Death of a Communist - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Death of a Communist

Paul Robeson Jr. has died at age 86. He was the son of the famous African-American performer and activist Paul Robeson, who died in 1976 at age 77. Regardless of what the adoring left says, both men were hardcore communists, with the senior Robeson being a dedicated Stalinist.

The headline for Paul Jr.’s obituary in the New York Times was predictable, stating simply, “Paul Robeson Jr., Activist and Author, Dies at 86.” The Times is always reliable for a flatteringly misleading headline at the death of any old communist, hailing the deceased as a celebrated “progressive” or “civil rights activist” or whatever—really, anything but an American Bolshevik.

To its credit, the Times could not avoid conceding that Paul Jr. had been a communist. It cited Paul Jr. himself acknowledging that he had been a member of the Communist Party. But to its discredit, the Times quoted Paul Jr. insisting that his father was not a communist—a predictable falsehood from Paul Jr. and predictable bad information from the Times. “While they had much in common,” the Times said of father and son, “he [Paul Jr.] said one difference was that he was a member of the Communist Party from 1948 to 1962 while his father never joined the party.” The Times was sure to add: “During the McCarthy era, his father faced F.B.I. surveillance after he criticized the government.”

Yes, of course. That one and only Red Terror, better known to liberals as The McCarthy Era. Once again, the bad guy is not Joe Stalin but Joe McCarthy. And yet again, the handy narrative is sheer nonsense. The Times and its readers repeatedly dupe themselves into such self-imposed ignorance.

To that end, let me put this bluntly, and without the slightest whiff of exaggeration: Paul Robeson Sr. was an unflagging admirer of Joseph Stalin, one of the most prolific killers in history. It was this that brought Robeson under congressional scrutiny in the 1930s when the Democrats ran Congress, the White House, and the attorney general’s office—long before Joe McCarthy emerged on the scene. Even the New York Times once called Robeson “an outspoken admirer of the Soviet Union.” He was dedicated to the Communist Party USA goal of fundamentally transforming America into a “Soviet American Republic.”

The senior Robeson’s Soviet romance began in 1934, the year he made a pilgrimage to the Motherland. When he returned, he spoke at length to the Moscow-funded Daily Worker. In a breathless piece than ran in the January 15, 1935 issue, under the headline, “‘I Am at Home,’ Says Robeson At Reception in Soviet Union,” Robeson gloried in the “feeling of safety and abundance and freedom” he found “wherever” he turned under Stalin. When asked about Stalin’s purges, Robeson responded with a stunning statement that probably surprised even the Kremlin: “From what I have already seen of the workings of the Soviet Government, I can only say that anybody who lifts his hand against it ought to be shot!”

The KGB tortured people pretty damned hard to get those kinds of statements. But Paul Robeson Sr. needed no such compulsion; just some careful wining and dining and duping. Indeed, Robeson was deadly serious. He was enamored with what he found in Stalin’s state, so much so that he moved his family there—his son included. They lived there, where they were given excessively special treatment. The Soviets rolled out the red carpet, literally.

In 1952, shortly before Stalin’s death, Paul Robeson was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize, which he unhesitatingly accepted. And when his beloved Stalin perished in March 1953, Robeson was moved to tears and to verse. He responded with a poetic eulogy titled, “To You Beloved Comrade.” He tearfully recalled the unforgettable moment when he elevated his son, Paul Jr., at the site of Stalin, as if lifting the boy in the air to present him with some sort of supernatural commission. Robeson waxed reverently of this “kindly,” “good” man of “wisdom,” “deep humanity,” and “understanding.” Stalin’s “noble example” and “daily guidance” had left Russians a “rich and monumental heritage.” The death of the “great Stalin,” reported a heartbroken Robeson, left “tens of millions all over the earth bowed in heart-aching grief.”

Of course, in reality, Stalin left tens of millions dead, and their families bowed in heart-aching grief.

It would take almost a half-century after Robeson’s death for Communist Party USA to publicly concede the obvious: Paul Robeson Sr. had been a longtime secret member. In May 1998, the centennial of Robeson’s birth, longtime CPUSA head Gus Hall finally, proudly revealed the truth. Hall made that announcement in a speech reprinted in the leading Marxist journal Political Affairs.  

Only progressives were surprised by Hall’s revelation. They are still today; that is, they would be if they bothered to learn or care about the facts. The New York Times is still clueless.

That brings us back to Paul Robeson Jr. The younger Robeson perpetuated the lie that his father was not a communist. And the left embraced him.

Paul Jr. had long been loved by the communist and “progressive” left merely for being the son of Paul Sr. Historian Ron Radosh, a former communist, ran in some of the same political circles as Paul Jr. Radosh remembers being in high school in the 1950s and attending the national conference of the Labor Youth League, one of the incarnations of the Young Communist League. After a plenary statement, various attendees raised their hands to comment. One of them was Paul Jr. The speaker eagerly recognized him and said, “I call on Paul from Harlem.”

Radosh recalls:

Robeson Jr. stood up, and the entire audience gave him a standing ovation and cheers that lasted at least five minutes. Then everyone sang “The World Youth Song,” before he could say one word. I don’t remember his comment, but it was trivial at best and was only a few sentences. I believe that’s when he saw that he didn’t have to make a living, but could manage to make a career out of being Robeson’s son.

Radosh called Paul Jr. “a total sycophant and enabler of his father’s legacy.”

Charlie Wiley, a longtime anti-communist who was Paul Jr.’s age, vividly recalls his run-ins with the young Robeson. He encountered him a number of times, most memorably at one of the notorious Soviet-orchestrated World Youth Festivals, specifically the Vienna World Youth Festival in August 1959. These festivals were serious ideological battlegrounds, with the international communist movement using them to indoctrinate as many youth as possible. Young American communists like Robeson went to these events to agitate against America and for communist Russia. They were countered by pro-American anti-communists such as Charlie Wiley, the late Herb Romerstein, and others.

These debates were intense, vicious. In Vienna, they turned physical. One of the British anti-communists was beaten unconscious and carried to the nearest hospital. Wiley was assaulted, as were women in the American delegation. The communists had yet again resorted to force to advance their cause. It was what they knew best.

Wiley says that Paul Jr. basically ran the American delegation, or at least sought to. The communists were not a numerical majority in the delegation, but they were seasoned manipulators who easily dominated the group. As the leader of the communist cell, Paul Jr. tried to speak for the full delegation. At the welcoming ceremony, Robeson stepped forward on behalf of the entire American contingent, speaking in what one participant called “very beautiful Russian.” In fact, he knew Russian so well that he listed his occupation at the time as “translator.”

Wiley describes Paul Jr. as “really hardcore,” “a hard, committed, austere communist.” He was “mean, tough, no nonsense, not one to mess around with.” Wiley says that whereas he (Wiley) could personally trick other American communists into trusting him as possibly one of them, and thus goading them in a less destructive direction, Paul Jr. “didn’t trust me at all.” The younger Robeson constantly gave him a cold, hard stare. He knew his way around. Unlike the wide-eyed liberals, Robeson was a committed radical leftist who was no sucker.

Wiley added this comment on Paul Jr.’s personality:

As an interesting side-note, there was one funny thing I remember about Paul Robeson Jr. It’s funny what sticks with you, but I remember the language he used. He was the first male I ever encountered who swore in front of women with really foul language—rude, crude. I mean the “F-word” and everything. You have to understand that men just didn’t talk like that in those days. Later on they would all the time, but not back then. Robeson was the first time where I saw that. It really struck me. It was very unusual.

Charlie Wiley told me these things two years ago, and I wrote them down. When I emailed him immediately upon receiving news of Paul Jr.’s death, he emphatically added that the younger Robeson “was a worse America hater than his father,” and concluded by calling him a “son-of-a-bitch.”

Clearly, the animosity is still palpable. And for good reason.

Back in Washington after the Vienna festival, there was a dramatic follow-up showdown between Paul Jr., Charlie Wiley, Herb Romerstein, and other delegates. The fireworks started on February 4, 1960 before the House Un-American Activities Committee, chaired by Pennsylvania Democrat Francis Walter, a staunch Cold Warrior (back when such Democrats existed).

Wiley and Romerstein were fully candid in their testimonies. Romerstein, a former communist, deeply impressed the committee. Paul Robeson Jr., on the other hand, was characteristically evasive, snide, unintimidated, and disrespectful. He refused to answer basic questions, including repeatedly refusing to affirm that he was a member of the Communist Party. He wouldn’t discuss his pro-Soviet work at the Vienna festival; to the contrary, he maligned the anti-communist Americans who were there. Amazingly, Paul Jr. accused them (the anti-communists) of agitating and turning the festival into a “cold-war battlefield.” He said that they had come to “disrupt,” “discredit,” and “subvert” the festival. They were a “disgrace,” he snarled at the committee.

It was a grossly mendacious performance. It was also a blatantly pro-Soviet stunt. Moscow surely reveled in every minute of it.

Robeson then turned his guns on the House Committee itself, which he accused of “harass[ing] those who fight for Negro equality,” of giving “aid and comfort to segregationists,” of undermining “the enforcement of civil rights of Negroes,” of “never doing anything about civil rights,” and of being sympathetic to “self-confessed Nazis and Fascist collaborators.”

This was the typical smear tactic used by the communist left. And, of course, Paul Jr. accused the committee of “attempting to poison the minds of young people with the ideology of McCarthyism.”

Again, quite a performance.

Alas, when it came to poisoning the minds of young people—and also accusing the House committee of being racist, fascist, and pro-Nazi—one such communist who excelled at the art was Frank Marshall Davis, who joined Communist Party USA during World War II (after the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact). Davis, who I profiled at length in an October 2012 cover feature for The American Spectator, deserves mention here. He knew the senior Paul Robeson extremely well, admired him greatly, and likely knew Paul Jr.

Davis mentioned Robeson more than any other figure in his weekly columns for the communist-line Chicago Star and Honolulu Record. He was his biggest cheerleader. Davis, who otherwise lied about his party membership and work, candidly acknowledged in his memoirs that Robeson was a major factor, if not the factor, in Davis suddenly uprooting from Chicago in 1949 to move to Hawaii to do Communist Party work there.

There, in Honolulu, Davis would eventually meet and mentor a young person named Barack Obama. There’s no doubt that Davis would have regaled young Obama with stories of glory about the great Paul Robeson. Does Obama today have an opinion of either Robeson? He absolutely does, and I would pay good money to hear it. What was his reaction to the younger Robeson’s death? How about the old man, Frank’s pal? Unfortunately, we can expect no one in our press corps will bother to ask the president.

As for both the senior and junior Paul Robeson, they will be eternally remembered by our press and “progressives” as stoic civil rights crusaders, lionized as fearless freedom fighters who battled the nefarious forces of McCarthyism. Their work on behalf of a truly pernicious regime and ideology will get a wink and a pass.

Paul Kengor
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Paul Kengor is Editor of The American Spectator. Dr. Kengor is also a professor of political science at Grove City College, a senior academic fellow at the Center for Vision & Values, and the author of over a dozen books, including A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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