Paul Robeson, Stalin and the USSR

“In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being – no colour prejudice like in Mississippi, no colour prejudice like in Washington.” – Paul Robeson

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Comrade Rango of the CPGB-ML addresses this meeting of the Stalin Society, which marked the 60th anniversary of Josef Stalin’s death.

His presentation concentrates on the internationalism of the Soviet Union, and, specifically, Stalin’s role in the solution of the national question, whereby the contradictions between formerly oppressed and oppressing nations were solved, enabling them to live in harmony, by concentrating on the essential commonality of interests of the vast masses of their populations, as being workers first and foremost.

The Soviet Union, led by Comrade Stalin, who had was appointed commissar for nationalities immediately after the October Revolution on 1917, made a seminal contribution to the understanding of the national question, helping to create a brotherhood of nations, free from national, racial and religious strife. It was a dramatic transformation from the ‘prison of nations’ that had characterised tsarist Russia.

This practical example and leadership of the USSR had a profound effect on the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles of the vast masses of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and also upon the oppressed minorities within the imperialist countries.

The African-American population in the USA, languishing in colonial conditions of apartheid-like segregation and only recently removed from slavery, felt the deep meaning of the Soviet example.

Rango uses the inspiring example of one of the most talented and courageous human beings to emerge from the USA – Paul Robeson – to illustrate the love for the Soviet Union felt by all workers who fight oppression and who want to build a bright socialist future for humanity. The talk is as inspiring as the subject matter.

By 1957, Robeson’s leadership of the civil rights movement in the USA, and his profound support for the Soviet Union, led Senator McCarthy’s anticommunist tribunal (the all-powerful House Committee on Un-American Activities) to summon him for interrogation.

Refusing to testify that he was not a member of the communist party, he outraged the right-wing senators by defiantly reiterating his reasons for sympathy with the Soviet people; the reasons he felt all oppressed black people should feel similarly:

“In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being – no colour prejudice like in Mississippi, no colour prejudice like in Washington.”

When one of the committee members angrily demanded: “Why did you not stay in Russia?”, Robeson retorted, quick as a flash: “Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay right here and have a piece of it, just like you. And no fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear?”

There are remarkable parallels between Paul Robeson’s life and Stalin’s. Both were sons of the oppressed, just one generation removed from bondage, who rose to lead their people.

And Robeson gave full and moving tribute to Stalin at the time of his death in 1953:

“In the west (in England, in Belgium, France, Portugal, Holland), the Africans, the Indians (east and west), many of the Asian peoples were considered so backward that centuries, perhaps, would have to pass before these so-called ‘colonials’ could become a part of modern society.

“But in the Soviet Union, Yakuts, Nenetses, Kirgiz, Tadzhiks had respect and were helped to advance with unbelievable rapidity in this socialist land. No empty promises, such as coloured folk continuously hear in the United States, but deeds. For example, the transforming of the desert in Uzbekistan into blooming acres of cotton.

“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.

“Yes, through his deep humanity, by his wise understanding, he leaves us a rich and monumental heritage … He leaves tens of millions all over the earth bowed in heart-aching grief.

“But, as he well knew, the struggle continues. So, inspired by his noble example, let us lift our heads slowly but proudly high and march forward in the fight for peace – for a rich and rewarding life for all.

“In the inspired words of Lewis Allan, our progressive lyricist:

To you Beloved Comrade, we make this solemn vow
The fight will go on – the fight will still go on.
Sleep well, Beloved Comrade, our work will just begin.
The fight will go on – till we win – until we win.