Again: The New York Times Whitewashes Communist Paul Robeson

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.

No one put it better than -- amazingly -- a writer for Daily Kos, someone calling himself Yosef 52. He titled his entry: “Yes, Paul Robeson was an Unrepentant Stalinist”:

Robeson always found much to admire in Stalin's slave camp regime. The farcical, horrible show trials of 1936-38, in which the Communist Party's surviving founders and many of the USSR's top military leaders were destroyed, were obvious travesties, utter caricatures of justice. The robotic testimony given by the defendants, implicating themselves and confessing to ludicrous charges, had obviously been wrung out of them by torture and threats against their families. Robeson's reaction to these grotesque proceedings?

From the testimony I read at the time, I believe that justice was done to these men on the whole. In the critical struggle then going on, some innocent men might have suffered, but as to the general fairness of these trials, even reliable American observers like Raymond Robbins (sic) testified.

In other words, lynching when done in a good cause is defensible. Disgraceful. Totally disgraceful. Inexcusable.

He continues to summarize’s Robeson’s horrendous apologias for Stalin better than anyone has:

Robeson cheered for Stalin's pact with Hitler, and then, like the rest of the Communist world, did a 180 degree reversal on 22 June 1941, the date Germany invaded Russia, and demanded all-out aid to the Soviet Union. But I guess principles are disposable, and I guess intellectual and moral consistency are for the weak.

Robeson played a concert in Prague in 1949, celebrating his good Soviet friends. His good Soviet friends were then in the process of crushing Czech democracy into the dirt, but this didn't detract from Robeson's celebration. Robeson just didn't give a damn about it.

Robeson remained a fervent Stalinist, even after the following events:

The crushing of national independence and democratic movements in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and elsewhere in eastern Europe, by Stalin. Stalin's attempt to strangle the people of West Berlin into submission through an illegal blockade.The insane post-war purges inside the USSR and the preposterous worship of Stalin that accompanied them. The Communist invasion of South Korea.

And most damningly, even AFTER Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" of 1956. Robeson could STILL not bring himself to denounce Stalin. Even then. Even then.

Robeson himself wrote a major apologia for Stalin in an essay written after Stalin’s death in 1953. It should be added that Robeson was awarded the year before that the so-called “Stalin Peace Prize,” which he proudly accepted. Today, were he alive, he probably would have received the Nobel Peace Prize. This is what Robeson wrote:

Today in Korea -- in Southeast Asia -- in Latin America and the West Indies, in the Middle East, in Africa, one sees tens of millions of long oppressed colonial peoples surging toward freedom. What courage -- what sacrifice -- what determination never to rest until victory!

...

Colonial peoples today look to the Soviet Socialist Republics. They see how under the great Stalin millions like themselves have found a new life. They see that aided and guided by the example of the Soviet Union, led by their Mao Tse-tung, a new China adds its mighty power to the true and expanding socialist way of life. They see formerly semi-colonial Eastern European nations building new People's Democracies, based upon the people's power with the people shaping their own destinies. So much of this progress stems from the magnificent leadership, theoretical and practical, given by their friend Joseph Stalin.

They have sung -- sing now and will sing his praise -- in song and story. Slava - slava - slava - Stalin, Glory to Stalin. Forever will his name be honored and beloved in all lands.

In all spheres of modern life the influence of Stalin reaches wide and deep. From his last simply written but vastly discerning and comprehensive document, back through the years, his contributions to the science of our world society remain invaluable. One reverently speaks of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin - the shapers of humanity's richest present and future.

This was written in what might be called Communist-speak. It is a sycophantic, revolting and despicable praise to a man who at the time had been one of the 20th century’s greatest tyrants, the double of Hitler. It reveals better than any other Robeson statement what an utter fool and useful idiot he was.

Let me change that; it reveals what a total idiot he was, and shows us that it did not matter whether or not he was a CP member. He served the Party 100 percent in every word he uttered.