Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Paradise Lost

If you could pick anyone to represent an intelligent man of the American Left from 1930 to 1950, you could do worse than choose Paul Robeson. He was smart, athletic and gifted. And the story of his life touches on all that was good -- and ludicrous -- about the Left. Robeson believed in the equality of man, but believed the Soviet Union offered it -- certainly the segregated America of his time did not. That duality, which was the sensitivity to injustice coupled with the delusion that Marxism offered its solution, gave mid-twentieth century activists their particular character.

Through his writings and speeches, Robeson went on to defend the foreign and domestic policies of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin. During the Soviet purges. Robeson allegedly told a Daily Worker reporter that “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!” After the formation of NATO, Robeson proclaimed during a speech at the Paris World Peace Congress in 1949 that “It is unthinkable that American Negroes will go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations... against a country [the Soviet Union] which in one generation has raised our people to the full dignity of mankind.


On the other hand, a relatively unlettered man, the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, who was no less the victim of the racism of his times could see that it was sometimes possible to jump from the frying pan into the fire. That the Negro was oppressed, that was certain. That the Soviet Union offered better, that was a crock.

Sugar Ray Robinson responded to this by saying that although he did not know Robeson he would “punch him in the mouth” if he met him. Even while many former left wing supporters of the Soviet Union learned of the atrocities being committed there and began publicly denouncing their former affiliations, Robeson held firm. In 1952, Robeson was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize. In April, 1953 shortly after Joseph Stalin's death he wrote a eulogy entitled To You Beloved Comrade, in which he praised Stalin's "deep humanity," "wise understanding," and dedication to peaceful co-existence with all the peoples of the world calling him “wise and good”.

It is difficult to ascribe this idolatry for Stalin, a mass murderer who eclipsed Adolph Hitler in every category of villainy to either personal evil or stupidity on Robeson's part. Many of most sensitive, cultured and intelligent men of the 1940s would probably have agreed with Robeson at some point in their lives, including scientists who worked for the Manhattan Project. The clue to this curious blindness lies ironically in the very thoroughness of their education.

An educated man is primarily distinguished from his unlettered counterpart in his ability to structure the world into narratives. Most of these frameworks he gets from books; others from his friends. These he uses to organize the "facts" that he encounters in the world, to make "sense" of seemingly random data. Are the Soviet people starving? Why Harry Truman is starving them. Are there concentration camps in Siberia? These are only necessary to defend the Engine of History from counter-revolutionary activity. The advantage of a boxer like Sugar Ray Robinson lies precisely in that quality which is now being ascribed to the Internet. The facts were "disintermediated" by the lack of book-learning. He saw things for what they were, not as they were depicted. A man who acts like a thug is a thug. A mass murderer -- what else would you call him. Ray Robinson dodged harmful things by instinct, especially when they were coming at him in the form of fists in the ring. If he stopped to analyze a punch through the prism of Stalin's thought he would be out cold. Thus a great man like Robeson could be the prisoner of the wrong narrative and Ray Robinson, great too in his own way, could be free for the lack of those very same intellectual iron bars.

What follows is a YouTube video with Paul Robeson singing the Soviet National anthem in the background. You might find it difficult to stop yourself from laughing while watching it. But remember that for generations of Leftists the scenes depicted therein were enough to move them to tears. They did not know they were weeping for themselves.

22 Comments:

Blogger RWE said...

I recall an NPR interview with a European expert on the USSR just after the Evil Empire collapsed. He said he thought it remarkable that he had just gone to one of the premier book fairs in Europe and found not one new book on communism or an analysis of the Soviet economy. “For years we studied it,” he said plaintively, “and now we have found that there was nothing really there to study. It was all just a big shell game.”

That really sums it up, doesn’t it? There was nothing ever really there…

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. And pay no attention that there is no curtain, either, and no secret special effects controls back there, and ultimately, no man, either…

I am not certain if that is the really sad part or the really funny part.

6/05/2007 08:49:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

"We fought for the future", that line is one thing I can't laugh at because it was so heartfelt. I can see the faces of three people in my memory, now dead, who gave up their lives for that glorious dream. People who lived in that underground stew I inhabited oh so long ago. How should I judge them? As men they were better men that I. They were dupes all the same, but that is the cruel judgment of events, which is pitiless and there it is. If there's any hope for them it is from the very God whose existence they rejected. And if that happened, it would be funny, but what's a joke if you can't laugh at it?

6/05/2007 09:09:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

How is Putin's new Russia different from Stalin's old Russia? As far as I can see, it's still a shell game -- a combination of bluster, braggadocio and murder, with no basic economy, manifesto or religion. I simply do not understand what Putin is building on to declare his country a world power again.

He simply seems to be strutting onto the world stage, declaring himself (and his followers, whoever they may be) to be strong, and inviting the dispossessed to join them. At least the Marxists were promising true believers a worker's paradise of equality. Putin isn't doing that, and I don't understand how he thinks he can make any new uber-Utopia work when it's being built by a bunch of drunk losers.

6/05/2007 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger exhelodrvr1 said...

"I don't understand how he thinks he can make any new uber-Utopia work when it's being built by a bunch of drunk losers. "

He can get away with it because the West is afraid to "call a spade a spade."

6/05/2007 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

I had a funny little thought yesterday.

Those most likely to argue the supremacy of evolution as the driving force on Earth are also the most likely to insist that Darwinism NOT be allowed to apply to races, societies, companies, beliefs, whole nations – in other words the constructs of Man.

Man is just a happenstance of evolution, to be aborted at will – but Communism, the PLO, international treaties, faltering cultures, unions, certain factories in chosen areas, the City of New Orleans – they can’t be allowed to wither and die just because they can’t cut it.

The Evolution As A Religion types become Creationists when it comes to their favored – and man-made – beliefs.

Meanwhile, those more inclined to believe that a Creator had a hand in the making of the world tend more to to say “Tough! It’s evolution in action. You can’t run with the big dogs, then we’ll dig you a hole under the porch.”

A regular role reversal occurs, depending on whether Man or God is seen as the Creator… curious…

6/05/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Thief said...

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.
(Paradise Lost, Book I, lns. 254-255)

6/05/2007 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger eggplant said...

NahnCee said...

"I don't understand how he thinks he can make any new uber-Utopia work when it's being built by a bunch of drunk losers."

Russia controls a significant fraction of the world's petroleum and natural gas. This is a variation of the Golden Rule, i.e. "He who has the gold makes the rules".

Unfortunately for Russia and the World, they're in the same situation as Saudi Arabia and Iran, i.e. their only "Plan-B" after they run out of cheap natural resources is to intimidate their neighbors with nuclear weapons.

6/05/2007 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

nahncee,

If Putin's Russia is no different than Stalin's as you claim ... then why would Solzhenitsyn have supported (does support?) him and did not for example support Yeltsin?

Are those who object to policy called "the opposition party" or dissident and are the gulags still in operation?

6/05/2007 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger sanchmo said...

It is often the educated that adopt dangerous utopian fantasies because of one simple reason:

Arrogance.

They believe that because they have the mental capacity to read and retain certain types of information, they are superior in wisdom to the inferior rabble that behave so foolishly. They believe that their ability to create sophisms prove their intellectual prowess.

So you get idiot intellectuals, so convinced that their own plan is so perfect that it can never experience the tragic failures of past utopias, simply because this new intellectual is so much smarter, better, stronger, superior to the others that came before.

6/05/2007 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

Putin is in a hard place. If he doesn't bolster Russian pride and create a sense of hope, Russia's sub-replacement birthrate will guarantee that Russia will become a "Mexico" to China. Maybe the Chinese should get working on another wall to keep poor Russians from flooding accross and diluting China's low-end labor market.

Like I said, Putin is in a hard place.

6/05/2007 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

dla said...

"Putin is in a hard place... Maybe the Chinese should get working on another wall to keep poor Russians from flooding accross and diluting China's low-end labor market."

Russia's situation is far worse than Mexico's. Siberia is resource rich but with a low population while on the other side of the border is China who is resource poor but with an extremely high population. This is not a stable situation and Putin knows it.

6/05/2007 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

"The Evolution As A Religion types become Creationists when it comes to their favored – and man-made – beliefs." -rwe

That's because beliefs, while they may have a 'life of their own', are not living things. Therefore different rules apply.

And while many have 'faith' in evolution, it's hardly a religion. No one worships evolution or expects the salvation of their eternal soul from belief in it.

6/05/2007 01:39:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Wretchard, I think you misread the fundamentals between Robeson and Robinson.

What was Paul Robeson? A man who should have been, but was not, a leading American Aristo. Stalin offered him stature, status, various titles (quite literally as you cite) and achievement.

Is there any wonder at all that a man like Robeson would enthusiastically devote himself to that cause (of lifting himself to the nobility?) Or any puzzlement as to why the international left held on for so long, did and endured such terrible things? No of course not.

They wanted the purple. Or failing that, a seat by the Emperor's side.

Simple as that.

Robinson already HAD his nobility. His titles. His achievement. No one could take anything from him, and Stalin could not offer him a boxing championship.

Much was made of the Kim Philbys and the like. I don't honestly know why. They simply wanted a better title from a winning (as they saw it) King.

6/05/2007 02:54:00 PM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

Mark - nahncee,

If Putin's Russia is no different than Stalin's as you claim ... then why would Solzhenitsyn have supported (does support?) him and did not for example support Yeltsin?


Because he believed that the Communists were not run by true Russians but by a coalition of Jews/Russian Elites that had set out to destroy spiritual Russia and thwart Russian greatness.
He notes the 1st thing Stalin did when the Nazis had been stopped by fall mud, winter, and the forces he had was to legalize the remnants of the Orthodox church that had survived the Jewish Bolshevik liquidations of 1918-22. And call for a spiritual and nationalistic defense of the Rodina.

Solzhenitsyn also hated Yeltsin because the man was more corrupt than William Jefferson and Duke Cunningham put together and was giving away Russia's national assets at firesale prices to the billionaire Jewish Oligarchs and Chechen Mafia in return for bribes - And was weak, impulsive, and drunk as NIcholas II.

Solzhenitsyn while he railed at Communism, shocked America when he went into his Vermont exile by saying what he thought was screwed up in America, and much of his critique was on our "disgusting" materialism, free markets, certain liberties.

BTW, Solzhenitsyn has written two histories on the Russian-Jewish relationship going back to 1600 or so. His conclusion is that he admires Jews, can see certain benefits, but that much of the relationship has been mutually destructive and it would be best for Russia and the Russians if they largely left so that Russians shape Russia's destiny.

6/05/2007 03:13:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

Read "The Black Swan" yet?

Education, particularly college education, is simply learning how to see the world in a certain way. That's how an economist, a political scientist, and a historian can look at the exact same event and see three different things.

The utility of education lies in the degree to which it conveys an accurate worldview. The Left's biggest weakness is not it's critique of Western society (which is often accurate!) The Left fails to see that the West is reformable, while the enemies of the West never are. That's why it's still right to side with an unjust society that can change against an even worse society that won't.

Assuming that the West of the past justifies reaction in the present is the biggest error the Left has made. Radical Islam is not reformable, just as Communism was not. The whole thing had to go.

6/05/2007 04:33:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

wretchard said...
If there's any hope for them it is from the very God whose existence they rejected. And if that happened, it would be funny, but what's a joke if you can't laugh at it?
//////////
Back in my 20's my first intimations of God's character was that he had a sense of humor.

6/05/2007 04:37:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Paul Robeson: Old Man River

6/05/2007 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

The life of Paul Robeson is an American tragedy. When he graduated from Princeton, it was written in the yearbook that he would be governor of New Jersey--or more--were it not for his color. This was written by educated young white men who liked and admired him! Robeson, who was stronger and more serious and more talented than nearly any man he had ever met--believed deep in his heart that he could overcome the gigantic barrier of his own color. He learned that he was wrong about this, and the realization broke his heart and poisoned his judgment. Please find some compassion for the magnificent Paul Robeson, born too early, broken by his own daring dreams.

6/05/2007 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

I think Paul Robeson's life was more tragic than we can imagine. There was of course his problem with racism. But added to that was the tragedy of Bolshevism, which was the present and future; the family and enemy of its adherents.

There was a trilogy, now out of print, by Emmanuel Litvinoff called Blood on the Snow which captured, better than anything I remember, the luminous faith with which revolutionaries attempted to remake their world. They were going to build a world of justice in the face of an indifferent universe. If God did not exist they would invent him. It was the highest calling of all. Litvinoff described it. Doubtless Robeson heard it.

The trilogy charts the life of a couple who lose their revolutionary faith bit by bit, moving through the famous incidents of Communist history, until they have only each other. Finally,the survivor is left to find meaning with the last days of her life. And the reader is left watching her try, because in a way, she owes it to the one who did not live.

History is cruel in that way. High ideals and clean heart are no guarantee that you won't wind up on the wrong side of history. Listening to Robeson's great voice sing the praises of Stalin are humiliating to Robeson. If you look at Stalin's face in the video you can easily he could not care less about the touching trust of men like Robeson. Stalin was beyond shame; he lived in a world beyond good or evil.

My own peculiar horror of Boleshevism consists in precisely that. It could take nobility and demean it; it could take sacrifice and pervert it. It could take love and betray it.

It is interesting to compare Robeson's life to that of Jose Rizal's. He too was a linguist and polymath. He too lived in an era, even more so than Robeson, when a man of color could not aspire to be a man. Where Robeson was a lawyer, Rizal was a doctor. Where Robeson went to Princeton, Rizal went to Heidelberg. And when Rizal's aged mother lost her sight, he medically restored it. That competence was the most staggering sedition of all. But where they parted was in Rizal's refusal to follow an earthly messiah.

When he was offered escape in exchange for allegiance to a revolutionary movement he could not support, Rizal faced a firing squad of his own free will rather than surrender the fortress of his soul. Robeson was great; but I never knew how great Rizal was until I understood how deeply his courage ran.

6/05/2007 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Well it sure looks like Russians are shaping Russia's destiny now.

Enjoy!!

6/06/2007 01:40:00 AM  
Blogger Barry Meislin said...

Russia for Russians!.

6/06/2007 06:00:00 AM  
Blogger Lanny Nugen said...

You have to read "How the mind works" by Steven Pinker to appreciate the fact the robotization our mind by ourselves will lead us to such phenomenon. The lack of self introspection in addition to lazy thinking, once the path to solution has been established in our mind, will do us in. The robotization of our brain by ourselves, will lead us to the the same tool for the same solution, even though all evidences are contrary to point to a different solution. No difference than a drug addict.

6/06/2007 12:53:00 PM  

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