Why I’m Not Wild About Harry—Belafonte, that Is. The Truth About Him You Won’t Hear in the Chorus of Accolades!
Of course, in his new book, Belafonte addresses the perennial favorite issue — the blacklist and the Communists. Like others on the Left who dissemble about the period, Belafonte argues that the “witch hunters were racists, working two campaigns as one….After all, hadn’t Stalin said that blacks and whites were equal? And hadn’t Robeson welcomed those words? So didn’t that make all blacks, by definition, communists? It certainly left nearly all black artists blacklisted.”
Now let us look at this unbelievable “explanation.” Paul Robeson was castigated and attacked not for saying blacks and whites were equal, but for suggesting that if a war broke out between the United States and the Soviet Union, American blacks might not fight for the United States. He was castigated for arguing consistently that Stalin’s Soviet Union was a paradise for the oppressed, and that the only country in the world that practiced true equality and democracy was the Gulag state. Belafonte’s writing is hardly a good example of understanding or “nuance,” as Porton claims.
As he gets to the present day, Belafonte writes: “I remained not just liberal but an unabashed lefty. I was still drawn to idealistic left-wing leaders…who seemed to embody the true ideals of socialism.” At least here he finally tells the truth: Harry Belafonte is still a fellow-traveler who has not strayed far from the days of his friendship with the Communist singer Paul Robeson. And so, he writes, he goes to Venezuela to meet Hugo Chavez, who he tells us “seemed far more complex than the swaggering out he was portrayed as in the Western media.” To Belafonte, he is a humane leader who “cut the ranks of his country’s unemployed in half,” who was “more popular in Venezuela than Bush was in the United States.”
He thus compares Chavez favorably to his other hero, Fidel Castro, in that he too has “a strong grasp of Latin American history and of the fine distinctions in law between Venezuela and its neighbors.” So Belafonte proudly relates that he went on Venezuelan state TV, and told the audience about his delegation, including of course Danny Glover: “We’re here to tell you that not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people support your revolution.” And as for being a tyrant, he added that George W. Bush was “the greatest tyrant, the greatest terrorist in the world.”
One does not need more to condemn Harry Belafonte than to cite his own words! As he puts it, “I really did think- still do- that George W. Bush was a terrorist.” What standard does Belafonte have to make this assertion? His only mistake, he writes, was to call him “the greatest terrorist in the world, since I had not met them all.” But Bush launched the war in Iraq “without cause, and with treacherous intent.”
What Belafonte’s book does, in its own way, is confirm that the singer is still an unreconstructed far leftist from a Stalinist past, who still sees the United States as fundamentally evil. As I pointed out in an op-ed I wrote for The New York Post in October of 2002, Belafonte stands for the following, as his record of years of activism shows:
* In June 2000, Belafonte was a featured speaker at a rally in Castro’s Cuba, honoring the American Soviet spies, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Tears, one observer reported, “streaked down” Belafonte’s face, “as he recalled the pain and humiliation his friend [Paul] Robeson had been forced to endure” in 1950s America. Undoubtedly, he was pleased to hear Cuba presented “as an example of keeping the principles the Rosenbergs fought and died for alive.”
* In 1997, Belafonte was featured speaker at the 60th Anniversary celebration of the “Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” at which he honored these self-proclaimed “premature anti-fascists” who served in the mid-1930s as Stalin’s private Comintern army, a battalion (not a brigade) that served as enforcers of Soviet policy during the Spanish Civil War. To Belafonte, nothing had changed since the 1930s. The VALB was still representatives of “a truth that engulfed the universe . . . that fascism anywhere is a threat to people everywhere.”
He did not pause to remind the aging vets that their anti-fascism disappeared overnight after their return home — when the remaining soldiers got the news about the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, and quickly declared that the only enemy was FDR’s warmongering and Great Britain.
* Speaking in October 1983 at a “World Peace Concert” run by East Germany’s official Communist youth organization, Belafonte gave his blessings to the Soviet-sponsored “peace” campaign pushing unilateral Western disarmament, at a time when the Soviets were putting SS-20 missiles in East Germany.
As The New York Times reported, Belafonte “attacked the American invasion of Grenada and also criticized the scheduled NATO weapons deployment” of Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany, which Jimmy Carter and then Ronald Reagan deployed to offset the Soviet missile offensive.
Belafonte, in other words, was supporting the Soviet bloc in its Cold War with the United States. And he was doing so in full embrace with the East German prison state. Here, where the notorious secret police, the Stasi, ruled by waging a perpetual witch-hunt against the entire population, Belafonte had only love and good wishes for their success.
No wonder that the late Leo Cherne, head of the International Rescue Committee, rejected Belafonte being honored. “I happen to have some reservations about Belafonte,” he wrote one of the IRC’s board, “I have found him . . . beyond my tastes for the elements of left-wing predisposition. He played a significant relief role in Ethiopia at a time when Ethiopia was under the control of the left wing dictator Mengistu, at the very time that the Castro military forces were playing an active support role.”
Writing some years ago, Agustin Blazquez and Jaums Sutton pointed out that “apparently, Castro can do no wrong in the eyes of Belafonte even though he promised the Cuban people to restore the 1940 Constitution, to provide an entirely civilian government, to have full democratic political freedom of expression and press and to have honest and free elections. Instead, Castro installed a totalitarian communist regime, which in reality is totally illegitimate, because it violated the 1940 Constitution. But apparently, the fact that the little Cuban people under Castro do not have the same rights he enjoys is fine with Belafonte’s humanitarianism.”
They authors added that in a March 2001 concert at Lincoln Center, given before his retirement from public performing, Belafonte appeared on behalf of a pro-Castro U.S. organization “dedicated to counter the effects of American policy toward Cuba. This concerned-about-Cuba veteran Calypso singer has not raised his voice before for the outrageous violations of human rights going on in Cuba for decades, but he raised his singing voice and collected money for a notorious pro-Castro organization.” In his new memoir, Belafonte puts in a brief sentence about how he was concerned about the dissidents, but evidently, not too much.
These points, all documented, are what you should remember, as you read Belafonte’s self-serving and rather dishonest memoir of his own life, and watch what will undoubtedly be a propagandist paean to an artist, who like his mentor and hero Paul Robeson, gave his talents freely on behalf of Communist tyranny.
Note to Readers: My wife and I are authors of the cover story in this week’s issue of The Weekly Standard, titled “Time for Another Harding? How a much-derided Republican President actually succeeded in cutting the budget and fixing the economy.” You can read it here.