Pete Seeger and the Tea Party

img_2137_2-photo-15Pete Seeger the famous folk singer and former member of the Communist Party is not the first person that come to your mind when you see a Tea Party rally unless you are a slovenian marxist philosopher like Slavoj Zizek who in an interview in Democracy Now! says:

I was sitting in a hotel room, jumping between two channels on TV. One was Fox News — you must know the enemy to fight it. The other one was PBS. On Fox News, it was a live transmission of a tea party in Texas where a singer, kind of a fake folk singer, was singing anti-Washington, anti-state-expenditure song. On PBS, there was a documentary on the great leftist icon Pete Seeger. I was shocked at how the words, although the political meanings of it, were almost the same. Both were singing about we small, ordinary people are exploited; big bad guys, bankers in Washington, and so on, Wall Street, and so on.

I was schocked by the brilliant analysis of sometimes rethorical Zizek. There was something true about the coincidence of two kinds of radicalism even if the goals of Pete Seeger and Tea Party activists could in some points be on opposite sides like on enviromental issues but the most libertarian wing of the Tea Party had been consistently antiwar like Seeger was all his life.  Seeger according to NYT was “so far left politically he has probably never been called a liberal.” He wasn’t progressive either. He says in NYT interview:

I’m more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other.

Pete passed away these year and in marvelous piece by The American Conservative by Neil Clark was a tribute for the life of a singer never interested in the socially liberalism of the left rather in the cultural tradition and the dreams of a peaceful America. His enviromentalism was linked more with his back to the land ideals rather the eco-hipsterism of indie bands of today. Clark says:

He was a better socialist than the Trotskyite ideologues who accused him of being a Stalinist, and he was a better conservative than the McCarthyites who persecuted him. He understood, probably better than any other figure on the American Left, that in order for the human race to go forward we need to go back. Way, way, back.

Pete Seeger was a radical in the best sense of the word. His radicalism was beyond Left/Right divisions or partisan loyalties. Seeger was anti-impertalist, anti-fascist, anti-racist and pro-american. Going back to Zizek who used to talk the story of Victor Kravchenko a soviet defector who recieved political assylum in the USA. He became a best seller with his memoir I Choose Freedom in which he denounces the horrors of stanilism. But some years laters in the McCarthy years he published I Choose Justice a book in which he puts in question that in the name of anti-stalinism in America the politicians red-baiting their political enemies where fallen very short to commit the mistakes of supress political dissidence. Maybe if American Left don’t had embraced liberalism according to some paleoconservativess it wouldn’t be the social issues who were still driving the political debate and a radical alliance could had flourish. These Land is your Land is a radical song that would never become the anthem of the Tea Party but who knows if an alliance between grassroots conservatives and american radicals like Seeger still today could take back the country.


About Camilo Gómez

My main interests are history, politics, film and music. Twitter: @camilomgn
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