Arnold Beichman: The Post Office Honors Paul Robeson ... Stalinist

Roundup: Historians' Take

Arnold Beichman, writing in the Washington Times (Jan. 13, 2004):

On Jan. 21, the United States Postal Service will issue a stamp honoring a man who:

* Greeted the promulgation of Josef Stalin's "Constitution" in 1936 as "an expression of democracy, broader in scope and loftier in principle than ever before expressed."

* Supported the Stalin-Hitler pact and the Soviet invasion of Poland along with Hitler's invasion which started World War II.

* Supported as "defensive" the Soviet invasion of Finland.

* Was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1952.

* Denounced the Hungarian uprising as instigated by the "same sort of people who overthrew the Spanish Republican government," meaning the revolutionaries were fascists.

* Recalled in a 1953 memorial tribute on Stalin's death an episode in 1937 when he saw Stalin enter a box at the Bolshoi Theater: "I remember the tears began to quietly flow and I too smiled and waved. Here was clearly a man who seemed to embrace all. So kindly — I can never forget that warm feeling of kindliness and also a feeling of sureness. Here was one who was wise and good — the world and especially the socialist world was fortunate indeed to have his daily guidance." This was at the height of the infamous Moscow Trials.

* Defended in a Daily Worker interview the Moscow trial frame-ups and executions in these words: "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."

* Rejoiced in the Great Terror with these words: "It is the [Soviet] government's duty to put down any opposition to this really free society with a firm hand, and I hope they will always do it, for I already regard myself at home here [in Moscow]. ... It is obvious that there is no terror here, that all the masses of every race are contented and support their government."

* Characterized the 1947 Truman Doctrine intended to rescue Greece and Turkey from communist coups, "as remarkably similar to the anticommunist smokescreen of the fascist aggressors. ... "

* Declared in 1949: "I am truly happy that I am able to travel from time to time to the U.S.S.R. — the country I love above all. I always have been, I am now and will always be a loyal friend of the Soviet Union. ... the country I love above all."

I could cite dozens and dozens more of similar quotations from the collected speeches and writings of Paul Robeson, the African-American concert artist who died in 1976 at age 78. To the end, he remained an unrepentant Stalinist despite the revelations by Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, of the Great Terror. And it is this man, Paul Robeson, whom the U.S. Postal Service honors with a commemorative postage stamp.

The homage accorded Robeson, so goes the Postal Service alibi, is due to his achievement as an artist on stage, screen and in the concert hall. It is part of the Postal Service's Black Heritage Series.

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More Comments:

beichman - 1/17/2004

I never said Robeson had no right to his opinions and no right to voice them where and when he wanted to. He had every right to do so under the First Amendment. The point of my column was that he was being singled out for an honor he didn't deserve. Would someone who defended Hitler or apartheid under his First Amendment rights deserve a stamp from the Postal Service?

beichman - 1/17/2004

Why, oh why did you cut the last paragraph of my column in which I compared Robeson's artistry to Leifenstahl's, both in the service of a dictator.

Michael Green - 1/16/2004

I did not know that the Postal Service had to apologize for honoring someone who not only said what Beichman listed, but faced a witch hunt and opprobrium for daring to express his opinions. I may not agree with what Robeson said, but I am sorry that Mr. Beichman, like most of his fellow right-wingers, only pays lip service to our First Amendment rights.