The New York Times has now corrected a "smear" about Pete Seeger being 50 years too late in denouncing Stalin. Thanks to the intrepid research of Times reporter Daniel J. Wakin, the record has now been set straight. Pete Seeger was only about 40 years too late in criticizing Stalin.
What inspired Wakin to make this "major" correction was a report by historian Ron Radosh in the August 31 New York Sun that Pete Seeger sent him a letter recently expressing his regret that he didn't see what anybody with a pair of even slightly discerning eyes could have spotted: that Joseph Stalin was evil. In reponse to Radosh's criticism of the former Communist Party member for slavishly following the Stalinist party line, Pete Seeger sent him a letter which was excerpted in Seeger Speaks — and Sings — Against Stalin:
I almost fell off the chair when I read Mr. Seeger's words: "I think you're right - I should have asked to see the gulags when I was in [the] USSR." For years, Mr. Seeger continued, he had been trying to get people to realize that any social change had to be nonviolent, in the fashion sought by Martin Luther King Jr. Mr. Seeger had hoped, he explained, that both Khrushchev and later Gorbachev would "open things up." He acknowledged that he underestimated, and perhaps still does, "how the majority of the human race has faith in violence."
More importantly, Mr. Seeger attached the words and music for a song he had written, "thinking what Woody [Guthrie] might have written had he been around" to see the death of his old Communist dream. Called "The Big Joe Blues," it's a yodeling Jimmie Rodgers-type song, he said. It not only makes the point that Joe Stalin was far more dangerous and a threat than Joe McCarthy - a man Mr. Seeger and the old left view as the quintessential American demagogue - but emphasizes the horrors that Stalin brought.
"I'm singing about old Joe, cruel Joe," the lyrics read. "He ruled with an iron hand / He put an end to the dreams / Of so many in every land / He had a chance to make / A brand new start for the human race / Instead he set it back / Right in the same nasty place / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Keep your mouth shut or you will die fast) / I got the Big Joe Blues / (Do this job, no questions asked) / I got the Big Joe Blues."
Mr. Seeger continued in his letter to me: "the basic mistake was Lenin's faith in [Party] DISCIPLINE!" He often tells his left-wing audiences, he said, to read Rosa Luxemburg's famous letter to Lenin about the necessity of freedom of speech. And despite all of my criticisms of Mr. Seeger over the years, he ended warmly, saying: "You stay well. Keep on."
Well, now the New York Times has a big scoop, This Just In: Pete Seeger Denounced Stalin Over a Decade Ago. Yes, instead of being a whole 50 years late, Pete Seeger was only about 40 years tardy in denouncing Stalin:
Mr. Radosh, who once studied banjo with Mr. Seeger, said in an interview that he had idolized him, but he has become a dogged critic of Mr. Seeger’s politics. Mr. Radosh wrote that he was “deeply moved” that the singer, “now in his late 80s, had decided to acknowledge what had been his major blind spot opposing social injustice in America while supporting the most tyrannical of regimes abroad.”
But in fact, Mr. Seeger, 87, made such statements 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.”
Thank you for that correction of the record, Mr. Wakin. We should give Pete Seeger credit for being only about 40 years, not 50 years, late in seeing the evils of Stalinism. Of course, Seeger's revelation still came to him about 40 years after even Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev himself denounced Stalin in his widely publicized Secret Speech made in 1956. With all the books, reports, and documentaries about the true nature of Joseph Stalin in the interim, one has to wonder what leftwing cocoon Seeger was living in during all those years so as to be unaware of the evils of Stalinism.
Oh well, at least we should be thankful that Seeger finally woke up from his self-induced slumber and tardily noticed that Stalin was hardly the warm "Uncle Joe" of fond leftwing memory. At least that puts him ahead of Studs Terkel who, so far as is known, has yet to utter even a single word of criticism of Dear Uncle Joe.