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29 January 2014

Pete Seeger's Best Song

Communists recorded this, then wished they hadn't.

"The Ballad of October 16th" recorded by the Almanac Singers (written by Millard Lampell) was released on Songs for John Doe in May 1941, featuring Pete Seeger on banjo. At that time Communists like Seeger were opposed to American intervention in the European war.

Evidently they believed that the situation in Europe as of early 1941, with France subjugated and mostly disarmed, and British forces driven from the continent but still fighting Germany on the sea and in North Africa, was a situation that worked in favor of the Soviet Union, with its massive quantitative superiority over Germany. It is evident in Stalin's behavior at the time that he regarded Germany's situation as highly vulnerable, to the point of trying to force enormous concessions out of Germany in return for continuing Soviet "friendship." Heinrich Haertle describes the situation:

Molotov’s November 1940 extortion attempt in Berlin already practically signaled Stalin’s determination for war. He was pressuring Germany, which was still at war with England and already in a de facto war with the United States, to hand over to the Soviet Union the Balkans, the Baltic Sea, and above all the war-deciding oil supply in Romania, thereby making it clear that he would stab Germany in the back at the first opportunity. [Heinrich Haertle, 1965]

The month after Songs for John Doe was released, Operation Barbarossa commenced and the Red Army -- arrayed for attack, not defense -- was sent reeling, forced into a chaotic retreat. Thereupon Communists worldwide did an abrupt and highly revealing about-face: Seeger and other Communist pseudo-folksingers switched from anti-war songs to pro-war songs. Copies of this recording not yet sold were recalled and destroyed.

It was on a Saturday night and the moon was shining bright;
They passed the Conscription Bill.
And the people they did say, for many miles away,
'Twas the President and his boys on Capitol Hill.

Oh Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt.
We damned near believed what he said!
He said, "I hate war, and so does Eleanor,
But we won't be safe till everybody's dead."

When my poor old mother died, I was sitting by her side.
A-promising to war I'd never go.
But now I'm wearin' khaki jeans, and eatin' army beans,
And I'm told that J.P. Morgan loves me so!

I have wandered over this land, a roamin' workin' man,
No clothes to wear and not much food to eat,
But now the government foots the bill, gives me clothes and feeds me swill,
Gets me shot and puts me underground six feet!

Oh Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt.
We damned near believed what he said!
He said, "I hate war, and so does Eleanor,
But we won't be safe till everybody's dead."

Why, nothing can be wrong, if it makes our country strong.
We've gotta get tough to save democracy!
And though it may mean war, we must defend Singapore;
This don't hurt you half as much as it hurts me.

Oh Franklin Roosevelt told the people how he felt.
We damned near believed what he said!
He said, "I hate war, and so does Eleanor,
But we won't be safe till everybody's dead."

Here's another song from Songs for John Doe,"Washington Breakdown," written by Pete Seeger and Lee Hays, to the tune of "Ida Red":


"Lafayette, we are here!" was a slogan from the First World War; in this lyric  its meaning is inverted by making "here" refer to America rather than France. 

"Marcantonio" refers to Vito Marcantonio, a far-left congressman who participated in the Communist front "American Peace Mobilization," then  became pro-war when the Soviet Union was invaded.

Wendell Willkie was the Republicans' pro-war presidential candidate in 1940, who waffled in an attempt to get the anti-war vote, but failed. Willkie's lack of sincerity is confirmed by the fact that after the election he became Roosevelt's informal emissary. Then as now, both political parties represent the same fundamental agenda and offer no real alternative.


Franklin D, you listen to me, you ain't a-gonna send me cross the sea.
Cross the sea, cross the sea, you ain't a-gonna send me cross the sea.


You may say it's for defense, but that kind of talk that I'm against.
I'm against, I'm against; that kind of talk ain't got no sense.


Lafayette, we are here! We're gonna stay right over here.
Over here, over here, we're gonna stay right over here.

Marcantonio is the best but I wouldn't give a nickel for all the rest.
All the rest, all the rest,I wouldn't give a nickel for all the rest.

J.P. Morgan's big and plump, 84 inches around the rump.
Around the rump, around the rump, 84 inches around the rump.


Wendell Willkie and Franklin D, it seems to me they both agree.
Both agree, they both agree, they both agree on killin' me.


It was clear in 1941, as these songs indicate, that the political establishment of the United States was trying to get the country into war. This happened to be against the will of the overwhelming majority of the people, mostly for genuine reasons, not out of some partisan allegiance as in the case of the Communists. It was only after the sorely provoked attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941 that the majority of Americans supported the Roosevelt Administration's warmongering.

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1 comment:

who+dares+wings said...

Whatever the party told Pete Seeger to think and sing he did. His father (Charles Seeger) was some sort of a WASPy Commie, too, along with folk music archivist Alan Lomax. This is covered in E. Michael Jones' THE JEWISH REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT Chapter 21, Revolutionary Music in the l930's, pg 817.