Saturday, May 9, 2009

The revolutionary side of Pete Seeger

Mark Newgent in The Examiner (Baltimore edition) comments on the 90th birthday celebration for Pete Seeger.
Iconic folk singer Pete Seeger turned 90 last week and the occasion was marked by a concert at Madison Square Garden featuring musical luminaries Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco, and even a letter from President Barack Obama delivered to thousands of adoring fans.

Newgent points out that Seeger has been a lifelong Communist, as in member of the Communist Party USA. Like all CPUSA members, in the late 1930s, Seeger vehemently opposed U.S. involvement in Europe's mounting preparations for war against Hitler - because of the Molotov-Von Ribbentrop pact that made Hitler and Stalin formal allies in the partition of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union. However, when Hitler turned on Stalin, Seeger became a gung ho proponent of the U.S. joining the war against Nazi Germany.

It wasn't until many years later than Seeger realized that Stalin was a monster who destroyed many of his people. But it's hard to admit that you've been that wrong for that long, as evidenced in Seeger's apology:
I'll apologize for a number of things, such as thinking that Stalin was simply a 'hard driver' and not a supremely cruel misleader. I guess anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Moslems by Crusaders. White people in the U.S.A. could consider apologizing for stealing land from Native Americans and enslaving blacks. Europeans could apologize for worldwide conquests, Mongolians for Genghis Khan. And supporters of Roosevelt could apologize for his support of Somoza, of Southern white Democrats, of Franco Spain, for putting Japanese Americans in concentration camps.

Pete Seeger was and is a great admirer of Mao Zhedong. He has for many, many years performed a bit called "The Three Rules of Discipline and the Eight Points of Attention," in which he recites the rules for revolution postulated by Mao in 1928 and used as Red Army doctrine in the overthrow of China's government. Seeger recites the Three Rules and Eight Points, then whistles a happy tune. Seeger recites the People's Daily translation:
The Three Main Rules of Discipline:

* Obey orders in all your actions.
* Do not take a single needle or piece of thread from the masses.
* Turn in everything captured.

The Eight Points for Attention:

* Speak politely.
* Pay fairly for what you buy.
* Return everything you borrow.
* Pay for anything you damage.
* Do not hit or swear at people.
* Do not damage crops.
* Do not take liberties with women.
* Do not ill-treat captives.

Certainly the respect Mao's army showed to the peasantry helped him gain popular support over the Kuomintang and eventually victory in his revolution. However, as ruler, Mao presided over the mass famines of the Great Leaps Forward and the mass murders and brutal oppression of the Cultural Revolution.

Seeger recorded The Three Rules on one of his hit albums of a live concert with Arlo Guthrie - in 1975, when the horrors of the Cultural Revolution and the various Great Leaps Forward were well known. As opposed to his regret for Stalin's excesses, Seeger has no apologies for his love of Mao, one of the greatest mass murderers of all time.

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