In Defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist

tags: Communism, Pete Seeger



Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin and a senior editor at In These Times.

When the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger died Monday at the age of 94, remembrances of him, unsurprisingly, focused less on his music than on his social activism. All the better — Seeger, the epitome of tireless commitment to “the cause,” would have liked it that way.

Some comments were laudatory, praising every aspect of his advocacy. But most of them struck the balanced tone of The Washington Post’s Dylan Matthews, who tweeted: “I love and will miss Pete Seeger but let's not gloss over that fact that he was an actual Stalinist.”

Such attempts at balance miss the mark. 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.

This point is not to apologize for the moral and social catastrophe that was state socialism in the 20th century, but rather to draw a distinction between the role of Communists when in power and when in opposition. A young worker in the Bronx passing out copies of the Daily Worker in 1938 shouldn’t be conflated with the nomenklatura that oversaw labor camps an ocean away.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, time after time American Communists such as Seeger were on the right side of history — and through their leadership, they encouraged others to join them there....



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