This week, it was announced on the obituary page of the New York Times that the son of famed African-American singer Paul Robeson, Jr. had died. As I read it, the following sentence appeared, and I realized that once again “the paper of record” — as the old NYT used to be called — had whitewashed Paul Robeson’s activism:
While they had much in common, he said one difference was that he was a member of the Communist Party from 1948 to 1962 while his father never joined the party. (During the McCarthy era, his father faced F.B.I. surveillance after he criticized the government.)
That claim, as the Times writer could have found out with just a bit of research, is false.
Robeson was a secret member of the CPUSA for decades. On March 21, 1998, in the Communist newspaper The People’s Weekly World – at the time of the celebration of what would have been Robeson’s 100th birthday — General Secretary of the CPUSA Gus Hall announced:
We can now say that Paul Robeson was a member of the Communist Party. … During the period of McCarthyism, most of the Party was forced underground. Paul, and other trade union leaders were part of that.
Later, at a public meeting held in May, Hall said in a birthday tribute to “Comrade Paul” that he had a special “birthday present for Paul that no one else could give.” That present was Hall’s revelation that “Paul was a proud member of the Communist Party USA”; a man of true Communist “conviction.”
Hall added that it was “an indelible fact of Paul’s life, [in] every way, every day of his adult life.” The real truth, he said, was “he never forgot that he was a Communist.” His most precious moment, Hall said, occurred “when I met with him to accept his dues and renew his yearly membership in the CPUSA.”
One has to understand how the Communist movement operated. Its major public figures were always told that to be effective, they had to deny their CP membership, and if accused of being a Red, to simply reply that the right-wing was again engaging in “Red-baiting.” That was the tactic used by Robeson and by his son, when anyone — especially the press — made that accusation.
If Robeson was not a member, he was a dues chiseler. Everything he said publicly parroted the current CP line, whatever it was.
Robeson was in fact a Stalinist and a defender of Stalin throughout his public life.