August 19th, 2011
I have been a fan of Ewan MacColl’s singing for decades. I knew he had been a member of the Communist Party. But it was still a shock when my son just showed me The Ballad of Stalin, written by MacColl. Equally disturbing was Peggy Seeger’s recent partial defense of mass murder Stalin:
THE BALLAD OF STALIN
Joe Stalin was a mighty man, a mighty man was he,
He led the Soviet people on the road to victory.
All through the revolution he fought at Lenin’s side,
And they made a combination till the day that Lenin died.
He said, “Come all you people, we will work with brain and hand.”
And then one day the Nazis came into the Soviet land,
They plundered to the Volga, to Stalingrad, and then
Joe Stalin said, Come on, me boys!” and he kicked them out again.
Joe Stalin was a southerner, in Georgia he was born
Where the oranges grow thick and fast and fields of waving corn;
And Joe he was a farmer, his fingers they were green
And he has planted the biggest crop the world has ever seen.
One day he looked upon his map and frowned and shook his head,
“There’s too much brown and not enough green,” these are the words he said;
“We’ll have to change the weather, boys,” he said and then he smiled,
“So let’s begin by planting trees along three thousand miles.”
Joe Stalin rolled his sleeves up and he said, “Come on, let’s start!
The Volga river and the Don they are too far apart.
I think we’d better join them, so come and help me, pal,
And we’ll build a mighty waterway, the Volga-Don Canal.”
One day he went into the North and there saw rivers three
All emptying their waters into the Polar Sea;
“Now that’s not right,” Joe Stalin said, “these rivers they are ours,
We’ll turn ‘em ’round and make ‘em work to give electric power.”
There was a range of mountains that was standing in the way
So Stalin put his hand out and he smoothed them all away;
For Joe he was determined to make the land all green
And that’s the biggest project that the world has ever seen.
Joe Stalin was a mighty man and he made a mighty plan;
He harnessed nature to the plough to work for the good of man;
He’s hammered out the future, the forgeman he has been
And he’s made the workers’ state the best the world has ever seen.
The blog The Mudcat Cafe, on which this appears, has this comment:
It is a pity that the date when this song was written is not given, but the mention of the Volga-Don Canal makes 1952 the earliest probable date and assuming that Krushev’s denouncing of Stalin in 1956 has reached MacColl’s ears this year (1956) should be the last possible date (I hope).
Peggy Seeger calls the song “a sample of his early work, highly dogmatic and low on finesse”, but she still insists that “there is no doubt that Joseph Stalin was a brilliant wartime leader and that many of his reforms (notably his collectivisation programme) were correct and productive.”
How a person could be so partially blind is a mystery to me. He must have believed that just everything he could read in the bourgeois press was wrong. Peggy Seeger’s use of the word ‘productive’ also puzzles me. If she still thinks collectivisation was correct that’s fine, but ‘productive’. I thought it was now fairly well known that the productivity dropped by the collectivisation. WH
Again, it goes to show that artistic talent or moral fervor is no protection from moral blindness. Alas, we still have those who project fantasies of wonderful leadership onto Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Gadaffi or other “revolutionary” leaders. The wish for the firm, but all wise father who will bring liberation seems never to die.
UPDATE: A close friend sent this comment:
Depressing post re MacColl. I liked your comments except that I thought the shot at Chavez — of whom I’m not a fan and who has lots of problems — was unfair, given that he, unlike Castro and Qaddafi, not to mention Uncle Joe, was elected.
I would argue that the uncritical adulation of some of the Western left toward Chavez is what I was commenting on, not necessarily Chavez’s policies.