The Dream Café

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Pete Seeger

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Sometime in the late ’50s Pete Seeger appeared at Kaufman Union at the University of Minnesota, raising money for his defense against HCUA. I suppose someone could find the exact date, but I think I must have been four or five. It was packed–sardine room only.  The organizers hadn’t expected that sort of turnout. Between sets, a few of  us kids were brought up to sit on the grand piano off to the side near the “stage” to create a little breathing room. Seeger came out for his second set; I remember he had his banjo, which pleased me, because I always liked that better than when he played his 12-string.  As he opened his mouth, I yelled out, “Hiya, Pete!” because it was so good to see an old friend–at least, I thought of him as an old friend because I’d been listening to his music all of my short life.  Didn’t that make us friends?  The whole room cracked up, and he turned and looked at me and grinned.  I truly believe that was the origin of the joy I get in performing, in being the center of attention, in making a room laugh.

He was a Stalinist, and it showed more and more as time went on.  You could see it in the way he did songs that carefully explained everything and drew their morals out plain as if the audience couldn’t be trusted to understand; you could see it in the way that, especially after his involvement with the Civil Rights movement, he would gladly hop onto any cause the pseudo-left embraced, the more middle-class the better.  It is sadly appropriate that the two of his obituaries I’ve read so far entirely omit the word “union,” even though union songs (The Almanac Singers, also featuring Woody) were really what launched him, and were a huge part of his body of  work.

I kind of don’t care about any of that. It wasn’t until I started playing banjo myself that I realized what an artist he was with the instrument.  Like another of my formative musicians, Merle Travis, the instrumental work was always understated; it was support for the song. He wanted you to enjoy the song, not think about how great a musician he was.  This is an approach to art that has become vital to me.  And while we’re speaking of underestimating, don’t forget the Weavers.  For many, they were the introduction to folk music.  Then, over time, you’d discover other “authentic” folk artists and start kind of mentally poo-pooing the Weavers with terms like, “Folk Pasteurizers.”  And then, one day, years and years later, you’d happen to pick up an old Weavers album, put it on, and go, “Holy fuck! I had no idea how good these guys were!”

He was 94 years old.  In his 94 years, he made many people happy. I was one of them.

Bye, Pete.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

44 Comments

  1. I don’t know that much about his political beliefs apart from wikipedia, but how could he be a Stalinist with a quote like the one I cited in the other thread, repeated here:

    “I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it.”

    I don’t have the date for that remark, but surely he didn’t say it during say Brezhnev’s regime, yearning back for Stalin and Beria? Because if he did, that’s just bizarre….

    Oh, but wikipedia does say this:

    “With the ever-growing revelations of Joseph Stalin’s atrocities and the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, however, he became increasingly disillusioned with Soviet Communism.”

    That doesn’t seem consistent with Stalinism, or if he ever was one, perhaps it was earlier when not that much information about the actual state of Russia was available? Maybe “fellow traveler” would be a better description than Stalinist?

  2. skzb

    MIramon: That is an excellent question. Stalinism is a more complex thing than merely support of Stalin or his regime. It is also an ideology. One aspect of the ideology is a rejection of the working class as the revolutionary class in favor of chasing after bourgeois public opinion and encouraging working class support for reformist leaders such as liberal capitalists, trade union bureaucrats, &c. The whole notion (to quote from the 40’s) that if “Men of Good Will” just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class is a hallmark of Stalinism. When you hear references to “Peace” and to “the People” you are probably rubbing shoulders with Stalinism.

    The origins of the interrelationship between such apparently contradictory things as support for the crushing of the Hungarian revolution on the one hand and the encouragement of pacifist movements on the other, goes back to the era when the Comintern was turned into an arm of Soviet diplomacy, and the ideological twisting and turning necessary to justify that. The entire New Left was heavily influenced by the ideology of Stalinism, even those who opposed the Communist Party. The end result is that, even today, there are many groups and individuals who will honestly express hatred for Stalin but can nevertheless be precisely and accurately described as Stalinist.

    In brief: Seeger broke with Stalin, but never with Stalinism.

  3. No, Maramon, Seeger was a Stalinist all of his life, tho he officially left the Communist Party USA after the revelations during the Kruschev era, as did many artists and workers. Seeger never showed the slightest interest in examining the history behind Stalin’s crimes or investigating how he could become active in the 4th International, which was struggling to carry on the work and principles of the Bolshevik Revolution. For the rest of his life, he focused on protest politics and keeping his follower within the net of the Democratic Party. On NPR this morning, Seeger’s grandson said that the musician took greatest pride in the anti-pollution work of the sleep Clearwater, because it ‘brought together” the people, the politicians and the industrialists.
    These are the same policies that characterize the work of the Stalinists world wide in this era.

    Be that as it may, His music remains a breathtaking legacy, and his power to hold an audience is unmatched. If you don’t know The Weavers, find them. If your children have never been enchanted by that rough-gentle voice singing Froggie Went a’Courting or telling the magical tale of Abyoyo…please search them out. Luckily Smithsonian has re-released most of this wonderful body of work.

  4. I am unconvinced. Did Seeger speak any words in favor of Stalinism (or Marxism-Leninism as the case may be) after 1956? Merely embracing liberal causes or rejecting revolution doesn’t make you a Stalinist, for sure. Moreover Stalin himself never did either of those things. By that definition, almost everyone is a Stalinist. Since Stalin emerged from the revolution himself and claimed to be a loyal follower of Lenin — hence “Marxism-Leninism” — I fail to see how evolutionary change could be a hallmark of Stalinism as it is so pervasive, superficial, and contingent a feature, and common to almost all non-communist politics. It seems to me that’s like saying efficient railroads is the hallmark of fascism or hemophiliac leadership is the hallmark of monarchy. Did Stalin ever write or speak words to that effect?

    “These are the same policies that characterize the work of the Stalinists world wide in this era.”

    In what world? In what era? Which Stalinists are you referring to? I suppose I need to see your definition of Stalinism first, because it doesn’t seem to be mine. The one in wikipedia certainly has nothing to do with conciliating capitalism. I was under the impression that Stalinism had to be one thing or the other, either the political philosophy of “Marxism-Leninism” which Stalin espoused, or the actual policies and programs of the man himself as ruler of the regime, like centralized industry, collectivized agriculture, the various waves of purges, and so on. Now he may have been a monster and a megalomaniac, and the betrayer of the revolution, but I really don’t think he was much of a capitalist conciliator or a liberal in any way.

    Sorry to derail the thread on Seeger this way, perhaps this should go somewhere else.

  5. skzb

    “Did Seeger speak any words in favor of Stalinism (or Marxism-Leninism as the case may be) after 1956?”

    Yes. Such words as “the people” in place of “the working class” are very much a giveaway.

    “Merely embracing liberal causes or rejecting revolution doesn’t make you a Stalinist,”

    No. Explicit rejection of class politics combined with Leftist rhetoric, however, does.

    ‘“These are the same policies that characterize the work of the Stalinists world wide in this era.”
    In what world? In what era?’

    The entire world. All of it. Taking slightly different forms in different places. In terms of “era” I would say that the transformation from a “hard line” ideology to petty bourgeoisie pacifism first showed up, in the US, in the 50’s, with the Progressive Party. By the time of the Vietnam War it was fully embedded.

    “I suppose I need to see your definition of Stalinism first, because it doesn’t seem to be mine. ”

    I’ll quote from above: “. One aspect of the ideology is a rejection of the working class as the revolutionary class in favor of chasing after bourgeois public opinion and encouraging working class support for reformist leaders such as liberal capitalists, trade union bureaucrats, &c. The whole notion (to quote from the 40′s) that if “Men of Good Will” just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class is a hallmark of Stalinism”

    There are several reasons with this ideology has come to be called Stalinism. One is that it flows from Stalin’s theory of “Socialism in One Country” which justified abandoning the interests of the working class in other countries. Another is that this ideology was promulgated by the Communist Parties under orders from the Kremlin.

  6. Such beliefs — in pacifism or in unification of classes or in other liberal positions — may have made you a pawn or a dupe of Stalinists and the Comintern during that period, but it seems to me that’s very different from actually supporting Stalin, his policies, programs, or government, which I think is a far more central concept to the term “Stalinist”.

    Otherwise every pacifist, every liberal, and every non-communist reformer throughout history must be considered a Stalinist, but at the same time these policies are absolutely the reverse of everything Stalin promoted in the USSR, where he annihilated non-worker classes (apart from the bureaucracy of course), rejected pacifism, etc. etc. etc.. Marx may have said he wasn’t a Marxist, but at least Marxists have some relation to the namesake. By this definition, Stalinism has nothing much to do with Stalin. Moreover, actual followers of Stalin’s programs like the original Maoists can no longer be considered Stalinists by this definition, though their capitalism-conciliating current-day successors can be. To my mind this is black-is-white wrong-is-right territory.

  7. To return to the topic… I heard it on BBC World about 3:15am and blogged the sad news and some thoughts soon after:

    The world has just lost one of its greatest bards. As a child in the fifties I lived on his music, and I have been nourished on it all my life. I just heard the news on the BBC World Service, whose article is below.

    Woody’s guitar bore the legend “This machine kills Fascists”. Pete’s banjo said, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender”.

  8. Yes, sorry for the derailment. I loved the Weavers when I was a kid.

  9. Sorry if I was unclear. The term “Stalinist” can refer to a conscious supporter of Stalin, or to someone who supports the ideology associated with his theories.

    And no, “every pacifist, ever liberal, and every non-communist reformer” does not explicitly reject a class analysis from within the workers movement while simultaneously using Leftist jargon to mislead the working class.

    The violence and oppression within the Soviet Union went hand-in-hand with calls for pacifism and the denial of the class struggle outside of the Soviet Union. They appear to be opposite, but they are flip sides of the same coin.

  10. And on the political thread: ISTM that your difference stems from the definition of the term “Stalinism”. To swipe the old line about neighbors talking over their backyard fence, you can’t come to an agreement because you’re arguing from different premises.

    I am not a political scholar or a historian. To me, a layman, a “Stalinist” by definition would have to be a supporter of Stalin and his activities – which I know only in the grossest of outlines, and which a specialist would say I barely know, or don’t know at all. Miramon, is it similar for you? Our host, though, is well versed in the history and philosophies of Communism, and he is using a more scholarly definition, one that requires some knowledge of Stalin’s theories:

    [description of some ideological stances] ‘There are several reasons with this ideology has come to be called Stalinism. One is that it flows from Stalin’s theory of “Socialism in One Country” which justified abandoning the interests of the working class in other countries. Another is that this ideology was promulgated by the Communist Parties under orders from the Kremlin.’

    This definition of Stalinism is not at all obvious to at least this layman.

    Gentlebeings, does this analysis seem reasonable to you?

  11. Pete changed how I thought about music. He taught me that music could be more than just entertainment. It could be used to bring people together.

  12. Being obsessed with the politics of identity, I’m fascinated by the question of whether it’s right to call Seeger a Stalinist. To a Trotskyist, calling him a Stalinist must be useful. To me, not so much—it smells of true-Scotsmanism.

    No socialist I have ever met has insisted that socialists must only work on socialist issues. Racism, sexism, environmentalism—every issue belongs to us because we’re part of the world. If Seeger thought his most successful campaign was environmental, fine. He saw an awful lot of defeats in his 90-some years, and most of his victories were simple survival. I’m glad he had something that he felt was a clear win.

    The question for me is whether Seeger was trying to bring about socialism in a Stalinistic way. Which makes me think of Orwell’s frustrations with Stalinism during the Spanish Civil War. That brand of Stalinism doesn’t seem like Seeger’s. He moved on, so I think we’re dealing with something that I would hate to give a name like post-Stalinism or neo-Stalinism, but it’s like Protestantism—Protestantism owes a lot to Catholicism, but insisting it is Catholicism doesn’t seem helpful.

    I think the path Seeger took has more to do with being an artist than a Stalinist. He inspired a lot of people along the way. He sure as hell could’ve done worse.

  13. People who understand the reality may disagree with me, but my impression is that Stalin behaved as if he did not oactually have an ideology. As if he tried to do what was best for himself, and since he kind of owned Russia, things he thought were good for Russia were good for Stalin.

    At least on a superficial level his actions fit this theory. At least, the things he did that are obvious to a superficial reading about him.

    So somebody who gives up the actual tenets of marxist/leninist thinking, but keeps the trappings, might be a Stalinist. Somebody who sounds kind of marxist but who does not actually follow the party line. (Or who creates a new party line and tries to suppress the real one.)

    If I have it right, the term “fake communist” or “fake marxist” might fit about as well as Stalinist. Somebody who talks like they’re on the right side but who mouths whatever pleasant generalities sound good instead of conforming to the correct line.

  14. “Stalinist” is a pejorative. It denigrates people who disagree with you in important ways by linking them to one of the great mass murderers in history. I think you know this and are doing it on purpose, which is too bad.

    My grandparents were Stalinists. They believed he was creating a truly equal society and were devastated to find out about the deaths. They were also friends of Seeger and shared many of his values. I think it’s fair to say that my grandparents – the Juliard-trained baritone (blacklisted from the classical music world) and his wife – focused too much on the elite and not the workers, though I’m not sure that’s a fair critique of Seeger, who always was relentlessly universal in his approach.

    At any rate, even if you do see the need to distinguish your views from Seeger’s, why the pejorative? All it does is split rather than lump.

  15. Pete Seeger once sang Abiyoyo for me personally! I don’t remember it, sadly – I was maybe 4 years old. Seeger performed outside at a WESPAC fair and apparently I was disappointed when he didn’t do Abiyoyo, so I asked him why not. So he sang it, for me! My father told me the story again years later, and was very disappointed to hear I had no recollection of the incident.

    RIP Pete

  16. skzb

    “At any rate, even if you do see the need to distinguish your views from Seeger’s, why the pejorative? All it does is split rather than lump.”

    Because it is the precise term for that ideology. If you want to invent a new term for the ideology so as to avoid hurt feelings, I suppose you can go ahead and do so. Given the tens of thousands of Trotskyists murdered by Stalinists, I have little desire to avoid offending them, and less desire to “lump” with them.

  17. It is not precise, it is pejorative and intentionally so. Precise implies a kind of truth that labels and names, identity statements, cannot pretend to. They are all constructed and subjective realities. I’m actually pretty sure you know this, but for some reason have decided to turn a post on the death of Pete Seeger into a moment for the airing of divisions. I know these wounds run deep, but to claim that linking proponents of alternate versions of socialism to one of history’s great murderers is “precise” cannot stand up as valid.

    Stalinist s a label that you and those who share your ideology have used to denigrate those who have a different ideology. It’s effective in generating reaction – see this thread. It’s rhetorically useful. It may be a handy way to distinguish (you = Trotskyite, martyr. Other = Stalinist, murderer). It’s infuriatingly smug.

    It’s many things, but precision is a claim that you cannot make and expect anyone not already inside the island of your ideas to agree to.

    And that’s always my question. Why isolate yourself? Why wall rather than persuade? I’ve never understood that, but then again, I’m a lumper.

  18. skzb

    Christ Jesus. I did not “decide to turn a post on the death of Pete Seeger” &c. Try reading the post. The issue of Stalinism was brought up for the sake of completeness and, largely, to dismiss it’s importance. His “activism” was very very important to Seeger; much less so to me, which I said in the OP. Others then asked for clarification on the term, and some said things so inaccurate they couldn’t be permitted to stand. To claim that I “decided to turn a post on the death of Pete Seeger into a moment for the airing of divisions” requires a callous disregard for truth.

    As to the other point, it is, indeed, precise. It is vital, within the working class movement, to understand the distinction between a revisionist, a Stalinist, a reformist, an opportunist, an anarchist. There are years study, of theoretical research, by some of the greatest mind of the Marxist movement to understand the particular ways the pressure of Imperialism makes itself felt within the working class movement, and how to fight it. To dismiss this accumulated understanding for fear of hurting the feelings of someone who is, for chrissakes, an enemy (we know they’re enemies, because they kill us; that’s our clue) to begin with, requires the belief that all of this is just the play of ideas, and that human misery caused by capitalism and by those who defend capitalism while pretending to oppose it can be treated as matters of opinion suitable for parlor conversations where we’re careful not to offend anyone. The whole notion is offensive.

  19. Well, I am deeply sorry I offended you Steve. I shall try not to do so again.

  20. skzb

    A more precise and very moving discussion of Seeger and his legacy can be found here: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2014/01/30/seeg-j30.html

  21. Oh, dear. Gentlebeings, I will try just once more, from my position of knowledge – not of politics but of language. Miramon, Steve is using the word in a technical sense that nonspecialists like you and me aren’t familiar with. Steve, it is unfair to laypeople to insist that they use a word only in a sense that is so familiar to specialists that they can forget that most of the world doesn’t use it that way.

    As skzb said today (January 30, 2014 at 8:20 am): “As to the other point, it is, indeed, precise. It is vital, within the working class movement, to understand the distinction between a revisionist, a Stalinist, a reformist, an opportunist, an anarchist.” Exactly: it is precise within the working class movement. “Stalinist” in this sense is a term of art, a piece of specialist language that has a specific meaning within the specialty, but to non-specialists has a different or broader meaning, or is not known at all.

    I’ve had people snarl and snap at me for speaking of their dialect: “I don’t speak a dialect, I speak English!” To them, a “dialect” is a substandard form of a language, often specific to a rural or backward area. In linguistics, though, it’s a form of a language that is spoken in a particular area [or by a particular group of people characterized other than geographically] and that uses some of its own words, grammar, and pronunciations. In this sense, everybody speaks a dialect, or several: you can no more speak without speaking a dialect than you can speak without speaking a language. I can’t tell them they’re misusing the word: they’re using it in the way they’ve always known it, the way much of the population uses it. Even with words that have originated within a field and are then taken up more generally and used differently – “acronym” comes to mind – I may dislike the usage, but I have to live with it, if not adopt it.

  22. I would disagree that this is a “precise” piece of writing – it’s the sort of typical propaganda one expects from Walsh – but I didn’t know Seeger was associated with Alan Lomax, and so this is a good chance to plug the Association for Cultural Equity (culturalequity.org) for those interested: “Inspired by the example set by Alan Lomax, our mission is to stimulate cultural equity through preservation, research, and dissemination of the world’s traditional music, and to reconnect people and communities with their creative heritage.” They have an amazing collection of folk song recordings in their sound collection.

  23. Possibly of interest, Noel Ignatiev’s Why I Can’t Join the Celebration: Pete Seeger: a Dissenting View:

    http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/30/pete-seeger-a-dissenting-view/

  24. An interesting article from 2007: “Seeger Speaks — and Sings — Against Stalin”

    http://www.nysun.com/arts/seeger-speaks-and-sings-against-stalin/61666/

    “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.”

    —-

    Pete (and his half-brother) Mike were big musical influences for me, no matter what the politics were.

  25. An interesting article. In many ways he’s right, but he leaves out the fact that Seeger was, first and foremost, an artist, a musician. That’s how he’ll be remembered, that’s the man I’ll miss, and that’s the life I celebrate.

  26. skzb

    thnidu: You make a valid point. It might have been more clear and accurate if I had said that Seeger’s ideology remained heavily influenced by the ideology of Stalinism, even after he broke with the Communist Party.

  27. I am really puzzled by skzb’s comment, “Given the tens of thousands of Trotskyists murdered by Stalinists, I have little desire to avoid offending them.” If this is intended as a step in the explanation of why he calls Seeger a Stalinist, despite the toxicity associated with that name (“it is the precise term for that ideology,” he says), then it would appear that he’s claiming that anyone who holds that “if ‘Men of Good Will’ just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class” (his definition of Stalinism) is thereby responsible for the deaths of those tens of thousands of Trotskyists.

    Yet he also says that “there are many groups and individuals who will honestly express hatred for Stalin but can nevertheless be precisely and accurately described as Stalinist.” So … they’re not responsible? They abhor it?

    Sorry, but I can’t parse this stuff together.

  28. skzb

    DB: I’m not sure what your difficulty is. Stalinism a precise description of a certain ideology within the workers movement. On the one hand, the ideology has justified the betrayal of the working class in Germany in the 20’s, Spain in the 30’s, the USA in the 40’s, &c &c. Other supporters of that ideology committed heinous acts of violence (I,l myself, was threatened more than once during the protest movement in the 60’s and early 70’s).

    Is it actually that hard to understand that there can be people who reject an individual, or a government, and yet still unknowingly follow the principles that individual or government promulgates? Where’s the confusion?

  29. Neither. What I am unable to understand is what I said I am unable to understand: how the simple act of believing that “if ‘Men of Good Will’ just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class” makes one responsible for the deaths of those tens of thousands of Trotskyists.

    You seem to believe it does, because you state that you “have little desire to avoid offending” the anti-Stalin Stalinists by applying that toxic name to them.

    “if ‘Men of Good Will’ just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class” sounds like a good idea to me, because it sounds like a pleasant piece of liberal utopianism that one does not have to be a communist of any stripe, Stalinist or otherwise, to believe (cf “there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class”), and I am not a communist of any stripe. But am I thereby, by your standards, a Stalinist? If I am, the term is meaningless, because, as somebody else pointed out above, by that standard almost anybody can be. If not, you’re not using your own definition.

  30. Let me put it another way: ” that there can be people who reject an individual, or a government, and yet still unknowingly follow the principles that individual or government promulgates” is not the issue.

    Stalin loaded Shostakovich with honors and considered him a great composer. I, too, consider Shostakovich a great composer, though for rather different reasons. So far, however, that makes me a fellow traveler with Stalin. But surely it doesn’t make me a Stalinist?

    Similarly, I don’t see how Seeger’s proto-communist utopian political beliefs make him a Stalinist either, even if they do coincide with the tactics adopted by Stalin to rationalize and promulgate his noxious cause. Seeger accepted the principles but abjured the noxious cause. If “Stalinism” is the technical term for his position, as you say it is, then it is a mightily confusing and misleading technical term (especially as it draws no distinction from those who do embrace the noxious cause) and it ought to be changed. If only because your using it spawned this divisive and off-topic argument to your fine obituary.

    And I still don’t see how holding a philosophical position makes one responsible for everything noxious ever done under color of that position. For one thing, I want to be able to use the term “anti-semitism” for when I see anti-semitism, even of the genteel “Gentleman’s Agreement” sort, without being taken as saying that the perpetrators are genocidal. Hitler was not a garden-variety anti-Semite, but outstanding in his field. Similarly, Stalin was not a garden-variety world-peace utopianist.

  31. skzb

    “What I am unable to understand is what I said I am unable to understand: how the simple act of believing that “if ‘Men of Good Will’ just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class” makes one responsible for the deaths of those tens of thousands of Trotskyists.”

    Do you also have trouble understanding how “the simple act of believing” that non-whites are inferior to whites makes one a bigot, even if the individual rejects the violence of the Ku Klux Klan? Do you also have trouble understanding how “the simple act of believing” that Jews are conspiring to run the world makes one anti-Semetic, even if one believes that Hitler was evil? Do you also have trouble understanding how “the simple act of believing” that abortion should be illegal under all circumstances makes one a supporter of the war on women, even if one rejects violence against abortion providers?

    “Bigot” “anti-semetic” “supporter of the war on women” are all insulting terms. They are also precise and descriptive and I have exactly zero interest in using less precise terms to describe ideologies I think are wrong and dangerous, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned their supporters might be.

  32. “Do you also have trouble …?” Absolutely not. In fact, I used “anti-semitism” as an example of what I meant, in the next comment. Your examples are not equivalent at all. The equivalent of calling Pete Seeger a Stalinist because of his utopian political views would be calling an anti-semite a Nazi. Some, but not all, anti-semites are Nazis. The rest, however noxious they are, are not responsible for the Holocaust.

    There is also this difference: racial inferiority theories, Jewish-conspiracy theories, and abortion-banning (which is not the same thing as being *opposed* to abortion, not at all, in fact the disconnect between the abortion-banning campaign and what they’d do if they really wanted to eliminate abortion, instead of just making it illegal, is glaring) are obviously and inherently “wrong and dangerous.” Using terms like “bigot” and “anti-semite” (which, though indeed insulting, are not as toxic as “Stalinist”) are therefore appropriate. You will have to tell me, though, what it is about “if ‘Men of Good Will’ just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class” that is equally “wrong and dangerous.” Is it that it would fool you into supporting Stalin himself? It didn’t fool Pete Seeger, at least not permanently. If not, what?

  33. skzb

    “what it is about “if ‘Men of Good Will’ just work together to end racism, violence, and oppression, there is no need for a revolutionary party or the independence of the working class” that is equally “wrong and dangerous.””

    It leads one to support “lesser-evil” capitalists, which is to support capitalism, which is to support inequality, racism, oppression, and imperialism. It is self-defeating. The worst, most heinous crimes of Stalinism were not the murder of Trotskyists, or even the unspeakable horrors inflicted on the Russian people themselves. it was the betrayal of the German working class in the 20’s, the Spanish working class in the 30’s,the Chinese working class in the 40′ (to pick just three examples among countless others). The human suffering these betrayals led to are the direct result of the ideology of Stalinism, of the rejection of the independent role of the working class.

    If humanity is to have a future, there must be a fight against all forms of populism, against all ideologies that lead the working class back into the dead end of capitalist reformism. Stalinism is one such form. Trying to find a nicer name to call it does no one any good.

  34. So Stalinists are bad because they supported capitalism. All right, you win: the only possible response is to walk away slowly, shaking my head.

  35. I’m sympathetic to some of skzb’s recent points here but….

    While Stalin’s betrayal of socialist and other left-wing groups in Spain, Germany, and China was bad, I’d say the worst effects of his policies and rule by far were in the Soviet Union itself. As you say, unspeakable horrors. We can go over them case by case, but even if Stalin personally strangled every Spanish anarchist with his own hands, the crime would still pale in comparison to what was done in the USSR.

  36. Miramon: I know what you’re saying, and disagreement seems like a pointless exercise. But part of the reason for my opinion is the conviction that, had the working class in Germany in particular not been betrayed by Stalinism, Stalin’s reign would have been overthrown before the worst of the atrocities were committed.

  37. Huh, that notion (Stalin’s overthrow coming from socialist success in Germany) didn’t occur to me. If true, it makes sense to argue that betrayal’s importance.

    But on the other hand, had Stalin’s international policy not been based on betrayal and subversion perhaps his domestic policies wouldn’t have been so monstrous either (ie his character would have been different), and it wouldn’t have been necessary to overthrow him.

  38. skzb

    Well, if you’re arguing that Stalin’s domestic and international policies were of a piece, I’m hardly going to disagree.

  39. @skzb: “Do you also have trouble understanding…”

    You are here conflating beliefs with actions, which reduces everything to the extreme view that either you are for us or against us.

    I personally think Christianity is stupid, and that Christian beliefs are silly, but I have never worked to end Christmas, or even criticized a Christian to her face just for being Christian, yet you are saying I am part of the global war on Christians because of what I think. As it happens, yes, I do have trouble believing that of myself, just as I do not believe that the mere fact of thinking all abortion should be illegal without taking action to make it so makes someone anti-woman. Belief doesn’t necessarily lead to action; the two are not synonymous.

    “…had the working class in Germany in particular not been betrayed by Stalinism, Stalin’s reign would have been overthrown before the worst of the atrocities were committed.”

    I’d like to ask for some reference material on this subject. Is there a specific book or analyst who’s outlined how Stalin could have been overthrown given different circumstances? This is not an insult, which I suspect is how sometimes interpret such requests, but a straight-forward question.

  40. “Is there a specific book or analyst who’s outlined how Stalin could have been overthrown given different circumstances?”

    Harry Turtledove might likely have written about that. He’s done a lot of alternate history.

    The question how things would have to be if they were different is always interesting.

  41. If any of you are still hanging around, one answer to L. Raymond’s post and others is to refer you to http://www.mehring.com, website of Mehring Books, the publishing house of the Fourth International (the Trotskyist movement). There you will find original works of Lenin and Trotsky (including Trotsky’s analysis of Stalin’s betrayals of international principles of the revolution.) You might also be interested in some contemporary histories that have come out of Russia since some of the archives were opened, especially the works of Vadim Rogovin.

  42. I want to suggest the possibility that one of the reasons Stalin succeeded was that he was good at fitting the role of Czar. Brutal, utterly intolerant of dissent, and he gave people the (somewhat false) impression that he would protect those who were completely loyal to him.

    People obeyed him who would not have obeyed someone else.

    I have no way to prove that. It’s kind of an intangible. I tend to think that sometimes intangibles make a great big difference, that we can explain things after the fact without any thought for them but we can’t predict ahead of time partly because of them.

    Trotsky was respected for his ideas and his accomplishments, but he was respected like the dutiful son who does great things, and not like the father who rewards success. When he maintained the traditions of socialism somehow it was like he was the rebellious son. And that made a difference.

  43. Ms. Moore, thanks very much for this suggestion. I have to admit I have a strong bias against the WSWS, but Mehring distributes books from a number of publishers, and Haymarket Books looks like it has a few titles that are worth pursuing, like “Witnesses to Permanent Revolution”. Pathfinder’s “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain” looks especially interesting, and pertinent to my last question.

    “There you will find original works of Lenin and Trotsky (including Trotsky’s analysis of Stalin’s betrayals of international principles of the revolution.) ”

    I think I’ve got 98% of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s writings already, and although I’m in no position to judge the quality of the translations, I only took files from avowedly Marxists sites so as to be as sure as possible they are accurate.

    “You might also be interested in some contemporary histories that have come out of Russia since some of the archives were opened, especially the works of Vadim Rogovin.”

    I’ve read a number of such histories, although Rogovin is new to me. I suspect Morrow’s book on the Spanish Civil War will be of the greatest interest just in general; that it helps with my current topic of research is just a plus.

  44. L. Raymond: You and I may be the only ones still around this thread, but I need to say a couple more things before I leave you to your readidng. I need to point out that a major factor in what you call Stalin’s “success” was the intervention of the US government, first in the Civil War which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Bolsheviks and their supporters, and the near-destruction of the Soviet Union’s economy. Later, the US was instrumental in isolating Trotsky by refusing him asylum after he was exiled, and isolating him by every means possible from his supporters worldwide as they were murdered one by one by Stalin’s forces.

    But enough. Let’s let poor Pete Seeger rest in peace. To everything there is a season….

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