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If I had a hammer (and sickle)

Friday, 31 January, 2014

The late Pete Seeger was a Marxist and, in his own words, a “communist with a small c”, all his life. Some, however, would differ with the singer’s use of the lower-case there. David Boaz, writing in The Guardian in 2006, went so far as to call him “Stalin’s songbird” and bolstered his case by quoting the ex-communist scholar Ronald Radosh: “Seeger was anti-war during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact; pro-war after the Soviet Union was the ally of the United States; and anti-war during the years of the Cold War and Vietnam.”

Adam Garfinkle does not ignore Seeger’s politics in “So Long, It’s Been a Bit Strange to Know You“, but he makes a case for putting the singer’s misguided beliefs in context:

“When you come right down to it, what Seeger did, probably without knowing it, was to devise a kind of new-age folk religion out of musical protest rituals. What he did made people feel good, made them feel like a part of something larger than themselves at a time when traditional means of religious communal expression weren’t working so well. The merging of environmental consciousness into the older leftist portfolio was almost too good to be true for this purpose: Lenin plus Gaia equaled countercultural nirvana. It was fine for most never to get beyond the lyrical slogans to the second paragraph of any thought about a political topic — that just wasn’t the point. Communal singing is a very powerful form of human celebration that creates and sustains spiritual connectedness; if you don’t realize that, it means you’ve never been involved in it. For all I know it probably has health benefits as well.”

Lenin plus Gaia is apt.

Comments (1)

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  1. Henry Barth says:

    And of course it’s a mere coincidence that Lenin’s birthday and Earth Day, celebrating “Gaia”, are both on 22 April.