Paul Robeson is an example of an outstanding fighter for world peace, who sacrificed fame, fortune, and health for the future of humanity. We celebrate Paul Robeson’s 125th birth year at a time when the US government is waging its most dangerous war since the Second World War. At the same time the US population has a historic anti-war and anti-government feeling. Events since the start of 2023 especially the Rage Against the War Machine March held in February signal the possibility of a new organized movement against the US administration’s criminal war policies. However, the task of building an effective peace movement will only be successful if it is anchored in the example of Paul Robeson.
At a time when activists working for labor and civil rights were compromising with the Democratic Party administration of Harry Truman, Robeson refused to compromise and stood with world humanity. He did this despite the cost it put on his career as a performer and artist. He became a co-founder of the World Peace Council which sought to build an opposition to the West’s policy of cold war confrontation and a nuclear arms race by bringing together progressive Americans with others from around the world including the Soviet Union. Upon receiving the Stalin Peace Prize in recognition of his brave stance for world peace in 1953 Robeson said:
“The American Peace movement reached out its hands across the borders to join with the millions of peace fighters in the world peace movement. Gradually it has become crystal clear that the mighty strength of the world movement representing peoples of all lands is strength for us here. As Americans, preserving the best of our traditions, we have the right—nay the duty—to fight for participation in the forward march of humanity.
We must join with the tens of millions all over the world who see in peace our most sacred responsibility. Once we are joined together in the fight for peace we will have to talk to each other and tell the truth about each other. How else can peace be won?...
In this framework we can make clear what co-existence means. It means living in peace and friendship with another kind of society—a fully integrated society where the people control their destinies, where poverty and illiteracy have been eliminated and where new kinds of human beings develop in the framework of a new level of social living. The telling of these truths is an important part of our work in building a strong and broad peace movement in the United States.”
The media colluded with the US state to slander and then ignore Robeson’s activism in press coverage. Though his activism received little coverage outside of the black community and the Communist movement in the US, he became a symbol to people throughout the world of a principled American. It is very interesting to note that poems were written about him in many languages including Turkish, Russian, Chinese, Urdu, Bengali. As W.E.B. Du Bois said at a rally in support of Robeson in Harlem:
“He is without doubt today, as a person, the best known American on earth, to the largest number of human beings. His voice is known in Europe, Asia and Africa, in the West Indies and South America and in the islands of the seas. Children on the streets of Peking and Moscow, Calcutta and Jakarta greet him and send him their love. Only in his native land is he without honor and rights.”
Du Bois' statement points us to how famous Robeson was prior to and despite the repression he faced. After many years of litigation he received his passport in 1958 in time for him to resume his travels. Having opposed the Korean War, he strongly opposed US policy in Indo-China, and also stood in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution of that period. According to his son after concluding a concert tour in London in 1961, he traveled to Moscow in order to transit to Cuba to show his support for the revolutionary Castro government. This was bound to be an embarrassment to the US deep state which had already made plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion. It was in Moscow that he was first targeted with a potent dose of LSD, which according to his family drove him to attempt suicide. His son maintained that this was part of the CIA’s MKULTRA drug program, which recent evidence has shown weaponized LSD to control human behavior. Doctors in Moscow advised him to return to Harlem where he would be in a healthy environment and protected from the wrath of the intelligence agencies. Unfortunately he would be hit with two more devastating drug attacks in Britain and the United States. The final one left him damaged but he was conscious enough to make the decision to retire from public view, with the hope that his public image would stay intact. He lived the remaining 13-14 years of his life in his sister’s house in West Philadelphia, rarely receiving visitors, not even appearing at a 75th birthday celebration organized for him at Carnegie Hall though he sent a taped message saying: "Though I have not been able to be active for several years, I want you to know that I am the same Paul, dedicated as ever to the worldwide cause of humanity for freedom, peace and brotherhood.”
Though the repression of McCarthyism and the Red Scare meant he was not known very well by the generation that came after him or the generations since, he has lived on in the black community and in groups dedicated to peace and justice. Dishonest intellectuals have tried to de-radicalize Robeson and promote petit bourgeois theories of “woke” anti-racism in his name. This woke agenda seeks to separate his struggle against racism from his struggle against imperialism. These theories are all cynical ploy by a US elite in crisis to rebrand and reconsolidate itself. Robeson was an avowed enemy of imperialism and of the deep state. He gave his all to the struggle against the permanent warfare state, including the struggle against NATO. Just as he stood up to the reactionary in liberal clothing, Harry Truman, he would stand up to Biden today, who is in many ways pursuing a foreign policy against Russia that is reckless and even insane.
If he were alive today he would stand against witch hunts like Russiagate just as he stood against McCarthyism and the Red Scare. He would stand against the collusion of intelligence agencies with big tech and the media to repress anti war voices. As he stood with the working class in every struggle they waged, he would reject the characterization of all those who refuse to vote for warmongers as deplorables or fascists. In his life he believed that if given the choice, the American people would always choose peace over war. Further, he believed that racism was embedded in the blue-blooded elites, not the working class. If Robeson were alive today, he would call to organize the whole US working class, black, white and otherwise against the current administration’s policy of immiserating the working poor to fund a Ukraine proxy conflict. He would call for the dismantling of not just NATO but all 800 military bases around the world as well as the cutting down of our criminally high defense budget. He would call for the release of political prisoners, whistleblowers and journalists like Julian Assange victimized by the US deep state.
It must be said in no uncertain terms that Robeson would see the significance of this country’s main opposition leader, the former president of the US, Donald J. Trump. Trump has been outspoken in opposition to the Ukraine War and both he and the movement behind him have become targets of the national security state. As Robeson fought for black-white unity for peace in his day, he would be in the thick of seizing this moment to build a peace movement of a new type across racial and partisan lines; a coalition of the dispossessed to stop this administration’s insane warmongering and to reconstruct America’s economy on a peace basis. As he stood with Bandung and anti-colonialism in Asia and Africa, he would stand with the emergence of BRICS. He would stand in solidarity with the peaceful rise of Asia and the possibility of a new and sovereign Africa, which signals a move from a Western world order to a human one.
Robeson’s significance for today animates the possibility of popular resistance to the Biden regime and the deep state. Events since the start of 2023 show the possibility of a new peace movement emerging, most significantly with the holding of the Rage Against War Machine (RAWM) march held at the US capital in February which deliberately crossed the partisan political lines imposed on the people by the US elites. A so-called Left-Right Alliance, the march was organized by the Libertarian Party and the People's Party. It included speakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties as well as independent journalists. The march broke with the kind of anti-war organizing that has occurred since 9/11, in which sectarian groups have used social issues like gender and sexuality as a litmus test to exclude large sections of the US people from participating. Even more significantly the march organizers refused to bend to liberal anti-Trump politics, which seeks to exclude the Trump movement’s anti-war voter base from the peace movement. Thus, the march became a target of attack for the small and sectarian left organizations and anti-war coalitions which criticized it for supposedly playing into the hands of white supremacists and racists.
The unique composition of the RAWM was matched with an extremely radical set of 10 demands. Among these were “Not One Penny More for Ukraine”, “Negotiate Peace”, “Stop the War Inflation”, “Slash the Pentagon Budget”, “Abolish the CIA and Military-Industrial Deep State”, and “Abolish War and Empire”. These set of demands clearly link the Ukraine War to the broader struggle against the permanent warfare state and the imperialist ideology perpetuated by the ruling elite. Though the turnout numbers were likely 2-3,000 people, with a much larger number watching on social media and participating in solidarity marches around the country, the ideological strength of the march meant that it punched above its weight. An exemplary speech was delivered by former Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich who went on the offensive against a president from his own party. Kucinich took direct aim at the Biden administration for its bombing of the Nordstream pipeline, as revealed by Seymour Hersh, and said “we will not rest until you are held responsible by the Congress, the International Criminal Court, and the American people at the next election.” He criticized American elites foreign policy of continuing NATO expansion, which is bringing the world to world war in Ukraine and Taiwan. He took aim at the Biden administration’s anti-people domestic record as it related to the Covid pandemic and civil liberties. He even quoted a passage from the declaration of independence which reads:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Other speakers echoed this feeling of revolt as well as spoke about the need for the US to seek collaboration with Russia and China to solve world problems, especially poverty. Kucinich’s speech shows the radical energy in the RAWM march attendees and how they are open to the project of a democratic remaking of US state and society. Though the turnout was largely made up of white Americans, the fact that increasing sections of White America are supportive of such radical demands is a major shift in US politics. It is clear that Robeson would stand with the RAWM, even as he would offer constructive criticism in engaging deeper with the African American community and world humanity. Robeson’s brand of anti-racism would never allow the struggle against racism to be misused to attack peace activism, especially at such a vulnerable time for world peace.
Though Trump was not at the rally his opposition to the Biden regime’s policy loomed in the background. Since the march Trump has issued even more radical statements calling for the “complete dismantling of the neocon globalist establishment that gets us into endless wars.” In the same statement he also said that America’s real enemy is not Russia or China but its own “America last elites”. It is not a coincidence that soon after issuing this statement he was indicted by the Manhattan County District Attorney on an election finance technicality. Similarly, Pro-Trump House Republican Matt Gaetz publicly challenged the role of the United States Africa command (AFRICOM) and organized a resolution to withdraw US troops from the illegal occupation of Syria. At the end of April, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. officially entered the Democratic Party presidential primary on a populist platform. Having gained notoriety as an outspoken critic of Anthony Fauci and big pharma’s corrupt handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, RFK Jr also invoked the Kennedy legacy of his father and uncle in their opposition to the CIA and the military industrial complex in calling for an end to the Ukraine War and US militarism abroad. All of this indicates a furthering political crisis for the warmongering elites and the possibility of a consolidated political leadership with an alternative vision.
Though much work remains to be done to solidify these parts into an ideologically clear whole, there is great reason for optimism that the American people can play a decisive role in the struggle for world peace. Thus, in his 125th birth year Paul Leroy Robeson stands tall as a model of what the people of his nation must strive to become in order to fulfill their highest aspirations for peace and democracy.