[Marxism] Paul Robeson - NY Review of Books

Dennis Brasky dmozart1756 at gmail.com
Fri Jan 19 19:56:50 MST 2018

In an epilogue that must have been painful for Sparrow—a man of the left—to
write, he acknowledges that Robeson’s endorsement of Stalin and Stalin’s
successors, his refusal to acknowledge what had been done in Stalin’s name,
is the tragedy of his life. And it is a tragedy for us, too, because
Robeson had an almost unique combination of gifts that enabled him to
articulate his cause in a way that spoke to all people. “Every artist,
every scientist must decide NOW where he stands,” he had said when he
returned from Spain. “He has no alternative. There is no standing above the
conflict on Olympian heights.”

As Sparrow describes it, it is a pitiful spectacle: this heroic figure,
striving for dignity for all of his fellow human beings, robbed of his own,
somehow baffled and cheated by the world. Sparrow quotes a trade unionist
who having met him said: “[Robeson] stands like a giant, yet makes you
feel, without stooping to you, that you too are a giant and hold the power
of making history in your hands as well.” To which Sparrow soberly adds:
“The disintegration of the movements for which Paul had been such an icon
had left behind a profound void from which we were yet to recover. We did
not feel ourselves giants; we did not feel capable of making history.”
History, he says, has become meaningless. “And a figure such as Paul became
almost incomprehensible.” On the contrary. Sparrow has made perfect and
haunting sense of him.


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