 2014 at 11:10 AM · Report this
@17 P.S. , where you get to either be an overlord or an enforcer stooge.
Posted by cracked on January 28, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 19
@ 14, what makes this funny is the fact that the Red Scare Right would have made HUGE hay out of Stalin's atrocities in the 40s and 50s. IF THEY WERE COMMON KNOWLEDGE. It wasn't, not even to the highest levels of government, so they didn't.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Report this
@17. No, fuck you. You can't handle the truth outside your little radical left bubble. The real world awaits.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Report this

If you wish to continue to be willfully obtuse, and blatantly ignore any fact that doesn't fit your predetermined world-view, as has been demonstrated at least twice on this thread alone, may I kindly suggest you go peddle your conspiracy theories somewhere like-minded people actually congregate; Free Republic would be a good place to start.

OTOH, if you can actually provide some objective, empirical evidence to support your claim, aside from simply parroting your own Party Line, we'll be more than happy to take it into consideration. Until then, please STFU already, because every word you type here makes it painfully obvious (to everyone but yourself at any rate) that you have no idea about which you speak.
Posted by COMTE on January 28, 2014 at 11:11 AM · Report this
Oh, COMTE, you also are an arbiter of Objective Truth? Am I "Objectively" a fascist now? Puleeze. Read some fucking history. Or go visit some graves in the Ukraine or Poland. Or shut up. I really don't care which you pick.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 11:14 AM · Report this
Matt from Denver 23
@ 16, aren't you forgetting that Seeger had quit before then? LOL
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 11:14 AM · Report this
Cascadian 24
Also, the double standard of holding the left accountable for Stalin when his atrocities were not well-known (in part because he was a US ally and on the victorious side of WWII) while giving the right wing a pass for its support of Hitler when the Nazi attacks on Jews were already underway and being reported is despicable. No political faction got out of the 1930s and 1940s on moral high ground.
Posted by Cascadian on January 28, 2014 at 11:15 AM · Report this
Fnarf 25
He also wrote the tune to "The Bells of Rhymney", words by Welsh poet Idris Davis, later recorded by The Byrds. Said tune is possibly the greatest artistic achievement by an American human, especially the part that goes up an octave at "why so worried, sisters? Why? Sang the silver bells of Wye". The lyric is about church bells tolling for the many victims of mine disasters; if you heard your village bells, you knew that many men had died that day, and if one of them was in your family, you knew you were going to starve to death in those pre-welfare days.

The plight of coal miners in Britain explains a great deal of the support for Stalin in those days. Context is everything. Using 2014 understanding to sort people of the 1930s into good and bad is a stupid enterprise. Communism was a false god for a lot of people back then, and while they made the wrong decision it must be said that there were not many good decisions available to them. Considering the miners again, thousands of them died in horrific conditions every year (more than 3,000 in 1907 in the US alone), with nobody but nobody in polite society giving two shits and a train whistle about any of them.

We could even more easily find loads of Hitler and Mussolini supporters in Britain and the US -- Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Prescott Bush, John D. Rockefeller, Joseph Kennedy, J.P. Morgan, Winston Churchill, Lloyd George, King Edward, etc. etc. In fact, one could make a pretty convincing case that up until the mid 30s support for Fascism was perfectly mainstream in both countries, and remained extremely popular right up until the invasion of Poland in September 1939 in Britain, and Pearl Harbor two years later in the US.

In some quarters, of course, like Italy and the modern Republican Party, admiration of fascism continues to this day.
Posted by Fnarf on January 28, 2014 at 11:18 AM · Report this
@24: naturally, we should just reverse the double standard as per Matt from Denver.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 11:19 AM · Report this
An American treasure, musical genius and beautiful human being, humanist and peace activist has passed -- but his legacy is great and lives on. Love you Pete - and see you later on the other side of the River Jordon.
Posted by Pete Seeger Fan on January 28, 2014 at 11:22 AM · Report this
raindrop 28
The executive, management, worker, compensation information is ascertainable - but not directly.
Posted by raindrop on January 28, 2014 at 11:23 AM · Report this

Did I CALL you a fascist? No, I did not. Have you provided ANY objective evidence to back your claim? No, you have not. Do, I know history? Some; there's an awful lot of it to know. But, what I do know about Stalin is that he was a paranoid, brutal tyrant who subjected his people to unimagineable suffering and attrocities over the course of several decades - and that most of the rest of the world was completely unaware of this until years after his death, as others have pointed out above.

To suggest that Seger somehow was one of the few exceptions, when even heads of state of major nations were kept in the dark, is simply ludicrous on its face, and not supported in any way, shape or form by any evidenciary documentation; if it was, surely you would have been able to provide cogent examples of such, which you have not.

So, until you CAN do that - and you seem patently unwilling (or more likely, unable) to do so - I will repeat my request:

STFU, because you don't know shit.
Posted by COMTE on January 28, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Report this
@25 Excellent analysis, Fnarf, thank you.
Posted by M. Wells on January 28, 2014 at 11:33 AM · Report this
@29: spoken like a true apologist in denial. I have no "Objective" evidence, and of course, you are the sole judge as to what is objective and credible.

Let's review:

Stalin committed atrocities from the 20's through the 50's. Million dead, 10s of millions in prison. Many from the West ended up in these in WW2.

The CP-USA was a supporter of him during his reign and apologized for it at least until 1991.

It was widely known in left circles outside of the CP from the 1930s onward that Stalin was doing his deeds. Some elements of the left were making this point even before Stalin rose to power (ever heard of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman?)

This was not acknowledged by our own government until the 50s, since we had our own "deal" with Stalin (FDR, Truman). But that doesn't mean people didn't know and anyone in the left back then knew if they got out of bed every morning.

Seeger did not leave the CP until around 1950, and years later offers an apology admitting that he was "duped". Because with his connections with the left, he had "no idea". I'm supposed to believe that in spite of all of his intelligence, he was too dumb or blind to know? Or, just an opportunist?

Denouncing Stalin before then, and before the Red Scare would have fucked his career up, big time, and the CP back then was still big enough on the left to sully people's street cred. Just ask any "ultra leftist".

So, COMTE, kindly go fuck yourself.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 11:45 AM · Report this

See, here's the thing. Making blanket assertions without providing any corroborating documentary evidence is just you spouting an opinion; and as we all know, opinions =/= facts, because facts are verifiable. This is really pretty basic stuff here, so it shouldn't be above even your apparently pre-adolescent comprehension skills.

So, I repeat - for the last time, because it's obvious you don't really give a shit about anything other than hoping someone else will validate your thoroughly baseless opinion - IF you can provide verifiable documentary evidence to back up your claims, I'll take it into consideration. OTOH, if you're just going to keep shouting" I BELIEVE THIS, SO IT MUST BE TRUE! ANYONE WHO DOESN'T BELIEVE WHAT I BELIEVE IS A POOPY-HEAD!!!" Then there's really no point in continuing this childish "discussion", is there?

(And BTW, this does not mean you "win" the debate - you have to actually do the WORK, first, which you have been repeatedly asked to do, and patently refused. You don't win just by shouting louder - in fact, that's a pretty sure sign you've already lost - it's just that you're the only one here who doesn't already know that.)
Posted by COMTE on January 28, 2014 at 12:03 PM · Report this
@32 By your bullshit criterion, your "opinion" is no more valid than mine. But I will declare victory based on your use of all caps. Good day to you, sir. And feel free to dispute anything I have said with your own verifiable "Objective facts", rather than trying to determine and declare the intentions of an anonymous stranger on the interwebs. You can still go fuck off, you know.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 28, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Report this
@33, you know, you could have just saved yourself a lot of trouble if you had just admitted back at the beginning that you had made it up and you didn't know what you were talking about, and apologized.

But I guess you're objectively too stupid to do that.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 28, 2014 at 12:20 PM · Report this

Like I said, give me something tangeable and verifiable to actually refute, aside from a bunch of unconnected suppositions you're using in an attempt to reverse-engineer your already pre-determined "conclusion", and I'll be more than happy to give it a bash. Because, that's how it works in the real world outside your self-imposed comprehension-free bubble of willful ignorance.
Posted by COMTE on January 28, 2014 at 12:35 PM · Report this
stinkbug 36
@31: Your "review" didn't include the "cheerleading" part. Can you point us to some of this cheerleading evidence?
Posted by stinkbug on January 28, 2014 at 12:42 PM · Report this
lark 37
By & large, I viewed Pete Seeger as an entertainer. A very good one. I saw him at the Medinah Temple in Chicago along with Jane Sapp years ago. It was a great show at a cool venue.

I may not have agreed with much of his politics/activism. But, from what I understand he remained a gentleman. I shall miss his singing and energy.

RIP Pete Seeger.
Posted by lark on January 28, 2014 at 1:00 PM · Report this
You have to remember, among the Left, there is no such sense of shame for their support of leftist mass murderers or genocidal killers such as Stalin, Mao, Che, Pol Pot. No shame at all.
Posted by they put their faces on t-shorts with pride on January 28, 2014 at 1:06 PM · Report this
Under hmmmm's right wing kleptocracy musicians like Seeger would be public enemy number one. That's the necessary flip side for them of letting off the big bankers when they launder drug money on a massive scale.

When you argue with him, remember, you are not arguing about facts- only trying to control the narrative. Even ineffective peace and love lefties like Seeger must be struck down lest they motivate us into having warm feelings about living. The mental construct of reality floated him and his ilk is so fragile that having eliminated the left from the intellectual life of the US is not enough. Even happy songs about working together to build something together (like the Hoover dam even) must be destroyed as creatures of Stalin.
Posted by cracked on January 28, 2014 at 1:08 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 40
@ 31, "It was widely known in left circles outside of the CP from the 1930s onward that Stalin was doing his deeds."

That's a big fat lie, too. It started to become known, in drips and drabs, that Stalin was power hungry and a tyrant in his own right - what else prompted socialist George Orwell to write Animal Farm in the 40s? - and that's what led Seeger and many others to abandon the CPUSA. But nobody knew how many were being sent off to die in the prison camps. Nobody knew about the terror-famine perpetrated upon resistant peasants in Ukraine. Nobody knew how many people were being summarily executed. If they did - again, "hmmmmmm" - the perpetrators of the Red Scare would have certainly used it in their propaganda. Why make up shit when you have REAL horror stories about Communism?

But all this is beside the point - YOUR point, "hmmmm." You're not asserting that Seeger or anyone knew about Stalin's petty tyrancy. You're asserting that he KNEW exactly how bloody his hands were, and that Seeger remained an "unquestioning cheerleader for Stalin" while knowing this. And you do this with no facts in evidence to support it. And with no answers for Seeger's abandonment of Communism in the 40s.

In short, you're a fool. COMTE is generous in even allowing that you're entitled to your opinion, as though your fact-free opinion is the equal to our fact-based ones. Its baselessness makes yours far inferior to ours.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 1:09 PM · Report this
@38, it's almost as if they never even supported those people to begin with.
Posted by GermanSausage on January 28, 2014 at 1:11 PM · Report this
i feel that most of us here in the US learned to sing from Pete. thanks for all you did!! let your banjo ring
Posted by Deadhead Ned on January 28, 2014 at 1:15 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 43
@ 41, lulz
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 1:19 PM · Report this
oh, regarding the above mess (though i think it best to just ignore the troll), here's Seeger's own words…

now let's go back to remembering his whole, long and extremely productive life.

“My job,” he said in 2009, “is to show folks there’s a lot of good music in this world, and if used right it may help to save the planet.” -…
Posted by Deadhead Ned on January 28, 2014 at 1:22 PM · Report this
Frank Blethen's vodka distiller 45
Another Pete Seeger thread being trolled by an extreme righty.

Whether one agrees with Seeger or not at least he walked the talk. He was involved with both the labor and civil rights movements.

He was a WWII vet. Contrast that with chickenhawks like Dick Cheney or Ted (I shit myself prior to my draft physical) Nugent.

What was coolest about Seeger was his knowledge of the history behind many folk songs. This world is a lesser place with his passing.
Posted by Frank Blethen's vodka distiller on January 28, 2014 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Seeger was buds with cruel despots Castro and Ortega. Unforgivable.
Posted by JCAR on January 28, 2014 at 2:59 PM · Report this
@40 - The left opposition and other anti-Stalinist lefties started publishing in the 20's and the Spanish civil war in the mid-30's should have tipped people as to the reality of stalinism relatively early on. It doesn't mean that people were at that time aware of mass atrocities but one would think that persecution of opponents and their families was known to those who paid attention. Perhaps Seeger wasn't paying close enough attention early on (like many of his contemporaries) but I don't believe it can be said that he condoned authoritarianism.
Posted by anon1256 on January 28, 2014 at 4:49 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 48
@ 47, besides the fact that "the realities of Stalinism" didn't exist that early (it took til 1929 for him to fully consolidate his power - a full five years following Lenin's death - and Trotsky himself certainly never understood it), the point of this whole thing was that "hmmmm" basically accused Seeger of being a 100% stooge for Stalin when a) all that's known is that he was a member of the CPUSA - and that does NOT automatically mean he personally supported Stalin, nor does "hmmmm" show us he ever did, and b) acts as though he should have known the full extent of Stalin's crimes, which did not come at all prior to Krushchev's 1956 denunciation (and not fully until the 80s and 90s).

Trotsky's anti-Stalin propaganda was almost as full of shit as anything Stalin's minions dreamed up. And as far as the Spanish Civil War was concerned, it was hard for anyone to know the truth, even when they had feet on the ground there. Full-on Stalinism didn't begin until the mid-30s, by which time his NKVD had the country locked up tight, and rumors of which could not be given a lot of credit at the time. I keep telling "hmmmm" that our Red Scare propagandists had little idea about it, and they had access to the best intelligence available. Certainly some CPUSA guys couldn't be asked to have a better idea.
Posted by Matt from Denver on January 28, 2014 at 5:11 PM · Report this
Um, last I recall Stalin was an ally of the good old US of A up until about August 8, 1945 or so - certainly well after those horrible 1930's atrocities hmmm accuses Seeger being part and party to.

RIP Pete Seeger - a true American patriot.
Posted by Mr. X on January 28, 2014 at 6:02 PM · Report this
Not even Seeger knew, while he was playing in concert, plugging the CP's Soviet-American Friendship League, while the tanks were rolling into Budapest. Yeah, no one knew about that one. No one, except for anyone half awake and willing to listen. Over 50 years later, and still apologizing for murder. No wonder you cheer with glee when a Trotskyist gets elected; they are merely Stalinists who haven't figured out how to control the military and police apparatus.
Posted by hmmmmm on January 29, 2014 at 3:44 PM · Report this

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