Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/921/23791

From The Socialist newspaper, 19 October 2016

Black History Month

The radical life of Paul Robeson

Fighting racism and capitalism with solidarity, socialism and song

Paul Robeson in the 1930s photo Wikimedia Commons

Paul Robeson in the 1930s photo Wikimedia Commons   (Click to enlarge)

Scott Jones

"The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative," were the words of Paul Robeson 80 years ago, when speaking in solidarity with workers fighting fascism in Spain.

It was wondering who the "giant man with a heavenly voice" was in the Manic Street Preacher's song 'Let Robeson Sing', which led me to discover the life of Paul Robeson. And a giant he was.

An actor who starred on Broadway, a talented college American football player, a brilliant singer - and a socialist and civil rights campaigner at a time when Malcom X and Martin Luther King were just children.

It was as a lawyer that he first tried to make a career, until he encountered such extreme racism that he turned to acting. He soon landed a role in 'All God's Chillun Got Wings' by socialist playwright Eugene O'Neill. By the 1930s Robeson was at the height of his fame, regularly appearing on Broadway and touring Europe which included a short period living in London.

It was during his travels in Europe that Robeson became a socialist.

Welsh miners

In 1929, when walking in London, he heard the rich sound of a Welsh miners' choir. They were unemployed due to the Great Depression, and had walked to London to petition the government for help.

Robeson joined the miners, humming along with them. He later raised money to pay for their journey back to Wales and buy food and clothing for the miners of the Rhondda Valley and their families. That year he also contributed the proceeds of one of his concerts to the Miners' Relief Fund, and visited Wales in person to sing for and talk to the miners.

During this time he also visited the Soviet Union. On a stopover in Berlin on the way, he was appalled by the Nazis and their racism, which he later contrasted with the acceptance and irrelevance of his race he encountered in Moscow.

Touched by the solidarity and struggle of the South Wales working class, and in opposition to fascism, Robeson threw himself into the struggle against fascism during the Spanish Civil War.

He used his performances to advocate the cause of the Spanish Republic, and even travelled to Spain to visit the battlefront, all against the advice of his agent. Robeson decided events trumped commercialism.

The culmination of his solidarity with the workers of South Wales came in 1940 when he starred in 'The Proud Valley', a picture filmed in the heart of the Valleys. It told the story of David Goliath, played by Robeson, a black American miner and singer who gets a job in a Welsh pit and joins a male voice choir.

It documents the harsh realities of coal miners' lives, which Goliath shares. He becomes a hero as he helps to better their working conditions, and ultimately, during a mining accident, sacrifices himself to save fellow miners.

One of the most iconic parts of the film occurs when he encounters racism from a fellow miner who refuses to work alongside a black man. This is quickly challenged by a Welsh miner who leaps to David's defence with the fantastic line: "Damn it, well aren't we all black down the mine?"

Robeson would go on to perform and fight for socialism throughout his life. He championed the civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s. During McCarthyism, like many other socialists and communists, he was blacklisted - and even had his passport taken from him.

Paul Robeson recognised the need to fight racism and fascism with solidarity and socialism. This giant man's lifelong struggle serves as an inspiration as we carry on the same fight today.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation £

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 19 October 2016:


Socialist Party news and analysis

NHS at breaking Point

Teachers working 60 hours need strikes, not studies

Elderly care at crisis point

Health campaigns demonstrate together in 'one fight'

NHS cancer and dementia drugs 'unaffordable'

Them & Us


What we think

No backtracks, no compromises: we must fight for real democracy in the Labour Party

TUSC discusses new tasks after Corbyn victory


Workplace news and analysis

Sheffield bin striker slams privatised refuse bosses

Newsquest strike: Bosses realise 'contraints' of scab labour

London Underground cleaners protest pay cut

Support the 'Kinsley 3' cleaners in pay fight


International socialist news and analysis

Syria: horror deepens in Aleppo


Socialist history

Aberfan: a disaster that should never have happened

Suez 1956: the decline of British imperialism and rise of the colonial revolution


Black History Month

The radical life of Paul Robeson


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Butterfields housing victory: "We showed that if you stick together and fight you can win"

Come to Socialism 2016

Can you donate to the Socialism 2016 appeal?

Cheshire and Merseyside: Huge NHS cuts and privatisation planned

Devon: Campaigning against community hospitals closures

Bristol: Millions of pounds of "horrifically unpalatable" cuts


Socialist readers' comments and reviews

Moving, funny and inspiring tribute to working class heroism

Film review: Deepwater Horizon

Review: BBC2's Poetry Night

The Socialist inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 19 October 2016   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Solidarity:

triangleSolidarity to the striking workers at Charité and Vivantes hospitals in Berlin

triangleNigeria: Comrade Omomeewa, student leader and socialist campaigner, killed by armed assailants

triangleThanks to the miners - an example of workers' struggle and solidarity

triangleKazakhstan: Solidarity with protesters attacked by regime forces

Socialism:

trianglePutting socialism on the map in Chichester

triangleCampaigning for socialism at Oxford Brookes Uni

triangleClimate change, capitalism, and the struggle for socialism

Racism:

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: United struggle against racism and oppression

triangleFootball: Smash racism

Capitalism:

triangleWe won't pay for capitalism's failings

Miners:

triangleTV review: Mrs Thatcher vs the miners

Black:

triangleThe street I live on

South Wales:

triangle1920s-30s Britain: A working-class movement fighting unemployment and capitalism

Civil rights:

triangleTV review: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain

Historic events

Historic events

8/9/21

Terror

9/11 and the 'War on Terror' twenty years on

25/8/21

Poplar

Lessons from Poplar 100 years on

11/8/21

Soviet Union

August 1991 - The aborted military coup in the 'Soviet Union'

7/7/21

Terry Fields

Terry Fields MP, Prisoner DV 3695 - The jailing of 'poll tax' rebel and Militant

9/6/21

Clyde

The 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders occupation and work-in

26/5/21

Bob Marley

Get up, stand up - don't give up the fight!

12/5/21

Northern Ireland

British state absolves itself from killings during 'the Troubles'

28/4/21

Ireland

How partition of Ireland derailed a revolutionary struggle for national and social liberation

14/4/21

Capitalism

1920s-30s Britain: A working-class movement fighting unemployment and capitalism

7/4/21

Brixton

1981 Brixton riots: Racism and poverty - the anger explodes

24/3/21

Strike

Lessons of the 2011 pensions strike: when workers showed their power

24/3/21

Commune

150th anniversary of the Paris Commune

10/3/21

Rosa Luxemburg

150th anniversary of Rosa Luxemburg's birth

3/3/21

Women

A history of International Women's Day

3/3/21

Racism

1981: New Cross Massacre

triangleMore Historic events articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


September 2021

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999