Bhaskar Sunkara, editor and publisher of Hamas, author of Jeremy Lin Is Not Greedy, You're Just Stupid, [repeats], and now of , In defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist.
It’s not that Seeger did a lot of good despite his longtime ties to the Communist Party; he did a lot of good because he was a Communist.Seeger was in the party for about 10 years, quitting in 1949.
"I read their [communists'] newspaper and there's occasionally some good stories there. And I read the Wall Street Journal and occasionally they have some good stories there. I wish I could get them both in the same room talking together."
Seeger documentary for PBS
The second film expands on the darker subtexts of the first and becomes tragic.
I've always hated Seeger with a passion, hated his singing and his smile. He crafted his voice to demonstrate his sincerity, and sincerity is affect; commitment is gauged by action. But the fact remains that he was committed, using singing as a form of illustration. As a test, try stripping all political intention from him and his work and see what you end up with. There's something similar in Louis Armstrong's public persona later in life. 'Satchmo' became a facade, but he knew it as much as others did. That's what Billie Holiday meant when she said, "He Toms from the heart". Someone else described Armstrong as the saddest man in the world.
I've always thought of Seeger as shallow, but he took a stand. Others rely only on sincerity and hot air while committing to no action at all. To follow this you need to see the relation of Seeger and other post-war Modernists, whose formal rhetorics were just as hollow, but who were apolitical.
"...someday it will have to be told how 'anti-Stalinism' which started out more or less as 'Trotskyism' turned into art for art’s sake, and thereby cleared the way, heroically, for what was to come."2
"James’s critical genius comes out most tellingly in his mastery over, his baffling escape from, Ideas; a mastery and an escape which are perhaps the last test of a superior intelligence. He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it…. In England, ideas run wild and pasture on the emotions; instead of thinking with our feelings (a very different thing) we corrupt our feelings with ideas; we produce the public, the political, the emotional idea, evading sensation and thought…. Mr. Chesterton’s brain swarms with ideas; I see no evidence that it thinks. James in his novels is like the best French critics in maintaining a point of view, a view-point untouched by the parasite idea. He is the most intelligent man of his generation."
O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag—
It’s so elegant
“What shall I do now? What shall I do?”
“I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
“With my hair down, so. What shall we do tomorrow?
“What shall we ever do?”
"This is a historic week because segregation on buses has now been declared unconstitutional. Within a few days the Supreme Court Mandate will reach Montgomery and you will be reboarding integrated buses. This places upon us all a tremendous responsibility of maintaining, in face of what could be some unpleasantness, a calm and loving dignity befitting good citizens and members of our Race. If there is violence in word or deed it must not be our people who commit it.
For your help and convenience the following suggestions are made. Will you read, study and memorize them so that our non-violent determination may not be endangered."
Politics is complex business. Clement Greenberg, T.S. Eliot, Pete Seeger and Tom Lehrer were Modernists. Martin Luther King was not. Louis Armstrong was not a Modernist and in a related sense neither were Eliot or Lehrer. Eliot and Lehrer are ironists, Greenberg, Seeger and King are not, though King would have understood and appreciated ironies in Armstrong that no one else above would catch, and the Letter from Birmingham Jail is dripping with irony, directed at the self-conscious, self-regarding sincerity of the men it was addressed to.
Eliot, Greenberg, and popular culture, here.
or take the slow route.